The first pay-per-view of the year brings us two huge title fights in the smallest and biggest weights available to the men.
In the main event of the night Francis Ngannou will take on former teammate and interim champion Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight title of the world, while the co-main will see the trilogy between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo for the flyweight title.
Both Ngannou and Gane will be fighting for more than just the title though considering the back story to the bout, while the 125-pound belt will see the two best in the world in their final form go head-to-head.
Last weekend at UFC Vegas 46 we went 6/10 with three perfect picks to move to 514/802 (64.09%) with 217 perfect picks (42.22%).
Rodolfo Vieira (8-1) vs Wellington Turman (17-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs) This fight got moved up to the main card during fight week and it’s no surprise why. Rodolfo Vieira got submitted by ‘Fluffy’ Hernandez in the submission of the year at UFC 258 in one of the shocks of the year, before bouncing back and submitting Dustin Stoltzfus. Turman is one of the youngest veterans in MMA, and snapped a two-fight losing streak with a split decision win over Sam Alvey at UFC Vegas 35 last time out. Vieira has the nickname ‘the black belt hunter’ for a reason. He is one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world, not just MMA, and has great ability to secure takedowns using his body weight as well as wrestling. Turman is also a talented grappler but who has fallen in love with his hands more recently, looking to box and use his physicality. That won’t go well here though. Vieira is going to stand only for as long as he has to before looking to bulldoze Turman into a takedown and then working his incredible jiu-jitsu skills for a submission. He managed to conserve energy against Stoltzfus to take it into the third round last time, but he won’t need to do that here as he’ll smoke him early.
PICK – Rodolfo Vieira via Submission, Round 1
Michael Morales (12-0) vs Trevin Giles (14-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very exciting welterweight bout in this one. Michael Morales comes into the UFC as an undefeated fighter having earned a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series back in September, while Giles saw a three-fight win streak snapped at UFC 264 by Dricus Du Plessis when he got knocked out.
Morales is an exciting well rounded fighter, with good speed with his hands and decent wrestling too. Giles on the other hand is making his welterweight debut having spent the vast majority of his career at middleweight. He has good power in his hands and good movement, but he isn’t the most explosive out there. Morales has great length and uses it well, but so does Giles.
It’s a very close fight on paper with different factors going in favour of different fighters. Giles is moving down in weight and we don’t know how he’ll cope, but Morales is pretty green and this is a huge step up in competition compared to the rest of his career. In what should be a decent fight, I think Giles will be able to use his boxing and size well to give Morales his first professional defeat.
PICK – Trevin Giles via Decision
Cody Stamann (19-4-1) vs Said Nurmagomedov (14-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very exciting bantamweight fight between two grappling machines at 135-pounds. Stamann has lost his last two in a row, dropping decisions to Jimmie Rivera and most recently Merab Dvalishvili at UFC Vegas 25. Nurmagomedov, the cousin of Khabib, earned a KO win over Mark Striegl at UFC Fight Island 6. He hasn’t fought in 14 months since though.
Stamann is a staunch wrestler, who has his whole game based around being able to take his opponent down and control the position for 15 minutes – something that 11 decision wins from 19 proves. Nurmagomedov in the opposite corner has largely worked as a kickboxer in the UFC, but the wrestling and submission skills have been seen previously in his career unsurprisingly. Nurmagomedov is likely to try and strike with Stamann, using his scrambling ability to get off the mat if any takedowns are given up at all.
Both guys are fairly well-rounded, but Stamann is clearly far more predictable than the Dagestani. That makes him much easier to plan for and I expect that while Nurmagomedov will probably get taken down at some point, he’ll be able to land plenty on the feet and get up consistently to be able to earn a decision win.
PICK – Said Nurmagomedov via Decision
Michel Pereira (26-11) vs Andre Fialho (14-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
This one has got fireworks written all over it, so expect someone to go to sleep. Pereira is on a three-fight win streak after beating ‘Khaos’ Williams at UFC Vegas 17 and Niko Price at UFC 264 most recently by decision. Fialho is stepping in on short-notice for his UFC debut, on a four-fight finishing streak in UAE Warriors.
Pereira is an absolute mad man who is a specialist in capoeira, with explosive kicks and punches as well as some excellent wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills. Fialho has been dubbed ‘the knockout machine’ for his aggressive style, where he walks forward and tries to bait his opponent into a straight up brawl. Doing that against a fighter like Pereira is begging for trouble, but we’ve seen some crazy KO shocks in the past and I wouldn’t put it past him.
Ultimately though, this one looks like it may be too much of a step up for Fialho. Pereira is a legit contender at welterweight and with very little training for the fight, his gas tank isn’t guaranteed either. Pereira will trade big shots and mix in his takedowns to secure an impressive victory via choke.
PICK – Michel Pereira via Submission, Round 2
Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) vs Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Absolute banger of a title fight in the flyweight division next between the two best 125-pounders in the world. This is the third time in a row these two have faced off against each other after a draw at UFC 256 and then Moreno’s famous title win at UFC 263 last year.
Moreno and Figueiredo are incredibly well-rounded fighters, but both with their primary aims slightly different. Moreno is an excellent grappler with a tremendous gas tank and he is happy to strike to pressure before stepping in for takedowns. Figueiredo on the other hand is an absolute powerhouse who looks to take his opponent’s head off with strikes, but also has the ability to tap his opponent out with his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Both guys are at their peak right now and coming into this with no worries or concerns, so it really is a tough pick.
I have to go with the reigning champion to retain though. In the last bout, Moreno’s pressure was excellent and he showed that he could take the power of Figueiredo even when he got hit clean. He also managed to outscramble the Brazilian on the ground and when he got a dominant position, he held onto it and secured the submission. I don’t think he gets a finish here, but I do think he grapples and scrambles his way to a unanimous decision win.
PICK – Brandon Moreno via Decision
Francis Ngannou (16-3) vs Ciryl Gane (10-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
The best heavyweight title fight in the history of the UFC headlines this card. Francis Ngannou is on a five-fight knockout run, which culminated in him claiming the title at the second attempt with a second-round KO of Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. Gane is undefeated in his professional career and enjoyed some stellar victories in 2021, defeating Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20 and Alexander Volkov at UFC Vegas 24 before knocking out Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 to become interim champion.
Ngannou is the most powerful man to ever compete in MMA, with an explosion of power and a genuine ability to knock anyone out with a single strike. Gane on the other hand is one of the most technical heavyweight fighters ever, with brilliant kickboxing and even some solid wrestling too. This is a genuine battle of power vs precision, but it’s crazier that they are former teammates and sparring partners. Ngannou showed greatly improved wrestling against Miocic which could potentially narrow one path to victory for Gane, but ultimately he has got more than one.
Gane has the speed and footwork advantage, while he is also a good clincher too. But what Ngannou has is the ability to end any fight in a split second with one punch and it’s really tough to pick against him. But I’m going to. Gane has been flawless so far in his MMA career and while Ngannou has game-changing power, Gane is no slouch himself. With all the movement, speed and the fact he will know Ngannou better than anyone else make me lean towards Gane putting on a clinic and earning a late finish to become the undisputed king of the heavyweights.
PICK – Ciryl Gane via Knockout, Round 4