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UFC Vegas 50 preview: Fallen prospects look to regain their footing in the prelims

Dig into the preliminary action of UFC Vegas 50, featuring a slew of prospects looking to regain their luster, including Miranda Maverick and her opponent Sabina Mazo.

Miranda Maverick punching Maycee Barber at UFC Vegas 32
Miranda Maverick punching Maycee Barber at UFC Vegas 32
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Though the last few Fight Night cards have been severely lacking in depth. That isn’t the case with UFC Vegas 50. Whereas the last couple of showings couldn’t provide a decent co-main event, there’s several fights that could suffice in that role for this card. Not that UFC Vegas 50 is deep enough to seep into the prelims, but it does put a positive perspective on the card.

The prelims feature a mixed bag of veterans and prospects. There isn’t anyone that would currently be labeled can’t-miss, but there are a few that were burning bright just a short while ago. Sabina Mazo isn’t far removed from a three-fight win streak. Tafon Nchukwi was compared to Mike Tyson by Uncle Dana. It wasn’t that long ago a large swath of the MMA community was talking about Miranda Maverick fighting for the title someday. There’s a reason those fighters have had hype behind them before. I have a hard time believing their skill sets have eroded since that time.

  • The last two wins for Matt Semelsberger have come in a combined 31 seconds. While it’s a good indication of the level of power in his fists, it’s also an indication of the level of competition he has been facing. Semelsberger has been fortunate to face opposition most would say doesn’t belong in the UFC for most of his UFC run, the lone exception being the fight he lost. I’m not saying it’s Semelsberger’s fault, but it does make it hard to know just how good he is. Despite a lanky frame, Semelsberger prefers to close the distance with his attack, fighting in the pocket. He may want to look to stay on the outside a bit more as he’ll have an 8-inch reach advantage on newcomer AJ Fletcher. Fletcher may be on the short side, but he’s extremely explosive and has shown no indication he can’t take a punch. Then again, his level of competition during his rise has been questionable too. Regardless, Fletcher has been working with the likes of Dustin Poirier, so he knows what high level opposition feels like in the gym. While both fighters certainly can knock the other out, Semelsberger’s reach advantage could provide him with the edge he needs to outwork the newcomer. However, I have great concerns about not just Semelsberger’s takedown defense, but his ability to fight off someone pressing him against the cage. It’s a tough call, but I’ll go with the newcomer. Fletcher via decision
  • While I appreciate the attention Angela Hill gets for being as active as she is, Gillian Robertson isn’t too far behind her in terms of activity. The Canadian will be making her 12th UFC appearance in just over four years. That doesn’t take into account her frequent appearances in grappling competitions. Perhaps all the focus on her grappling is a bit misguided, at least in terms of her MMA career. While Robertson has the form of a technical striker, she’s so unnatural on the feet that she’s largely ineffective standing. Fortunately, she typically makes up for it with her ground game. On the mat, Robertson is anything but by the book, often going for submission over position. On the flip side, JJ Aldrich is very much by the book. A below average athlete by UFC standards, Aldrich knows her strengths and plays to them very well. A combination boxer with an aversion to kicks, Aldrich has yet to secure a finish in her 9-fight UFC run. The path to victory is there for her given Robertson’s struggles on the feet and Aldrich’s typically strong takedown defense. However, Robertson usually finds a way to get the fight to the mat a couple times per fight and Aldrich’s sound takedown defense numbers come against opponents who would rather stand and trade. I think Robertson can put Aldrich in a submission situation and find the W. Robertson via submission of RD2
  • It’s hard not to be impressed by Javid Basharat’s performance on DWCS last fall. He beat his opponent from pillar to post before finding a late guillotine. However, further inspection will reveal Basharat’s opponent was a paper tiger, accumulating an unbeaten record on the back of beating cans. The same can be said of Basharat’s record. Watching Basharat on film, it’s impossible not to admire his technical prowess on the feet. Knowing he accomplished it against less-than-stellar competition gives one pause. On the flip side, Trevin Jones has plenty of losses on his record, but trust me when I say he’s battle-tested. Jones isn’t as smooth on the feet as Basharat, but he is an underrated tactician. A pressure fighter, Jones has stellar timing on his counters, with plenty of power to back them up. However, Jones also has a tendency to make things grimy, pushing his opponent against the cage and grinding away. He did wear himself out with that strategy in his last contest, but he also extended his camp a month by having several scheduled fights falling out. That isn’t the case here. It’s easy to be seduced by Basharat’s film and record, but without a quality win, I’m hesitant to go in his direction against someone with the physical gifts of Jones. Jones via decision
  • By UFC standards, Damon Jackson is a terrible athlete. Fortunately, Jackson is aware of this and knows how to work around his shortcomings in the extreme. One of the trickiest submission specialists on the roster, Jackson aggressively closes the distance in hopes of getting the fight to the mat. So confident in his abilities off his back, Jackson doesn’t mind being the one the receiving end of a takedown. Will that throw Kamuela Kirk off from pursuing a ground attack? It’s hard to say. Kirk is a good wrestler and a great grappler, but his BJJ isn’t as acclimated to MMA as well as Jackson’s. Kirk is a far superior athlete and has developed into a solid striker, far more technical than Jackson. Throw in the fact that Jackson has a questionable chin and it creates a strong likelihood Kirk will look to make it a striking battle. Outside of Kirk catching Jackson right off the bat, I have a hard time seeing Jackson allowing that. Kirk’s own takedown defense is questionable and even more concerning is his history of fading in the third round. It’s a hard fight to pick, but I think the crafty vet will find a way to take the W. Jackson via submission of RD3
  • It didn’t take long for Miranda Maverick to go from one of the hottest prospects in the UFC’s women’s division to being on the verge of the chopping block. That isn’t to say Maverick isn’t who we all thought she was, but the burly grappler received an unfortunate hand in her last two contests. Regardless, Maverick has all the motivation in the world to ensure she wins, meaning she’s likely to return to her wrestling and grappling roots. That’s bad news for Sabina Mazo as the Columbian has struggled to find success when her fights spend long chunks on the ground. Her best takedown defense is remaining on the outside and utilizing her lanky frame to snipe at her opponents with her jabs and kicks. It has frequently worked out for her given she throws a high amount of volume, but her opponents have been able to close the distance and deliver their own brand of damage. If Maverick can close the distance to deliver some punches, I have no doubt she can find a way to grab a hold of Mazo and wrest her to the mat. Mazo has plenty of motivation to win as well given she’s also the owner of consecutive losses, but Maverick’s skill set is problematic for Mazo. Maverick via submission of RD3
  • There’s a lot to like about Cody Brundage. Owner of a solid wrestling base, Brundage has progressed into a solid striker as well. That isn’t to say Brundage is a finished product. In fact, I’d prefer if the 27-year-old Brundage were still on the regional scene for a few more fights. Alas, in hopes of preventing Bellator and PFL from snatching top young talent, Brundage is in the UFC before he’s ready. While Brundage has the fundamentals down on his striking, he can be too anxious to go for the kill and can be taken down. Those same issues could be said of Dalcha Lungiambula. The South African judoka does pack quite a punch, but has fallen in love with his power, resulting in the stout powerhouse draining his gas tank in a rapid manner while head hunting. Lungiambula will keep swinging when tired, but his trips in the clinch tend to disappear. If Lungiambula were to engage more in his judo throws and submissions, I’d feel better about his stay at middleweight. Given he is still looking to unload with power, I fail to understand why cutting the extra weight is supposed to be beneficial. Given Brundage is more consistent in his volume and displays better stamina, I like the youngster to outwork Lungiambula. Brundage via decision
  • I understand why Kris Moutinho is in the UFC, even if I don’t think he should be. The 29-year-old jumped on the roster on short notice to keep Sean O’Malley on a card and put on a spirited performance in a lopsided loss. It makes sense he gets another chance to show his improvements. I have no clue why the 42-year-old Guido Cannetti is still on the roster. After 7 fights in the organization, he has a paltry 2-5 record. It’s not like he’s a prospect who might blossom. He’s 42! I supposed the UFC is trying to set Moutinho up for a win and Cannetti is the best fodder they have for that. Cannetti does have some power, but he never had great stamina when he was younger. His gas tank is atrocious now. Given Moutinho’s greatest weapon is his volume and gas tank, that’s a recipe for disaster for Cannetti. To be fair to Cannetti, he’ll continue to press forward after he’s drained, but it’s hard to see him winning outside of catching Moutinho with a bomb early. I don’t think Moutinho is a good prospect, but he has enough he should be able to beat a faded Cannetti. Moutinho via decision
  • They may not be household names, but the UFC knows damn well what they’re doing having Tafon Nchukwi and Azamat Murzakanov kick off the card. Though both are on the short side for 205, it’s a stretch to say they are small for the division given they are both extremely thick. Though older by a considerable margin – 35 to 27 – Murzakanov is the greater unknown given we’ve seen a fair amount of Nchukwi in the UFC already. Nchukwi is a pressure fighter with a solid chin who never stops throwing, even after his stamina is clearly compromised. Murzakanov is more crafty, waiting for openings to unleash his punching power, often resulting in long stretches of inactivity. Should the fight somehow go to decision, that could be problematic, but it seems unlikely. Nchukwi does have a greater arsenal and a 5-inch reach advantage, but Murzakanov appears to have his overall strategy fine tuned. Nchukwi is still tinkering. In terms of the outcome, the only surprise will be if it goes to decision, but I like Murzakanov’s savvy in this one. Murzakanov via KO of RD1