For a card that’s considered to be a letdown – and it is in comparison to the cards we’ve received over the last several weeks – there’s actually several fights of importance on UFC Vegas 43. The main event between Miesha Tate and Ketlen Vieira could very well set up the winner to be the next title challenger for Amanda Nunes. Sean Brady gets his chance to breakout against Michael Chiesa. And given Valentina Shevchenko continues to turn away challenge after challenge at women’s flyweight, the winner of Joanne Wood and Taila Santos is in prime position to set themselves up for a title shot given neither have faced her yet. Plus, the UFC has been pushing Adrian Yanez as a must-see prospect for good reason. It doesn’t have the excitement Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez offered, but UFC Vegas 43 isn’t a nothing card by any means.
For the prelims preview, click here.
Miesha Tate vs. Ketlen Vieira, Women’s Bantamweight
Given all the talk of Nunes looking to ride off into the sunset sooner rather than later, there’s a bit of irony to the fact that Tate is looking like a possible successor to her reign after she was the one Nunes wrested the belt from in the first place. Of course, Tate has a lot to prove before those talks feel more like a reality as opposed to mere speculation....
One thing we know Tate possesses in spades is heart and gumption. She was down on the scorecards against Holly Holm before throwing everything but the kitchen sink at her in the final round to secure the title. Most promising for Tate is heart and gumption generally is something you have or you don’t, it doesn’t fade with age. It can be lost due to a lack of motivation, but Tate’s attitude and demeanor looks to be in a healthy place after it was clear in her last couple of UFC fights prior to her retirement that her mental health was severely compromised.
Tate used the time away to not only get mentally right, there’s a spring in her step that wasn’t there before. I’m not just referencing her allowing her body to heal either. In her return fight against Marion Reneau, Sure, Tate’s ground game looked good, including a more vicious brand of GnP than she had ever displayed. Tate was a far more technical striker than she had ever previously shown, looking far more natural in her movement. I wouldn’t expect her to become K-1 Tate, but she should be far more competitive on the feet as opposed to it feeling like she’s killing time until she can get the fight to the mat.
Against Vieira, being light on her feet may be enough for Tate to get the win. Not that Vieira isn’t a danger on the feet. The Brazilian can hit hard and isn’t afraid to throw down. The issue for Vieira is that she’s on the slow side and tends to get outpointed on the feet. Where she makes up for that is being one of the more physically imposing members of the division, Vieira isn’t a fantastic wrestler or judoka in the traditional sense, but her strength allows her to get away with that when attempting her takedowns. Once the fight hits the mat, Vieira’s suffocating brand of grappling isn’t easy to escape from, resulting in several contests where she has secured a decision despite being on the short end of the stick in terms of significant strikes.
Given Tate has always had to get by more on guts and guile than physical gifts, even when it comes to her bread and butter wrestling, there was a time where I could have been convinced Vieira should be the favorite in this contest. However, Vieira missed weight in her last contest and her gas tank looked severely compromised. This is going to be a five-round fight. Even when Tate closed out her first UFC run in miserable fashion, her conditioning didn’t appear to be an issue and if her social media is any indication, she’s never been in better shape than she is now. Outside of an early finish, I don’t see Vieira taking this. Tate via TKO of RD5
Michael Chiesa vs. Sean Brady, Welterweight
While there has been a lot of hype around the workmanlike Brady, this is a HUGE step up for the Philly native, going from Jake Matthews to Chiesa. Is it too much, too soon?
There’s a large swath of people who probably scoff at that suggestion, forgetting that Chiesa may very well have been one win away from securing a title shot had he found a way to get past Vicente Luque. The issue for Chiesa is he tends to get inside of his own head. If the man known as Maverick is in a good mental space, it’s hard to find a heavier wet blanket in the sport. Over the course of eight rounds, he smothered Rafael dos Anjos and Neil Magny, two very accomplished wrestlers and grapplers in their own right. It’s not like he’s incapable of finding a submission either. When he’s on, it’s hard to find a more dominant ground fighter than Chiesa.
Of course, the question is whether he’ll be on. Comparing Brady to the men Chiesa has fallen might help to answer that question. Chiesa’s losses have come against athletically superior competition with strong ground games of their own. Some may argue dos Anjos falls into that category, but dos Anjos was also an overgrown lightweight whom Chiesa was significantly larger than. Regardless, it’s debatable who is the better athlete in this contest, but Brady’s stout frame does appear to be stronger. At the very least, it’s doubtful Chiesa will be able to bully Brady.
That said, it seems doubtful that Brady, a largely ground-based fighter himself, is going to be bullying Chiesa either. Thus, there’s a good chance this fight comes down to the striking. The small samples of Chiesa on the feet in his recent fights indicates he’s never been better and he’s always had surprising power. However, it is a small sample and he doesn’t put the same pace on his opponents Brady does. Given Brady is likely to respect Chiesa’s takedowns, he probably isn’t going to throw at his typical pace – perhaps eliminating a lot of his low kicks — but his punching combinations are far tighter than anything Chiesa will throw out.
I make my pick with no confidence. Chiesa has entered fights with doubts about how he’ll do on the mat with several opponents only to go out and have his way with them. However, Brady feels like a different animal than anything Chiesa has faced, someone who Chiesa matches up poorly against. Chiesa could easily take a round or two if he can find Brady’s back in a scramble – perhaps even end the fight – but Brady’s grappling fundamentals don’t get enough attention. I also question how Chiesa will respond if things don’t go his way early. He has panicked in the past when he suffers a small momentum swing against him. It’s a fantastic matchup by the matchmakers, but I’m leaning ever so slightly towards the less proven commodity. Brady via decision
Joanne Wood vs. Taila Santos, Women’s Flyweight
It’s hard to think of a fighter who has had a more up-and-down run in the UFC than Wood. There’s been a couple of occasions – both within the last couple of years – where she was a win away for competing for the title, only for Wood to come up short. Now, she enters this contest against Santos as a considerable underdog.
To a casual observer, that may seem confusing as Santos’ best win came against an ancient Roxanne Modafferi just off knee surgery and not that far from retirement. Nonetheless, if that casual observer saw what Santos did to Modafferi, they would understand. Santos has really come into her own. While she was expected to win the battle on the feet – and she did – Santos absolutely bullied and blanketed the crafty Modafferi in a way no one else had. Given Modafferi has been able to make similarly gifted opponents look silly, it isn’t a small accomplishment, even if Modafferi is on the final stage of her career.
While many will talk about the physical tools of Santos – and they are aplenty – it’s her awareness and efficiency that allow her to tie everything together. While her tendency to throw one strike at a time worries me as she continues to climb the ladder, she rarely wastes energy in the process and she needs plenty of it to be successful in her blanketing wrestling and grappling. Plus, even if outvoluming isn’t the path to victory for Santos, her opponents have to respect her power, which is in the upper echelon for the division.
Power may not be in the arsenal of Wood, but she has cardio for days and there isn’t a more consistent volume striker in the division. Jabs, low kicks, front kicks, knees and elbows in the clinch... Wood has a deep arsenal and puts it on display in every contest. While those strikes may not have a lot of concussive power behind them, they have plenty of sting and it never stops coming since Wood has been able to go deep in every contest effectively since moving up in weight to flyweight.
The concern about Wood when she moved up in weight was how she would deal with the physicality of her opponents. While her takedown defense has exceeded the expectations of most, it’s still somewhat shallow, opponents willing to make the second and third efforts within a takedown attempt able to find success. What has been even more worrisome is Wood’s inability to get back to her feet once taken down. Thus, I completely understand the betting odds tilting as heavily as they do in favor of Santos. Wood does have a route to victory if she can rack up enough volume before being taken down, but I’ve been too impressed with Santos’ fight IQ to see that happening. Santos via decision
- When compiling a list of most underappreciated members of the UFC roster, Rani Yahya should be on everyone’s list. It was over 14 years ago he competed for the WEC bantamweight title and has racked up 12 wins under the UFC banner. Imagine how much more success Yahya could have found if he was merely an average athlete as opposed to the subpar one he is. That shouldn’t be seen as a knock on Yahya as few have been able to maximize their physical talents the way he has, but it explains why he never grew past being a gatekeeper despite have one of the most suffocating and technically sound ground games in the entirety of the sport. As always, getting the fight to the mat is key, but it won’t be easy to do against Kyung Ho Kang. Kang hasn’t been seen in two years, so it’s fair to question if he’ll look the same as he is now 34. If he does resemble the same fighter, it’s doubtful Yahya will find much success in securing takedowns as Kang is built like a brick house. Of course, Kang’s striking is somewhat limited, but not nearly as much as Yahya’s. Provided Kang can keep the fight standing, the fight is his for the taking. Provided he survives the inevitable early onslaught from Yahya – who will even try pulling guard — I think Kang succeeds in taking the win. Kang via decision
- It’s a shame Davey Grant had so many issues getting into the cage for several years. He has displayed the best version of himself in the last year, a bit of a surprise given he turns 36 next month, ancient for the bantamweight division. After so many years fighting, he’s developed a feel for striking that wasn’t apparent early in his UFC run, regularly finding a home for his powerful left hand. Given he was known primarily as a grappler before his recent run of success and many see Adrian Yanez as one of the better strikers in the division, it might be wise for Grant to return to his roots given the chasm in their athletic gifts. Getting the fight to the ground for Grant will be easier said than done as Yanez has made huge strides in his takedown defense from his days on the regional scene. On the feet, Yanez is able to do things others can’t due to his incredible hand speed and innate ability to make reads. Despite Grant’s improvements on the feet, it’s hard not to favor Yanez. Grant is tough, but Yanez is looking better with every fight and it’s hard to believe his speed advantage doesn’t create a short night for the two of them. Yanez via KO of RD2