UFC Vegas 57 is an under the radar event. There isn’t a lot of name recognition to the card – I would guess Neil Magny might be the most recognizable name – but there’s a strong likelihood of several combatants on the card will be major players in their respective divisions.
Though there’s no denying that main event participants Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot are presently the highest level fighters on the card, but close followers of the sport are looking closer at Shavkat Rakhmonov and Umar Nurmagomedov to be stars in the future. Plus, Thiago Moises headlined a card just last year. Stacked would be a stretch, but this is certainly a better card than it would appear at first glance.
Arman Tsarukyan vs. Mateusz Gamrot, Lightweight
There have been several occasions when a young fighter puts on a spirited performance against an established opponent and obtains a lot of hype in the process, despite suffering a loss. Lando Vannata comes to mind. More often than not, those fighters end up not being able to live up to the hype. Tsarukyan has been an exception to the rule following his competitive debut against Islam Makhachev.
Tsarukyan established himself as a hell of a ground fighter right from that debut with Makhachev. Outside of Makhachev’s KO loss to Adriano Martins, no one has given the seeming heir apparent to the lightweight crown a better run for his money. Looking at him, given his stout frame, you’d think he was just a bulldozer reliant upon his brute strength. While Tsarukyan can do that, he’s also proven himself to be a fine scrambler who has refined his technique the deeper his UFC career goes. Couple the mean streak he has shown – his GnP in his most recent contest was absolutely brutal – with his improvements and it isn’t ridiculous to predict he’d be able to produce a different outcome should he rematch Makhachev.
Of course, Tsarukyan isn’t facing Makhachev; he’s facing Gamrot. Given his prominent run in KSW, Gamrot has been on the radar MMA fans for a long time. The former two-division champion is on the small side for lightweight – some believed he would have been better off plying his trade at featherweight – but he has also built his game perfectly around fighting in five-round affairs. Of course, that was due to Gamrot fighting so many of those contests in KSW that he appeared to suffer a bit of a shock to the system when he migrated over to the UFC and opened up fighting three round contests.
The Pole quickly adapted after losing his debut to Guram Kutateladze. Instead of utilizing his jab to just probe at his opponent’s defense and chip away, Gamrot began throwing it with a purpose and following it up with more power shots. His wrestling is still his primary weapon, his jab doing an excellent job of disguising his shots thanks to his lightning fast ability to dive on his opponent’s legs. Of course, there’s a question of whether Gamrot’s lighter frame will prove to be a disadvantage against the bricked up frame of Tsarukyan. He may not be able to outmuscle Tsarukyan the way he did Jeremy Stephens, but it isn’t hard to see him utilizing his ability to scramble to catch Tsarukyan off-guard.
There’s no doubt Gamrot is the more polished striker. He may not be quite as powerful, but he’s shown he has enough power in his fists that he needs to be respected. Despite a likely edge on the feet for Gamrot, Tsarukyan has progressed on the feet as well. A jab has developed, allowing him to set up his power shots. Despite that, he’s got the rougher edges and it isn’t hard to see Gamrot outslick the aggressive Armenian. The fact the fight is five rounds is new territory for Tsarukyan, but very familiar for Gamrot. This should be a closer fight than many are predicting. Gamrot has never been finished and is one of the most intelligent fighters on the roster. However, Tsarukyan has the edge in physical gifts and is no dummy in his own right. I wouldn’t be surprised if it proves to be a FoTY candidate, but I won’t be so bold as to predict that. Tsarukyan via decision
Neil Magny vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov, Welterweight
There’s no doubt Magny is one of the most disrespected members of the UFC roster. He’s tied for the most wins in the welterweight division in UFC history, sharing that honor with Georges St-Pierre. He’s headlined three UFC cards. He has wins over former UFC champions Robbie Lawler, Johny Hendricks, and Carlos Condit. He was also ballsy enough to continually ask for a fight with Khamzat Chimaev. He didn’t get it, but he did get someone who could very well have just as much upside as Chimaev in Rakhmonov.
Rakhmonov possesses a similarly intimidating physical frame to Chimaev. He’s not quite as tall as the Chechen fighter, but he does have a slightly longer reach. As for why Rakhmonov hasn’t been getting the same amount of attention as Chimaev is twofold. First, he isn’t nearly as cocky on the mic as Chimaev. In fact, Rakhmonov doesn’t have a strong grasp of the English language quite yet. Second, Rakhmonov takes a more measured approach in his fighting, concentrating a bit more on defense than Chimaev. Despite that measured approach, Rakhmonov has yet to go the distance in a fight. In fact, he’s only entered the third round once. That does create questions about his ability to go the distance, but his studious approach leads most to speculate he’d be fine.
It’s hard to identify an obvious weakness in Rakhmonov. He isn’t the cleanest wrestler, struggling to get the fight to the mat more than expected in his UFC run. However, he hasn’t had any issues with controlling his opponents against the fence. His striking has proven to be exceptionally accurate and he even showed he’s happy to throw some flash in there, putting away Carlston Harris with a spinning hook kick.
Magny is used to be overlooked. It happens on a regular basis for him. He doesn’t have one-punch KO power. Though he’s a plus-wrestler and grappler, he has been overwhelmed in those categories by the likes of Michael Chiesa and Demian Maia. In other words, some of the best ground fighters. Nevertheless, it’s been enough that many tend to forget Magny has successfully used those aspects of his game to dominate Lawler and control Condit. Plus, his 80” reach is unheard of at welterweight. Sure, Magny isn’t an expert in the use of his length, but he does well enough to cause problems for his opponents.
My studies didn’t change my mind about this contest very much. For all my talk about how much Magny has been disrespected in by MMA fandom, I don’t see him winning this. Much of that is due to how he looked in his most recent outing against Max Griffin. Yes, he did ultimately win, but Griffin is the type of fighter Magny has typically blown through. He barely eeked by, getting knocked down and outstruck by Griffin. It was Magny’s wrestling and control that got him the win, but he only succeeded in securing one of his nine takedown attempts. I won’t say Magny looked old, but he did look like someone on the other side of his peak. Rakhmonov still looks like he’s getting better. Look for Rakhmonov to add something else to his highlight reel. Rakhmonov via KO of RD2
- When the hell is the UFC brass going to learn the ultimate buzzkill of so many Fight Night main cards has been the seemingly obligatory heavyweight contest? I’m not saying the fight between Josh Parisian and Alan Baudot has no business on the card, but it certainly doesn’t have any business on the main card. Between the two, Baudot has the look of a potential difference maker, but he doesn’t fight like one. On the flip side, Parisian fights more like a lighter fighter despite his hulking figure. Perhaps most surprising is Parisian’s ability to unload all sorts of volume without slowing down significantly. If Baudot opts to let loose, his superior technique and athleticism would make him a significant favorite. Unfortunately, it would take a significant change in his demeanor for that to happen. This deep into Baudot’s career, that doesn’t seem likely. Parisian wears down the Frenchman with his volume. Parisian via TKO of RD3
- It’s hard to know where to begin with Thiago Moises. Well, there is the fact that he’s a skilled BJJ practitioner, but it’s hard to know beyond that. Though he shows the proper striking technique, Moises doesn’t show comfort on the feet, being outstruck in all but two of his eight UFC contests, often times by extreme margins. To be fair to him, many of those fights have come against opponents who are fringe top-15 fighters at the very least, but given he’s broken into the rankings himself, it would be reasonable to expect him to at least be competitive in that aspect. While Christos Giagos is a reasonable step down from what Moises has been fighting, it doesn’t mean Giagos is a guaranteed win for Moises. Giagos is physical brickhouse who has come a long way from the guy who only knew how to throw heavy hooks on the feet. He now throws a steady jab and effectively uses his striking to set up his powerful shots. Given Moises’ hesitancy on the feet, it isn’t hard to see Giagos outworking the Brazilian. However, given how Giagos tends to fade down the stretch and Moises’ opportunistic nature, it isn‘t hard to see Moises snatching a submission out of nowhere. I don’t have confidence in my pick, but I’m going with Moises. Moises via submission of RD3
- While Umar Nurmagomedov has received plenty of attention due to his last name, he may be worthy of the hype beyond just have a name that belongs in MMA royalty. Out of those named Nurmagomedov on the UFC roster, Umar is the most comparable to Khabib. That doesn’t mean he’s a carbon copy – far from it – but he is the strongest ground fighter. Umar isn’t the bulldozer that Khabib was, but he is more than a handful, utilizing sound technique to secure his takedowns and making good use of the Dagestani handcuff. Umar’s striking is unorthodox, throwing a large amount of kicks. Nate Maness had better find a way to navigate those kicks as his boxing appears to be the only realistic path to victory for him. Maness proved he has more power than anyone thought when he floored Tony Gravely, indicating a KO from out of nowhere isn’t a blasphemous outcome. But what his backers are overlooking is the drubbing Maness experienced from Gravely prior to the finish. Hell, Maness struggled with Johnny Munoz too. This contest appears to be nothing more than a showcase for Umar. Nurmagomedov via submission of RD1
- One of the better UFC stories of 2021 was the signing of veteran journeyman Chris Curtis to the roster 12 years into his career. Fighting twice in the span of a month, the underdog in both contests, Curtis scored two violent finishes, instantly making Curtis a wild card in the middleweight division. Not bad for a guy who has retired multiple times. Curtis has always been a talented striker, but the thudding power he has demonstrated appears to be a recent development. Call it old man strength, call it the benefit of not having to cut the weight to welterweight – where he spent most of his career – no one is going to take Curtis’ power for granted at this point. Don’t look for Rodolfo Vieira to test his striking very much as the Brazilian grappling ace knows where his bread is buttered. Though many were concerned about his wrestling when he first entered the UFC, Vieira has proven to be quite adept at getting the fight to the mat. What has been concerning for Vieira is controlling his energy expenditure as he still hasn’t completely adapted to MMA after a long career of BJJ competitions. Vieira did show a more mature version of himself in his most recent showing, remaining effective into the third round. It’s hard to believe Curtis won’t piece up Vieira on the feet if the fight doesn’t spend long chunks of time on the mat as Vieira’s powerful fists still have a long way to go before they can be considered a finished product. However, for all of his experience, Curtis hasn’t faced someone with the combination of grappling, athleticism, and brute strength possessed by Vieira. Throw in it’s reasonable to expect Vieira to continue to make leaps in his progress given his relative MMA inexperience and I fear we may all be putting too much stock into Curtis’ resurgence. Vieira via submission of RD2