We’re back in Vegas for the 19th UFC Apex-based fight night. This time, the main event features an intriguing matchup between heavyweight wrestling specialist Curtis Blaydes and an ever-improving Derrick Lewis.
Before that though, we will be chalk-full of prelim action. As of writing, we have nine prelims to take a look at, so let’s get to it.
Heavyweight: Sergey Spivak vs. Jared Vanderaa
The most important factors in this bout will be the wrestling and Octagon control. Spivak, who has been a 50/50 fighter since coming to the UFC, has some solid standup, and decent grappling. This bout will be the UFC debut for Vanderaa, a big, sometimes lumbering heavyweight. We last saw him win a first-round TKO in his Contender Series showcase, but it was not easy going for Vanderaa. He was overall outstruck by a much faster opponent before getting his grappling going to work toward his eventual TKO win. I think that Spivak will outstrike Vanderaa, and I also think he will be a bit faster. Unfortunately, Spivak has a tendency to put his back to the cage and that will be a big mistake against Vanderaa who will do his best to capitalize in those moments. In addition, Spivak doesn’t have the best defensive wrestling.
Pick: Jared Vanderaa.
Bantamweight: Aiemann Zahabi vs. Drako Rodriguez
It’s been almost two years since Aiemann Zahabi stepped into the Octagon. He is on a two fight losing streak, and this matchup against UFC-debutee Drako Rodriguez is more than likely make-or-break. For Rodriguez, this is a chance for a big splash in his first outing to the Octagon. A win over Zahabi would not only be a win against a legacy name being that Aiemann Zahabi is the brother GSP’s famed coach Firas Zahabi, but also a win over the fantastic Tri-Star Gym. Rodriguez is a strong, hard-hitting bantamweight with some slick ground skills, but Zahabi will be a tough test for him. Zahabi has a varied standup attack with solid wrestling and a veteran camp. Zahabi struggles with a high volume pace, but that is not what Rodriguez brings. Zahabi might have to struggle through a tough few moments, but I think that he will be able to put his well-rounded skills to work against the younger Rodriguez.
Pick: Aiemann Zahabi.
Featherweight: Chas Skelly vs. Jamall Emmers
Skelly, a mainstay in the UFC featherweight division since 2014 looks to make it two in a row when he takes on the relative newcomer, Jamall Emmers. Both men are looking to get a streak going, but I think it is more important for Skelly who is 35 years old as of this writing. Emmers looked really great in his last showing which saw him up his aggression and attack output en route to a unanimous decision win. If he is able to be as aggressive against Skelly, I think he has a good chance here. Emmers has great boxing and some really impactful knees and kicks. Skelly has a tendency to put his back to the cage when pressured, so I predict he will end up there under the fire of Emmers. That said, Emmers will need to be weary of the grappling of Skelly where he has the ability to use his MMA veteranship to pick off younger, less experienced fighters. It has the potential to be a really tough test for Emmers, but I think he gets it done over the UFC veteran, Skelly.
Pick: Jamall Emmers.
Flyweight: Shana Dobson vs. Casey O’Neill
Dobson, an Ultimate Fighter alum, is a tough out for anyone. While her technique is not as refined as her contemporaries, she comes to fight and hits hard. Her last fight, and upset win over Mariya Agapova, even showed some new wrinkles to her game with some offensive wrestling. That is no doubt thanks to her work with Elevation Fight Team. Casey O’Neill, on the other hand, is coming into her UFC debut and undefeated 5-0, with two finishes. She comes out of Tiger Muay Thai, but O’Neill’s most common path to victory comes from her active groundwork and relentless pressure. It is for that reason that Dobson will want to avoid the ground altogether, and instead look to capitalize off of O’Neill’s lack of meaningful head movement. That said, I do think this fight ends up on the floor, and I think it ends there.
Pick: Casey O’Neill.
Featherweight: Rafael Alves vs. Pat Sabatini
Two UFC-debutants face off in this featherweight contest. We last saw Alves fight his way into the Octagon with an impressive guillotine choke finish on week 4 of the Dana White’s Contender Series 2020 season. He is explosive, well rounded, and willing to take big risks to end a fight. He also sets a high pace, which he has usually been able to keep up over all three rounds. Sabatini, on the other hand, is a bit more conventional, but still super effective at what he does. He has solid standup, but his specialty is on the floor where he is good at advancing position through ground and pound, working toward submission finishes. He will have to be very conservative and workmanlike to get it done against Alves who will no doubt be coming forward with bad intentions. I think that Alves has a good enough ground game not to melt under the grappling attempts from Sabatini, and he might even be good enough to catch Sabatini in a submission of his own.
Pick: Rafael Alves.
Featherweight: Julian Erosa vs. Nate Landwehr
This is Erosa’s third UFC stint after being cut twice before. The latest was after he went 0-3 in the promotion, rebounding with a first-round submission win against AJ Bryant. He then answered a late notice call from the UFC, earning an upset win at UFC Fight Night: Poirier vs. Hooker. Landwehr is currently 1-1 in the UFC, but he rode into the promotion on a seven-fight win streak. He is an all-action featherweight who walks forward and is down to throw down. He uses constant forward motion and relies on his hands to do his work. His takedown defense is solid, and his clinch work is sneaky good. Both of these athlete, Erosa and Landwehr, keep their hands pretty low and do not move their heads to a high degree. This should be super fun to watch as both men are willing and able to go to war in the Octagon. I’m honestly not sure who to go with here, but I think I give Erosa the edge based on his reach and durability. In addition, Landwehr whiffs a lot with looping punches from slightly out of range, and I think that is where Erosa capitalizes.
Pick: Julian Erosa.
Bantamweight: Eddie Wineland vs. John Castaneda
Here we are at the once-annual Eddie Wineland fight. He has taken exactly one fight a year since 2017, losing all but one of those bouts; his most recent being a knockout loss to Sean O’Malley. For Wineland, this fight against Castaneda is a winnable one. While Castaneda is younger, he does not possess the devastating power that might expose Wineland’s aged chin. In fact, I think Castaneda is going to be pretty hittable while the fight remains on the feet. Castaneda’s path to victory is on the floor where he has a solid resume of finishes. That said, he is 1-3 in his last four – mostly due to opponents keeping things on the feet. I think Wineland gets it done in his 2021 showing.
Pick: Eddie Wineland.
Lightweight: Drakkar Klose vs. Luis Pena
Two fighters looking to get back on the winning track face off in this lightweight clash. Both Klose and Pena are coming off a single loss against other prospects. In terms of styles, this is a classic setup for a mixed martial arts battle. Klose is a stocky wrestling-based fighter who is successful at swinging hooks on the inside and bullying opponents against the fence. Pena is a tall, lanky striker who likes to settle back and pressure from just out of his opponent’s range. Each athlete is well-rounded, but they also have their specialties. Pena’s stance will be vulnerable to the excellent kicks of Klose, but if Klose is close enough to kick Pena’s leg, Pena is close enough to land his awesome boxing combinations. Pena’s height advantage is a double-edged sword in this bout, because while he will be able to maintain his striking range easier, Klose will be able to get under his hips for takedowns a bit easier if he can get Pena against the fence. Pena’s tendency to back straight up will more than likely allow Klose to get his wrestling started.
Pick: Drakkar Klose.
Featherweight: Jared Gordon vs. Danny Chavez
Jared Gordon started his tenure the UFC as a hot prospect, but after a few tough losses, he has been demoted to solid guy. Danny Chavez worked for half a decade to stand inside the Octagon, and he did not disappoint in his unanimous decision win over TJ Brown. I think this should be a fun tactical battle. Chavez has some really hard-hitting striking that utilizes solid boxing and brutal calf kicks. He has good offensive wrestling and decent takedown defense, which will be important against Gordon. The takedown will be the key in this one for Gordon because I’m not sure he can outstrike Chavez or withstand a flush connection from Chavez either. All-in-all, I think Chavez’ wrestling holds up long enough to capitalize with his striking.
Pick: Danny Chavez
Heavyweight: Andre Arlovski vs. Tom Aspinall
This is a big step up in competition for Tom Aspinall, but for good reason. He is riding a five-fight win-streak of nothing but first-round finishes. In fact, all of Aspinall’s wins have come inside of two minutes, with five of those finishes not even lasting a minute. Facing down a hot prospect is nothing new for Arlovski who has a habit of making great fighters look slow and boring. In addition, Arlovski has more than a couple tricks up his sleeve that he will use against less experienced opposition. Myself and the oddsmakers have Aspinall as a heavy favorite in this one, but he leaves himself open sometimes as he rushes to finish. These are the moments where Arlovski has a chance to win. I do think Aspinall gets it done, but probably not in the first round. That said, I might be throwing $5 on Arlovski to win via decision.
Pick: Tom Aspinall.
And that’s it! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights!
If you’d like to keep up with me outside of the predictions, you can catch me on the Sparring Partners Podcast, either on YouTube or Spotify.
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