After the last three weeks, it feels like an inevitability UFC Vegas 43 is doomed to be a letdown. Not to say the card is absolute crap, but it is a significant step down from the last three, perhaps even four weeks. Even with that said, there’s no doubt the UFC’s offering of fights is easily the best set of fights this weekend, represented by seven different nations. There are several prospects who offer promise, Pat Sabatini and Terrance McKinney probably jump out the most to most observers, but Luana Pinheiro shouldn’t be overlooked either despite a rocky UFC start. These prelims aren’t anything special by UFC standards, but there are some worthwhile contests.
- If only more fans appreciated a slick submission as much as a violent KO, Pat Sabatini might be recognized as one of the top up-and-comers in the featherweight division. Not that Sabatini is helpless on the feet, but he already appears to be one of the better grapplers in the division after just two fights in the UFC. Outside of a freak injury, Sabatini has shown impressive durability, something he’s going to need if he hopes to continue climbing the ladder. It’ll be put to the test as Tucker Lutz is going to be sure to test it out as the 27-year-old has a history of pressing the action and letting his fists fly. However, while Lutz appears to be well-rounded, he doesn’t appear to have a single skill that stands out. Basically, he’s good at everything, great at nothing. Is that going to be good enough to survive a trip to the mat with Sabatini? My guess is no. Lutz has a path to victory if he can keep the fight standing as he offers more power and has proven himself capable of winning ugly battles, but fighters also tend to have an ego. While an ego is needed to be the best in any sport, it also tends to bite an athlete in the ass more often than not. I think it does so with Lutz here in what proves to be a learning experience. Sabatini via submission of RD2
- It’s now or never for Rafa Garcia. The native of Mexico needs a win or he’s going to find himself on the outside looking in. Garcia has the tools to be a long-term fixture on the roster, in addition to the willingness to throwdown that Uncle Dana likes. Of course, that willingness is also a big part of the reason he sits at 0-2 in the UFC as he is miserable at avoiding his opponents firepower. What is in his favor is Garcia is always pressing forward, either looking for a takedown or swinging heavy hooks at this opponent. Will that be enough at Natan Levy? The DWCS alum has a strong ground game, emphasized by his strong, fundamental wrestling game, a bit of a surprise given his background is in karate. Nonetheless, Levy is the superior technician between the two, at least in the late stages as Garcia has faded after the opening round on several occasions. Garcia will still continue to throw or look for takedowns, but the efficiency takes a huge dip. Regardless, I think he can do enough early as I’m not sure how well Levy’s ground game transfers with both a step up in weight – he’s spent most of his career at featherweight – and against a higher level of competition. Regardless, it should be a razor thin contest with Garcia being the busier fighter being the difference. Garcia via decision
- It’s hard not to admire the fighting spirit of Lupita Godinez. Making her third appearance in the span of a month-and-a-half, she appears dead set on becoming the new Angela Hill, willing to step up at any time against anybody. A fierce wrestler with an underrated grappling game and impressive strength, the biggest obstacle holding Godinez back from developing into an elite fighter is her lack of size, seeing how she is small even for a strawweight. Not that she can’t figure out a way to overcome that obstacle, but it’s going to be a hell of a chore for her. She has the advantage of fighting a similarly sized opponent in Loma Lookboonmee this time around. Lookboonmee’s first priority in any fight is to remain standing given her strong Muay Thai background, so it all boils down to whether she can remain standing. Her takedown defense has shown steady growth, though she hasn’t faced an opponent whose top priority is to ground her. Nonetheless, I haven’t seen enough out of Godinez to believe she can hang on the feet with Lookboonmee and I trust in Lookboonmee’s takedown defense enough to believe she can keep the fight standing enough to take a decision. Lookboonmee via decision
- The book is still out on Fares Ziam. The 24-year-old Frenchman has shown a strong striking prowess, a stiff jab being his most effective weapon with a level of defensive awareness you wouldn’t expect out of a fighter of his age. However, he also seems to lack a killer instinct that is requisite to develop into an elite fighter. Killer instinct isn’t an issue for Terrance McKinney. The former high school wrestler needed only 112 seconds to eliminate his last four opponents combined. McKinney has developed into an explosive and confident striker. However, what’s most promising for McKinney is that his wrestling is considered to be his best feature, something he hasn’t even bothered to utilize in his last four contests. Regardless, it’s hard to believe McKinney won’t continue to pursue fast finishes given how successful he’s been at racking them up. That could leave McKinney in deep trouble if Ziam survives his early onslaught. Ziam has proven to be durable and able to find his way out of a difficult situation. I think he can outpoint McKinney once the uber-athletic McKinney drains his gas tank in a hurry. Ziam via decision
- From an entertainment perspective, it’s hard to have a better debut than Aoriqileng. The youthful Chinese representative engaged in a reckless firefight with Jeff Molina, earning himself an extra $50K in the process. While there was a lot to like about his performance – his heart, endurance, and durability – there were a lot of red flags as well, most particularly his lack of attention to defense. Against Cody Durden, that could prove problematic as Durden has plus power for flyweight. Durden isn’t likely to engage in that type of firefight as he would much rather grind away at his opponent behind the strength of his wrestling. While no one questions if Durden will be able to get Aoriqileng to the mat, whether he’ll be able to do so late is worth questioning as Durden has yet to record an official win at flyweight, all his wins coming at catchweight or bantamweight. Durden’s ability to effectively go deep after cutting to 125 hasn’t been proven. Regardless, given Durden’s durability, I like him to grind out an ugly decision… or at least as grinding as a flyweight contest can be. Durden via decision
- If nothing else, it has to be said that Shayilan Nuerdanbieke is persistent. The Chinese representative had a lackluster UFC debut where he scored some takedowns… and did nothing else. Shayilan is best known for his wrestling, but struggled to take Josh Culibao to the mat and Culibao isn’t exactly thought of as a tough task to drag to the mat. If he can’t get Sean Soriano to the mat, it’ll be a pretty strong indication Shayilan isn’t UFC material. Soriano is a well-rounded fighter, but he’s also been taken down at least three times in every one of his UFC contests. Of course, all his opponents have been ground based fighters with far more established track records than Shayilan. What Soriano does definitively have over Shayilan is a striking advantage. Soriano has improved his combination striking during his time away from the UFC and appears to have developed some additional power. I like the possibility of him getting Shayilan out of there before the bell. Soriano via TKO of RD2
- Luana Pinheiro has a lot to prove following the controversial ending to her UFC debut. Pinheiro may have left with a W, but it was off a DQ where many believe she played up the extent of her injury. It’s a shame given she looked like a killer in her DWCS showing, not to mention she appeared to be winning before the DQ against Randa Markos. Unfortunately, those type of reputations are difficult to buck, so even if she manages to beat Sam Hughes, she’s still going to have plenty of doubters. Don’t let Hughes’ 0-2 UFC record fool you, she’s not an easy test. While she may not have the greatest of natural athletic gifts, she extremely well-conditioned, is uber-tough, and doesn’t mind throwing down. However, she’s also shown a weakness to takedowns and submissions. Pinheiro isn’t a traditional wrestler, but she utilizes trips and throws to get the fight to the mat very effectively. In fact, Pinheiro has won every one of her fights in the first round with the exception of her professional debut. There’s a great chance Hughes can pull off the upset should the fight leave the opening round as Pinheiro tends to go gangbusters from the start, but I think she finds the finish before Hughes can shift the momentum. Pinheiro via submission of RD1