UFC Vegas 21 Prelim Predictions

Welterweight: Jason Witt vs. Matthew Semelsberger

Striker vs. Grappler Alert! This fight will be decided by the takedown or lack thereof, depending on who gets their way. Jason Witt is a powerful wrestler, and he is coming off a submission win in his last bout. Matthew Semelsberger is a striker who stamped his UFC debut with a unanimous decision win over Carlton Minus. He does not possess the most gorgeous or flashy striking, but he moves well and is active with his hands and feet. 

I like the head movement of Semelsberger, and I feel he will be able to avoid the big overhand punches that Witt brings to the table. The issue for him in this bout might be how tall he stands. Witt will be looking to get under Semelsberger’s hips for takedowns, and the higher the hips (or stance), the easier it will be. I think that eventually, Witt gets the takedown, and he is able to use his strength to get a submission of some kind.

Pick: Jason Witt.

Strawweight: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Gloria de Paula

Lagging Jinh Yu Frey takes on UFC debutant and Contender Series product Gloria de Paula. Jinh Yu Frey is a multi-time Invicta FC Atomweight Champion and since moving ten pounds up, she has lost two-straight and has yet to get a win in the UFC Octagon. She has a tall order ahead of her in the form of 25-year-old de Paula.

Frey has fantastic striking and she is great at using her weapons at range. Her leg kicks and counter punches from the outside are especially effective. Where she might struggle is if she is taken down. Frey does possess a purple belt in BJJ, but she has seemed unable to be mobile in bottom position. On the mat is where de Paula will want this bout, but I think she might have an issue getting it there. She is great in the clinch, but her wrestling is not to the level it might need to be to get Frey to the mat.

Pick: Jinh Yu Frey.

Flyweight: Cortney Casey vs. JJ Aldrich

This bout is interesting due to what it might say about JJ Aldrich if she loses. She started her UFC career by going 3-1, but since then, she has gone 1-2. Her recent losses have been against other young prospects, Maycee Barber and Sabina Mazo. A loss against Casey would be quite detrimental to her stock as someone to watch in the younger ranks of the UFC flyweight division. It’s not that Casey is particularly bad, in fact, she has some great wins over great opposition. That said, facts are facts, and Cortney Casey is 5-7 in the UFC. That much UFC experience will be a lot of overcome for Aldrich, but she should overcome it.

The star of Aldrich’s game is her boxing, and she is often able to use her southpaw stance to her advantage. She slips punches and uses good footwork to cut angles that advantage her stance. Casey will not likely try to keep the fight as boxing-only for very long as she is at her best when the fight requires a mixture of skills. Her wrestling is solid, and she is decently strong for the flyweight class. That said, I do not think she will be able to get the takedown in this one.

Pick: JJ Aldrich.

Lightweight: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Rafa Garcia

Rafa Garcia is undefeated at 12-0 and he is making his UFC debut against some tough opposition. He is a Mexican fighter who captured the Combate Lightweight Championship before making the jump to the UFC. On the feet, Garcia is short, stocky, and primed for big punches. Ultimately though, Garcia is a grappler. Most of his wins have come via submission and his wrestling is usually good enough to put him in a position to use his skills. The major hole I see in his game thus far is his striking defense. He is good at rolling his shoulders to avoid punches and shelling, but he leaves his head wide open when he advances with strikes.

Nasrat Haqparast is an experienced UFC prospect. He has been derailed a couple of times in the UFC, but he counters those shortcomings with four wins. His most recent loss was a KO from Drew Dober, but Haqparast rebounded with a unanimous decision over Alex Munoz. His takedown defense was tested in that bout, and he will need to apply those lessons when he takes on Garcia. In his last bout, Haqparast showed uppercuts to counter the level changes of his opponent. I expect to see the same in this bout. In terms of striking, I fully expect Haqparast to show out in this one. He will need to be mindful of the big strikes of Garcia, but his defense should carry him through.

Pick: Nasrat Haqparast.

Bantamweight: Rani Yahya vs. Ray Rodriguez

Ray Rodriguez makes his second trip to the Octagon against a proper UFC vet. He lost his debut, but he shows enough skill to trouble just about any Bantamweight on the roster. Rodriguez is primarily a striker, whose aggressive style and hard-hitting strikes should make opponents think twice about a firefight. His striking defense is a bit lacking, and he leaves his chin pretty high in general. When he gets hit to the head, it’s usually due to him trying to roll from punches, but failing to move his head enough. In terms of weapons, he is quite fond of the outside leg kick, and big punches from his rear hand.

Beginning his career in 2002, Rani Yahya has been here for a while. He fought for the WEC, starting in 2008, and he made the transition to the UFC with most of the WEC roster in 2011. He has amassed a record of 15-6-1-1NC in the UFC/WEC and he touts an overall MMA record of 26-10-1 1NC. It is no secret that he wants to get this fight to the floor, and there’s little reason to think he won’t get it there at some point in this bout’s 15-minute limit. Yahya’s striking is also present, and he is surprisingly durable; he hasn’t been stopped since a 2009 bout against Joe Benavidez. Between his grappling, durability, and experience, I think Yahya gets it done.

Pick: Rani Yahya.

Featherweight: Charles Jourdain vs. Mercelo Rojo

Charles Jourdain is a Canadian athlete out of the Academie Pro Star MMA team. He has been with the UFC since 2019 and has a company record of 1-2-1. That’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I tell you that this guy is fun to watch. I also didn’t realize that he has a KO win over Doo Hoo Choi – that’s a quality win. He is constantly threatening attacks, and he leaps on submissions on the floor, specifically choke attacks. On the feet, he puts out a pretty high volume and he’s decently unpredictable. Jourdain is also a cardio machine which will be important against an opponent who doesn’t usually go the distance.

Marcelo Rojo is an Argentinian athlete making his UFC debut. He is a veteran of the Combate cage, and he touts a record of 16-6. All 16 of his professional wins have been via finish, including one via DQ for an “illegal bite” (not sure what a “legal bite” is). Rojo is known for his great, aggressive striking, but he has gotten finishes on the floor as well. Watching the footage, I’m impressed with his combinations, his clinch knees, and how he can throw kicks, even when backing up. Rojo is also pretty hard to take down, although, if he’s taken down, he seems to will his way back up rather than strategically getting back to his feet.

Both fighters share a pretty similar style, but I think Jourdain will pull it off. Both guys are dangerous in similar ways, but I think Jourdain is a bit more well-rounded and can afford to go the distance while keeping his high pace.

Strawweight: Angela Hill vs. Ashley Yoder

You really have to give it up for Angela Hill (12-9, 6-7 UFC) and her activity, recently securing the record for most fights within a calendar year. Her record is deceptive, as Hill is, without question, one of the elites in the division, particularly when it comes to striking. “Overkill” is a Muay Thai striker who backs up her punches with a relentless pace and a surprising pop to her strikes. Hill had poor success in her early Octagon career, due in part to her lackluster ground offensive. Her game is best when she can dictate the striking exchanges and mix it up with all eight striking points, wearing her opponent out the longer the fight goes with her ferocious output.

Ashley Yoder (8-6, 3-5 UFC) interrupted a two fight losing streak with a dominant decision victory over Miranda Granger, outworking Granger from top position. Yoder was a contestant on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter and won her matchup in the opening round, only to drop her next fight on the show. “Spider Monkey” does most of her work striking, but has four wins with an armbar, proving her a threat anytime she is on her back. She is a talented grappler, but often lacks the takedown potency to reliably usher the fight there. Yoder is at her best when able to mix int takedowns with her long striking, using her height and reach advantages to keep her opponent out of the pocket.

The first meeting between these two athletes came almost four years ago, which saw Hill win a decision through her technical striking. Yoder’s offensive threats primarily came through her attempts to drag the fight to the mat, and after witnessing the growth of both fighters since, I cannot say I see it going much differently. Hill has been on a tear with activity against elite competition, proving just how technical and dangerous her striking is, while Yoder has been 50/50 against mid-level opposition. I imagine Yoder will have an advantage if she can secure top position repeatedly, but with Angela’s improved takedown defense and massive advantage in the standup, she should soundly secure another decision over Yoder.

Pick: Angela Hill

And that’s it! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights! Check out the main card predictions by clicking here!

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.

Feel free to reach out in the comments below!

Categories: UFC, UFC Predictions

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