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Diggin’ Deep on UFC Vegas 38: Can O’Neill upend the elder Shevchenko?

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Get the down low on the early fights out of UFC Vegas 38, featuring the up-and-coming Casey O’Neill looking to dispose of the older sister of the reigning women’s flyweight champion.

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Casey O’Neill fighting Lara Procopio at UFC Vegas 29
Casey O’Neill fighting Lara Procopio at UFC Vegas 29
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Fight Night cards that follow the UFC PPV’s always feel like a letdown since the UFC has really figured out how to do PPV’s right as of late. This UFC Vegas 38 Fight Night card is no exception. However, it’s worth noting this card actually has a few nice gems, even on the prelims.

Sure, there’s some head scratchers like Alejandro Perez and Johnny Eduardo, but there’s also potential rising star Casey O’Neill and Devonte Smith feels like a dark horse given many appear to have forgotten about him. Plus, do you really want to miss out on Bethe Correia’s retirement fight? She was part of the headline of a PPV that produced just under a million buys. She may have been the B-side to Ronda Rousey, but that can’t be taken away from her. I’m not going to pretend these prelims are better than the main card, but they aren’t too shaby.

  • It seems no matter what Joe Solecki does, he isn’t going to get any love from the MMA community. Even though he has won his first three UFC contests, including a win over universally beloved Jim Miller, nobody seems to be placing him on a list of lightweight prospects to watch. Perhaps his buttoned-down approach has something to do with it as he rarely, if ever, attempts anything flashy. Of course, his lack of athleticism requires him to focus more on fundamentals, but it serves Solecki very well if he can get the fight to the mat as he’s proven to be exceptionally skilled on the mat. He’d better hope he can get it to the ground quick as that’ll be the only way to stop Jared Gordon from continually pressing forward. Gordon has struggled to impose his will at 155, but he’s missed weight at 145 too many times for him to continue to ply his trade there. Not having the size advantage he tends to take advantage of won’t give him the same leeway to make mistakes in this contest and he certainly makes his share. Though he’s busy, Gordon isn’t known for putting away his opponents, meaning Solecki will likely have 15 minutes to find a submission. It’s hard to say how Solecki will respond under Gordon’s pressure, but I like the composure I’ve seen out of him thus far. I think he can find an opening on the mat. Solecki via submission of RD2
  • It looks like the UFC has given up on the idea of Antonina Shevchenko fighting anywhere near the level of her sister, Valentina. Why else would they pit her against a rising prospect who appears to have a bright future in Casey O’Neill? It’s one thing to give Shevchenko a softball to get back on track. It’s another to go the route of the promising up-and-comer. It isn’t that this is an unwinnable fight for Shevchenko. If she’s feeling confident, she does a good job utilizing her lanky frame to maintain distance and launching power strikes. The problem is Shevchenko rarely feels confident since her takedown defense is shaky at best and she’s a fish out of water when she’s on her back. That’s bad news for her as O’Neill has been exceptionally aggressive in her pursuit of takedowns. O’Neill isn’t the most technical wrestler, but those aspects are showing improvement and her enthusiasm in pursuit of takedowns makes up for it. Perhaps Shevchenko can neutralize O’Neill with her own trip takedowns as Shevchenko is a handful if she can get the top position. It’s possible, but unlikely. Any opponent that has made a consistent effort to ground Shevchenko beats her. O’Neill’s striking deficiencies in comparison to Shevchenko won’t matter. O’Neill via decision
  • Because she made herself out to be a rival for Ronda Rousey when Rousey was at the height of her popularity while proving delusional about her own physical abilities, Bethe Correia has received a lot of scorn from a large chunk of the MMA community. It’s a shame as Correia is typically the type of fighter fans root for. Lacking in physical tools in the extreme, it’s hard to think of a single opponent Correia has faced since coming to the UFC whom Correia proved to be more physically talented. It’s been through sheer will and a very technical boxing approach that she has been able to find success. Though this is to be Correia’s retirement fight, the UFC isn’t doing her any favors pitting her against Karol Rosa. Rosa has proven capable of both overwhelming her opponents with volume and grinding them out on the mat, dependent upon where her opponent’s weaknesses line up. On the feet, Rosa’s biggest strength isn’t just the volume, but the variety of strikes she throws. Given Correia is best at striking, the original thought is that Rosa will look to take her to the ground. Correia hasn’t proven to be a submission threat, but she’s hard to control thanks to her solid fundamentals. Regardless of the route Rosa takes, I think her physical abilities overwhelm Correia. Rosa via TKO of RD3
  • Jamie Mullarkey has made it easy to root for him. The young Aussie has proven to be as scrappy and durable as they come. His bulldog approach has seen him go after takedown after takedown while also showing a willingness to throwdown if it comes down to it. Even more encouraging, he showed he has some power behind those fists when he eliminated Khama Worthy in less than a minute with a heavy left hook, thanks in part to his janky timing and technique. However, Mullarkey is a negative athlete – by UFC standards – which puts a major cap on just how high he can climb. He’s not getting any favors in Devonte Smith. Not that Smith is guaranteed to bowl over him as Smith’s inexperience has shown itself at times, but Smith has shown an impressive ability to use his long reach well with double and triple jabs and has all sorts of natural power. There were worries about his returning from a serious Achilles injury, but the early returns are promising. Mullarkey does appear to be a step up from what Smith has previously faced and is likely to challenge Smith’s takedown defense – which has proven solid thus far – in ways it hasn’t been before. I don’t think it’ll be easy, but I think Smith can do it. Smith via decision
  • Even though it isn’t clear if Gaetano Pirrello has the physical skills to hang around the UFC for the long-term, there’s no doubt he has the mentality to make it so Uncle Dana is willing to give him as many opportunities as he can. Pirrello is largely a technical Muay Thai practitioner who doesn’t mind the contest devolving into a brawl, but he didn’t get a chance to show that in his UFC debut as Ricky Simon took him down time and again. He’s unlikely to have to worry about that with Douglas Andrade as the hard-hitting Brazilian is more than willing to stand in the pocket and throw down. Of course, that’s because Andrade is a plus athlete with plus power and a love of head kicks. However, Andrade, who has never kept the busiest schedule since arriving in the UFC, is now 36 and has decided to drop back down to bantamweight after a stint at 145. Will the additional pounds coming off his body at his advanced age be too much of a detriment for him to overcome against someone who is as willing to engage as Pirrello? It’s possible, but Andrade has traditionally been durable. Throw in that even though Andrade rarely looks to take the fight to the mat, he’s shown he can go that route if he’s inclined. That has me leaning in his direction. Andrade via TKO of RD2
  • There’s all the opportunity in the world for both Shanna Young and Stephanie Egger as there is a severe lack of depth in the women’s bantamweight division. To take advantage of that opportunity, they need a win here. Young looked better between the two as she showed a lot of durability and grit while getting chewed up by the massive Macy Chiasson. Young has some good striking chops, but both of her most recent losses came via her struggles on the mat despite her possessing a decent wrestling background. That’s good news for Egger as the Swiss representative is a well-reputed grappler. Given Egger relative lack of experience in MMA, it’s plausible she has made some sizeable leaps in her game in the year since we last saw her, but it’s been even longer since we’ve seen Young. Who is to say she hasn’t shored up her weaknesses? Young has more physical tools to work with and Egger’s takedowns have been laughable against solid competition. Young via decision
  • It will be a surprise to many to hear both Alejandro Perez and Johnny Eduardo are still in the UFC given it’s been well over two years since either one has competed in the UFC. Eduardo is particularly surprising as he’s at least 41. I say at least as I’ve seen other sources say 43 and I don’t know which one is correct. Regardless, if Eduardo is still up to snuff physically, he’s always been a dangerous striker, having been the Muay Thai coach at Nova Uniao for a long time. However, his gas tank has also been an issue as of late he’s at an age when he could fall off a cliff immediately. For all of Perez’s faults, conditioning has never been one of them. In fact, it could be said Perez doesn’t have any real weaknesses, but he also doesn’t have any real strengths outside of his conditioning. Regardless, that should be enough to weather the potential early storm of Edurado before pressure and volume overwhelms the aging Brazilian. Perez via TKO of RD3