The UFC returns to the Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada for a Fight Night card on ESPN+!
In the main event, top-ranked Light Heavyweights go at it when Thiago Santos faces Jamahal Hill in a five-round striker’s delight. Vicente Luque stares down Geoff Neal in a top-ranked Welterweight bout that is shaping up to be fireworks. The Ultimate Fighter Season 30 Finales are also seated on the top of the card, with UFC contracts on the line. Zac Pauga will battle Mohammed Usman in a Heavyweight contest, while Brogan Walker and Julianna Miller face off in a Flyweight matchup.
Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill (LHW)
A 2018 move to Light Heavyweight saw Thiago Santos (22-10, 14-9 UFC) score three straight knockouts, including one over Jan Blachowicz, before challenging for the title. He lost his next three bouts, but rebounded in a five-round decision win over Johnny Walker. He suffered yet another defeat in his last outing to Magomed Ankalaev, though Santos did land a knockdown. “Marreta” is an aggressive knockout artist who excels in blitzes and wild exchanges. He has a Capoeira background, throwing no shortage of spinning attacks. While he has defensive grappling, his gas tank and output are frequent concerns, with the latter causing the majority of his recent defeats. Santos has one-punch power as evidenced in fifteen career knockouts, but has issues letting his hands go at this point in his career.
After earning a contract with a knockout on DWCS, Jamahal Hill (10-1, 4-1 UFC) rattled off three straight UFC wins, although his knockout of Klidson Abreu was overturned due to a positive test for marijuana. He suffered a TKO loss to Paul Craig but rebounded with two straight first-round knockouts, most recently Johnny Walker. “Sweet Dreams” is a precise kickboxer, keeping a great volume and accuracy. He diversifies his attack well but does his best work boxing, using quick combos and range management to pick apart his foe. Hill is not an offensive grappler, but does hold respectable takedown defense. He holds six wins by knockout and operates at over seven strikes per minute, with a strike differential of almost 3.3 in the UFC. The best path to victory against Hill remains his wrestling lapses, as he gave up six takedowns to Darko Stosic along with his loss to Craig on the mat.
Our main event for the evening is looking to be a striking battle, through and through. Neither fighter likes to go to the mat often and certainly not of their own volition, leaving these 205-pound titans to trade on the feet. Hill takes a clear advantage with his volume and overall shot selection, as his boxing technique will quickly rack up numbers on Santos. Santos has an edge in power and is always live for a knockout, but he has proven way too gunshy in recent outings. Regardless, Hill has the volume to piece Santos apart, utilzing his superior footwork to stay out of the way of any wayward haymakers. I am expecting a dominant performance from Hill, picking Santos apart before closing the show around the midway point.
My Pick: Jamahal Hill via Knockout
Vicente Luque vs. Geoff Neal (WW)
A 10-2 start to his UFC career saw Vicente Luque (21-8-1, 14-4 UFC) gearing up for a title run, though he lost a decision to Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. He rattled off four straight stoppages to meet Belal Muhammad in a top five eliminator, but lost the five-round decision. “The Silent Assassin” is a consummate finisher, stopping all but two of his pro victories. His striking is aggressive and heavy-handed, keeping a high volume with strike diversity. On the mat, Luque holds nine submissions wins and has an excellent front choke series, along with a powerful top game.
Geoff Neal (14-4, 6-2 UFC) erupted in the UFC with five straight victories and four stoppages after earning a contract on the Contender Series. Though he dropped consecutive decisions to Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny, he got back on track with a decision over Santiago Ponzinibbio in his last outing. Neal is a Southpaw kickboxer, utilizing slick combinations and masterful footwork. He has stout takedown defense and manages distance well, absorbing below forty percent of strikes thrown at him in the UFC. However, his output can be questioned and he is quite limited when secured on his back.
This is excellent matchmaking, as we are in for a war here. Luque’s constant pressure and aggression clash perfectly with Neal’s technique and clean counters. I give a slight edge to Neal on the feet with his volume and technique, though the power of Luque presents a real threat. Luque has a massive advantage on the mat if he can get it there, with slick submissions and great grappling transitions. Neal has been caught before and the power of Luque is not something to mess around with, so I would not be shocked by a Luque knockout. I am expecting a close fight on the feet that could be dicey if it sees the scorecards. However, I expect Luque to mix together power shots and control time on the mat for a decision nod, though a Luque stoppage is always a possibility.
My Pick: Vicente Luque via Decision
Zac Pauga vs. Mohammed Usman (HW TUF Finale)
After an undefeated start to his pro career in LFA and Cage Warriors, Zac Pauga (5-0) made his way to the TUF house. He scored a unanimous decision victory over Nyle Bartling in the quarter-finals before scoring a second-round knockout over Jordan Heiderman in the semis. Fighting out of Elevation Fight Team, “The Ripper” has an extremely well-rounded skillset. He has great striking, mixing it up with excellent boxing combinations and quick speed for a Heavyweight. While not much of a submission threat, he does bring in some wrestling, primarily used defensively.
Brother to Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, Mohamed Usman (7-2) began his pro career 3-0 before running into current UFC Heavyweight Don’Tale Mayes. He rattled off four straight wins before suffering a submission loss to Brandon Sayles in the PFL. Usman emerged as an early favorite for this season of TUF, making his way to the semi-finals with a unanimous decision over Mitchell Sipe. Once there, he battled through a tough split decision over Eduardo Perez, displaying his striking and wrestling. Usman has a wrestling background with great double leg entries, though he is vulnerable in scrambles. His striking is active, though he swings looping shots and needs better head movement. “The Motor” has five stoppage wins, with three by knockout.
These two were slated as favorites for the season early on, and it’s no surprise they meet in the finals. Usman is the more well-rounded martial artist, with a lengthy background in wrestling predating his MMA run. With that being said, Pauga has a clear edge in striking, with superior technique offensively and defensively. Usman’s best path to victory is utilizing his wrestling, though I expect Pauga’s takedown defense and footwork to keep the fight standing. Usman keeps a good work rate, but his defensive lapses and the volume of Pauga will work him over on the feet for a clear decision.
My Pick: Zac Pauga via Decision
Julianna Miller vs. Brogan Walker (FLW TUF Finale)
Julianna Miller (2-1) started her pro career undefeated with two first-round submissions before dropping a decision to Claire Guthrie. She got the win over Guthrie back in the TUF quarter-finals, claiming a decision of her own. In the semi-finals, she submitted Kaytlin Neil with a kimura in the first round to earn her spot in the finale. Training out of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, “Killer” has a dangerous submission game, competent in top position or off her back. On the feet, Juju is aggressive and throws a variation of strikes, but can get caught entering the pocket.
The most experienced Flyweight on this season of TUF, Brogan Walker (7-2) scored a two-round decision to advance to the semi-finals. Once there, she took home a three-round win on the scorecards over Laura Gallardo to score her spot in the finals. Walker is a well-rounded fighter who likes to work at range and in the clinch. She mixes in calf kicks along with her boxing, but does thrown single shots. Her defense still demands growth, as tape shows Walker throwing single shots, naked calf kicks, and not exiting the pocket quick enough. “The Bear” comes forward with constant pressure and has an oppressive top game to boot.
We have a super close fight here, with both fighters showing weaknesses that the other is fully capable of capitalizing on. Brogan Walker holds an advantage on the feet, with her crisp counters and distance control poised to exploit the poor head movement of Juju. Miller will look to make it a dog fight, using her aggression and volume on the feet while trying to drag the fight to the canvas. On the floor, it’s a very different story, as Miller has the slick submission game to quickly close the show or scramble to a superior position. This fight comes down to whether Miller can drag the fight to the floor, as the accuracy of Walker will clearly win on the feet. Walker has shown issues with her takedown defense before, so I expect the grappling of Juju to edge out a tense decision.
My Pick: Julianna Miller via Decision
Augusto Sakai vs. Sergey Spivak (HW)
Augusto Sakai (15-4-1, 4-3 UFC) earned a contract with a second-round knockout on the Contender Series. He racked up four straight UFC wins including two knockouts, but now finds himself on a three-fight losing skid. Sakai is a Muay Thai striker with a solid volume for Heavyweight. He mixes in quick kicks along with good boxing combinations, though his utilization of range could be improved. Sakai is not an offensive threat on the mat, but does sport competent takedown defense. The Brazilian holds eleven stoppages to his name, all coming by knockout.
After making his UFC debut through a short-notice fight, Sergey Spivak (14-3, 5-3 UFC) went 1-2 in his first three Octagon bouts. He put together a three-fight win streak with one TKO victory before being knocked out by Tom Aspinall. He rebounded in his last outing, taking home a first-round finish over Greg Hardy. While Spivak is well-rounded for a Heavyweight, his most clear advantages come on the mat. His Sambo background and high takedown average make him a constant threat to bring the fight to the mat, and he has heavy ground and pound and numerous submissions once there. While his striking is still developing, he keeps a good volume.
We have a great stylistic clash at Heavyweight. Sakai is a technical Muay Thai striker with incredible motion for a Heavyweight, while Spivak is one of the rare grappling-centric fighters at 265 pounds. On the feet, Sakai looks much sharper and his speed will certainly show itself against Spivak. On the other hand, Spivak is a monster from top position, with a variety of attacks in his arsenal. However, if this stays standing, Sakai will run away with the fight the longer it goes. I expect Sakai’s strong takedown defense to hold, taking home a knockout victory to get back on track.
My Pick: Augusto Sakai via Knockout
Ariane Lipski vs. Priscila Cachoeira (FLW)
Ariane Lipski (14-7, 3-4 UFC) came to the UFC with a decent amount of hype from Polish organization KSW. Though she dropped two decisions in her first two Octagon bouts, she rebounded with a decision over Isabela Padua before snatching up a bonus-winning kneebar on Luana Carolina. She suffered two consecutive TKO losses to Antonina Shevchenko and Montana De La Rosa, but got back on track with a decision victory over Mandy Bohm last September. “Queen of Violence” has a hard-charging style, with constant output, though her defense is lacking. While she can threaten with submissions on the mat, her offensive and defensive wrestling leave much to be desired. Six of her nine stoppages have come by knockout.
After a 0-3 start to her UFC tenure, Priscila Cachoeira (11-4, 3-4 UFC) looked to be on her way out. Un deterred, she picked up two straight knockout victories, including a forty second demolition of Shana Dobson, to secure her place in the promotion. “Zombie Girl” is 1-1 since, last seen taking home a unanimous decision over Ji Yeon Kim. Her nickname is a fit descriptor, as Cachoeira marches forward with little regard for the damage she is taking. She dishes out heavy strikes, holding six wins by knockout. Her grappling is quite limited, offering little to no offense off of her back.
These fighters may not be the cream of the crop at Flyweight, but this looks to be a wild, if not sloppy, back-and-forth. Both fighters prefer to swang and bang with little regard for defense, and I would not be surprised to see this fight end in a knockout. While Cachoeira keeps a higher volume, she absorbs way more strikes, and I expect the technical superiority of Lipski to have a clear volume advantage if she can keep her back off the cage. Lipski also has the much more aggressive grappling offense and holds an edge on the mat. With a technical advantage and more paths to victory, I expect Lipski to either snatch up a submission or clear decision win.
My Pick: Ariane Lipski via Decision
The main card starts at 7 PM EST with the prelims kicking off at 4PM!
Categories: UFC Predictions