UFC Vegas 17 takes place later today, and although we’ve lost a few bouts, the prelims are still pretty solid. A collection of up-and-comers support a featured preliminary bout between Anthony Pettis and Alex Morono.

Keep reading to see my picks, and for a bit more detail on the matchups on the prelims.

Lightweight: Carlton Minus vs. Christos Giagos

Pick: Giagos. While Giagos has been known to gas in the later moments of rounds 2 and 3, he brings an intensity with his striking that I’m not sure Minus will be able to cope with. Giagos can wrestle and has a solid grappling game as well. Minus is a relaxed, rangy striker who does his best work from the outside. He is not one-dimensional by any means, but he will most likely be outclassed in the wrestling and grappling if the fight goes there.

Flyweight: Jimmy Flick vs. Cody Durden

These two flyweights have decently similar games. They share some weapons in common, but they way they implement them differs. In striking exchanges, they both rely on jabs and leg kicks, but Flick seems to be more comfortable moving forward and throwing in combination. On the floor, both are accomplished grapplers and wrestlers. Durden prefers a methodical approach to a submission, dominating position before eventually settling in on a hold. Flick, on the other hand, is willing to dive on just about anything he feels might end the fight.

Pick: Flick. I feel that he is just all around more lethal than Durden. While they have complementary skillsets, I feel that the aggressiveness of Flick will be enough for him to get the win.

Middleweight: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jamie Pickett

I’m excited for this one. It’s a battle of Contender Series 2020 alumni. Nchukwi is a power-striker who has a textbook way of striking. This textbook technique not only helps Nchukwi deliver punishment, but he is also able to defend rather well. He shells well, and is good at deflecting kicks. Nchukwi is a bit slow, but when he hits, he hits with impact, which is why Pickett will be looking to grapple. If Pickett is forced to stand with Nchukwi, he has a few options, but it will be dicey. Pickett is good at using his length by utilizing straight punches and side kicks to the body. He, like Nchukwi, has some power in his punches, but Pickett is not as sound defensively. His keeps his hands low, and he has a tendency to leave his chin high while he is trying slip away from strikes.

I like this fight for both men. Pickett will need to be on point on the feet, and Nchukwi will need to show us that he has some takedown defense.

Pick: Nchukwi. Outside of the Contender Series, Nchukwi has shown an ability to control the clinch and fight off takedown attempts (look up his stoppage over William Knight at CFFC 80). Pickett is good, and he has avenues to win, but I feel that the holes in his defensive game are ripe to be capitalized on by the power of Nchukwi.

Flyweight: Gillian Robertson vs. Taila Santos

Striker vs. Grappler in this matchup. Obviously, being the elite level of MMA, we are talking about advantages instead of exclusive skillsets, but it is nonetheless true for this bout. Robertson is the grappler in this match, possessing great wrestling and ground control. Santos, the striker, has fantastic muay thai and a great clinch game when it comes to dishing out damage. For Robertson to win, she will need to initiate clinch exchanges that threaten the takedown enough for Santos to forget about setting up frames for knees and elbows. Santos is a servicable ground fighter, having some good BJJ on the offensive and defensive realms. To come out with a win, Santos will need to stay standing. She is great at dishing out damage with kicks and punches when her opponent stays at a distance. As stated earlier, Santos is fantastic at utilizing knees when she has control of the clinch.

Pick: Robertson. I think Robertson will be able to stay in the fight long enough to eventually get the takedown. I do not predict a blowout, but the control that Robertson exerts on the floor should be enough to shut down the submission game of Santos. Robertson will have to be weary of strikes coming in, and if she does not keep the pressure on in the clinch, especially against the cage, she might run into trouble with the clinch striking of Santos.

Catchweight (195 lbs): Deron Winn vs. Antonio Arroyo

There’s a huge size disparity here between these two athletes. Arroyo is 6’3″ and Winn is 5’6″, with the reach advantage also going to Arroyo, but only by 3.5″. The height difference will prove to be a double-edged sword for both men. For Winn, being shorter will theoretically allow him to get under the hips of Arroyo easier. For Arroyo, being the taller, rangier fighter will allow him to theoretically pick away at Winn from a distance. I see this matchup being stylistically similar to Winn’s bout against Darren Stewart at UFC on ESPN 6.

Pick: Arroyo. Winn has a bad habit of not utilizing his wrestling enough. He is phenomenal in clinch exchanges and grappling scrambles, but he often gets stuck on the outside of his much taller opponents. The long, leaping style of Arroyo should work well against the much shorter Winn, and Arroyo’s wrestling and grappling skills have shown to be solid enough to stuff most takedowns.

Bantamweight: Pannie Kianzad vs. Sijara Eubanks

This is a bout between two former Ultimate Fighter finalists, and a display of awesome matchmaking by the crew at the UFC. Both women possess well-rounded games with a couple variations as to which skills are more emphasized. For Kianzad, she has great boxing which relies on straight punches paired with kicks and footwork. Her strikes don’t seem as powerful as Eubanks’, but she makes up for it with volume. Eubanks also possesses solid boxing, but is more of a power-puncher. She has great wrestling which she seems to keep in her back pocket for when she needs to get out of trouble or clinch out a round.

Pick: Kianzad. I think her boxing is just a tad sharper than Eubanks’, and her counter-wrestling has been pretty good in the past. If her takedown defense should fail, Kianzad is competent fighting off her back and is good at getting back to her feet. Eubanks’ best shot in this bout is to clinch and hope her strength is enough to grind out a decision through wearing Kianzad out over the course of 15 minutes. Unfortunately for Eubanks, I think the footwork of Kianzad should stop that from being a major factor.

Welterweight: Anthony Pettis vs. Alex Morono

This fight is about deciding where these athlete fall on the name-value totem-pole. A win for Morono would mean a lot for his career. He would have a win over a former champion and a household name, thus propelling him to possibly face more marquee names of the welterweight division. For Pettis the stakes are inverse. If he were to fall against Morono, it would redefine the types of opponents that make sense for Pettis. A win for Pettis pretty much keeps him in the spot he’s already in as far as matchmaking is concerned.

The skills breakdown is this: someone is getting stopped. Morono hits hard, and he has enough weapons to mix it up with Pettis. He is rather flat-footed compared to Pettis, but this adds to his striking power, and when Morono decides to throw with power, he can crack. Pettis will have to use his veteran savvy in this bout, relying on his kickboxing prowess to capitalize on holes in the defensive game of Morono.

Pick: Pettis. The odds have Pettis as only a slight favorite, and I totally agree with that. Morono has a specific hole in his game that I feel Pettis will exploit. Morono holds his right elbow very high. We know that the lead body kick of Pettis is lethal, and if he pairs that with a lead head kick, it could be a bad night for Morono. We do know that the chin of Pettis is not invincible, so Morono is a very real knockout threat in this bout. I still feel, though, that Pettis should have enough of a skill-gap to stay safe for 15 minutes if he doesn’t get a finish.

And that’s it!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please comment down below. If you’d like to keep up with me outside of the prelim predictions, check out The Sparring Partners Podcast on YouTube or Anchor.fm/Spotify.

Thanks for reading.

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