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UFC Vegas 51 prelims preview: Will we get another Huggy Bear KO and celebration?

Get the scoop on the early fights out of UFC Vegas 51, featuring a clash of ranked women’s bantamweights and the return of fan favorite, Chris Barnett.

Chris Barnett celebrating his win over Gian Villante at UFC 268
Chris Barnett celebrating his win over Gian Villante at UFC 268
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

After a couple of rollicking Fight Night cards as the UFC hit the road, the offerings as the organization returns to the APEX is comparably underwhelming. That doesn’t mean there aren’t well-matched fights – Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby don’t get enough credit for what they do – but there aren’t any names outside of the main event that will capture the attention of the casuals. Even that may not be enough to capture the casuals. Regardless, fan favorites like Chris Barnett and William Knight populate the prelims of UFC Vegas 51. Plus, there are a pair of ranked women’s 135ers. Of course, women’s bantamweight is probably the shallowest of the real divisions that populate the UFC, so that may deserve an asterisk next to ranked. Regardless, as with any fight card, there’s a little something for everyone.

  • Fight fans love to talk about those who have proven willing to step up on short notice time and again such as Donald Cerrone and Angela Hill. They might need to throw William Knight into that category as the physical freak is fighting for the third time since December. That’s only possible because it appears he has decided he doesn’t want to make the cut to 205 anymore after his last cut went disastrously wrong. Given how he struggled with the length of an opponent who did make the light heavyweight limit in Maxim Grishin, that could prove disastrous. We’ll have to wait a while to find out as his opponent, Devin Clark, is making the move from light heavyweight himself. Clark has matured into a gritty fighter, but never developed any finishing ability, all six of his UFC wins being awarded to him by the judges. Even worse, he has proven susceptible to losing before the allotted time has expired, only one of his six career losses being decided by judges. Clark has found success when he either has more relevant experience or he’s the better athlete. He has the experience edge over Knight, but I wouldn’t say he’s the better athlete. It’ll be interesting to see Knight’s power without him dehydrating himself.... Knight via TKO of RD2
  • There have been several women who have taken maternity leave since women entered the UFC. It’s been a mixed bag how they look when they come back. We’re about to find out how Lina Lansberg looks as she returns to combat. A hard-nosed Muay Thai practitioner, Lansberg picked up her nickname as the Elbow Queen thanks to her gritty work in the clinch. As her UFC career progressed, Lansberg’s offensive wrestling progressed to the point she has picked up a few victories on the back of her GnP and control. However, she hasn’t been able to shore up her ability to stop takedowns. Pannie Kianzad has enough wrestling ability that she can take advantage of that weakness. The question is whether she’ll take that route as Kianzad has progressed into a hell of a combination striker who puts a hell of a pace on her opposition. Perhaps most important, Kianzad isn’t easy to take down. In other words, about the only place Lansberg looks like she can win the fight is in the clinch. Kianzad isn’t a bad clinch fighter, but even if she doesn’t get the better of Lansberg in that area, it’s unlikely more than half of the fight takes place there and Kianzad should comfortably win in space. Kianzad should securely take another win over Lansberg in this rematch a decade in the making. Kianzad via decision
  • It’s been over two years since Drakkar Klose last stepped into the Octagon. There are various reasons why, but the most notable was due to a whiplash concussion from a Jeremy Stephens shove at their ceremonial face off a year ago. In his most recent fight, Klose suffered a brutal KO loss. Given all these issues, it’s reasonable to question if Klose isn’t the same fighter he was prior to the events of the last couple of years. Up to that point, Klose was a gritty counter striker who tends to neutralize his opposition. It isn’t exciting, but it has led to a high degree of success thus far. However, if he is compromised, it opens the door for the flashy Brandon Jenkins. There may not be a member on the roster with a greater love for spinning and leaping attacks, creating several highlight reel moments in the process. Of course, his own defense is full of holes and he doesn’t have the athletic gifts to make up for that. If Klose is somewhat hesitant, the path is there for Jenkins to put him to sleep. While I don’t believe Klose will be at his peak form, it should be enough for him to slip on by Jenkins. Klose via decision
  • Jesse Ronson washed out of the UFC in 2014 without recording a win. He spent the next six years looking to work his way back into the organization before finally doing so. In what would be a storybook moment, Ronson scored a major upset over Nicolas Dalby. However, fate intervened and Ronson tested positive for PED’s, erasing the win from his record and leaving him unable to compete for the better part of the next two years. Now 36, with plenty of miles on his body, it’s hard to believe Ronson will be at peak form. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a winnable fight for him against Rafa Garcia. Garcia is on the short side and is on the reckless side, leaving himself wide open to being picked apart by a tactician... like Ronson. However, Garcia is at his best on the mat and has made strides to make his takedown game more efficient since his UFC entry. Ronson has good grappling defense, but he can be taken down and controlled with relative ease. Then again, Ronson is far and away the more technical striker. That isn’t to say Garcia’s brand of overhand-heavy approach won’t find success, but Garcia needs takedowns to win this fight. The wild card is Ronson’s layoff. It’s possible the two years away were good for Ronson, but I believe it’s more likely to prove detrimental. Garcia via decision
  • It’s unfortunate for Martin Buday to be making his UFC debut against Chris Barnett. Not that Barnett doesn’t pose as a winnable contest for the Slovakian; Barnett isn’t exactly a world beater. No, it’s unfortunate for Buday as Barnett is one of the most well-liked members of the roster, one of the ultimate good guys in the sport. Undersized at just 5’9”, Barnett makes up for it with a technical striking approach that belies his willingness to throw spinning strikes with regularity. However, while his technique allows him to land his offense, it isn’t enough to prevent him from getting pieced up in return. That’s where Buday has a good chance to take a W. While not on Barnett’s level in terms of his striking technique, Buday is a better technician than anyone would think. Plus, he has plenty of power, a huge majority of his fights resulting in him finishing off his opponent with strikes. The concern for Buday is Barnett will have a HUGE advantage in terms of speed and there seems a strong likelihood Barnett could chew up his legs with kicks. Despite that, I like Buday’s durability to hold up and to wear down the stout Barnett with his sheer size and physicality, much like a depleted Ben Rothwell was able to do about a year ago. Buday via TKO of RD3
  • Three fights into his UFC run and I still can’t get a feel for Jordan Leavitt. Well, his ceiling at least. A genuine specialist, Leavitt owns some of the best pure BJJ on the roster. However, he leaves a lot to be desired in terms of his striking and his ability to get the fight to the mat. Leavitt has proven he’s willing to pull guard and for him, that’s a strategy worth pursuing as his ability to chain together submissions is unworldly. Of course, all his opponents are aware of this and Trey Ogden is no exception. The newcomer is probably at his best on the mat as well, but Ogden can at least fall back on a functional striking game. About the only thing Leavitt offers on the feet is low kicks. Ogden has been around the block enough times that he should know how to avoid Leavitt’s funky trappings. I’m aware that it might only take one slip up by Ogden and Leavitt will have him where he wants him, but I like the Glory MMA product to outwit and out-grit the submission specialist. Ogden via decision
  • It’s hard to believe we’ll see Sam Hughes back in the Octagon if she can’t secure a win over Istela Nunes. Hughes entered the organization with plenty of promise, showing a well-rounded skill set in which she weaponized cardio to outwork her opponents. The problem is, Hughes doesn’t excel in a single area and cardio can’t be the only plus weapon she has in this division in the UFC. If the fight stays where her opponent wants the fight to stay, Hughes is likely drop a decision. While there’s no doubt Nunes is the superior striker in just about every way, Hughes could find a way to take the W as Nunes’ takedown defense has been nonexistent thus far. Of course, that requires Hughes to utilize her wrestling, something she has been reluctant to do thus far in her UFC run. There’s a road to victory for Hughes if she can dirty things up. If she lets Nunes have her fight, the Brazilian will have a field day on the feet. The issue is Hughes’ fight IQ and questionable striking defense leaves me unable to trust her. Nunes via decision
  • Did anyone else feel like a mistake was made when they saw Kevin Croom was competing at bantamweight? The dude has had success at lightweight – including in the UFC – and now he’s dropping down to 135? To me, the situation stinks. If Croom can make the cut without issues, perhaps it will allow the opportunistic submission artist to create more of those opportunities by bullying his opponent into leaving themselves vulnerable. Unfortunately for Croom, he could end up playing right into the hands of Heili Alateng. The native of China likes to stand and bang, but he can take his opponents to the mat when presented the opportunity. Croom will give him those opportunities as Croom’s takedown defense is nonexistent. Croom will have such a size advantage against Alateng, it isn’t hard to see him overwhelming the smaller fighter. However, Croom is making the cut down to bantamweight late in his career and it’s rare a late career change in weight class moving down goes well. Alateng isn’t anything special on the feet, but neither is Croom and Alateng at least strings combinations together. Alateng’s durability pushes me over the edge in going in his direction. Alateng via decision