A common theme during the pandemic for the UFC has been prelims chock full of newcomers or fighters whom you’d have expected the UFC to cut loose a while ago. Given the difficulties of fighting at this time, it’s understandable. Fortunately, the UFC Vegas 13 prelims are largely bucking that trend. Not that they are gangbusters by any means, but there should be at least one name that’s recognizable to those who follow the organization. There are some newcomers, but they are facing opponents that have been around the block. Some of the recognizable names are on losing skids – such as Darren Elkins and Max Griffin – but there are up-and-comers such as Giga Chikadze and Alexander Romanov. Overall, these are a nice batch of early contests.
- So… when is Giga Chikadze going to get a step up in competition? On a four-fight win streak, capped by an impressive win over Omar Morales, it seemed more logical for the native of Georgia to get an opportunity against a ranked opponent rather than a UFC newcomer. And yet, Chikadze is welcoming Jamey Simmons to the Octagon. No disrespect to Simmons, but this feels like a step backwards for Chikadze. Simmons is aggressive and has some raw power, but he’s also on the small side for featherweight and leaves a lot to be desired in terms of his technique. That’s never been an issue for Chikadze. After all, he’s already had a long and successful career as a high level kickboxer. Throw in Chikadze’s size – he’s roughly six inches taller than Simmons – and it’s hard to see Simmons navigating Chikadze’s potent brand of offense. Simmons doesn’t show any fear of getting hit, but he’s also not indestructible. My guess is Chikadze gets his first UFC finish. Chikadze via TKO of RD1
- It doesn’t take a lot of study to realize Bevon Lewis is a gifted MMA athlete. Massive for the middleweight division – I have a hard time believing he won’t be at light heavyweight in a few years – Lewis has a bad tendency of negating his size advantage due to his preference of closing the distance and clinching up. Not that Lewis is bad in the clinch, but given the lack of a ground game, it limits his dynamism from that area. That gives Trevin Giles a distinct advantage he’s not used to having as his wrestling and grappling – not his strongest suits – are far more advanced than what Lewis has shown. Of course, Giles would need to get Lewis to the mat first, something no one has been able to do in the UFC yet. Even if Giles can’t get Lewis to the mat, he may still be able to secure the W. While he may not have the length of Lewis, Giles is similarly athletic with a better knowledge of how to use the physical tools at his disposal. Lewis’ frame gives him a higher ceiling and has more room for growth. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s made enough growth to catch up to Giles. Giles via decision
- There have been few recent UFC debuts as one-sided as Alexander Romanov’s, bludgeoning Roque Martinez like he was a ragdoll. For those who looked into the Moldovan product before that contest, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Known as King Kong, Romanov is built like a tree stump, compact and hard to move. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t move like one, catching many opponents off guard with his quick burst a sound wrestling. There isn’t much to sing about on the feet for Romanov, but he’s aware of where his bread is buttered, wasting no time getting the fight to the mat, moving into an advantageous position – often the mount – and laying in the punishment nice and heavy. He’s likely to absorb some damage from Marcos Rogerio de Lima before he can get the fight where he wants. De Lima is one of the most technically proficient strikers in the division… when he wants to be. The Brazilian can go wild looking for the finish and has exhausted himself looking for the finish before the first round is up on several occasions. If he maintains his focus, de Lima is capable of finishing anyone with one shot. Of course, he’s more likely to let Romanov close the gap, wrest him to the mat, and allow the mauling to begin. I’d be shocked if the contest doesn’t play out that way. Romanov via TKO of RD1
- After one of the most improbable win streaks of note in UFC history – six consecutive – Darren Elkins has fallen on hard times, currently in the midst of a four-fight losing streak. He’s still relentless with a never-ending gas tank, but his opponents have figured out it isn’t in their best interest to try and outwork him. It’s possible to outslick Elkins on the feet or overwhelm him with athleticism and physicality, but meeting him in the middle – his wheelhouse – is a terrible idea. The problem is most believe since Elkins isn’t a hard hitter, they can make a statement by winning a dogfight with him. It is possible, but not the smartest route to victory. Can Eduardo Garagorri get the fight he needs to win? It doesn’t look that way. The native of Uruguay has some raw skills to work with, but he’s spent most of his career beating up cans on the regional scene since that’s what was available to him to fight. His first contest against a credible opponent, Ricardo Ramos, saw him get overwhelmed in a big hurry. While that losing experience and the year since that time may have taught him a lot, Elkins is a taller task than Ramos. Elkins finally snaps his losing streak. Elkins via submission of RD2
- MMA fans know better than any other group of fans that a person’s record can be deceptive. That idea applies to Max Griffin in the extreme, as he’s far better than his 3-6 UFC record would indicate, coming out on the wrong end of several UFC decisions. A slick striker who has vastly improved his wrestling – offensive and defensive – since his UFC debut four years ago, Griffin’s biggest problem has been struggling to maintain his composure, getting sucked into brawls rather than fighting a technical fight. He’s capable of maintaining distance and utilizing angles – see his win over Mike Perry – but he tends to define the idea of everyone having a plan until they get hit in the face. Perhaps all he’ll need to do is survive the early onslaught that is sure to come from Ramiz Brahimaj, a newcomer to the organization. A strong wrestler, Brahimaj blitzes his opponent out of the gate with takedowns and heavy artillery. It usually works as he’s only left the first round three times in his career, winning every time he keeps it in the first round. Of course, only one of those three times it did leave the first round did Brahimaj win. Griffin has proven to be durable with a solid gas tank. If he gets past the first round, he’s all but assured to win. Griffin via TKO of RD2
- Not that it should necessarily be a big deal, those who have followed the UFC closely for years should be ecstatic to see Anthony Birchak on the UFC roster once again. His first stint was short – only four appearances – but they weren’t short on excitement in the least. Now 34, Birchak is past his physical prime, but appears to have matured somewhat in his approach. Of course, he has also faced a lower level of competition in his last three outings. Regardless, it’s hard to believe his return against Gustavo Lopez won’t be awesome as both have a reputation for standing and trading fisticuffs. In fact, win or lose, both have a habit of one round contests. Lopez is younger and hasn’t been in as many wars, which could very well work to his advantage. However, Lopez hasn’t shown much in terms of a functional wrestling and grappling game. Birchak, as part of his maturation, has been making greater use of his ground abilities. I’d expect that to be the difference in this contest. Birchak via submission of RD2