As many UFC events following a major PPV seem to be, UFC Vegas 63 feels like a big letdown. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth watching, but there aren’t many names casual fans will recognize all the way up and down the card—especially not on the prelims. Though that may be the case, there’s still some young talent worth keeping an eye on.
We almost lost Christian Rodriguez, thanks to his opponent pulling out about a week before the event, but a last minute signing has kept him headed for the Octagon. Chase Hooper has been a mixed bag as a prospect, but even those who were lowest on him have to admit he has at least developed into a featherweight mainstay. Former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski is also on the prelims. And while no one is under any illusions that he’s going to regain any gold ever again, he’s still won six of his last seven fights.
So, while I admit this card is a big drop off from UFC 280, it isn’t bereft of contests worth tuning into.
- Phil Hawes has the physical talent to be champion someday. Unfortunately, unless the former junior college wrestling champion finds some consistency to his performances, that’s never going to happen. He does have serious power and has proven to be one of the better wrestlers in the division. However, it also seems as though he’s been prone to regular mental lapses and stamina issues. If he can’t get his opponent out of there quickly, he’ll resort to his wrestling, which can also drain him in a hurry if he doesn’t do so in a controlled manner.
His opponent, Roman Dolidze, may be one of the few middleweights on the roster more prone to brain farts than Hawes. The Georgian has been fortunate enough that he’s proven to be exceptionally durable, which has allowed him to weather his lapses better than expected. Dolidze is the typical grappler who has fallen in love with his striking, winging punches wildly in part due to a lack of technique, another part due to his willingness to be taken down. While Hawes is the superior athlete, Dolidze tends to surprise with his own athleticism and is by far the more skilled grappler. It may be a surprise to some given Hawes’ name recognition, but this is one of the more difficult fights to pick. I get the feeling the opportunistic Dolidze will capitalize on a Hawes mistake—only after Hawes begins to fade. Dolidze via submission of RD3
- Some of us actually remember when Andrei Arlovski was young. Given that he’s now 43, that was a long time ago. These days, the ‘Pitbull’ isn’t much like the fighter he was when he was the UFC heavyweight champion. Formerly one of the most athletic heavyweights on the planet, Arlovski has needed to revamp his striking technique to stay afloat in the modern division. He’s done so successfully, becoming one of the better technicians over 205 lbs. That extends to his defensive technique, learning to better avoid strikes with slighter movements and better absorbing those that do connect. That’s what rolling with punches can do for a fighter whose career was considered to be caput over a decade ago due to his fragile chin. It doesn’t hurt either that he’s been given some favorable matchups too, facing some of the lighter hitting heavyweights out there.
That won’t be the case with Marcos Rogerio de Lima. The Brazilian striker has also developed a more technical approach as he enters the twilight of his career. Of course, in his case, it means de Lima has proven he can go the distance without completely gassing. However, he’s also shown he can still go balls to the wall when the situation calls for it, disposing of Ben Rothwell in just over 30 seconds a year ago. De Lima doesn’t have the burst he used to have, but his power hasn’t dissipated. This is another winnable contest for Arlovski, but his physical decline is more noticeable with each passing fight. Even with his improved technique, he’s getting hit at a higher rate than he used to. Given de Lima’s power, I expect he’ll finally pay the price. De Lima via TKO of RD1
- It’s easy to become enamored with Joseph Holmes just by setting eyes on him. Absolutely monstrous for the middleweight division, Holmes has a 6’4” frame and an 80” reach—the same measurements of Israel Adesanya. Of course, Holmes isn’t near the level of striker Adesanya is, but one can’t help but imagine the possibilities if he could develop a consistent skill base. He is making progress, but he’s going to have a hard time winning fights if that is his primary line of attack. Instead, the prospect has found more success using his long limbs to entangle his opponents on the mat, securing five of his eight wins via RNC.
He’s going to have a hard time doing so against Jun Yong Park. Park isn’t a great athlete, but he has caught several of his opponents by surprise—as his stout frame tends to create deception. Well-rounded without excelling in a single area, Park has picked up his wins in the UFC by consistently attacking his opponents where they’re at their weakest. It’d be reasonable to expect him to trade fisticuffs with Holmes in this case. If Holmes can learn to make better use of his length on the feet, Park will struggle to secure the win. However, while Park entered the UFC with subpar takedown defense, he has greatly improved it in that time—and has regularly stuffed takedowns from better wrestlers than Holmes. Even if Holmes has improved his striking, I still anticipate Park getting the job done. Park via decision
- There are fighters for whom it will forever be a mystery how they fought in certain weight classes. For instance, no one will ever be able to wrap their head around how Anthony Johnson was ever able to cut down to 170 lbs. Perhaps it isn’t quite as extreme, but I’ll never be able to understand how Steve Garcia ever cut down to 135. Granted, this is a featherweight contest, but he didn’t look out of place in his last three fights at lightweight. The funny thing is, the last time he tried making 145, he botched it. That was almost three years ago. Can he make the weight? If he can—and do so without compromising himself—Garcia is a big 145er with plenty of power and the ability to put together quality punching combinations. His takedown defense has frequently been problematic on the regional scene, but hasn’t been tested yet in the UFC.
The question is whether Chase Hooper will be able to capitalize on that potential weakness. Hooper has proven himself to be a grappler with far more savvy beyond his 23 years, but the lanky youth entered the organization about as green in the wrestling department as it gets. To his credit, he has made notable strides, but he’s also had some favorable matchups. Then again, Garcia might be a favorable matchup for him too. Garcia is mean enough that it isn’t hard to see him overwhelming Hooper on the feet. But he can also get tunnel vision. Given Hooper has been showing improvements, I expect he’ll be able to expose Garcia ground game again. Hooper via submission of RD2
- The last time I talked about Cody Durden, I claimed he didn’t have much power in his fists. Then the native from the state of Georgia decided he wanted to make me look like a fool and put a licking on his opponent, JP Buys, using his punching power and winning in just over a minute. Maybe I miscalculated, maybe Durden made some big strides in the interim, or maybe he just caught Buys in the right spot. Regardless, it gives opponents something to think about other than Durden’s hard-charging wrestling game that often produces a lot of scrambles.
Typically, he begins to gas down the stretch as he pushes a hard pace, but given Carlos Mota had less than a week to prepare for the contest, he’s more likely to be the one flagging down the stretch. Mota is a skilled Muay Thai striker with powerful kicks and punches that often lead to his opponents overlooking how good his grappling is. This is a winnable fight for Mota if he catches Durden, especially given Durden is hardly a defensive savant. I worry very much about Mota gassing, but Durden didn’t have a full camp either, being a replacement himself. That said, Durden is exceptionally overlooked, both by his opponents and the MMA community as a whole. I think he can outwork the Brazilian newcomer over the course of the fight. Durden via decision
- His UFC debut may have been a losing effort, but Christian Rodriguez was impressive enough fighting up a weight class against Jonathan Pearce to create a high level of excitement about his future in the organization. Even though he was significantly smaller than Pearce, Rodriguez proved to be as resilient as they come on the mat, working his way out of several bad situations and even finding some success of his own, threatening with submissions on several occasions. What wasn’t in doubt was who won the standup battle between the two: Rodriguez.
If he can keep things standing against Joshua Weems, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll walk out the victor. There’s no doubt that Weems is a dangerous submission specialist, but he still leaves a lot to be desired on the feet. In fact both of his career losses are a result of his losing the standup battle. Even though Weems always comes out of the gate on fire, the fact he’s taking the fight on short notice makes it more likely he’ll be looking to end things early rather than hope his gas tank holds up. I see Rodriguez surviving an early scare or two before putting the newcomer away. Rodriguez via TKO of RD2