Fresh off a dynamite UFC Austin Fight Night card, the UFC returns to the APEX center for UFC Vegas 57. Given the fantastic fights that seem to dominate the cards that take place in front of a live audience, one can’t help but feel a bit down the action is going back to the isolation created by the APEX.
I understand there are some fighters who prefer the APEX, but the overall action is so much better when the fighters can feed off the energy created by the fans in the arena. Thus, while I like the possibility of violence for these prelims on paper better than I did the prelims for UFC Austin, I don’t see a strong likelihood of a repeat performance from last week. Then again, last week set a high bar. In other words, if the action this week is a rung or two lower than what was achieved at UFC Austin, UFC Vegas 57 will be well worth watching.
- Tafon Nchukwi is your classic MMA tweener; he’s too thick to comfortably make middleweight, but too short to effectively deal with the length of the majority of the light heavyweight division. What no one can deny is Nchukwi hits like a Mack truck. Despite his professional kickboxing background, Nchukwi isn’t the cleanest striker, though some of that has to do with his attempts to navigate his opponent’s range and get to the clinch. That could prove to be a massive issue against Carlos Ulberg, perhaps best known for his modeling career. Don’t let his pretty face fool you; Ulberg has a slick kickboxing background himself and his fair share of power. What Ulberg lacks is high-level experience. That lack of experience also leaves questions about his ground game. Not that Nchukwi has demonstrated any grappling of note, but he has shown a willingness to secure takedowns with the intention of pounding away on his opposition. Ulberg’s cleaner striking and height might make that the most tenable road to victory for Nchukwi. There’s solid cases to be made for both fighters, but given both can knock the other out cold, there’s also no reason to feel confident in either’s chances of winning. I’ll favor Ulberg’s size and speed advantage to be the difference. Ulberg via TKO of RD2
- Shayilan began his MMA career just over six years ago. Depending on which website you go to, the Mongolian has racked up at least 46 fights since that time, perhaps even more. Most of those came against highly inexperienced opposition, meaning there’s a major asterisk next to that level of experience. It also indicates he may not have as many miles on his body as you’d expect from someone with that many fights under their belt. He’s found most of his success on the back of his wrestling, which has proven good enough to secure him a UFC win, maintaining control of Sean Soriano for over half of the contest. Of course, Soriano has notoriously been prone to wrestling. Will Shayalin have the skillset to do the same to TJ Brown? Brown looked like he was going to wash out of the UFC before turning around his fortunes with a gift from the judges. Despite the controversy of his win over Kai Kamaka, no one can deny that Brown has shown vast improvement in his striking and a more aggressive wrestling game. However, what appears to be the thing that makes me most confident in Brown’s chances of winning is his ability to scramble out of trouble. I don’t see Shayilan being able to control Brown enough to pick up a second UFC victory. Brown via decision
- It’s rare for a fighter to remain as much of a mystery as Raulian Paiva after six UFC appearances and a stint in the rankings. And yet, it’s still very hard to know what to make of Paiva. At times, Paiva comes across as nothing more than a punching bag, struggling to let his brand of offense fly. Other times, within the same fight, Paiva shows an exceptional muay thai arsenal, throwing with authority to head and body. Without his uncanny resilience, there’s no way Paiva would be able to exhibit the latter characteristics after the brutal beating he endured at the hands of Kyler Phillips. What allowed Paiva back into that contest was Phillips gassing. The question is whether Sergey Morozov will be able to maintain his own pressuring attack as it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him jump all over Paiva in the manner past opponents have. Morozov faded badly after a dominant opening round against Douglas da Silva Andrade, meaning many might be looking at this in a similar manner to the Paiva-Phillips contest. However, one big difference: Morozov was badly hurt by the hard-hitting Andrade before the fading process began. Paiva is more of a stinging striker as opposed to the sledgehammer approach or Andrade. I like the chances of Morozov holding up to Paiva strikes, even if the Brazilian begins to turn things around. Paiva is the better athlete, but Morozov is a bad stylistic matchup for him at 135. Morozov via decision
- To no one’s surprise, JP Buys excursion into the bantamweight division didn’t go so well. Primarily a wrestler and grappler, Buys made every reasonable effort to ground Montel Jackson, finding next to no success while getting knocked off his feet four times in the contest. The native of South Africa was simply too small to get his physical brand of offense going. Returning to the flyweight division, he’s likely to get back to his ground fighting ways, but a lot of that could be attributed to Cody Durden welcoming a scramblefest. Scrappy is the best word used to describe Durden. He isn’t very technical in any one area, but his constant pressure and activity tend to make him a handful for anyone. Given Buys recent chin issues, I’d be picking Durden right away if Durden showed any signs of plus power, but no one has shown any real concern about his power, even after he’s landed a few punches. Regardless, while Buys is a better technician in all aspects, I’m not sure he has the tenacity to outwork Durden. It’s a difficult contest to pick, but I’m leaning in favor of the American. Durden via decision
- The UFC has a soft spot for fighters like Brian Kelleher. Rightfully so, as he’s one of those who lives up to the anytime, anywhere creed that many espouse but rarely fulfill. Not a gifted athlete, Kelleher relies heavily on his plus power, impressive durability, and incredible opportunistic nature. While it has allowed Kelleher to have a UFC run far longer than his talents would indicate, the lack of athleticism has put a very firm ceiling on his growth as well. While there’s no doubt Mario Bautista has the physical gifts to upend Kelleher, it’s a matter of whether his head is in the right place. Though his base is his slick BJJ game, Bautista has ignored his ground game for many of his UFC fights in favor of trading fisticuffs. Not that the MMA Lab product doesn’t have a solid standup game of his own, but he did have his lights turned out by Trevin Jones about a year ago playing that game. Plus, Kelleher has a long history of getting caught in submissions, no surprise given his high-octane stylings. If Baustista can’t pull this fight out, it will be time to pull the plug on him being anything more than a gatekeeper. I think he can do it. Bautista via submission of RD1
- There’s a lot to like about Vanessa Demopoulos. Exceptionally flexible with a unique arsenal of submissions, she’s also proven to be durable. Fun personality too. Unfortunately, she’s also undersized for the strawweight division, limiting her effectiveness on the feet. Demopoulos can’t ever be counted out of a fight based on her positive traits – just ask Sam Hughes – but it makes it hard to believe she’ll be able to crawl up very high in the divisional hierarchy. That said, Jinh Yu Frey is also on the small side for the division and can get caught spending too much time looking for the counter with her powerful left hand. To be fair to Frey, she opened up her striking more than she ever has in her most recent outing against Ashley Yoder, but she still has yet to come out on the positive end of a striking differential in her UFC run. Despite that, Frey has more power and better technique on the feet. Combine that with her excellent core strength, making her difficult to takedown, and everything is there for her to secure a win. The real kicker is Frey’s base is her grappling. She has been submitted, but that was by a bigger and stronger opponent in Kay Hansen. Demopoulos would need to outslick Frey to get her to tap. I don’t see the likelihood of that happening being very high. Frey via decision