The UFC middleweight division is back in the spotlight in the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night, on a card that was supposed to take place in London initially.
The main event will see Derek Brunson take on the UK’s own Darren Till with the winner making a case to become the next fighter to challenge for a title shot after Robert Whittaker’s upcoming rematch with Israel Adesanya.
In the co-main event is the UK’s best chance at heavyweight gold as Tom Aspinall takes on short-notice opponent Sergei Spivac, while Paddy Pimblett makes his UFC debut in the main card opener when he takes on Luigi Vendramini.
Last week at UFC Vegas 35, we went 7/12 with three perfect picks on the night to move up to 396/624 (63.46%) with 174 perfect picks (43.94%). We’ll try to improve on that here and after starting with the prelims here, we now move on to the main card.
Paddy Pimblett (16-3) vs Luigi Vendramini (9-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Finally the debut of Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett as he takes on ‘Italian Stallion’ Luigi Vendramini in the lightweight division. Pimblett has won his last two in a row in Cage Warriors, securing first-round stoppages both times. Vendramini returned from two years away to beat Jessin Ayari before losing his next fight to Fares Ziam at UFC 263.
Pimblett is a fantastic grappler, with seven submission wins in his career including a stunning flying triangle back in 2018. He’s cleaned up his striking throughout his career as he’s grown up but he’s still primarily a ground fighter. Vendramini is very well-rounded with excellent solid striking on the feet and some really good wrestling too.
If Vendramini chooses to keep this fight standing and just strike, he has a very real chance of victory. But if there are any sort of ground exchanges then Pimblett has the edge and Vendramini will be in danger. Because of Vendramini’s natural instinct being to wrestle too, I think Pimblett may be able to wrap up his neck and steal the show with a fun submission.
PICK – Paddy Pimblett via Submission, Round 2
Modestas Bukauskas (11-4) vs Khalil Rountree Jr (9-5) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A very interesting fight at 205lbs as Bukauskas takes on Rountree Jr. Bukauskas won his debut via elbows against the cage before getting stopped by Jimmy Crute and then losing a split decision to Michal Oleksiejczuk at UFC 260, while Rountree Jr has also lost his last two including the most recent to Marcin Prachnio at UFC 257.
Bukauskas is a solid kickboxer with good top control when asked to grapple too, while Rountree has shown a new Muay Thai side to his game but has failed to live up to the performance he debuted it with back in 2018. Bukauskas hits really hard and is good fighting backwards, but Rountree likes to dictate from the centre and throw good leg kicks followed by clinches and a crisp right cross.
His issue is that he never really commits to winning a fight. Rountree seems to be content going to the judges by sticking to his plan, while Bukauskas is someone who is always looking for a finish and willing to take a shot to give two back. Overall, the Lithuanian should be able to take whatever is coming back at him by applying plenty of pressure and landing heavy shots of his own for a big win.
PICK – Modestas Bukauskas via Knockout, Round 1
Alex Morono (19-7) vs David Zawada (17-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Another very interesting fight but this time in the welterweight division. Alex Morono is coming in off the back of his stunning knockout win over ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC Vegas 26, while Zawada has lost three of his last four including a split decision last time out against Ramazan Emeev at UFC Fight Island 7.
Morono is a brawler with great volume and some decent power in his hands with good technique, while Zawada has got plenty of power in his hands and he looks to come forward and engage in a war at all times. Zawada has 11 KO’s throughout his career but it’s his forward pressure that really sets him apart from others.
With that said though, Morono is the better fighter of the two. He’s shown that short notice doesn’t really matter to him in the past and while he’s got great volume and power himself, I think his defensive abilities will see him earn another win.
PICK – Alex Morono via Decision
Tom Aspinall (10-2) vs Sergey Spivak (13-2) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A banger of a heavyweight co-main event as Aspinall takes on short-notice opponent Sergey Spivak. Aspinall is undefeated in the UFC with two first round KO’s followed up by a second round submission win over former champion Andrei Arlovski at UFC Vegas 19. Spivak steps in on short notice on a three-fight win streak, with his most recent being a decision win over Aleksei Oleinik at UFC Vegas 29.
Aspinall is a brilliant boxer who used to train with Tyson Fury, but he’s also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu too as shown in his most recent win. Spivak is a good wrestler with decent jiu-jitsu and some okay boxing on the outside too. Aspinall is by far the more powerful of the two, with a sharp jab and a violent right hand. Spivak is no slouch himself though and on paper this is a really good match up.
If Spivak can get top position then Aspinall could struggle to get any offence going but Aspinall is capable of preventing any takedown and picking him apart on the feet. Realistically this is what I expect from this one, with Aspinall using his jabs and leg kicks to open up some power strikes later in the fight for a big win.
PICK – Tom Aspinall via Knockout, Round 2
Derek Brunson (22-7) vs Darren Till (18-3-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A banger at middleweight in a fight where title contention becomes a reality for the winner. Derek Brunson is on a tear right now with a four-fight win streak including a fantastic main event win over Kevin Holland at UFC Vegas 22 while Till has lost three of his last four with a defeat to Robert Whittaker at UFC Fight Island 3 last time out.
Brunson is a wrestler first with takedowns the biggest part of his game, as he looks for top control after landing his left hand. Till on the other hand is a pure striker with brilliant strikes and kicks and tremendous power in his own left hand too. Brunson will almost certainly look to close distance and take Till down, but when he rushes forward he often leaves his chin up and Till doesn’t let those opportunities slide by often.
Till has got genuine one-punch knockout power, great hand speed and he goes into every fight knowing the opponent will want to take him down so his defence isn’t poor. It’s a case of how successful Brunson can be with his takedowns but I think Till will be able to land big shots to earn a knockout win for the first time since Donald Cerrone in 2017.
PICK – Darren Till via Knockout, Round 3