The UFC returns to action after a week off, hoping the headliner of Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland is enough to pull in more than just the hardcore audience. There isn’t enough name value on the rest of UFC Vegas 47 to catch any further fish. There are talents that could develop into eye-catching names, but the reasons why they won’t outweigh the reasons they will, at least at this point. To be fair, the same thing could have been said about anyone who eventually became UFC champion, but the number of UFC champions is far fewer than those who have simply fought in the UFC. Miles Johns and Hakeem Dawodu appear to have the most potential on the prelims, but I wouldn’t write off Jailton Almeida developing into something special either.
- When Miles Johns first entered the UFC, he had a reputation as a dogged wrestler whose striking needed more time to come along. Four fights into his UFC career and it appears his striking is what is ready-made whereas his wrestling needs more polish. Much of that can be explained by Johns not being used to the step up in physical accomplishment in comparison to what he faced on the regional scene in terms of his wrestling. On the flip side, a fighter can cover up a lot of holes on his feet if he can establish their jab. Johns has been effective at establishing his jab, allowing him to follow up with more offense, resulting in a pair of third round finishes in his last two fights, including this one. Does all that justify Johns being a sizeable favorite over John Castaneda? To be honest... probably. Castaneda is a fun fighter, throwing a wide arsenal of strikes, but there isn’t always a method to his fighting madness. That isn’t to say Castaneda should be counted out. There isn’t a glaring weakness in his bag of tools and has enough power to test Johns’ chin. That said, Castaneda is further along in his development and appears to be behind Johns at this juncture anyway. Outside of Castaneda landing a wild bomb, expect Johns to outwork him, the edge in athleticism owned by Johns allowing him to do so comfortably. Johns via decision
- There was a lot of hype around Hakeem Dawodu when he first made his way onto the UFC roster. That hype has largely faded. It isn’t that Dawodu hasn’t found success; his UFC record sits at 5-2. It’s that he’s been unable to consistently display the flash and power that was supposed to be his hallmark, most of his contests being point fights that tend to be far closer than they should be. There aren’t many at featherweight with a better mastery of distance, angles, and technique offered by Dawodu, but he’s also been unwilling to expand his attack beyond simple kick-punch combinations that score points rather than looking to hurt his opponent. Perhaps the biggest sign he may be bumping up against his ceiling was his inability to stop takedowns from Movsar Evloev in his latest showing. Mike Trizano is sure to test that ability; the question is whether Trizano is the caliber of wrestler Evloev is. Trizano may be bigger than Evloev by a sizeable margin, but he doesn’t have the burst or technique of Evloev. That said, Trizano is one of those guys who just knows how to win despite coming up short on paper against his opposition time and again. That said, I think the gulf in their skill sets is too great. Even if Trizano can find a way to get Dawodu to the mat, the Canadian has proven difficult to keep down. I think he’s got the motivation to put together a finish as well. Dawodu via KO of RD2
- Given DWCS is typically used to unearth unpolished prospects, it was a bit weird to see Chidi Njokuani made his way to the UFC through that avenue. At 33 with 28 professional contests under his belt, Njokuani likely saw his best days come and go during his lengthy Bellator run. Nevertheless, Njokuani showed in his DWCS appearance he still has something left to offer as a technically sound striker who can press and test youngsters looking to make their way up the division. Or, in the case of his UFC debut, just offer a tough contest for a fellow veteran in Marc-Andre Barriault. Barriault has proven to be willing and able to eat plenty of damage, marching down his opponents with winging hooks, hoping to close the distance to clinch up and launch uppercuts from that position. Fighters with more of a brawling nature have been falling prey to the physicality of Barriault. On the flip side, those who tend to rely on distance, angles, and technique tend to find a huge degree of success against Barriault. Given that’s how Njokuani tends to fight and he also has an understated clinch game himself, I think the newcomer finds success in his UFC debut. Njokuani via decision
- Jason Witt might have an even UFC record at 2-2, but given his two losses have both occurred in less than a minute, many within the MMA community look at that record with an asterisk. Perhaps he redeemed himself somewhat with his fantastic scrap with Bryan Barberena where Witt came out on top, but many will point out Barberena appears to be a shell of his former self. It seems Witt just can’t win the fans over. Perhaps a win over Philip Rowe will do the trick. Not that Rowe is a world-beater, but the lanky welterweight impressed many with his come-from-behind win over Orion Cosce and doesn’t have the durability questions that surround Witt. One overlooked part of Rowe’s win over Cosce: Rowe was controlled for roughly three-fourths of that contest on the mat by Cosce... and Cosce isn’t particularly known for his wrestling and grappling. Witt has a strong base and is a positionally sound grappler, meaning it’s easy to see him smothering Rowe for much of their fight. Perhaps Rowe uses his 10-inch reach advantage to catch Witt with something heavy, but a plodding decision win from Witt seems most likely, at least in my eyes. Witt via decision
- The UFC hasn’t been doing Julija Stoliarenko any favors in their matchmaking. Her short notice debut against Yana Kunitskaya is understandable; it was short notice. But given she fell to Julia Avila, shouldn’t she be getting a step down in competition? It doesn’t feel like she is with Alexis Davis. Davis has never been the most physically talented fighter, but it’s hard to point to a more wily veteran in the women’s bracket on the roster. Davis doesn’t throw with power, but her basic boxing and high volume of low kicks tends to please the judges, not to mention complementing her suffocating top grappling. However, part of her lack of success in her recent stretch has been an inability to get the fight to the mat consistently. Stoliarenko isn’t easy to take down either... but she might be willing to go down on her own. In fact, Stoliarenko may be the best armbar specialist this side of Ronda Rousey. Stoliarenko hits plenty hard too, but she doesn’t pay much attention to defense as her striking tactics has yet to catch up with her ground abilities. It’s possible age and mileage has caught up with Davis, but the most likely outcome sees her taking advantage of the holes in Stoliarenko’s defense to eek out a decision. Davis via decision
- No doubt the UFC matchmakers were having all sorts of fun when they paired Danilo Marques and Jailton Almeida together. It feels very much like the sort of contest longtime UFC matchmaker Joe Silva would have throw together. Both are lanky light heavyweights best known for their submission prowess, a prototype that is a rarity at 205, Paul Craig perhaps being the only other member of the division that falls into that category. Not that there aren’t differences between Marques and Almeida. Marques is a negative athlete, but he knows his limitations and how to work around them. A poor traditional wrestler, Marques relies on trips from the clinch and uses his spindly limbs to entangle his opponents. On the flip side, Almeida does make use of traditional wrestling shots, but he isn’t always disciplined in his execution. Fortunately for him, he has the athleticism to cover for some of his mistakes, whether grappling or on the feet throwing leather. However, what could be the biggest separator for these two is the standup. Almeida throws with a purpose; Marques throws rangy shots to maintain distance and score points. If this ends up being a points battle – a strong possibility if both decide to respect the grappling of the other – Almeida is more natural on the feet. Plus, Marques has faded hard in most of his UFC contests. I like Almeida’s chances of getting a finish. Almeida via TKO of RD2
- It’s been well over a year since the UFC signed Denys Bondar and we’re still waiting on him to make his UFC debut. The Ukranian native has proven to be a slick grappler, securing 10 of his 14 victories via submission. More telling, 11 of those wins came within the opening round. However, while it’s impressive – especially in the flyweight division – it also calls into question his ability to go the distance as he has lost the only fight that did go to a decision. That’s going to be the road to victory for Malcolm Gordon as the veteran out of Canada is going to need all the guile and cunning he possesses to pull a victory out of his hat. Gordon’s a solid athlete with a button-downed approach to ground fighting, utilizing fundamental positioning to control. Gordon has the stamina to make that approach work, but whether he has the durability is another question. If Bondar were a more patient fighter, I might give Gordon a better chance. Unfortunately, Gordon has struggled with aggressive opponents, being finished in his first two UFC contests in the first round. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see it happen again. Bondar via submission of RD1