UFC Vegas 54: Punch Drunk Predictions
Who will punch their ticket to a light heavyweight title shot? How will things shake out as female flyweights continue to jockey for position?
Here we fucking go!
It’s been a long, weird week and the only thing that is going to make it feel part-way normal is sitting down tomorrow afternoon and watching 11 sets of competitors march into the Octagon and actively try to beat the shit out of one another.
I know there are more curses in the first two sentences of this post than I generally deliver in a week, but I’m cranky, I’ve got a lot going on that we don’t need to get into, and I’m looking forward to that lovely bit of Saturday normalcy that is watching a UFC event and sharing in the experience on Twitter with all you folks.
And this weekend’s card is flush with talent and intrigue, so that has me feeling slightly more optimistic and excited today, and hopeful that I can put up another good number and keep clawing towards that .700 winning percentage target for the year.
Let’s get into the picks.
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Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
This is a critical matchup for both men, and while I see multiple paths to victory for Rakic, I’m ultimately siding with Blachowicz here.
I think Rakic becoming a more tactical, more conservative fighter has been a function of both risk management and facing quality competition — a choice to avoid prolonged exchanges with people that have a proven ability to end your night and slow your climb unless absolutely mandatory — but I think that dialled back approach would actually favour Blachowicz here. The former champion is equally adept at delivering a technical showing, plus I think Blachowicz’ experience having been through a couple five-round fights in his career will serve him well this weekend as well.
This feels like it will be a tactical battle where each man is careful to pick their spots early, and while I think it will be close, my feeling is that Blachowicz will be able to consistently land the more impactful blows and ultimately grab control of this fight in the latter rounds, similar to the way he did against Israel Adesanya.
It’s going to be competitive and close all the way until it suddenly isn’t any longer, and the former champion will secure a chance to challenge for the light heavyweight title again.
Prediction: Jan Blachowicz
Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba
It’s surprising to me that Spann is the underdog here because this is both the kind of fight he typically wins, and also the type of matchup that Cutelaba has historically lost. Times change, obviously, but until Spann falters in a fight like this and Cutelaba rises to the occasion, I’m sticking with the Fortis MMA representative as a quality underdog play.
Spann has all the tools, he just has poor decision-making under pressure, and while I think that will continue to hurt him in the future, I don’t see it being as much of a problem here because Cutelaba has similar issues with fewer tools. As long as Spann doesn’t put himself in a bad spot — chasing if he get clipped, panic wrestling — I think he can stay long, land power shots, and get Cutelaba out of there within a round. This is a fight where he needs to maintain space and utilize his reach, and if he can do that, he should find the mark.
Cutelaba is going to get after him, so “Superman” has to be dialled all the way in from the very beginning, but after a pair of frustrating losses in his last three fights, I think we’ll see the best version of Spann in some time on Saturday night.
Prediction: Ryan Spann
Davey Grant vs. Louis Smolka
Don’t let the fact that Grant has dropped two straight heading into this affair fool you — he went toe-to-toe with Marlon Vera and Adrian Yanez in a pair of entertaining, Fight of the Night-winning tussles, and dropped a pair of decisions.
He’s significantly better than Smolka, and that is going to shine through here in technicolour.
Smolka is more of an opportunistic, “let’s see what comes my way” kind of fighter and finisher, and what is going to come his way is Grant’s left hand, repeatedly, and he’s not going to like it. I honestly feel like it will take the Brit making a colossal mistake for him to drop this fight, and I just don’t see that happening.
Grant will get out-struck by superior talents as he did in his last couple outings, but he’s a level or two ahead of Smolka and will get back into the win column in emphatic fashion on Saturday.
Prediction: Davey Grant
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
This is a “head over heart” situation for me because every emotional piece of me wants to pick Ribas, but the more likely scenario is Chookagian winning in her traditional manner.
Look — I get that there is nothing particularly exciting about the way Chookagian fights and that she is a decision machine, but she’s effective, she’s well-rounded, and she knows how to handle her business, and as much I would love to see Ribas cause chaos in the flyweight rankings by rolling in and beating the No. 1 contender this weekend, I don’t know that she’s going to be able to close the distance, put Chookagian on the deck multiple times or find a finish on the ground.
What’s far more likely is Chookagian working from range, utilizing kicks and movement and volume, and out-crafting the talented Brazilian strawweight.
Prediction: Katlyn Chookagian
Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
Torres is another of the Entram Gym representatives to graduate to the UFC last fall through Dana White’s Contender Series, and like his teammates, he’s getting the “I can’t pick you until I see you beat someone in the UFC” treatment.
I know Camacho hasn’t fought in a couple years and is coming off a neck injury, which is always a scary proposition, but he’s also been in there a number of times with quality fighters and shown that he can compete at this level. We haven’t seen that from Torres yet, and while he has a couple decent wins on his resume, I just need to see more.
Don’t be surprised if we see Camacho mix things up a little more here and work some grappling, looking to take advantage of a weak spot in Torres’ game.
Prediction: Frank Camacho
Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
I’m taking Hadley, obviously, and I’m ultra-curious to see how this one plays out because I think the British newcomer has a chance to make a real statement right out of the gates.
This is a fight where he should look to use the full compliment of skills he brings to the Octagon because he’s the superior striker of the two, but also has the better overall grappling skills, and can show that by not getting into a jiu jitsu match with Nascimento. The correct approach (IMO) is to look to score on the feet as much as possible, but when it does hit the deck, wrestle rather than play jiu jitsu, and look to land damage, not chase submissions.
There is a brashness to Hadley that makes me wonder if he’ll try to beat Nascimento at his own game, get into a pure jiu jitsu match, and get caught with something, but as long as he looks to use all his weapons, I think the former Cage Warriors champion should get the job done here.
Prediction: Jake Hadley
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Preliminary Card Picks
Andrea Lee def. Viviane Araujo
Michael Johnson def. Alan Patrick
Virna Jandiroba def. Angela Hill
Tatsuro Taira def. Carlos Candelario
Andre Petroski def. Nick Maximov
2022 PDP Record: 117-67-0 (.636)
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