UFC Vegas 17: Thompson vs Neal – Early Prelims Predictions

The final UFC card of the year looks to end 2020 with a bang with a welterweight main event that could decide on a new contender for the belt.

Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Geoff Neal step into the headline slot following the collapse of the fight between Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev. Neal is looking to extend his win streak against the highest level of competition he has faced, knowing a win puts him into the top five conversation.

Elsewhere on the card Jose Aldo looks for his first win at bantamweight against Marlon Vera in the co-main, on a card that has an insane 14 fights on the night.

Last week at UFC 256, we had a poor showing as we scored just 4/10 on the night on a night of incredible fights. That moved us to 185/292 (63.36%) with 80 perfect picks (43.24%) since starting predictions back in June.

With so many fights the predictions will be split into three parts this week, starting with the early prelims here.

EARLY PRELIMS

Jimmy Flick (15-5) vs Cody Durden (11-2-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)

This fight was originally scheduled to take place at UFC Vegas 16, but was scrapped due to a non-COVID related illness on fight night. Here is the prediction from that event.

Cody Durden saw a seven-fight win streak end with a draw in his UFC debut against Chris Gutierrez back in August and will look for a win against the mightily impressive debutant in Jimmy Flick. Flick has 13 submission wins from 15 professional wins and is currently on a three fight win streak coming from Dana White’s Contender Series in September. Durden is pretty well rounded and has a physicality edge for sure, so if he ends up in a dominant position on the ground then don’t be shocked to see him hold his own. The problem would be if Flick gets a dominant position, he fishes constantly for submissions and always always ends up finding one to end the fight. I think Flick is able to do that here with an impressive rear-naked choke in the first round, but it won’t look as easy as it sounds.
PICK – Jimmy Flick via Submission, Round 1

Tafon Nchukwi (4-0) vs Jamie Pickett (11-4) – (Middleweight/185lbs)

A UFC debut for Cameroonian fighter Nchukwi as he steps in to take on another Contender Series graduate in Jamie Pickett. Nchukwi has won all four of his professional fights by knockout, beating Al Matavao with a vicious head kick back in September. Pickett has won his last two-in-a-row including his own KO win on the Contender Series, his third appearance on the show following two defeats previously. Nchukwi is a skilled striker but is still very green. He has usually fought at 205lbs and looked quite slow, although powerful, so a move down to 185lbs is interesting. With that said, Pickett’s defence isn’t great and he has a habit of being backed up against the cage. That spells danger against someone as powerful as ‘Da Don’ so I expect a big knockout win.
PICK – Tafon Nchukwi via Knockout, Round 1

Aiemann Zahabi (7-2) vs Drako Rodriguez (7-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)

The brother of the legendary trainer Firas, Aiemann Zahabi entered the UFC with six first round knockouts under his belt, then won his company debut in 2017. Since then though, he’s suffered back-to-back defeats against Ricardo Ramos and Vince Morales. This will be his first fight since May 2019. Drako makes his UFC main roster debut in this one, following a successful win on Dana White’s Contender Series in September, thanks to a first-round triangle choke submission. Zahabi is a technical striker but Rodriguez has shown in the past that he has a real killer instinct and is more than happy wherever the fight goes. Rodriguez isn’t completely outclassed on the feet and has good wrestling to go with his submissions. It’s a close fight, but I’m going with the more well-rounded fighter in Rodriguez.
PICK – Drako Rodriguez via Decision

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