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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 28: Strong offering of preliminary fights

Get the scoop on this weekends offering of preliminary fights from UFC Vegas 28, including an appearance by Mr. Finland Makwan Amirkhani welcoming newcomer Kamuela Kirk.

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Makwan Amirkhani after defeating Danny Henry at UFC 251
Makwan Amirkhani after defeating Danny Henry at UFC 251
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

While the main event of UFC Vegas 28 is more than a little bit underwhelming – a pair of heavyweights coming off losses clashing for five-rounds isn’t all that appetizing – the prelims have a number of fights that should raise the eyebrows of those who pay close attention to the organization. There’s a large swathe of prospects who may not have the can’t-miss label attached to them, but certainly have high ceilings. There’s Manon Fiorot’s striking. There’s also the lanky Sean Woodson. And also the crafty Jordan Leavitt. The prelims also host several veterans who have flirted with the UFC rankings in Ilir Latifi, Francisco Trinaldo, and Montana de la Rosa. There isn’t one contest in particular I’d single out, but as a whole, I’d say this is a strong offering of preliminary fights.

  • Ariane Lipski has proven to be one of the biggest disappointments in terms of hyped prospects in recent years. Known as the Queen of Violence, her tenure has been defined more by a reluctance to engage in the pocket in the manner that she was known to do so prior to touching down in the UFC. There have been flashes of what made Lipski such an attraction – just enough to have her pick up a couple of UFC wins thus far – but they’ve been so scant that few believe she’ll come close to meeting earlier expectations. However, rather than say her lack of aggression is going to be her death knell, her takedown defense appears to be an even bigger worry. Given Montana de la Rosa’s bread and butter is her submission game, that bodes very poorly for Lipski on her chances to win. De la Rosa’s wrestling has limited her ceiling as she’s on the smaller side at flyweight, creating an issue for her to finish the takedowns that would put her on the road to success. She has improved her striking technique, but it’s clear the striking aspect still doesn’t come natural to de la Rosa quite yet. There’s an opening for Lipski to overwhelm de la Rosa in that manner, but I wouldn’t count on a return to form from Lipski given the establishment of her recent pattern. De la Rosa via submission of RD1
  • On most UFC cards, there’s usually one contest that the hardcore fans have an odd enthusiasm for that casual fans can’t figure out. For this card, it’s Ilir Latifi and Tanner Boser doing the damn thing. Latifi is the primary reason for the enthusiasm as he’s a 5’10” heavyweight whose base is amongst the strongest in the entirety of the sport. His contests are typically full of long stretches where he isn’t doing a lot as his strategy surrounds his power punching and Greco-style wrestling. If Latifi can get his opponent to the mat, he is difficult to move from the top position and has some power submissions that opponents must be wary of. Boser is the complete opposite. While the mullet-wearing Boser has been making great efforts to translate more power into his strikes, most would still consider him to be the rare volume striking heavyweight. To find success in that role, an iron chin is necessary and Boser’s has held up well, only going down once in the early years of his career. Though he isn’t the biggest heavyweight, Boser has been able to make up for it with his speed and footwork. Those characteristics have not only served him well to avoid power punches landing cleanly, but keeps him out of the grasps of those who want to take him to the mat. Latifi can surprise with his burst, but the most likely scenario has Boser using his quicks to avoid Latifi for enough of the contest to take a decision. Boser via decision
  • Anyone else wondering when Francisco Trinaldo is going to start slowing down? If viewers pay close attention, they can see that the 42-year old’s physical skills have been in decline, but the Brazilian has continued to win thanks to his plentiful savvy thanks to his years of experience beginning to shine through with greater aplomb. At some point, Trinaldo’s declining speed and shallowing gas tank is going to make it so he’s losing more than winning, but the question is whether he’s at that point yet. He’s trying to help push that back by moving up to welterweight, not having to cut as much weight and not having to deal with speedier lightweights, but that only solves so much of the problem. Of course, there are signs the 36-year old Muslim Salikhov might be losing a step too, though it isn’t as noticeable. Regardless, much like Trinaldo, Salikhov is a counter striker at heart. The big differences in their styles is Trinaldo likes to engage more in the pocket whereas Salikov likes to stay on the outside and create violent collisions or land a spinning attack. In fact, spinning attacks are by far his favorite, though they’ve been losing effectiveness as opponents get a better feel for him. This is a tough contest to pick, but I’ll go with the younger fighter in this one given it could always be the next fight when Trinaldo falls off a cliff. Salikhov via decision
  • After six years it feels safe to say Makwan Amirkhani has reached his ceiling. Every time he has faced a ranked opponent, he’s taken a one-sided loss. Amirkhani has even tried changing up his style into a more mature approach against Edson Barboza, only to fall flat on his face. To be fair to Amirkhani, his efforts to improve his striking has borne fruit, but at heart, he is an aggressive submission artist with a strong wrestling base. Amirkhani’s aggression has bit him in the ass several times over as he tends to lose steam beyond the first round, but he also has secured most of his wins before the fight exits the opening frame. By far, that presents the best chance for newcomer Kamuela Kirk to pull off the upset in his UFC debut. Though Kirk is the younger and less experienced fighter, you’d be forgiven if you thought otherwise as he fights beyond his years, methodically picking apart his opponents with precision strikes and avoiding the typical mistakes of younger fighters. Kirk is well-rounded, but doesn’t have a lot of power and can be overwhelmed by superior athletes… like Amirkhani. Kirk is taking the contest on short notice and it’s plausible the weight cut could prove problematic for his gas tank. I think that costs him… if he can make it past the first round. However, should Kirk’s weight cut go well, an upset seems very likely. Amirkhani via submission of RD1
  • Nobody wants to enter the UFC on a loss, but if you’re going to, do it in the manner in which Mason Jones did. The Welshman went toe-to-toe with noted striker Mike Davis in one of the most exciting contests of the year. Displaying resiliency and toughness, Jones ate everything Davis threw at him and didn’t back down, proving to have just as deep of a striking arsenal as Davis. What Jones didn’t have was an inkling of defense, which will certainly bite him in the ass at some point if he doesn’t address it. Will that point be sooner rather than later? Alan Patrick has the power to put him out with a single punch, but the athletic Brazilian is sloppy enough on the feet that it’s doubtful he can land cleanly enough to get the job done. Fortunately for Patrick, his wrestling has been the basis for his success. Unfortunately for Patrick, his ability to secure takedowns has waned in his recent efforts, resulting in his last win coming well over three years ago. At 37, Patrick appears to be nearing the end of the line of his athletic peak, provided it hasn’t already passed. Given his propensity to throw only single strikes at a time and his tendency to fade hard late, I’ll go with Jones ability to pour on the punishment to be the ultimate difference maker. Jones via decision
  • Prior to her UFC debut, there were signs Manon Fiorot could be something special. The problem was, the former kickboxer was doing so against less-than-reputable competition in Europe in her short career that most didn’t think it would translate so well in such a sizeable step up. Fiorot proved those doubters wrong – myself included – by styling on Victoria Leonardo for as long as the contest lasted. Whether it was spinning attacks, bullying her in the clinch, straightforward boxing, or even securing a takedown, Fiorot proved she’s ready for this stage. It’s certainly up for debate whether Tabatha Ricci is ready given she has yet to fight an opponent with a winning record, much less beat one. There’s no denying the Brazilian is talented; she’s a training partner of Mackenzie Dern, is a skilled grappler, and has an extensive judo background. However, she’s on the small side… for strawweight. She’s taking this flyweight contest on short notice – Maryna Moroz pulled out days ahead of the event – which explains the massive size disparity. Ricci appears to have a very bright future, but given Fiorot’s ability to control distance, I don’t see Ricci getting her offense rolling and taking the first loss of her career. Fiorot via TKO of RD2
  • Entering the fall of last year, Youssef Zalal looked like one of the brightest featherweight prospects in the sport. Opening his UFC career with three wins with a disciplined approach before his 24th birthday, it was hard not to sit up and take notice. The wheels began coming off when the youngster began facing opposition with known for their physicality and Zalal’s wrestling proved ineffective against them. Sean Woodson doesn’t present the same type of physicality of Zalal’s recent opponents that defeated him – his wrestling is actually one of the weakest aspects of his game – but nonetheless presents a unique challenge for anyone who faces him due to his 6’2” frame and 78” reach. Woodson’s unorthodox movement can be a distraction and allows him to attack from several angles. While he lacks one-punch power, Woodson can pile up the damage and is willing to throw high risk strikes that can suddenly end the fight. Zalal could struggle to establish his jab with Woodson’s length, so outstriking the longer man seems unlikely. What really sways me in the direction of Woodson is Zalal, despite his great entries and timing, struggles to finish off his takedowns. Woodson’s rubbery enough I see Zalal struggling to get the fight to the ground enough to win. Woodson via decision
  • Much like Ryan Hall, Jordan Leavitt is a major curiosity. Not the physically strongest specimen, nor is he a dangerous striker, his fighting style leaves much debate about just how far his impressive BJJ chops can take him. A single fight into his UFC career, most would agree Leavitt is already one of the most dangerous submission specialists in the division, exceedingly high praise for a prospect. Of course, given fights start on the feet, it’s a matter of getting the fight to the mat and Leavitt’s wrestling is lacking, relying on techniques like head-and-arm throws that are easily countered at the UFC level. Can Claudio Puelles successfully keep the fight standing? There isn’t a lot of reason to believe he can. The young Peruvian has shown growth since his time on TUF Latin America 5 years ago, but he was such a raw product at that time that it’s hard to say he’s developed into a viable UFC fighter in that time, especially given it’s been nearly two years since his last appearance. However, what really feels like the nail in the coffin for Puelles’ chances is his primary form of attack is a mat-based attack as well. Given Leavitt is willing to pull guard – one of the few whom I would say is warranted doing so – I don’t think Puelles can avoid the mat. Leavitt via submission of RD1