UFC Vegas 68 is... well, it’s an event. I hate to crap on cards, but this is one of the more underwhelming cards the UFC has put on in some time. The most notable names populate the heavyweight division, including former title challenger Derrick Lewis. Typically, Lewis would be a major boon to headline a card. Unfortunately, he’s on a two-fight skid, indicating he may no longer be one of the best big men on the planet. He’s facing Serghei Spivac, someone who was once a punchline within the division. Y’all remember Jared Vanderaa calling for a fight with Spivac even before being awarded his UFC contract via DWCS? Well, now Spivac is headlining a card opposite Lewis. That’s a hell of a climb, but there are many who don’t recognize the growth Spivac has endured. In other words, many see him as a mediocre B-side.
Many of you may remember this contest was scheduled in November, only for Lewis to pull out the day of the event. Lewis recently revealed it was a COVID related withdrawal, but the UFC was prepared this time around anyway. Fellow heavyweights Marcin Tybura and Blagoi Ivanov aren’t the sexiest names in terms of appeal, but they both have numbers next to their names and have headlined cards before. That doesn’t make this a good card, but at least the UFC has a contingency plan should Lewis or Spivac need to pull out. After all, with all due respect, no one wants to see Da Un Jung and Devin Clark headline this card....
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Derrick Lewis vs. Serghei Spivac, Heavyweight
There’s a long list of things we could point to for Lewis’ recent decline. Does he have the fire in his belly to compete any more? Lewis has made a pretty damn good living in the sport. Given he never had much of a fire for the sport itself – Lewis always said he was in it for the money – it’s reasonable to suspect he is fat and happy at this point. There’s also the fact that Lewis’ chin has completely eroded. He’s never been a defensive savant and has maintained one of the busier schedules. He’s taken a lot of damage over the years. Perhaps his back issues have finally caught up with him. It’s all hard to say....
There are a couple of other things that could be pointed out. Each of Lewis’ last three losses came in front of a live audience in Texas. Lewis has admitted to feeling pressure to perform well in front of his home state. Perhaps even pressing things to the point he isn’t performing to the best of his abilities. Also, did y’all see the names of those who Lewis lost to? Cyril Gane is by far the most technical striker in the division and isn’t a pillow-fisted striker. As far as Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich go, they are two of the hardest hitters in the sport. There’s no shame in having your block knocked off by either man.
In other words, if Spivac is going to beat Lewis, it isn’t going to be in the same manner as the recent men who handed Lewis his most recent L’s. To be fair to Spivac, he has improved exponentially on the feet. He can make quality use of his lanky frame at this juncture, fighting some on the outside with a developing jab. It used to be all he could do was operate in the clinch in hopes of securing the takedown where he could execute his vaunted ground game. The Moldovan has a heavy top game that tends to wear down opponents enough in hopes of securing a submission.
There’s serious questions to how effective holding down Lewis will be. Aleksei Oleinik, perhaps the greatest submission specialist in heavyweight history, wasn’t able to submit Lewis. It could be argued Oleinik was well beyond his prime and Lewis is further out of his prime than he was when he fought Oleinik. That said, I have a hard time believing Lewis can’t continue to bench press his opponent off him when he decides that’s what he wants to do. And while Daniel Cormier may have been able to smother and submit Lewis, Spivac isn’t anywhere near the wrestler Cormier is.
Even if Lewis is losing his fire, it’s hard to believe he’s lost any of his power. Lewis is always just one punch away from ending a fight. That Spivac doesn’t have the power of those who have recently put Lewis away adds to the likelihood of Lewis emerging with his hand raised. Plus, people tend to underestimate Lewis’ fight IQ. Remember how he waited for Curtis Blaydes to shoot for a takedown before knocking his block off with an uppercut? There’s also the recent pics of Lewis where he appears to be in the best shape of his life. That’s an indication motivation isn’t a problem for him. Not having the pressure to perform in front of his home crowd, I expect Lewis to settle down and find the finish. Lewis via KO of RD1
Marcin Tybura vs. Blagoy Ivanov, Heavyweight
There isn’t a more overlooked heavyweight on the roster than Tybura. The Pole has won six of his last seven fights. That includes snatching the zero from hyped prospect Alexandr Romanov. Unfortunately for him, Tybura has been labeled a boring fighter and hasn’t been able to shake that off.
The thing with Tybura is that he’s good at everything, but not great at anything. That allows him to diversify his attack to go after whatever his opponent’s weakness is. For most fighters, specifically targeting an area on an opponent is playing with fire given it doesn’t always match up with their weaknesses. In Tybura’s case, his fight IQ makes it a proposition that has played out in his favor more often than not at this stage.
Aside from the fight IQ, there’s a strong argument Ivanov is a similar type of fighter. The reason for that is Ivanov goes to a high volume of decisions, lacks power, and has proven to be more than competent on the mat. All of those are accurate descriptions of Tybura. But it’s not so simple as that. Ivanov’s most defining characteristic is his insane durability. In a division noted for KO’s, Ivanov has never been stopped via strikes. However, while durability is an essential trait to have to become a champion, a hard ceiling is going to be set if that is the most notable trait.
Fortunately for Ivanov, Tybura isn’t a championship level fighter. That said, Tybura is the rightful favorite. In addition to consistently showing a better fight IQ, Tybura is the better athlete with superior grappling. With that athleticism, he’s also the more diverse and busier striker. The road to victory is there for Ivanov. The problem is he rarely looks to utilize his wrestling. Despite that, Ivanov has a habit of making his fights close, capable of absorbing insane amounts of damage in order to deal out his offense. That said, the stout Bulgarian will have a hell of a distance to cross to do that. I wouldn’t put money on it, but I do ultimately feel comfortable picking Tybura. Tybura via decision
- There doesn’t appear to be anyone more consistently inconsistent within the light heavyweight division than Devin Clark. Clark is one of the better athletes in the division, but he has also struggled to make the best of his gifts. Part of that can be attributed to him being on the small side for 205, making it difficult for him to implement his wrestling base. When Clark is able to consistently hit his takedowns, wins tend to follow. He’ll have a hard time putting Da Un Jung on his back. The native of Korea is one of the bigger members of the division and has successfully fought off the majority of his opponent’s takedowns attempts. Granted, there haven’t been too many and Jung hasn’t faced any opponents who have established themselves as someone who can get the fight to the mat at this level. What Jung has done is dispose of opponents less disciplined than he is. Most would agree that Clark would be another one to fall into that category. Clark is going to have a hard time outpointing Jung given the discrepancy in reach and he’s only picked up one finish in his seven UFC wins. Clark is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a shock for him to win, but it shouldn’t be expected. Jung via TKO of RD3
- For many, Doo Ho Choi is a major what-if. Choi had the look of a future contender back in 2016, even after coming up short in his epic battle with Cub Swanson. Choi has only fought twice since that loss, coming up short in both of those contests. Even worse, he hasn’t been able to make the final bell in either contest either. Perhaps that brawl with Swanson took more out of him than we ever thought. Even if he still has the heavy hands and speed he was known for, it won’t mean much if his confidence is shot. The UFC does appear to be giving him his best chance to get back on track. No disrespect to Kyle Nelson, but his 1-4 UFC record isn’t exactly inspiring. Nelson is coming back down to 145, a division where he has struggled with his stamina. That said, Nelson does have plenty of power and doesn’t appear to be phased by his losses. Nelson is a big step down from Choi’s previous level of competition and Choi is also a far superior athlete. Plus, while it’s been a long while since we’ve seen Choi, it wasn’t due to an injury layoff; he was gone due to mandatory military service. If Chan Sung Jung and Kyung Ho Kang are any indication, Choi should come back looking strong. I’ll lean towards the Korean representative for those reasons, but I put some serious thought into picking Nelson for the upset. Choi via TKO of RD3
- Yusaku Kinoshita was one of my least favorite signings off DWCS last year. It has nothing to do with his talent. It has everything to do with his age and lack of experience. To be fair to the 22-year-old, several of Kinoshita’s opponents had extensive experience themselves. But they also appeared to have too much experience, most of those opponents being well past their prime. Kinoshita does have a natural feel for striking, threatening off the counter with power. What we don’t know is how he’ll reply to a savvy striker with the ability to put him to sleep in his prime. We’ll find out, provided Adam Fugitt allows him to stand and trade. The 33-year-old is a wrestler at heart, but he’s been able to prove himself a threat on the feet in recent contests. Kinoshita’s ground game wasn’t tested in Japan the same way it will be tested now that he’s in the UFC. Even more concerning, he didn’t look particularly impressive in the few times he was tested. I have vacillated on this pick quite a bit as I can see Fugitt having his way with Kinoshita on the mat, but I’m ultimately leaning towards the more talented and aggressive youngster to make good on his prodigious promise. Kinoshita via TKO of RD3