The biggest and best card of 2021 is finally upon as as a title fight triple header takes place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Petr Yan will defend his bantamweight title against Aljamain Sterling in potentially the best 135lbs title fight ever, before Amanda Nunes returns to the octagon to fight Megan Anderson in a featherweight title fight. The card will be headlined by Israel Adesanya trying to become just the fifth dual-weight simultaneous champion in the companies history as he moves up to light heavyweight to take on Jan Blachowicz.
Elsewhere on the card, Islam Makhachev returns to the octagon to take on Drew Dober while bantamweight great Dominick Cruz headlines the prelims against Casey Kenney in a do-or-die fight for his career on a blockbuster 15 fight card.
Last week at UFC Vegas 20 we had a poor night for predictions going 4/9 on the night, although it was worsened by a majority draw and a dodgy decision too. It moved us to 240/380 (63.16%) with 108 perfect picks (45%) since starting our predictions.
We’ll look to move ahead with a big week this week on a stacked card, breaking the card down into three this week. We’ve already looked at the early prelims here, so move onto the rest of the prelims now.
Rogerio Bontorin (16-2) vs Kai Kara-France (21-9) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A really enticing flyweight bout here between two guys looking to climb the rankings in the UFC. Bontorin lost his only fight in 2020 via decision to Ray Borg, while Kara-France has lost two of his last three to Brandon Moreno and most recently Brandon Royval at UFC 253 with a win over Tyson Nam sandwiched between them.
Bontorin is a fighter who loves to fight wherever the bout goes. He’s a tireless striker and relentless with pressure but probably prefers the fight on the ground where he can fish for submissions as his 11 wins via tap-out show. Kara-France himself is a great striker with good striking defence but also excellent wrestling defence. It’s a traditional grappler vs striker bout, but with both guys willing to enter the other’s world if needs be. Both can hold their own in the other’s strengths and it makes it a competitive bout. Kara-France’s volume is good and defensively he is better, but Bontorin could potentially get the takedown early and throw this all out of the water but I think he gets it done.
PICK – Kai Kara-France via Decision
Joseph Benavidez (28-7) vs Askar Askarov (12-0-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A really super fight in the 125lbs division as Joseph Benavidez returns to the octagon for the first time since being choked unconscious by Deiveson Figueiredo in a title fight on Fight Island, while Askar Askarov looks to remain unbeaten after beating Alexandre Pantoja on the same card.
Benavidez is a sensational fighter and arguably one of the best to never win UFC gold and is coming off consecutive losses for the first time in his illustrious career. Askarov on the other hand is 2-0-1 in the UFC, drawing his debut against Brandon Moreno before defeating Tim Elliot and Pantoja. Benavidez is a tremendous striker with great speed and combinations, with a great ground game and also great defence while Askarov is a great power striker with super technique.
The real question in this fight is whether getting separated from consciousness by Figueiredo twice in five months has a lasting effect on him. I think he’s too experienced to let it and Benavidez’s hand speed should cause him problems but it’s a super close fight.
PICK – Joseph Benavidez via Decision
Song Yadong (16-4-1) vs Kyler Phillips (8-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A banger at bantamweight as the ever-impressive Yadong returns to the octagon to take on ‘Matrix’ on a three-fight win streak. Yadong beat Marlon Vera back in May last year, while Phillips got two wins in 2020 against Gabriel Silva and Cameron Else.
Yadong is a brilliant boxer and at 23 looks as obvious a prospect as you’ll ever see, but he showed in his last two fights that he still has plenty to work on in his game. Phillips is a power striker himself, who’s not quite as technical but is arguably just as solid when it comes to a knockout finish. His gas tank has given him issues in the past and Phillips will look to use his wrestling skills if they become prevalent once again, but I believe Yadong will address those issues in this fight and be able to strike his way to a win.
PICK – Song Yadong via Decision
Dominick Cruz (22-3) vs Casey Kenney (16-2-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The featured prelim bout is a bantamweight banger too as the legendary Dominick Cruz returns to the octagon to take on the impressive prospect in Casey Kenney. Cruz’s last fight was a defeat to Henry Cejudo at UFC 249, with the referee’s decision to stop it still criticised to this day. On the other hand, Kenney went 3-1 in 2020 following up a defeat to Merab Dvalishvili with wins over Louis Smolka, Heili Alateng and then Nathaniel Wood at UFC 254.
Cruz is one of the best ever, with incredible footwork and excellent striking to go with his world class wrestling base. Kenney is a super grappler with a good striking toolbox too, but his gas tank issues have been a big deal in recent bouts. He was visibly tiring in his win over Wood, but that’s a completely different level of fighter compared to what we know Cruz to be. Kenney will march forward and put pressure on Cruz, but ‘The Dominator’ is phenomenal at evading big strikes for the most part and I think he will be able to use that experience to get a win – but it’s entirely dependable on which Cruz turns up.
PICK – Dominick Cruz via Decision