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UFC Vegas 35 Preview: Can Di Chirico build off his spectacular head kick KO?

Get all the essentials for this weekend’s preliminary UFC action, topped by surging Italian Alessio Di Chirco looking to end the UFC run of Abdul Razak Alhassan.

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Alessio Di Chirico fighting Makhmud Muradov at UFC Copenhagen
Alessio Di Chirico fighting Makhmud Muradov at UFC Copenhagen
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

A reasonable argument could be made the prelims of UFC Vegas 35 are just as strong as that of the main card on the whole. While I would disagree with that assessment in the end, the fact an argument could be made is an indication the prelims are either awesome or the main card kind of sucks. It’s more that the main card sucks, really only being rescued by a supremely awesome main event. Of course, there has to be some decent preliminary contests for that argument to be made. Jamall Emmers and Pat Sabatini is probably the most under-the-radar fight on the card. Dustin Jacoby and Darren Stewart has potential to be a fun clash too. But there’s also a lot of fighters who appear to be fighting for their jobs at this point.

  • Alessio Di Chirico and Abdul Razak Alhassan were both originally scheduled to face different opponents at this event, but when those opponents pulled out, it only made sense to pair them up. Alhassan has always held a reputation as an exceedingly hard hitter, securing all four of his UFC victories via first round KO’s. However, he’s on a three-fight skid and appears to have lost any enthusiasm he may have once possessed for the sport, showing terrible body language in his recent contests. On the flip side, Di Chirico appears to be hitting his stride, scoring a brutal head kick KO in his most recent performance. Traditionally, Di Chirico’s tendency to stick to the counter makes it difficult for him to secure decisions, but Alhassan’s struggles to remain effective beyond the first round give every impression that Di Chirico is virtually assured of a win should this contest go the distance. Di Chirico has never been finished by punches and possesses a functional ground game, something Alhassan has yet to display. I feel confident going with Di Chirico in this one. Di Chirico via decision
  • It’s mind-blowing Sam Alvey is still within the UFC’s employ given he has been unable to secure a win in his last six appearances. Perhaps the UFC has been encouraged by his recent improvements, showing it is possible to teach an old dog some new tricks. Alvey has been more aggressive, but that isn’t a difficult achievement given he has been far too patient of a counter striker for his own good. For a long while, Alvey’s power served him well, but it’s been well over three years since he put someone away, leaving open the question if his power has declined. Perhaps he’ll be more willing to be more voluminous in his attack as Wellington Turman has two major problems: his opponents haven’t shown his power any respect and his defense is terrible. Turman does have a fantastic grappling arsenal, but he lacks the wrestling to effectively implement that consistently enough to believe he’s going to hang around in the long term. There’s a road to victory if his striking continues to progress and Alvey spends too much time looking for the perfect shot, but I’m expecting a more urgent Alvey with is job on the line. Alvey via TKO of RD2
  • There’s no doubt Dustin Jacoby’s second UFC run has gone far better than his first, but it feels like we’re already getting a hint of where his ceiling is, scoring a draw in his most recent appearance. Not that there’s anything wrong with the gatekeeping role it appears Jacoby is destined to play. Jacoby is tough, durable, possesses a deeper gas tank than most 205ers, and is a very technically sound kickboxer. He can be outmuscled and his lack of speed means he can be exposed in his standup. Is Darren Stewart capable of exploiting that? He’s capable of it, but I don’t think he will. Stewart is a better athlete and tends to employ a more physical style than Jacoby, but he’s also been plying his trade at middleweight and Jacoby is a firm light heavyweight at this stage. There’s an outside possibility Stewart can catch Jacoby with a heavy hook if they trade in the pocket, but Jacoby has been efficient at keeping his opponents at the end of his long reach and outpointing them from there. Stewart will have a moment or two, but Jacoby should control the vast majority of the contest. Jacoby via decision
  • It looks like JJ Aldrich dodged a bullet when Tracy Cortez was forced out of their scheduled contest. The UFC has high hopes for Cortez, meaning they saw Aldrich as fodder. It isn’t that Aldrich is a pushover. With some slick technical boxing and an iron will, Aldrich is a difficult test for all but the divisional elite. Her issue is her lack of physical attributes, not to mention she’s a tweener: too big to be making strawweight, too small to maximize her skill set at flyweight. There’s no doubt she’s going to be the favorite against debuting Vanessa Demopoulos. Demopoulos is as gritty as they come and possesses a deep bag of submissions that’s only accentuated by her insane flexibility. Still largely inexperienced in MMA, Demopoulos has made some noticeable strides in her striking. However, there’s one big thing that should firmly put Aldrich in the catbirds seat: Demopoulos is undersized… for strawweight. This is a flyweight bout. Aldrich’s volume and takedown defense should allow her to cruise comfortably. Aldrich via decision
  • There’s a lot to like about Jamall Emmers. A lanky featherweight with a long reach and plenty of athleticism, his primary weapon is a jab that he methodically follows up occasionally with a straight. It’s a simple approach, but it works, particularly when Emmers has his wrestling game going as it allows him to keep his opponent guessing. It’s unlikely Emmers will struggle to get those aspects of his game going against Pat Sabatini, but the biggest question will be how well his takedown defense holds up. While Sabatini may already be one of the better grapplers in the division, he isn’t a great wrestler. Emmers has shown some excellent takedown defense, but he also hasn’t been tested by anyone with a notable wrestling pedigree. Plus, while Sabatini isn’t as physically gifted as Emmers, his craftiness has made up the difference for him on multiple occasions. My first instinct was to go with Sabatini as his fight IQ is impressive and he’s likely to find a way to get the fight to the mat while finding ways to hang in there on the fight. However, I’m ultimately going with Emmers as I expect his athleticism and size to be the overriding factor. Emmers via decision
  • Am I the only one shocked Guido Cannetti remains on the UFC roster? His 2-4 UFC record is nothing to crow about and he’s 41. Wouldn’t his roster spot be better served going to a youngster who has a greater ceiling given Cannetti is clearly on the downside of his career? Cannetti has found the most success when he mixes in takedowns with his attack, largely because he doesn’t have the energy to throw his heavy hooks for the entirety of a 15-minute contest. He welcomes Mana Martinez, who was supposed to debut last weekend before the death of his coach, Saul Soliz. Martinez pushes a hard pace and appears to have plus power. What has hurt Martinez is his ground game as he has a tendency to get himself into trouble. It’s possible Martinez enters the contest full of emotion and allows that to get the best of him, but I think he’ll be able to turn that into positive energy. Martinez via KO of RD1