UFC Vegas 33 is a one fight card… and even that fight isn’t that great. Well, I guess a better way to put it is Sean Strickland and Uriah Hall is a perfectly fine fight, but it isn’t ever going to be a fight fans feel like they needed five rounds of. Yep. It’s the main event.
At one point, it could have been argued there were two notable fights on the card, only for Askar Askarov to suffer an injury, cancelling his pivotal flyweight contest with Alex Perez. It could be argued an attempt was made to shore up the card as late as last week, only for Shamil Abdurakhimov to be forced to pull out of his contest with Chris Daukaus. Now, the co-main event is Kyung Ho Kang and Rani Yahya. Yahya is a cult favorite of the MMA world, but a co-main event fighter at this point? Nope.
That said, the fights on this card, though pretty much all of them are low level by UFC standards, have the appearance of well-matched contests. There’s even a former champion on the prelims! Of course, the fact I haven’t mentioned that before now is proof of how well thought of Nicco Montano’s title reign was. Regardless, here’s the entirety of the card:
Uriah Hall vs. Sean Strickland, Middleweight
There are still those out there who believe we haven’t seen Hall fulfill his potential. Those believers are few and far between, but they are out there. The reason for that belief is Hall is still very much an inconsistent fighter who can still provide flashes of brilliance. It’s been behind those flashes – and a little bit of luck – that allowed Hall to enter this contest on a four-fight win streak, the longest of such during his UFC run, two former UFC champions being amongst the list of his victims. Despite the run and impressive names, Hall enters this fight the underdog….
That’s because Hall’s inconsistency has been more prominent during that run than anything. He was losing to Bevon Lewis – Bevon Lewis! – prior to a late comeback, was losing long stretches against a 45-year old Anderson Silva, and defeated Chris Weidman off a single leg check. Perhaps the streak can infuse Hall with some confidence as he is still his own worst enemy, going through long bouts of inactivity as he proves reluctant to let his fists fly. Of course, he can also unleash a single blow of extreme lethality, whether it be a spinning attack, a head kick, or even a simple power punch.
Confidence is far from lacking for Strickland, even being less than a year back from his first appearance after a devastating motorcycle accident. On the strength of his jab, Strickland has pieced up his last several opponents, often while talking trash to them as he lets his fists fly. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than his jab is his gas tank, displaying the ability to go a hard 15 minutes without slowing down since making the move up to middleweight.
Strickland doesn’t have the one punch power that tends to cow Hall from throwing his power shots, meaning it’s impossible to count out Hall despite it being easy to see Strickland’s pressure and volume breaking Hall. It’s not like Hall is easy to put away either, only consensus top ten middleweights completing the job. On the flip side, while Strickland is a durable dude himself, he has been finished. Then again, that was at welterweight and Strickland had to cut a lot of weight to get to 170.
The obvious choice is Strickland, but it isn’t just the threat of Hall’s power that has me reluctant to pick him, but the fact Hall will have five rounds to find the finish and Strickland has been shy about implementing his wrestling. Not that Strickland is a fantastic wrestler, but he’s competent Hall is less dangerous if he’s on his back. If I knew Strickland would implement his ground game, I’d feel so much more confident in picking him. Even with that mystery, I’m picking him to take a decision. Strickland via decision
- It’s been 19 months since Kyung Ho Kang last stepped foot in the Octagon, which may very well have seen his physical peak pass him by as the South Korean native is now 33 years old. A physically strong grappler who has enjoyed wins in six of his last seven appearances thanks to a return to his mat roots. He may want to reconsider taking that approach against Rani Yahya, one of the best pure grapplers the sport of MMA has seen. Of course, Yahya is also one of the worst athletes in the sport. Yahya tends to win the first round with a large energy expenditure to get the fight to the mat, but gasses hard after that. That said, he’s also difficult to put away, so I wouldn’t expect Kang to secure a finish, even if he ends up dominating on the feet. Kang via decision
- In her UFC debut, Gloria de Paula was smothered by an undersized Jinh Yu Frey, de Paula’s lack of wrestling on full display. Fortunately for the young Brazilian, Cheyanne Buys – who suffered a similar fate against an undersized Montserrat Ruiz — doesn’t want to take the fight to the mat herself, so you can expect these two to get the fight they want. What the fight comes down to will be who can control the range. Buys is a classic pocket boxer whereas de Paula is a Muay thai striker who can chew up her opponent in the clinch if she can get the fight there. Of course, Buys has a habit of walking herself into the clinch, so there’s every reason to believe Buys, the favorite, could hand the fight right over to de Paula. Despite a nagging feeling that’s exactly what will happen, I’ll lean towards Buys, her physicality and ability to take the fight to the ground if things don’t go her way being the difference. Buys via decision
- Niklas Stolze was supposed to be fighting Mounier Lazzez, only for VISA issues to keep Lazzez out of the country, allowing Jared Gooden to slide in during fight week. Gooden, a well-rounded and lanky veteran, owns the most memorable performance between the two, going toe-to-toe with Alan Jouban last fall in a fine scrap. Coming up short, Gooden has gotten a little too focused on his boxing in his UFC run, negating kicks and any notion of a ground game. Stolze isn’t the best wrestler, but he’s a skilled grappler, complimenting his own strong brand of kick-heavy kickboxing. Gooden’s predictability and taking this contest on short notice has me leaning towards the more youthful Stolze ever so slightly. Stolze via decision
- Ryan Benoit has to be on his last legs. His 3-5 UFC record is not only unimpressive, his badly missing weight scrapped the original scheduling of his fight with Zarrukh Adashev this past May. Though he’s about as heavy-handed as it gets for flyweight, Benoit falls into long bouts of inactivity, a recipe for disaster at flyweight as he’s extremely dependent on his power. Adashev does throw with greater frequency, but he’s on the smaller side – even for flyweight – and has had issues landing what he throws. Then again, he’s also faced some of the lankier members of the division who used their length to keep Adashev at bay and that doesn’t describe Benoit. If I felt confident Benoit would utilize his wrestling, I’d consider him the favorite. I don’t trust him to do that, which should allow the former professional kickboxer to pick up his first UFC win. Adashev via decision
- Bryan Barberena is a fan favorite for obvious reasons. On the lower end of the athlete scale, he gets by on pure blood and guts, eating plenty of punishment as he moves forward to dish out his own brand of violence. However, he’s also coming off an emergency to stem internal bleeding. Thus, he goes from being scheduled against Daniel Rodriguez for his last contest to Jason Witt. Witt is the better grappler and appears to have a strength advantage, but is also glacially slow on the feet with a questionable chin, being finished in less than a minute in each of his two UFC losses. It’s possible Barberena could be a shell of himself, but given his reputation, it feels foolish to bet against him. Barberena via TKO of RD2
- Is there a more forgettable champion in UFC history than Nicco Montano? Even Dave Menne feels more memorable given he’s fought more than twice within the organization. Unable to continue making the flyweight limit, Montano was forced up to bantamweight and her smaller frame hurt her against the uber aggressive Juliana Pena. However, it looks like she should be able to return to her volume striking roots against another former flyweight in Wu Yanan. Yanan is a bit bigger and is just as capable of throwing gobs of volume, but her striking defense may very well be the worst in any of the women’s divisions in the UFC. Plus, her takedown defense has been shaky at best. It’s plausible Montano is rusty as hell given she has only fought twice in the last three-in-a-half years, but I have far more trust in her than I do in Yanan. Montano via decision
- Given the UFC has had a tendency to sign damn near everyone who wins their DWCS fight more and more, those who make it into the promotion don’t stand out as much as they did the first season. They’re even less memorable when they wait almost a year before making their official UFC debut. Thus, there’s basically zero enthusiasm around Melsik Baghdasaryan and Colin Anglin, especially given both made it on the basis of decisions. However, both are actually pretty damned fun featherweights. Both are skilled strikers who throw quite a bit of volume and have quite a few finishes on their record. Baghdasaryan is a product of Edmund Tarverdyan, which gives me considerable pause. However, he also has extensive experience in other combat sports and appears to have a power advantage. Flipping a coin isn’t a bad option. but I’m siding with Baghdasaryan as I don’t trust Anglin to utilize his advantage on the mat. Baghdasaryan via TKO of RD2
- Every time Chris Gruetzemacher shows up on a card, it serves as a friendly reminder the TUF veteran hasn’t been cut yet. On the small side for lightweight and missing the quickness required for extensive success without the size, Gruetzemacher’s pressure and volume needs to be on point for him to win. Given he was known for his durability at one point, it didn’t seem like a huge stretch. Unfortunately, his body isn’t as durable as it once was, a claim that can’t be said of Rafa Garcia. The youngster may not have a concept of defense, but he’s more than enthusiastic in his approach to striking regardless of what’s being thrown back at him. Garcia’s real bread and butter is his grappling, but getting the fight to the ground has been problematic. Regardless, I think the Mexican product can overwhelm the aging Gruetzemacher. Garcia via decision
- It’s hard to say definitively that featherweight is ultimately the right weight class for Kai Kamaka given his recent skid, but he’s going to continue to make a go of it at 145. A classic wrestle-boxer who mixes his punches to all levels expertly, he’s also been bullied in his last two contests by larger opposition. Danny Chavez is well-built and difficult to get to the mat, a bad combo for Kamaka. A counter striker by trade, Chavez will also have a significant advantage in the power department. Given Kamaka’s propensity for stringing together combinations, it’s hard to believe Chavez won’t have the opportunities he’s looking for. There’s a very real possibility Kamaka can outwork Chavez – this fights largely a pick ‘em – but I think Chavez utilizes his wrestling and power to curry favor with the judges. Chavez via decision
- There may not be a scrappier woman on the UFC roster than Ashley Yoder. That’s both a positive and a negative. Positive in that there is no quit in her, negative in that her physical gifts limit the amount of improvement she can make. That said, she is clearly better than she was upon her UFC entry. However, her success is due to her outworking her opponent than being able to outslick them. Given Jinh Yu Frey has had issues letting her hands fly, that sounds like a recipe for success for Yoder. Frey has surprising pop and a respectable ground game, but has struggled to get the fight to the mat given her more natural weight class is atomweight. Yoder is about as safe of a pick as there is on this card. Yoder via decision
- Ronnie Lawrence wasn’t on anyone’s radar prior to his DWCS appearance. After his strong showing on the summer series and a dominant official UFC debut, he’s got the attention of everyone now. On the strength of a relentless wrestling game – he averaged over 10 takedowns over the course of 15 minutes between those two contests – Lawrence displayed a very deep gas tank and can even throw down a bit. He gets a stiff test in Trevin Jones, a hard hitter who should be the owner of two UFC wins if it wasn’t for a bit of wacky weed. Jones appears to be the better athlete with more quality wins on his ledger, but he didn’t do well with Timur Valiev’s constant pressure and activity. Asking a bantamweight to secure their third KO win in a row seems like a bit too much to ask for. Lawrence via decision
- At 6’3” with an 80” reach, Philip Rowe possesses a unique frame for welterweight, giving him an edge on damn near every other welterweight on the roster. Now figuring out how to maximize that size will be the key to whether he ends up being a footnote in the UFC or has an extended run. He throws a good amount of volume, but has no clue how to use his length to great defensive effect. He welcomes Orion Cosce to the Octagon. Cosce is a stoutly built powerhouse who has yet to win by decision, making his stamina a major question mark. Given he doesn’t throw a lot of volume either, he’ll probably need a finish to beat Rowe. The guess here is he finds it, but Rowe becomes the favorite if it leaves the first round. Cosce via TKO of RD1