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 and after starting with the early prelims here, we move on to the rest of the prelims now.
Cheyanne Vlismas (6-2) vs Mallory Martin (7-4) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
The only ladies on the card step up next in the strawweight division. Vlismas (aka Buys) lost her UFC debut to Montserrat Ruiz at UFC Vegas 22 before earning a head-kick KO next time out at UFC Vegas 33. Martin on the other hand earned a win over Hannah Cifer at UFC Vegas 8 before being submitted by Polyana Vieira at UFC 258 last time out.
Vlismas is a solid striker who throws with good technique and great power, while Martin generally tends to wrestle her opponents and look to secure top control in her fights. That bodes well for Martin stylistically, but Vlismas has shown in the past that her wrestling isn’t as bad as it may have seemed on her UFC debut.
Martin has had some big problems on the feet in the past and defensively she has big flaws that Vlismas can exploit. If she is able to rediscover her wrestling defence and keep the fight standing, then she should piece up Martin on the feet for a potential stoppage win. Ultimately though, I think this goes the distance.
PICK – Cheyanne Vlismas via Decision
Jake Matthews (17-5) vs Jeremiah Wells (9-2-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs) A banger at welterweight between two unranked fighters in this one. Matthews saw a three-fight win streak snapped by Sean Brady back at UFC 259 last time out, while Wells secured a second-round KO win over Warlley Alves at UFC Vegas 30 in his debut last time out. Both guys are strikers primarily, but Matthews is far more technical than the powerhouse that is Wells. The only times Matthews has looked in trouble during his UFC run has been against supreme wrestlers, and that is something Wells is not. Wells has issues with his cardio mainly, but he does have legitimate power to end a fight early at times. Both guys are solid wrestlers in their own right too, but ultimately the technique and cardio of Matthews should see him secure a fairly comfortable decision win.
PICK – Jake Matthews via Decision
Bryan Barbarena (15-8) vs Darian Weeks (5-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A super short-notice welterweight bout opens the main card. Barbarena is on a 1-3 run currently with a loss to Jason Witt most recently, and he’ll take on Weeks who is 5-0 in his professional career. Weeks steps in on less than one week’s notice for Matt Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Barbarena is a powerful striker with good wrestling skills and plenty of experience, fighting from southpaw with a great jab. Weeks on the other hand is a powerful right-handed striker himself, with great pressure and some decent wrestling in his back pocket too. The short-notice aspect of this fight is telling, because it could well come down to conditioning in the latter rounds.
Barbarena is capable of fighting on the outside but if Weeks is able to time the takedown attempts when Barbarena throws his one-two, then he could secure some control and manage his gas tank. Ultimately though, I think the experience of Barbarena and the fact it’s on short notice means he will be able to earn a close decision win.
PICK – Bryan Barbarena via Decision
Manel Kape (16-6) vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-5) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An intriguing flyweight bout between two ranked stars looking to move towards the top of the division. Kape lost his first two UFC bouts where a lack of volume cost him on the scorecards, but he secured a highlight reel flying knee KO of Ode Osbourne last time out at UFC 265. Zhumagulov suffered defeats in his first two UFC bouts too, before earning a submission win at UFC 264 over Jerome Rivera last time out.
The former RIZIN champ has got brilliant striking techniques and legitimate knockout power for the weight class, but volume has been a big problem for him and has cost him in the past. He has decent wrestling too but it’s his flurries on the feet that are where he’s at his best. Zhumagulov is a relentless pressure fighter with good wrestling and eyecatching flurries that could catch Kape out if he is a deer in the headlights once again.
If Kape is flying though, then he should win this bout. He is the better striker, with more power and more routes to win the fight on the feet and with a reach advantage too he should be able to stay on the outside and secure a victory with a counter-strike knockout.
PICK – Manel Kape via Knockout, Round 1
Maki Pitolo (13-8) vs Dusko Todorovic (10-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A middleweight clash is the featured prelim bout for this card. Pitolo has lost his last three in a row with a submission loss against Julian Marquez at UFC 258 last time out, while Todorovic has suffered the only defeats in his career in his last two fights with a decision loss against Gregory Rodrigues at UFC Vegas 28 in his last outing.
Pitolo is a decent boxer who has really let himself down with his showings so far in the UFC, while Todorovic is a bit of an all-rounder with no stand-out skills. This fight is in a weird spot on the card, because it shouldn’t be the featured prelim. But with that said, the match up is interesting. If he’s firing, Pitolo is more than capable of using his boxing skills to light Todorovic up who tends to block punches with his head.
The issue is that he almost never uses his skills, often trying to stop his opponent from dominating rather than trying to dominate himself. Todorovic is able to step forward and use his kickboxing, but also hold Pitolo against the cage in clinch situations and likely will secure a victory using that tactic.
PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Decision