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UFC Vegas 58 preview: Ricky Turcios out to prove ‘TUF champion’ still means something

Get the scoop on the preliminary action out of UFC Vegas 58, including recent TUF champion Ricky Turcios looking to turn away the heavy handed Aiemann Zahabi.

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Ricky Turcios punching Brady Hiestand at UFC Vegas 35
Ricky Turcios punching Brady Hiestand at UFC Vegas 35
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Another week, another Fight Night card. It gets harder all the time to point out what might be separating one of these cards from the other, particularly on the prelims. Prospects typically aren’t enough to excite casuals as there are prospects who could become something on every card. Thus, while there are a slew of names that I could see enter the official UFC rankings at some point – David Onama, Ronnie Lawrence, Tresean Gore, and Saidyokub Kakhramonov – I get the feeling this is a card that many will be willing to overlook. It’s too bad. These fights look like they’ll be fun....

  • There’s no doubt Aiemann Zahabi got his UFC roster spot due to being the brother of famed trainer Firas. Whether he’s proven worthy of his spot is up for debate. Zahabi has proven to be a technically sound striker who has struggled with his lack of athleticism. That’s going to be an issue again as Ricky Turcios is going to be the more physically gifted fighter in this contest. As one of the winners of the latest completed season of TUF, Turcios still has a few rough edges, but he’s a far more refined product than what we saw in the first season of DWCS. Given he’s a Team Alpha Male product, it’s no surprise he’s capable of pushing a heavy pace. What is a surprise is his wrestling may be his biggest question mark. Fortunately for Turcios, Zahabi isn’t a takedown threat. If Turcios doesn’t have to worry about being put on his back, it’s hard to see him not outworking his Canadian counterpart. Perhaps Zahabi can catch him clean – Turcios isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart – but Zahabi is too hesitant to let his fists fly for me to feel comfortable guessing he puts Turcios away. Turcios via decision
  • The expectations placed on Antonina Shevchenko were always unrealistic given her sister is Valentina Shevchenko. That doesn’t mean Antonina is a crap fighter, but the UFC always seemed dead set on rushing her up the ladder rather than taking incremental steps. Coming off back-to-back losses, it looks like the UFC is finally getting the idea that Shevchenko is just a gatekeeper. However, there’s only one big thing that she’ll need to utilize if she wants to turn back Cortney Casey: her wrestling. Casey is an aggressive striker and an underrated grappler. But for whatever reason, she has never been able to stop takedowns. Shevchenko has shown better than expected grappling, but her ability to consistently get the fight to the mat is the greatest question mark about her at this point. However, given Shevchenko’s striking technique is sharper than Casey’s, she may only need to score a few takedowns to ensure she stays ahead on the judges’ scorecards given I don’t trust either one to be able to finish off the other. The guess here is that turns out to be the case. Shevchenko via decision
  • Tresean Gore exhibits so much of what I don’t like about the modern version of TUF. While Gore is talented, he’s also far too green to be in the UFC at this stage. Unfortunately, with the development of DWCS, the prospects ready to make the jump to the UFC don’t want to put their lives on hold for six weeks, potentially cutting weight multiple times in that span, all for a show that no one watches any more. Gore has good striking form and insane power, but he has yet to develop the connective parts that allow him to transition into the different phases of MMA. Cody Brundage isn’t an expert in that either, but his edge in experience has allowed for him to be further along in his development than Gore. A former light heavyweight, Brundage is a physical presence at middleweight with an underrated grappling game. Gore has shown better than expected wrestling of his own, but he is used to be significantly stronger and powerful than his opponents. He may be a harder hitter than Brundage, but I’m not sure he’s stronger. However, Brundage has also shown a willingness to stand and trade when he probably shouldn’t. If I trusted Brundage to fight intelligently, I’d pick him. As it is, I anticipate he’ll try to trade with Gore... and Brundage, while tough, has exhibited poor defense. Gore via KO of RD1
  • Most of us didn’t expect the UFC would be able to find someone willing to throwdown with David Onama on short notice after Austin Lingo pulled out. After all, Onama is a physical specimen who looks like one of the top prospects in the featherweight division. All they had to do was call up his past opponents to see if anyone wanted another crack at him as Garrett Armfield volunteered to do so. In their first meeting, an amateur contest, Onama ended up beating on Armfield pretty bad, but couldn’t put him away. Both have evolved a long way since that contest in 2018 and both are still young enough that they are far from finished products. But Armfield also moved down to bantamweight to get the ball rolling in the right direction for him and he was already bullied by Onama in their first contest. I like Armfield and believe he’ll be able to carve out a nice niche in the UFC. But Onama has star potential. Armfield is a disciplined fighter, but I don’t see the power in his arsenal that will allow him to pull off the upset. Onama should have his way with his smaller opponent in this highly unexpected rematch. Onama via TKO of RD1
  • There’s no doubt in my mind Kennedy Nzechukwu and Karl Roberson are fighting in a pink slip derby. Both have proven to be frustrating talents who have had some highlight reel moments despite perennially underachieving. Nzechukwu gets stuck inside his own head, refusing to let his hands fly despite being arguably the largest light heavyweight on the roster. For Roberson, he’s been far too content to let things play out on the mat despite having a background as a professional kickboxer. In the process, he’s been submitted four times in his UFC career. It’s impossible to feel confident about picking either one, but there’s also no doubt each of them are as capable as the other of securing a stoppage. Given their jobs are on the line, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see each of them afraid to make a mistake and engage in a tentative sparring session. Here’s hoping we get the best of both fighters as that would be a hell of a fight. As it is, the most likely scenario sees Nzechukwu’s size overwhelming the smaller Roberson after he wakes up from eating a few hard shots. Nzechukwu via TKO of RD3
  • There are two fights on the card that I would say are definitively a higher-level contest than that between Ronnie Lawrence and Saidyokub Kakhramonov. Just two. Other contests are debatable, but this is easily one of the better fights on the card. And yet, we find them opening up the card. Either the UFC wants to deliver a hell of a curtain-jerker or they are disrespecting the two bantamweight prospects. Lawrence has proven to be a dogged pressure fighter in constant pursuit of takedowns. Kakhramonov has some similarities, but he hasn’t been as dominant in the wrestling department as Lawrence. Then again, it could be argued Lawrence’s level of competition has been lower than Kakhramonov. Prior to Lawrence’s last contest, the consensus would have been that Kakhramonov was the better striker, but Lawrence showed some major improvements on the feet in his last appearance, securing several knockdowns. Of course, he was knocked down several times himself, showing some major holes in his defense. Then again, those who followed Kakhramonov’s career know that’s been his biggest knock as well. This is a difficult contest to pick. I’ve wavered on this contest several times. Ultimately, I’ll go with Kakhramonov as Lawrence has gotten so many takedowns because he’s struggled to keep his opponents down. I expect Kakhramonov can make him pay in the transitions. Kakhramonov via TKO of RD3