After a two-week break from action, the UFC returns with a very fun 15-fight card at the Apex in Las Vegas for UFC Vegas 44, headlined by two top five bantamweights.
Rob Font will look to break through the glass ceiling and become a genuine title contender when he steps into the octagon against former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, who knows a win could set up a dream bout next for himself.
We also get to finally see the exciting bout between Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev, while Jimmy Crute and Brendan Allen also return to action on the main card.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 43 we went 6/11 on the night with two perfect picks to move to 482/752 (64.1%) with 202 perfect picks (41.91%).
We’ll look to improve on that this time around, starting with the early prelims here.
Louis Smolka (17-7) vs Vince Morales (10-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very fun bantamweight bout to open the card here. Smolka is 2-2 in his last four fights, but earned a win over Jose Alberto Quinonez via KO at UFC Vegas 16 last time out, while Morales bounced back from consecutive defeats to earn a decision win over Drako Rodriguez at UFC 265.
Smolka is an excellent grappler with some solid submission skills, earning seven tap-outs wins in his career, while Morales is a technical striker who has a missile of a right hand. This is a fight that is close because they both have glaring advantages over their opponent in different areas and it’s all about where the fight takes place. Smolka’s submission skills mean he will want the fight on the mat, while his ‘kill or be killed’ mindset plays right into Morales’ hands.
With that said, Smolka is notoriously bad at securing takedowns himself and while the fight is on the feet he is in danger of being clipped. Because of that, I expect Morales to be able to keep it standing and land enough power shots to secure a judge’s decision.
PICK – Vince Morales via Decision
Jared Vanderaa (12-6) vs Azamat Murzakanov (10-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs) A heavyweight bout up next with a short-notice opponent stepping in against an undefeated prospect. Vanderaa steps in on a week’s notice to take on UFC debutant Murzakanov after getting stopped by Alexandr Romanov at UFC Vegas 39. Vanderaa is a power puncher on the feet who is a natural heavyweight fighter, with a six-inch height advantage and a nine-inch reach advantage over Murzakanov in this fight. ‘The Professional’ is a natural light heavyweight fighter who has great power in his hands too and has earned eight stoppage wins from ten career wins. Murzakanov has got excellent footwork and movement, but this size difference is a big thing to overcome. Thankfully for him, Murzakanov has got excellent wrestling available to him too and that could be the difference here. Vanderaa’s takedown defence is basically non-existent and with the power both guys have, the likelihood is he takes it down to the mat and works him with ground and pound to secure a big debut win.
PICK – Azamat Murzakanov via Knockout, Round 3
Claudio Puelles (11-2) vs Chris Gruetzemacher (15-4) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The lightweight division is on show in this one to close out the early prelims. Puelles has won three-in-a-row with a decision win over Jordan Leavitt at UFC Vegas 28 most recently following a two-year absence, while Gruetzemacher earned a decision win over Rafa Garcia last time out to get back on the winning trail following a 1-3 run.
Puelles’ record looks good but when you watch the fights in the UFC, they’re less than impressive. He was battered by Felipe Silva before securing a comeback submission, Mariano isn’t UFC calibre and Leavitt was dead on his feet after the first round. He’s still a good submission artist though and has a solid top game. Gruetzemacher is a power puncher with solid wrestling and terrific cardio, which makes this bout a rough time for Puelles.
On the feet Gruetzemacher has a clear edge and Puelles’ takedown game isn’t strong enough to get his top game going here. Overall, Gruetzemacher has a clear edge everywhere unless he ends up under Puelles, so I think Gruetzemacher will be able to slam an exclamation point with this win with a KO.
PICK – Chris Gruetzemacher via Knockout, Round 2
Alonzo Menifield (11-2) vs William Knight (10-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Fireworks at 205lbs in this one as Menifield and Knight finally get to meet after their bout was scrapped twice earlier this year. Menifield earned consecutive wins with a submission of Fabio Cherant at UFC 260 before a decision over Ed Herman at UFC 265, while Knight KO’d Cherant at UFC Vegas 34 following a mauling against Da Un Jung at UFC Vegas 23.
Knight’s striking isn’t the cleanest and his offensive wrestling isn’t the most impressive, but he uses his brute strength in clinch situations to get the fight down to the ground and then unleash violent ground and pound. Menifield is a bit more well rounded but seems to lack some cage IQ and struggles to make in-fight adjustments. He seemed shocked by the strength of OSP and if that’s the case, then Knight could blow him out of the water.
That said it’s a 50/50 fight between these two and while Knight’s ground-game is better, Menifield has changed up his approach in recent fights and fought well from the outside in his most recent bout. It’ll be competitive, but I think Menifield lands a big right hand on a blitzing Knight to secure a KO win.
PICK – Alonzo Menifield via Knockout, Round 2