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UFC Vegas 52 prelims preview: Avoiding the pink slip derby

Dig into the early fights out of UFC Vegas 52, with motivation being high to avoid the chopping block throughout, including durable Marc-Andre Barriault looking to survive Jordan Wright’s onslaught.

Marc-Andre Barriault prior to his fight with Chidi Njokuani at UFC Vegas 47
Marc-Andre Barriault prior to his fight with Chidi Njokuani at UFC Vegas 47
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

On paper, UFC Vegas 52 has more depth than the offering of fights the organization provided last week. That isn’t saying much given last week, UFC Vegas 51, was the worst card the UFC has put on in some time. Nonetheless, Vegas 52 has a few fights that appear to be violence personified. The most obvious of those fights is the main event, but there are a couple of preliminary fights that fall into that category. Jordan Wright has never been to a decision. Cameron Else has never won a fight that left the first round. Both should have dance partners willing to engage in their form of artistry. There are other fights that stink of huge potential to induce narcolepsy, but I’ll let you see if you can figure out what I’m talking about.

  • For Jordan Wright, it’s kill or be killed. I didn’t reveal the full insanity of his record in the introductory paragraph. The karateka has never completed a single minute into the second round, much less go the distance in a fight. There’s no doubt Wright has plenty of power and explosion, making his go for broke style effective enough, but there’s also a limited ceiling to it. Thus, while it would be a sign of maturity if Wright were to take a more measured approach, it would be foolish to anticipate that. There are signs that will be the right approach to take against Marc-Andre Barriault as the bulky Canadian was disposed of in just 16 seconds in his last contest. It was the first time the traditionally durable Barriault has been finished. Does that mean the manner of his loss was a fluke or is it a sign of his chin having cracked? Regardless, Barriault is all about pressure and wearing down his opponent in the clinch... the exact type of fight Wright doesn’t want to get into. Another red flag for Barriault is he’s stepping back in the cage less than three months after being put away. It’s typically good practice to wait a bit to come back after being finished in the manner he was. And yet, I have a nagging feeling Barriault survives Wright’s early attack. I fear I’ll regret this, but I’m saying Barriault wears down Wright. Barriault via TKO of RD2
  • I’m sure I’m not the only one who forgot Sergey Khandozhko was still a member of the UFC roster. After all, the Russian product hasn’t been seen since 2019. That leaves a lot open to interpretation as he could be a completely different fight after well over two years away. Then again, given he already had 34 fights under his belt, could he really improve all that much? What we do know about Khandozhko is that he is solid on the feet, but possesses limited power and struggles to stop opponents from taking him down. Fortunately for Khandozhko, Dwight Grant might match up perfectly for Khandozhko to sneak out with a victory. No one denies that Grant has power, but the AKA product has always been reluctant to pull the trigger. Opponents tend to respect his power enough that they don’t rush to engage with him, often leading to Grant eeking out the most boring of decisions. On the few occasions Grant has looked for takedowns during his UFC run, he’s been able to find them. Unfortunately, he rarely looks for them. It’s also possible he could turn out the lights of the typically durable Khandozhko, but it’s just as easy to see Khandozhko outwork him on the feet. I’ll pick Grant since he should win this, but just because he should doesn’t mean he will. Grant via KO of RD2
  • If you thought the break for Khandozhko was long, Tyson Pedro hasn’t stepped foot in the Octagon since 2018. Fortunately for Pedro, he’s still just 30 and light heavyweights have fairly long shelf lives. It’ll be interesting to see how he looks after the long layoff due to several knee surgeries. Prior to that, Pedro showed power in his punches and a plus submission game. However, he also showed poor defense in every phase while making the type of mistakes that tend to come with inexperience. That’s about the only factor that should give Ike Villanueva any sort of hope. Villanueva does have power and has picked up a high level of savvy craft after his many years in the sport. However, he’s a poor athlete severely lacking in the speed department and his durability appears to have disappeared after enduring all sorts of battles. Villanueva’s only UFC victory came against the only guy in the division who may have been a worse athlete than himself. Given Pedro is far superior in that department, I feel confident in picking the Aussie to return successfully. Pedro via TKO of RD1
  • When I was under the impression this fight was going to be at flyweight, I figured the weight cut would be too much for Cameron Else. Now that I’m aware the fight is at bantamweight, I feel a lot better about the scrappy Englishman pulling off the upset. Not a great athlete, Else tends to fight recklessly as there’s a good chance he won’t ever have a major athletic edge at this level. Thus, his kill-or-be-killed style is appropriate for him. Of course, Aori Qileng has proven more than willing to engage in that type of fight himself... and the Chinese representative has plenty of athletic tools to overwhelm Else. Qileng’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he does have an ironclad chin. However, though Else is primarily known for his grappling, he has surprised with his power on several occasions. Regardless, I believe the move up for Qileng will benefit his energy levels and power enough that he should cruise should the fight leave the opening round. I think it does. Qileng via TKO of RD3
  • Announced as a late notice replacement on Wednesday, Evan Elder is very much an unknown quantity. Undefeated, the natural lightweight has recorded that record by beating up on lower-level competition. Not that it would have been an issue if he had maintained his trajectory before the call up, but it leaves a lot of questions about how well his skill set will translate. Preston Parsons only has one fight in the UFC – a loss – but he did fight some strong competition when he was on the regional scene. With that, his wrestling and grappling are by far the most known quantities in this fight. Elder has some solid wrestling, but he’s going to be the smaller man and Parsons has had success against opposition larger than himself. Perhaps Elder can find success if he can keep the fight standing as Parsons’ striking has a lot of holes in it. However, Elder’s striking, perhaps not as full of holes, fluctuates between being sharp and sluggish. Even if he’s having a good night, his power isn’t overflowing and I don’t trust he can keep Parsons from taking him to the mat. Parsons via submission of RD2
  • After winning a cool $1 million from the first season of PFL in the heavyweight division, Philipe Lins migrated to the UFC and was unable to find similar success. Thus, Lins is migrating back down to 205 in hopes of jump starting his career. Lins hasn’t been outmuscled at heavyweight, but he hasn’t had the confidence to engage in the wrestling department in hopes of getting the fight to the mat where the Brazilian is at his best. He’d be making a grave mistake if he doesn’t try to engage Marcin Prachnio on the mat. The Pole is a striker by trade with an untested ground game. Prachnio’s chin has proven to be detrimental too, so he has to be selective when he engages, but he is a powerful striker with sound technique. Lins isn’t exactly the most durable fighter either, but does have a good track record of putting away his opposition. It’s doubtful this contest goes the distance with both displaying a level of fragility. I’ll take the fighter with more varied weapons to end the fight. Lins via TKO of RD2
  • Someway, somehow, the legacy of CM Punk continues in the UFC. It’s been nearly four years since the former WWE star fell to Mike Jackson, but the photojournalist finally returns for another shot in the Octagon. Perhaps he can secure an official win given his win over Punk was overturned due to marijuana use, but he isn’t being handed a given in the way Punk was. Dean Barry isn’t a can’t-miss prospect by any means, but he does have a legit competitive kickboxing background. Jackson surprised many with his striking against Punk, but he doesn’t have any notable power. On the flip side, Barry has secured every one of his victories via first round KO. It’s hard to see this fight going to the mat and I don’t see Jackson being able to hang in there with the heavy handed Barry. Barry via KO of RD1