The UFC returns to the Apex in Las Vegas for UFC Vegas 71, headlined by a pair of heavyweights in Sergei Pavlovich and Curtis Blaydes. The stakes are high, since the winner could find themselves challenging for heavyweight gold down the road (if the UFC ever decides to begin awarding title shots based on merit again). Of course, that’s a different story for a different day. As for the fights this weekend, let’s dig in!
Worth noting, the original co-main event between Song Yadong and Ricky Simon was moved back a week to be the main event for UFC Vegas 72, after Renato Moicano was forced to pull out of his contest with Arman Tsarukyan due to injury.
Sergei Pavlovich vs. Curtis Blaydes | Heavyweight
Pavlovich hits hard as hell, having secured five consecutive first round finishes. In other words, he’ll want the fight to be standing. On the flip side, Blaydes is a wrestler at heart, perhaps the most feared takedown artist in UFC heavyweight history. Yes, that includes Cain Velasquez. That’s the most basic way to boil down the contest, however, Pavlovich is capable of wrestling and Blaydes is capable of hurting his opponent on the feet. In other words, either man can pay a heavy price if they get overconfident in what is considered to be their wheelhouse.
Though they have a similar amount of fights, Blaydes has a significant advantage in terms of high-level opponents. He’s been through the wringer in some of his battles and he knows how to deal with adversity. That’s a big unknown with Pavlovich. Given his edge in experience, I’ll go with Blaydes, but no one should feel confident in whoever they pick in this contest. I’ll say Blaydes puts his brutal GnP on display for the finish. Blaydes via TKO of RD3
Brad Tavares vs. Bruno Silva | Middleweight
There isn’t an area in which Tavares excels, but there also isn’t an area in which he has a major weakness. His struggles have come against quick-twitch athletes who can either catch him by surprise or out-point him with volume. That doesn’t describe Silva.
Silva does have a major power advantage and is one of the most dangerous GnP specialists in the sport. He could end things in a hurry if he can put Tavares on his back, but I don’t trust that to happen. Tavares’ takedown defense has held up against all but the best wrestlers and grapplers. I’ll say it again: that doesn’t describe Silva. Tavares via decision
Bobby Green vs. Jared Gordon | Lightweight
Coming off his controversial loss to Paddy Pimblett, Gordon is getting a step up in competition against Green at UFC Vegas 71. ‘Flash’ is relentless in his pressure, volume, and takedowns, but he’s also a limited athlete. Even at the age of 36, Green is still in the top half of athletes in the division, exhibiting some of the fastest hands in the sport and a top-flight sprawl. Unless Green falls into some of his bad habits of inactivity—something he has largely shaken over the last few years—this should be an easy win for him. Gordon doesn’t have the power to make Green pay, nor the speed to reliably out-punch Green. Green via decision
Iasmin Lucindo vs. Brogan Walker | Women’s Flyweight
Lucindo is still very much an unknown quantity. That said, she’s only 21—meaning she should be far from a finished product—and she showed out well in her debut loss to another prospect in Yasmin Jauregui. There doesn’t appear to be any question she’s the better athlete than Walker, but Walker is sandpaper tough with impressive grappling accolades. It isn’t hard to see her catching the youthful Lucindo in an error, especially given the majority of the Brazilian’s losses have come via submission. I do favor Lucindo to be the busier fighter, but the odds a way too wide. Lucindo via decision
Jeremiah Wells vs. Matthew Semelsberger | Welterweight
Both Wells and Semelsberger are heavy hitters capable of one-shotting the other. But there’s questions with both. In addition to being heavy-handed, Wells is a skilled wrestler and grappler. But there’s concern about his ability to go the distance and he’s already 36.
Semelsberger’s age and cardio aren’t an issue, but his ability to stop takedowns is. Wells’ ability to neutralize with takedowns and controls has me favoring him despite his age, especially given how Semelsberger struggled with AJ Fletcher. Semelsberger pulled a win out of that battle, but Wells is a more savvy fighter than Fletcher. Wells via decision
Ricky Glenn vs. Christos Giagos | Lightweight
Giagos has one of the oddest UFC records, in that there’s not a lot of middle ground. He’s got loses to elite fighters like Gilbert Burns, Charles Oliveira, and Arman Tsarukyan, but wins over lesser names like Jorge de Oliveira, Carlton Minus, and Sean Soriano. Giagos is an aggressive wrestler with some pop and a questionable gas tank. The gas tank isn’t an issue for Glenn, but the takedown defense is. Glenn’s relentlessness requires keeping him down the entirety of the fight. I don’t see Giagos doing that. Glenn’s gas tank and volume should prove the difference. Glenn via TKO of RD3
Rani Yahya vs. Montel Jackson | Bantamweight
One of the few WEC holdovers, Yahya is in the running for worst natural athlete on the roster. He makes up for that with one of the slickest BJJ games that MMA has ever seen. Given his lack of physical gifts, he usually ends up spending a lot of energy to get the fight to the mat.
Jackson is a sound enough wrestler that Yahya will need to score a first-round sub, otherwise he’ll be easy pickings for the massive Jackson. Jackson has shown an improved fight IQ in his last few contests. Plus, at 38, Yahya has a lot of miles on a body that has struggled to even make it to the cage recently. Jackson via TKO of RD2
Karol Rosa vs. Norma Dumont | Women’s Featherweight
Rosa is moving up from bantamweight, a bit of a curious development given she wasn’t that big for her now former division. The weight cut didn’t appear to have adverse consequences for her high-volume stylings either. Nevertheless, the road to a title shot is fastest at featherweight by a wide mile. Dumont is unlikely to match Rosa’s volume, but she has a size advantage, both in girth and reach. Probably power too. All indications point to Rosa proving to be the busier fighter, but Dumont also tends to have a solid gameplan for every fight to slip by with a win. My guess is she’ll do the same again. Dumont via decision
Mohammed Usman vs. Junior Tafa | Heavyweight
Despite winning TUF, I can’t find anyone who sees Usman proving to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill heavyweight. He’s got solid wrestling, but his gas tank is exceptionally shallow. He has power, but he’s slow and not very technical. I can’t be sure he’ll turn out the lights on Tafa, since I’m really not sure he can land clean.
On the other hand, Tafa’s power is more consistent. His striking technique hasn’t been as sharp as it was in his kickboxing career, but he’s still early in his time as a cage fighter. Given Tafa has a good camp behind him, I see him making good in his UFC debut. Tafa via KO of RD1
Francis Marshall vs. William Gomis | Featherweight
It’s easy to see why a large swathe of fans are excited about Marshall’s future. He’s got an endless gas tank, functional power, and relentless wrestling. He’s also extremely linear with a chin available to be touched up. Someday, someone is going to hit him in just the right spot. I don’t know for sure if Gomis is going to be the one to do it, but he has the ability with his lateral movement. I just don’t trust he has the volume, or that he can stay off his back. This is one of the more difficult picks on the card, so no one should feel comfortable with whoever they end up picking. Marshall via decision
Priscilla Cachoeira vs. Karine Silva | Women’s Flyweight
For someone who was considered by many to be possibly the worst fighter on the UFC roster at one point, Cachoeira has made a hell of a run, going 4-1 in her last five. She’s still a brawler with a limited ground game, but she has tightened up her technique some.
Regardless, if Silva gets the fight to the mat, it’s probably over given the impressive submission prowess of Silva. Unfortunately, I’m not positive Silva has the ability to get the fight to the mat before Cachoeira can touch her up. Neither woman seems like a good athlete—much less a great athlete—meaning I see Cachoeira being able to get her style of fight. Cachoeira via TKO of RD2
Betgerel Danaa vs. Brady Hiestand | Bantamweight
We know Batgerel has power; the list of those with three consecutive first round KO’s at bantamweight is short. However, he has also struggled with stopping takedowns. His supporters will point out he hasn’t given up a takedown since his UFC debut, but he has either touched up his opponent before they made their move or wasn’t facing someone concerned with putting him on his back.
That will be Hiestand’s first, second, and third priority. He’s got the gas tank to take Batgerel down consistently over the course of 15 minutes. Hiestand’s pressure will make it difficult for Batgerel to let his fists fly. Hiestand via decision
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