Most of the Fight Nights in the last year or that have been of the caliber of UFC Vegas 71, have been the events that saw the UFC leave Sin City. Then again, this event isn’t taking place in the Apex, so this may not just be the exception to the rule.
It also benefitted by picking up the main event of the Fight Night from two weeks ago as Nikita Krylov pulled out of his contest with Ryan Spann on the day of the event due to illness. A quick rescheduling did alter it so it is only a three round contest, but at least it is happening. Even without that contest, this is a quality card.
Petr Yan and Merab Dvalishvili easily qualifies as the best quality Fight Night main event of 2023 thus far. Yan may have lost three of his last four fights, but one of those he was on his way to winning until a bonehead mistake and the other two were highly contentious contests that easily could have gone his way. As for Dvalishvili, he’s won eight in a row. Plus his two losses are about as controversial as Yan’s losses. In other words, it could be contended neither of these fights have a definitive loss in the UFC.
The co-main event between Alexander Volkov and Alexandr Romanov is above average for a Fight Night co-main as well. I won’t go so far as to say UFC Vegas 71 is stacked, but it is a damn good card.
For the prelims preview, click here. For an audio preview, click here.
Petr Yan vs. Merab Dvalishvili, Bantamweight
There’s a strong feeling the biggest thing preventing Dvalishvili from claiming bantamweight gold is his relationship with the current bantamweight champion, Aljamain Sterling. Should Dvalishvili win this contest, he’s going to have the best resume of anyone else in the division for a shot at the gold... but no one is sure he’d take it. Of course, that’s provided Sterling remains the champion. Given Sterling has talked about moving up to featherweight, perhaps that won’t be the case for as long as we might think....
Dvalishvili has established himself as a guy nobody wants to face. It isn’t so much that he’s unbeatable: there’s a path to victory against the native of Georgia. It isn’t an easy path, but it’s there. It’s more that Dvalishvili is very hard to look good against. He pushes one of the hardest paces in all the sport, pursuing takedowns at an insane pace. In his most recent contest, he proved he can still win without securing takedowns as he was still able to neutralize Jose Aldo with his pressure and activity. Thus far, since getting his bearings in the UFC, no one has been able to keep pace with Dvalishvili.
There is one big question with regards to Dvalishvili that we have yet to get any sort of information about: how well would he do in a five round contest? Would he be forced to alter his pace? If not, would he gas down the stretch? We’re about to find the answer to that question, but we’re not on the other side of that contest yet. Anyone who would give you a definitive answer wouldn’t know what they’re talking about since no one knows.
One of the intriguing factors is Yan is the perfect opponent to test Dvalishvili’s effectiveness over five rounds. The former champion has a tradition of starting slow, only to come storming back down the stretch. Well, perhaps starting slow is an inaccurate way to put it. A better argument is that Yan tends to spend the first round of a fight making reads of his opponent so he can exploit them down the stretch. Given that he has dropped so many of his fights as of late, it isn’t unreasonable to think Yan might look to start fast. Then again, predicting change within a fighters performance is often a fool’s errand.
Even if Dvalishvili is able to overwhelm Yan early, it’s conceivable to see Dvalishvili slow down the stretch based. After all, Yan has proven to have some of the best takedown defense in the division. For instance, Dvalishvili’s training partner, Sterling, only secured a total of three takedowns out of 39 official attempts. Sterling isn’t Dvalishvili in terms of securing takedowns, but he is crafty enough that’s it’s hard to see him being as inefficient against anyone else.
On the feet, there’s no doubt who the superior striker is. Yan may not have the raw power Dvalishvili does, but that doesn’t mean he’s pillow fisted. In fact, Yan is one of the more technical strikers on the roster. What’s amazing is he’s able to be as technical as he is despite pushing a high pace. It’s rare to see Yan throw anything sloppy, even when he’s in desperation mode. Even if he throws something sloppy, there’s still a level of grace to it. That technique allows Yan to not just throw with more power than someone with his natural skills traditionally would – he had a stretch of five consecutive fights with at least one knockdown — he’s also exceptionally accurate. With Dvalishvili, his nonstop offense is his best source of defense. In other words, it isn’t hard to see Yan clipping him as he comes in. Dvalishvili has proven to be durable, but not indestructible.
Yan’s chin isn’t an easy one to crack either, though Sean O’Malley proved it can be done. The problem is, Dvalishvili is rarely throwing with accuracy, often using his strikes as cover rather than shoot for a naked takedown. Not that Dvalishvili always enters for the takedown without some sort of cover, but he has established there’s enough power in his fists that opponents don’t want to leave their chin exposed to one of his haymakers. In the rare moments where the fight isn’t on the mat or Dvalishvili isn’t looking to take it there, he does a fantastic job of filling in the space with volume. He’s developed hints of a jab, but it’s primarily low kicks.
There’s a couple of things swaying me in the direction I’ve chosen. Marlon Moraes proved Dvalishvili can be hurt by a technical striker. However, Moraes ended up falling off a cliff after he failed to get the finish, his traditionally troublesome cardio coming into play. Dvalishvili’s most recent opponent, Jose Aldo, also has a history of fading when he’s unable to dictate the pace. There have never been signs of Yan fading, no matter the style of fight. Where Yan has struggled is against lanky opponents. That’s in all facets of the game. Sterling, O’Malley, and Cory Sandhagen gave Yan fits on the feet with their length. Dvalishvili doesn’t have that in his favor. Sterling used his long limbs and grappling acumen to tie up Yan on the mat for long stretches on the rare occasions he was able to get him there. Again, that’s something Dvalishvili doesn’t have in his favor. Dvalishvili having three fights in which he secured double digits in takedowns is impressive. It’s also indicative of someone who can’t keep his opponents under control. I’m not as concerned about Dvalishvili’s ability to go five; his fight with Aldo was in high altitude. But I see Yan getting better reads the deeper the fight goes, scoring some snipping offense, and creating a panic in Dvalishvili. That will allow Yan to either get a late stoppage or a tight decision. Yan via TKO of RD5
Alexander Volkov vs. Alexandr Romanov, Heavyweight
It’s hard to put a label on Romanov. Not stylistically of course, but it terms of where he is at. Is it fair to still refer to him as a prospect? Is he too far along in his career for that label to stick? Some believe he’s at a make-or-break point in his career, others believe he still has plenty of time to figure things out. Given the shelf life of heavyweights, I lean towards the latter.
Regardless of how much time Romanov has, it can’t be denied this is the most important contest of his career. Even though he’s coming off a loss to Marcin Tybura, Romanov is stepping up in competition to take on Volkov. For him to beat Volkov, he’s going to have to learn some lessons from his loss to Tybura. The lessons should be obvious, but a fighter knowing what he’s supposed to do and implementing what he’s supposed to do are two different things.
The issues for Romanov are things that could be seen a mile away. Romanov made a commitment to slimming himself, no longer carrying around his spare tire. The guess here is he did that in an effort to improve his cardio. Perhaps it did, but the main thing he needs to do for that is avoid the big flashy slams that he loves so much. Yes, his suplexes and slams look impressive, but they also require a LOT of energy. Combine that with his opposition improving and his needing to hold them down as well and Round One Romanov and Round Three Romanov are two completely different people.
What is in Romanov’s favor is Volkov is hardly an expert at stuffing takedowns. The lanky Russian isn’t terrible either, but big, athletic heavyweights who want to take him down have been able to at will... provided they’re fresh. Curtis Blaydes found himself in survival mode down the stretch, but that was also a five round event and Blaydes has proven to have a more reliable gas tank than Romanov. Then again, Romanov was fighting in the altitude of Salt Lake City. Perhaps Romanov’s weight loss has improved his cardio....
Regardless of Volkov’s performance against Blaydes – the most significant comparison to Romanov of his past opponents – there’s no debating he the tallest and best outfighter of any of Romanov’s opponents. Plus, Volkov is extremely resilient, popping up time and again after Blaydes continually took him down. Volkov bulked up some from after that contest in hopes of being able to better fight off takedowns attempts, but has lost some of that weight after it hurt his mobility some. Then again, the lost mobility may have been attributed to Volkov getting older. He’s not ancient by heavyweight standards at 34, but he has 45 professional fights under his belt. That’s a lot of wear and tear.
All that said, the road to victory for both is clear. Romanov will need to take Volkov down and keep him down. The key for the Moldovan will be to avoid the big flashy takedowns and stick to fundamentals. While Volkov will look to avoid takedowns and land a combination of kicks and punches from the outside, a greater focus early in the fight might be to force Romanov to expend his gas tank. Romanov went into survival mode against Tybura. Romanov survived until the bell, but Volkov is a more dangerous striker than Tybura. The Russian has secured three finishes in his last four wins....
This could very much be a crossroads contest. Romanov shouldn’t be done improving while Volkov may have peaked. In other words, the UFC matchmakers made this contest at just the right time. A year or two ago, I’d pick Volkov without hesitation. A year or two from now, I’m sure I’d be picking Romanov. Typically, the appropriate pick in a crossroads contest is the younger fighter. Despite that, I’m not convinced Volkov is in decline, at least not yet. He looked awesome in dispatching Jairzinho Rozenstruik last summer. I think he still has enough to take out a worn out Romanov late. Volkov via TKO of RD3
Nikita Krylov vs. Ryan Spann, Light Heavyweight
The ten year anniversary of Krylov’s UFC debut is creeping up this year. While he took a hiatus from the organization, it’s crazy to look back on how far he has come in that time. That doesn’t mean he has eliminated the brain farts that have been one of his defining features, but he has cut down on them and has developed into a legit top ten light heavyweight.
Spann’s road hasn’t been quite as adventurous as Krylov’s, but it has been a hell of a journey as well. How the 6’5” behemoth ever made 185 will forever be a mystery, but he has settled down into being one of the steadier presences in the division. Coming off the biggest win of his career when he KO’d former title challenger Dominick Reyes, Spann declared he has only begun taking his training seriously. If he’s being serious about that and he’s been able to advance to this point in his career, what type of fighter can he become if he really is taking his career seriously? Then again, if he hasn’t been taking his career seriously, what’s to say we can trust his ability to flip the switch and do so now?
Krylov’s journey has been more about a lack of maturity as opposed to a lack of a work ethic. After all, he was only 21 when he debuted as a chunky heavyweight with a terrible gas tank. Even as a youngster, his physical gifts were obvious, winning fights in spite of his fight IQ. As his level of competition grew, his intelligence was forced to grow as well. Realizing he can’t overrun all his opponents, he has learned to pace himself. Realizing some opponents would be better to take to the mat than try to trade with, he’s proven to be a boring grinder in some fights, belying his reputation as a reckless striker. How will he deal with Spann?
That’s hard to say. Spann tends to be very deliberate on the feet, though he does unleash his fury once he has his opponent hurt. Fortunately for him, that’s proven to be a frequent occurrence. It used to be Spann relied only on his own prodigious physical gifts. Since teaming with Fortis MMA, he’s become a formidable boxer. Couple that with an underrated submission game – his guillotine in particular is potent – and it’s been a rare occurrence for his fights to go the distance. Then again, part of that is due to his own mental miscues.
There’s a few X-factors to consider given the fight was delayed a couple of weeks. First, who would appear to be worse for wear by cutting weight a second time in such a short window? Neither are small for the division, but an educated guess would be Spann. Krylov is the one who was ill, so perhaps he’ll be the one to feel the effects on a greater scale. It could also prove to be a mental obstacle. Perhaps Spann is upset with the delay. Perhaps Krylov is worried about getting ill a second time cutting weight again in such a short span. There’s a lot of atypical factors, but it’s impossible to know how to know which way to slice the pie. That doesn’t mean those factors can’t or shouldn’t be considered, but only their camp knows how they’ll be affected and we know their camps will only speak glowingly about them.
This is a very difficult contest to predict. Spann is probably the better grappler, but Krylov is certainly the better wrestler. Krylov is more aggressive, which could lead him to walking into a hard right hand from Spann. Then again, it’s been a while since Krylov made any major mistakes on the feet. Who is the better athlete is up for debate. Spann’s record in terms of wins and losses is more impressive, but Krylov has faced the superior competition by a wide margin. This should serve as a breakout win for either competitor. I’m having the hardest time picking one or the other. The betting odds are already close, but I’d say they should be closer. Ultimately, I’m siding with Spann. It isn’t for anything on tape or paper; it’s that Krylov has disappointed so many times that I don’t feel comfortable picking him in these types of contests any longer. Spann via submission of RD2
Said Nurmagomedov vs. Jonathan Martinez, Bantamweight
When is Nurmagomedov going to fight up in the rankings? He’s been in the official rankings since beating Cody Stamann, but Martinez marks the third consecutive unranked opponent since that point. That doesn’t mean Martinez doesn’t stand a chance, but it’s a mighty curious development.
Despite his name Nurmagomedov isn’t much of a wrestler. Not that he can’t wrestle, but he utilizes takedowns strictly as a change of pace, if he utilizes them at all. In fact, Nurmagomedov has proven to be dangerous with his back on the mat or when he’s about to be taken down, securing a pair of guillotine chokes against a pair of overzealous opponents in his last three contests. With that type of frequency, it’s hard to believe opponents won’t be wary of taking the Russian to the mat.
Then again, it’s hard to believe Martinez would consider making that a major priority. Martinez appears to be the first opponent Nurmagomedov has faced in the UFC who appears less likely to shoot for a takedown than he is. Martinez can wrestle a little, but it’s often a last resort for him. What the former flyweight would rather do is fight from the outside, picking away at his opponent with his varied kicks. Well, perhaps picking apart isn’t always the right description. Martinez broke down the legs of Cub Swanson in his most recent contest, not to mention the danger his own spinning attacks pose.
The question is whether Martinez is as sharp as Nurmagomedov is on the feet. The two of them have a lot of similarities in their game. In fact, Nurmagomedov’s signature move is his spinning back kick. Few are better at timing the spinning attack. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time when Nurmagomedov threw one that was ill-advised. Neither Nurmagomedov nor Martinez are known for their boxing, but both have managed to secure finishes behind the power of their fists.
In terms of entertainment value, this is an excellent contest. It’s hard to believe most of the fight won’t take place on the feet or that we won’t see several spinning attacks from both combatants. However, when it comes to just about every major category, Nurmagomedov appears to have at least a slight edge. He appears to be little bit more sharp in his technique. He’s a little bit better defensively. He’s a little bit better wrestler. He’s a far better grappler, but that may not even come into play. Given Martinez isn’t far behind him, it’s more than plausible he can land a power shot to end the night for Nurmagomedov, but it feels foolish for me to pick against him. After all, he’s the more proven fighter. Nurmagomedov via decision
- Ricardo Ramos entered the UFC with a reputation as a submission specialist. After scoring his first spinning back elbow finish, Ramos fell in love with his standup. After being on the wrong side of a highlight reel, Ramos made a real effort to improve his wrestling. At this point, Ramos is maturing into a well-rounded product capable of spectacular moments. Ultimately, Ramos has been losing to superior athletes. Unfortunately for Austin Lingo, he isn’t a superior athlete. That doesn’t mean Lingo should be instantly counted out. He’s got excellent size, plus power, and a solid wrestling background. The problem is, while his wrestling has held up fairly well defensively, the takedowns he’s been stuffing have been coming against non-wrestlers. Ramos isn’t Khabib Nurmagomedov by any means, but he’s a better wrestler than Lingo’s past opponents. Ramos’ defense means there’s a good chance Lingo catches Ramos on the chin, but the more likely outcome see Ramos’ better all-around game secure him a win. Ramos via decision
- You can be forgiven if you believe Vitor Petrino is a fraud. Well, perhaps fraud is too strong of a word, but there’s a huge asterisk next to his unbeaten record. There’s more cans than quality opponents on his ledger, four of his opponents combining for a total of one win. All that said, there’s no denying Petrino has all sorts of physical talent. There’s concern about his ground game, but there’s no denying he has explosive power and a diverse striking attack. That may not matter if Anton Turkalj gets his style of fight. The Swede offers a big light heavyweight frame and a relentless wrestling attack. He doesn’t mind throwing down on the feet, but his reckless nature leaves me concerned how much his success in that aspect will translate over given he isn’t the most technical striker. Perhaps he can drag Petrino into an ugly, grinding affair. However, I see it more likely Petrino will find Turkalj’s chin given I don’t believe I can trust Turkalj’s fight IQ. Petrino via KO of RD1