Though there wasn’t an established bout order at the time those fights fell out, it could be argued UFC Vegas 63 lost their co-main events. I have to say it plurally as I don’t believe Ilia Topuria vs. Edson Barboza or Mark Madsen vs. Drakkar Klose were ever officially put into that slot, but they seem like reasonable options to have been thrust into that position when compared with the rest of the card. In other words, I wouldn’t say it’s inappropriate to say it is a one-fight card. At least it’s a fight that is going to have a hard time not delivering on excitement....
Calvin Kattar vs. Arnold Allen, Featherweight
There’s usually a whole lot of factors that play into breaking down fights, especially one between fighters at the level of Kattar and Allen. However, even though this contest is difficult to pick, that doesn’t mean there are layers that need to be broken down... and least that’s how it appears. This is the fight game after all. We never definitively know how things will go down....
There’s little doubt Kattar is the slicker striker of the two. There were some who expressed some concern following Kattar’s lopsided loss to Max Holloway, but those concerns were immediately quelled in Kattar’s return fight with Giga Chikadze. Kattar utilized his superior boxing to put together his trademark combinations and piece up the fast riser, halting his momentum in its place. The funny thing is, while Kattar is considered to be one of the better strikers in the division, he’s somewhat of a headhunter. He’ll mix the occasional shot to body, but he’s had some fights where he doesn’t bother with low kicks, almost exclusively attacking the head either from the outside or directly in the pocket. That isn’t to say he can’t get creative, but even when he’s being diverse, the attack almost always goes to the head.
On the flip side, Allen is incredibly similar to Kattar. Given his win over Gilbert Melendez featured him chewing up the legs of the former Strikeforce champion, many seem to think of Allen as a particularly devastating low kicker. However, he rarely goes to them. His combinations don’t flow with the fluidity of Kattar, but he has shown steady progress. While no one has ever doubted the athletic exploits of Allen, it looks like he’s finally developing real power in his striking arsenal, provided his performance against Dan Hooker is any indication.
On the mat is the real wild card. While there’s little argument Allen is the better wrestler and grappler, the Brit doesn’t always look to take the fight to the ground consistently. Some fights, he won’t even look to make a takedown attempt. Granted, it could be argued Allen has done that in contests where he’s been looking to gain experience on the feet, but his opting for a less direct route to victory does open up the possibility of questioning his fight IQ. Even with that said, Kattar has never been easy to takedown, only two opponents having taken him down in his five-year-plus UFC run. Then again, it isn’t like Kattar has faced the best wrestlers in the division....
All that leaves the contest a difficult pick. Kattar is almost assuredly going to win if the feet stays standing. He’s got the tighter boxing and more natural feel for striking, honed over years of fighting and coaching. However, Allen’s ground game opens up the possibility of him stealing a round or two based on control, not to mention the threat of takedowns also opening up his striking. Thus, leaving my pick to come down on two things. First, Allen still looks like he’s improving. Not by leaps and bounds, but subtle things here and there. For one, blitzing Hooker the way he did after knowing Hooker had a hell of a time getting to 145 was genius. We all knew Kattar knew how to gameplan. Now we know Allen can too. Second, I worry about Kattar’s durability. I know he’s never been put away via strikes and he’s not exactly ancient at 34. But he has been involved in some brutal fights over the last few years, being on the receiving end of the most significant strikes ever landed in a UFC contest. Chins erode over time. It isn’t necessarily that Allen would finish Kattar either; perhaps all he needs to do is hurt him a time or two. Perhaps staggering Kattar is all Allen would need to do to take a round. On the flip side, Arnold’s durability has been prominent without having absorbed the damage Kattar has. And while Kattar has a couple of nice finishes, he isn’t considered to be a major power threat. Kattar can win this, but Allen has more routes, which is why I’m ultimately taking him. Allen via decision
- I can’t remember if Tim Means has ever broken into the official UFC rankings – and I’m not going to go the extra step to find out for sure — but he’s been floating just on the outside of them for several years now. What makes it even crazier is he’s been able to do so despite his jaw no longer being unbreakable and it being clear he’s lost step himself. I don’t want to say he has completely reinvented himself as he’s still more than willing to clinch up and slash away at his opponents with elbows and knees, but he does spend far more time on the outside than he did earlier in his career. What might shock many observers is the 38-year-old Means is less than two years older than his opponent, Max Griffin. Not that anyone mistook Griffin for a prospect, but he hasn’t shown any signs of decline despite being on the precipice of his 37th birthday. In fact, it could be argued Griffin had the best performance of his career in his controversial loss to Neil Magny. Griffin has some solid boxing and has even developed into a solid wrestler when needs be. However, he has also been prone to mental lapses at times... the type that Means tends to capitalize on. Means’ own brand of wrestling is something he’s be annoyed with at the lack of respect he’s gotten for it and Griffin’s takedown defense has always been suspect. I don’t feel confident in my pick, but Griffin’s reputed punching power may be somewhat overrated given he has only been able to dispose of the worst of his opponents in the UFC. Plus, besides not possessing the type of power that tends to finish Means, he’s not the level of athlete that has been able to overwhelm the cagey vet. That has me thinking the wily Means has enough left in him to outwit an opponent who hasn’t always been known for his fight IQ. Means via decision
- I was as shocked as anyone else when I saw Jared Vanderaa was getting another fight within the organization. The only fighters who survive a four-fight losing streak are those who’ve been fighting a high level of opposition... and that sure as hell isn’t whom Vanderaa has been fighting. A mountain of a man who moves well for his size, Vanderaa doesn’t have the power that you’d think he’d possess at first glance. He’d better hope his durability holds up as newcomer Waldo Cortes-Acosta is certainly going to put it to the test. Not quite as thick as Vanderaa, Cortes-Acosta is still plenty big, pushing 260 while being able to look Vanderaa in the eye. Cortes-Acosta is not only the harder hitter, he’s the superior athlete by a wide margin to boot. Plus, while he doesn’t have the level of experience of Vanderaa, he’s faced some quality regional scene opposition. In other words, he doesn’t look like the typical DWCS alum who got to the big leagues beating up on cans. I do worry about Cortes-Acosta’s gas tank – Vanderaa’s is surprisingly deep – and could see him becoming a turtle on his back with the hefty Vanderaa on top of him, but I think his power will get to Vanderaa first. Cortes-Acosta via TKO of RD1
- I totally understand why everyone was excited about Tresean Gore when he was on TUF. He’s an impressive athlete with serious power. However, he’s also short on experience, which has been made abundantly clear in his two UFC appearances. Both his opponents, Bryan Battle and Cody Brundage, capitalized on mistakes Gore made that could have been easily avoided. Basically, the learning curve for him since hitting the UFC got a LOT steeper than what it previously was. It could be argued he isn’t getting a step down in competition in Josh Fremd either. The massive 185er will be getting his first full camp in the UFC, meaning he should look better now that he isn’t dehydrating his 6’4” frame on short notice. Like Gore, Fremd prefers throwing fisticuffs, but he isn’t nearly as selective in his strikes as Gore. Sure, he may not have the power of Gore, but Fremd is almost assured of landing more volume, which would be key should the fight go the distance. Then again, Fremd has been cracked before. Despite that, Fremd has shown he can go his wrestling if needs be whereas the ground is where Gore is more raw than anywhere else. It won’t shock me in the least if Gore catches Fremd with something heavy, but I anticipate Gore struggling with Fremd’s size and the fight going the distance. Fremd via decision
- Undefeated in the UFC seven fights into his return to the organization, I could have sworn Dustin Jacoby was going to be fighting a ranked opponent for his next fight. No disrespect intended towards Khalil Rountree, but this matchup feels like a bit of a letdown for me. Not that Rountree isn’t dangerous. Hell, I’d argue Rountree is one of the hardest hitters at 205. At the very least, he’s one of the more dynamic strikers, launching his kicks and punches with everything he’s got... and he’s got more than most others. However, despite the dynamism on the feet, Rountree is on the one-dimensional side. He likes to stay on the outside and pick his spots. He doesn’t do well with pressure and most certainly doesn’t have a lot to offer on the mat. The fact that Jacoby is most comfortable on the outside himself gives Rountree the opportunity to pull off the upset. Then again, that’s a tall order. Rountree’s strike are a beauty to watch as he throws tight and powerful kicks and punches. What Rountree doesn’t have is the distance management or the ability to stick and move way Jacoby does. Plus, Jacoby has been a consistent threat in the clinch. Rountree has been hit and miss in close quarters. In terms of physical talent, Rountree is the superior fighter. But he also seems to stumble every time it looks like he’s ready to take a step. Jacoby knows what he needs to do and he’ll most likely get it done. Jacoby via decision