The UFC returns to the Apex centre in Las Vegas once again for a women’s strawweight main event between Amanda Lemos and Jessica Andrade.
In a sneaky card that lacks real star power, the top of the division at 115-pounds could either find a brand new contender making waves or the return of a former champion into contention.
There are some pretty decent scraps on this card too, and we’ll break them all down.
Last week at UFC Vegas 51 in a largely disappointing card we managed to go 8/14 with three perfect picks on the night to move us to 601/929 (64.69%) with 255 perfect picks (42.43%).
We’ll look to improve on that percentage here and after starting with the early prelims, we move on to the rest of the prelims picks here.
Aoriqileng (18-9) vs Cameron Else (10-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Bantamweight fun opens up this section of the card and it should be amazing. Aoriqileng is 0-2 in the UFC after defeats to Jeff Molina (UFC 261) and Cody Durden so far, while Else saw a six-fight win streak snapped by Kyler Phillips on short-notice in his last fight via knockout in the second round.
Aoriqileng’s nickname tells you everything you need to know about his fight style. ‘The Mongolian Murderer’ walks his opponents down and launches bombs at their chin, while using good footwork to slide out of range and uses low kicks well too. Else on the other hand is a solid all-round fighter with powerful striking in his hands and some decent submission skills too, even tapping out Paddy Pimblett way back in 2013 in just 35 seconds.
Aoriqileng is a violent striker whose record outside of the UFC was flawless and came with a lot of knockouts. Else’s wins have all come inside the first round too, so you’d expect lots of early action. But Else is the bigger man quite comfortably and he can at the very least match his opponent everywhere, so he should be able to eek out a decision win.
PICK – Cameron Else via Decision
Tyson Pedro (7-3) vs Ike Villanueva (18-13) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A warm welcome back for Pedro who returns to the octagon for the first time in three-and-a-half years. Defeat to Shogun Rua saw him tear his ACL and meniscus, then rupture it again during training while recovering. Villanueva has lost four of his last five fights, getting KO’d by Nicolae Negumereanu in the first round back in October.
Pre-injury, Pedro was a good range fighter with an excellent jab and good front kicks but he also has unbelievable jiu-jitsu skills even from his back. Villanueva is a slugger, who stands in the pocket and trades while firing off the odd low kick too to offset his opponent’s rhythm. If both of these guys are at their best, Pedro wins with ease.
But after three years out with huge injuries, who knows what Pedro is like in the octagon now? Nobody is the answer. I’d still expect Pedro to be able to use his jab well and eventually get the fight to the ground to work his excellent submission skills, but don’t rule out a nervy performance that goes to the judges.
PICK – Tyson Pedro via Submission, Round 2
Dwight Grant (11-4) vs Sergey Khandozhko (27-6-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
An interesting welterweight scrap up next. Grant is 3-3 in the UFC, suffering defeat to Francisco Trinaldo in his last bout via split decision – the fourth time that’s happened in his UFC tenure. Khandozhko makes his return to the UFC for the first time since 2019 due to COVID and injury, having lost his last bout two-and-a-half years ago.
Grant’s ridiculous amounts of split decisions is not a coincidence. ‘The Body Snatcher’ is a powerful striker who mixes wild, looping shots with lethargic output and often ends up in staring matches. Khandozhko is as aggressive as they come, marching forward with lots of volume and some decent power too, but his defensive wrestling has left plenty to be desired in the past.
Grant isn’t someone who leans on wrestling much, and his lack of volume is a serious problem. If he lands one of his big, looping strikes then he’ll claim a highlight reel knockout. But if it doesn’t, which it most often doesn’t, then Khandozhko should find a judge’s decision in his favour after 15 minutes.
PICK – Sergey Khandozhko via Decision
Jordan Wright (12-2) vs Marc-Andre Barriault (13-5) – (Catchweight/190lbs)
A short-notice catchweight bout headlines the prelims section of the card in an absolute banger. Wright returns to the cage following a brutal knockout loss to Bruno Silva at UFC 269, having slaughtered Jamie Pickett at UFC 262 prior to that. Barriault steps in on two-weeks notice for this bout, looking to recover from the first knockout defeat of his career against Chidi Njokuani in just 16 seconds back in February.
Wright is a karate style fighter with some brutal KO power, with all of his victories coming inside the first six minutes of the fight. He’s also found himself to be relatively easy to hit though, and has been knocked out in his two defeats too. Barriault on the other hand was seen as one of the most durable fighters around before his last bout. He walks forward and overwhelms opponents with good combinations and power and uses his excellent cardio to maintain it for a long time.
If Barriault’s chin is fully recovered then he should win this fight comfortably. His style is tailor-made for this type of fight and his durability should see him outlast Wright and score an early win. If he’s not recovered though, then Wright has a very real chance of causing an upset. That said, Wright isn’t the most durable normally and after getting slept just a few months ago himself I expect Barriault to be able to claim a win.
PICK – Marc-Andre Barriault via Knockout, Round 1