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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 34: Minimal name value, but no shortage of action

Get the scoop on the early action out of UFC Vegas 34, featuring one of the smaller finishing artists in Brian Kelleher looking to work his magic on the tallest bantamweight in the organization, Domingo Pilarte.

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Brian Kelleher following his win over Ray Rodriguez at UFC Vegas 9
Brian Kelleher following his win over Ray Rodriguez at UFC Vegas 9
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

There is little name value to the prelims of UFC Vegas 34, but that doesn’t mean the fights are worth passing on. I’m not just referring to the possibility of some of the prospects developing into standouts in the near future, though there are a few of those dotting these prelims. I’m saying Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby did their jobs to make fights that fans want to see. Just because a majority of those fans don’t know who these fighters are doesn’t mean they don’t want to see those fights. Well, a better way to put it is they would enjoy these fights if they sit down and enjoy them. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love a Brian Kelleher fight? He’ll never be a star, but he’s always a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

  • Between Luis Saldana and Austin Lingo, there’s no doubt that Lingo offers the more diverse attack. That said, despite having the more advanced ground game, there’s still a lot of questions about how effective his wrestling a grappling can be at the UFC level. Fortunately, Lingo has some serious pop in his hands, meaning he may not have to put his ground game on display. Of course, the reason why there is concern about his ability in the standup is Saldana is a lanky kickboxer whose diversity comes in the form of a deep bag of kicks. He’s put away several opponents with kicks to the head and he keeps a jab in the face of his opponent when he’s not throwing his feet. Saldana’s not a great wrestler as he displayed in his narrow win over Jordan Griffin, but Lingo hasn’t shown the dogged wrestling chops that Griffin employs. That should be enough for Saldana to outpoint Lingo, provided Lingo can’t land a killshot early. Saldana via decision
  • It’s hard not to appreciate Brian Kelleher. A subpar athlete for the bantamweight division, Kelleher has been around long enough to pick up an innate killer instinct that’s difficult to match in any of the smaller divisions. Despite his limited overall physical skills, he has plenty of pop in his punches and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a tighter guillotine that he manages to slap on seemingly out of nowhere. Where Kelleher’s lack of athleticism hurts him is in his defense, as he is almost always at a disadvantage in terms of volume as he struggles to avoid his opponent’s firepower. He’ll have an interesting challenge in Domingo Pilarte, who at 6’0” tall, is the tallest bantamweight on the roster. Though Pilarte’s jab is promising, it isn’t consistent enough to keep opponents from getting into striking range with ease and his chin is questionable. Where Pilarte is best is using his spindly frame to tie up his opponents on the mat. I don’t think we see much of that as Kelleher tends to put away just about every opponent with a testy chin, though I will note that Kelleher’s aggression on the ground has gotten him submitted several times throughout his career. Kelleher via TKO of RD1
  • It’s been a slow roll for the progress of Bea Malecki, having fought just two times in the three years she has been on the UFC roster. No doubt there’s some physical tools to work with as she has a big frame for a 135er and possesses a solid Muay Thai base to build off. But there also comes a time when the UFC has to start pitting her against legit UFC talent if they hope to keep her in the UFC. Does Josiane Nunes fall into that category? Hard to say. There’s no doubt Nunes won’t give a single inch, walking her opponent down with power punches in the pocket, but she’s also beat up on some very questionable opposition and is extremely short for the division. Even if Nunes proves to have a bright UFC future, it’s fair to question if it comes at bantamweight. Regardless, there’s a good chance she beats Malecki as Malecki hasn’t lived up to the impressive Muay Thai credentials she possesses, but the 7-inch height and reach advantage is too much for me to ignore. Malecki via decision
  • It doesn’t take a lot of footage to recognize Fabio Cherant has the physical tools to carve out a spot on the UFC roster for a long time. After all, light heavyweight is largely dependent upon being a superior athlete. Throw in that Cherant has matured brilliantly as a striker to compliment his aggressive submissions and it isn’t hard to see why there’s a large swath of fans who have high hopes for him. However, Cherant is also a risk to be overpowered due to his lack of physicality and one can’t help but question his fight IQ when he was subbed with a Von Flue choke in his UFC debut. The fight IQ can be rectified, but it’s highly doubtful he can prove to regularly stop the fire hydrant that is known as William Knight from bullying him around the cage. Knight doesn’t mind eating a shot or two to close the distance, but he’s difficult to shrug off if he gets his powerful mitts on his target. Should he get the top position on the mat, Knight’s brutal brand of GnP is plain vicious. If Cherant has improved his wrestling to expose Knight’s own shoddy takedown defense, I’d be more wary of my pick. As it is, I feel confident in picking Knight. Knight via decision
  • It wasn’t that long ago that Dana White referred to Roosevelt Roberts as the top prospect in the UFC. It’s not that it’s impossible to see what White was talking about as Roberts is a hell of an athlete with a lanky frame and nice hands. The problem has been he’s his own worst enemy, showing poor defensive awareness as he has basically walked into a pair of submission losses. Fortunately for Roberts, he’s unlikely to worry about the grappling of Ignacio Bahamondes as the native Chilean has never won a fight via submission. Regardless, Roberts is porous in his striking defense too and Bahamondes is freakishly tall and long for the division, beating Roberts in both height and reach. Bahamondes can be outpointed by a slick technician, but I wouldn’t go so far as to label Roberts in that manner. If Roberts can engage him regularly on the mat, I’d feel comfortable picking him. As it is, I prefer the former professional kickboxer in this contest as his overall fight IQ appears to be higher than that of Roberts. Bahamondes via decision
  • At this point, Ramiz Brahimaj is best known for having his ear damn near ripped off in his UFC debut by Max Griffin. That’s a bit unfair as the 28-year old actually has a hell of a killer instinct, securing seven of his eight wins in less than a round, none of his victories going the entirety of a fight. Of course, that leaves all sorts of questions with regards to his gas tank as he tends to go all out in search of a finish early, but he held up better than expected against Griffin. Regardless, a deep gas tank and plenty of durability have proven to be the hallmarks of Sasha Palatnikov thus far. A big, sturdy welterweight, Palatinikov has shown far more savvy in his striking than expected given his relative inexperience in the sport. There would be no surprise if Brahimaj is able to bowl over him given Palatnikov’s lack of defense, but Brahimaj is likely to be a sitting duck should Palatnikov survive the early onslaught. No matter how it turns out, expect this to be a fun one. Brahimaj via submission of RD1