Through no fault of its own, UFC Vegas 45 feels like a major letdown. UFC 269 proved to be such a wild success, it felt like the perfect way to end 2021. Instead, there’s one more event to go before we call it a close on the year. Given the general craziness that envelops the holiday season, there’s a good chance many of those who would regularly turn into a Fight Night card are going to end up passing on the card. If all they pass on is the prelims, they won’t be missing on too much in terms of importance, but the perennially underrated Raoni Barcelos and former title challenger Raquel Pennington populate the first half of the event. In other words, if you’re one of the few that doesn’t have anything better to do during this hectic time of year, there’s some action that should be worth tuning in for.
Raquel Pennington vs. Macy Chiasson, Women’s Featherweight
When I first heard Chiasson was stepping in on short notice to replace Julia Avila, I figured Pennington had it in the bag. Chiasson is monstrously huge for 135, it being a wonder she’s even able to make her way down to the weight class limit. Doing so on short notice was sure to be hell for her. And then I found out the contest would take place at featherweight and the dynamic of the fight changed immensely.
Pennington isn’t necessarily on the small side for the bantamweight division, but she most certainly is for featherweight. Many have lauded her wrestling over the years, but I would say it’s the most overrated aspect of her game. Not that her wrestling is necessarily a weakness, but it has rarely been the major factor in her securing wins, though it could be argued some of her losses could be attributed to her inability to finish her takedowns. Fighting at 145 could be problematic as Chiasson will benefit more from not having to make the weight cut, meaning she could stuff all the coming takedowns being more hydrated. However, if Pennington can’t finish the takedowns, she does thrive in the clinch, particularly against the cage. As gritty and grimy as they come, Pennington’s ability to make a fight ugly is her greatest strength.
Unfortunately for Pennington, Chiasson’s preferred fighting space is also in the clinch against the cage. Perhaps Pennington might be able to utilize superior positioning and technique to outmaneuver the larger Chiasson much in the way Lina Lansberg did. However, Chiasson’s loss to Lansberg came over two years ago and Chiasson appears to be young in her career yet. Though neither of Chiasson’s opponents since that loss are on the level of Pennington in terms of physicality, she has demonstrated some technical improvements, including in close quarters.
If the fights stays in the clinch for its entirety, I feel good about picking Chiasson. At featherweight, she doesn’t have to make a potentially debilitating weight cut, which should allow her to push a hard pace from bell to bell, wearing on Pennington with her massive frame. However, if Pennington can keep the fight in the pocket, she might be able to turn the tide in her favor just enough to take a decision. That said, Chiasson has made progress on the feet, spending large chunks of time against Marion Reneau and proving to be the better striker, utilizing her reach better than she ever previously had. Of course, Reneau isn’t Pennington. It’s a tough contest to pick, but I’ll go with Chiasson to continue to make improvements and get the W. Chiasson via decision
- No doubt pairing Gerald Meerschaert and Dustin Stoltzfus is curious matchmaking as Meerschaert is coming off two consecutive wins and Stoltzfus two consecutive losses. However, both were scheduled against other opponents that were forced to pull out for various reasons and the UFC just decided to pit them against one another. Meerschaert is one of the most tested members of the roster, with 47 career professional contests under his belt. He’s picked up a lot of savvy tricks over the years, most of them coming in handy with regards to how he gets the fight to the mat or how he might look for a submission once the fight is on the floor. However, there are signs all the miles are catching up with him, suffering back-to-back first round KO losses just last year. In many ways, Stoltzfus reminds me of a younger version of Meerschaert. He finishes most of his fights via submission. He doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of pop in his fists. He’s plenty durable too. The biggest thing separating them is Stoltzfus isn’t quite so willing to take risks whereas calculated risks is what has allowed Meerschaert to have as much success as he has. Does Stoltzfus have the power or killer instinct to make Meerschaert pay for it? I don’t know, even at this stage when Meerschaert’s chin can be questioned. Regardless, I’m going with Stoltzfus as I expect he’ll show more urgency in this contest knowing he’s on the chopping block, he should be the more consistent striker, and his ground game is sound. Stoltzfus via decision
- While it feels like there is a degree of disrespect being paid to Raoni Barcelos by having him face a UFC debutant, Victor Henry opted to step in on short notice to face the dangerous Brazilian. Plus, Henry is unlike 95% of the fighters making their UFC debuts in the sense that he should have already been in the organization a long time ago. Many would have said the same thing about Barcelos when he was signed in 2017, but where Barcelos was 30 at that time, Henry is already 34... the same age as Barcelos. Regardless, Henry has fought some of the best names on the regional scene, showing a diverse game and the ability to be dragged into deep waters and not drown. In fact, Henry has never been finished in his decade-plus career. There are a lot of names on the UFC roster I’d pick Henry to come in and pick up the win, but Barcelos isn’t one I feel so confident about. The Brazilian is a world-class grappler, one of the most underrated wrestlers on the entire roster, and hits like a Mack truck. The best chance I’d give Henry of winning is Barcelos slowing late, much like he did in his controversial loss to Timur Valiev. However, given Henry is taking the fight on short notice, I’m not so sure he’ll have the stamina to do so without a full camp to cut down his weight. Regardless, this is an underrated contest that viewers should circle. Barcelos via decision
- If there was ever the obligatory heavyweight scrap, the contest between Harry Hunsucker and Justin Tafa is it. No one doubts the toughness and willingness to throw down of either competitor, but whether they have the talent to stay on the roster for the long term is a completely different story. Tafa at least has a UFC win under his belt, putting away the raw Juan Adams in short manner. However, while Tafa tips the scales towards the heavyweight limit, he is on the short side for the division. It isn’t like he has a high degree of quickness to exploit being the shorter man in the cage, but he is most certainly willing to brawl. Tafa is fortunate enough that Hunsucker isn’t much longer, but the American does push a heavy pace in a do-or-die manner, never having left the first round. However, that also means the potential of him outworking Tafa is a major question mark as he could fade fast. I’m not crazy about the long-term prospects for either man, but I have a better idea of what Tafa provides and think it should be enough to put away Hunsucker. Tafa via TKO of RD1
- It took Melissa Gatto several years to make her UFC debut after he signing to the organization, meaning she was very much a mystery when she fought Victoria Leonardo this past summer. Her performance was a pleasant surprise, dominating Leonardo in every phase of the fight. Leonardo may not be a proven commodity, but she was who was in front of Gatto and the Brazilian overwhelmed her. There are holes that Sijara Eubanks could expose as Eubanks is a bulldog on the mat and Gatto can be overaggressive from that aspect. Gatto’s defense on the feet is lacking too, but Eubanks, though she hits plenty hard, her brawling nature doesn’t appear to set up to exploit a specific hole. With Eubanks, there is always the concern of her being able to go a hard 15 minutes at flyweight. She claims her diet and weight cut are under control and she did look awesome in her return to the weight class. However, it was also against a short notice replacement making their UFC debut and the fight lasted less than a round. Eubanks ability to go deep wasn’t tested. Despite that, I still favor the American in this one as Eubanks’ toughness and grit is something Gatto will struggle with, but I’ll be seeing how Eubanks looks at the weigh-ins before punching her name with certainty. Eubanks via decision
- It should come as no surprise Andre Ewell is moving up to 145. About as long and lanky as they come at bantamweight, Ewell had suffered several KO losses in addition to slowing down noticeably in his most recent contest, indicating his body can’t handle the cut to 135 anymore. It does mean his height and reach won’t be the weapon it has been up to this point, but he’s still going to have a half-a-foot advantage in reach over Charles Jourdain. Jourdain possesses power and a willingness to throw spinning and flying attacks with a high degree of frequency. Unfortunately, he also tends to spend long periods of time floating through fights, looking for the opening to launch one of his attacks. Jourdain does have a notable jab, but doesn’t utilize it to the extent he should. There’s a very good chance Ewell can outvolume Jourdain, but Ewell’s defense has never been what it should be given his frame. I don’t see it improving against larger opposition, not to mention Jourdain is a on a comparable level to Ewell in terms of raw athleticism, even if he is a different type of athlete. Give that, I don’t trust Ewell can pull it out without a distinct physical advantage outside of reach. Jourdain via KO of RD2
- Josh Parisian is a BIG boy. He doesn’t have a very athletic frame, but he is surprisingly well conditioned with a willingness to throw high-risk maneuvers, not the type of thing you’d expect from a heavyweight who needs to cut weight to make the 265-lb limit. He’ll be at a clear athletic disadvantage against Dontale Mayes, a project the UFC has invested a lot of time and energy into, giving him three opportunities on DWCS before giving him an official roster spot. It isn’t hard to see what the UFC likes about Mayes. At 6’6” with an 81” reach and explosive power, he has all the tools to be a major difference maker. While Mayes has made progress, he still doesn’t look comfortable in the cage, performing like he’s supposed to fight given his physical attributes as opposed to it being something he enjoys doing. For all the physical disadvantages Parisian might have, he seems to enjoy fighting. Both have enough power that all it could take is a single punch to end the contest – and both have miserable defense – but I’ll go with Parisian’s more natural feel for fighting and his surprisingly fast hands to be the difference. Parisian via TKO of RD2
- It was a bit of a shock for me to realize Matt Sayles was still on the UFC roster when his contest with Jordan Leavitt was announced. Then it hit me that Leavitt was a lightweight... Sayles was moving up in weight. That’s a bit of a surprise as Sayles wasn’t a big featherweight to begin with and while he hasn’t made wrestling a priority in since touching down in the UFC, it would appear that option is less likely to be successful if he were to try to utilize it. What may be even more key is whether being notably larger will be enough for Leavitt to get the fight to the ground. In an era when true specialists are an endangered species, Leavitt is very much a grappling specialist. While Sayles isn’t majorly deficient in any one area, it’s hard to say if there is an area that he excels at. His record on the regional scene indicates he’s got power, but it hasn’t translated yet. For all Leavitt’s deficiencies on the feet, he is tough and has several tricky ways to get the fight to the mat outside of traditional wrestling. It’s very much a coin flip of a fight, but hearing Sayles ballooned up to 250-lbs during his layoff raises enough concerns for me to look in favor of Leavitt. Leavitt via submission of RD1