A huge light heavyweight main event with title implications headlines the UFC Vegas 54 card this week after a brilliant card last week.
Former champions Jan Blachowicz returns to the octagon for the first time since losing his title to take on the highly rated Aleksandar Rakic, with the winner hoping it will take them towards a title shot.
In a sneaky good card, we’ll also see the likes of Davey Grant take on Louis Smolka and Katlyn Chookagian taking on Amanda Ribas to give you plenty to get your teeth into.
Last week at UFC 274 we went 9/14 with six perfect picks, taking us to 622/965 (64.46%) with 265 perfect picks (42.6%). You can check out our complete record here.
We’ll look to improve on that record here and after starting with the early prelims for the night, and moving on to the rest of the prelims section of the card, we finish off with the main card picks here.
Jake Hadley (8-0) vs Allan Nascimento (18-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A grapple-heavy affair coming up to open the main card here. Hadley is an undefeated former Cage Warriors champion, who earned his UFC debut with a submission win on Dana White’s Contender Series. Nascimento on the other hand was defeated in his UFC debut back at UFC 267, dropping a split decision to Tagir Ulanbekov.
Both Hadley and Nascimento are grapplers by nature, but they’re different in their approach. Hadley is a brilliant wrestler, who looks to smother his opponents with his takedowns and work for submissions by taking the back as quickly as possible. Nascimento looks to stand and use his kicking game, unafraid to be dragged into a scrap because he knows if he’s on the ground his submission game is excellent too. This is a super evenly matched fight and very hard to call.
One advantage that Hadley has is that he’s comfortable whether he’s on top or on the bottom, while Nascimento does not look comfortable when he’s underneath someone else. They will contest takedowns against the cage without a doubt and it will be finely contested, but in these matches it’s those fine margins that make the difference and I think Hadley claims the win.
PICK – Jake Hadley via Decision
Frank Camacho (22-9) vs Manuel Torres (12-2) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
An interesting lightweight bout between a veteran likely on his way out and an upcoming talent from Mexico. Camacho has lost four of his last five stretching back to 2018 and was KO’d in just 41 seconds by Justin Jaynes in his last fight at UFC Vegas 3. Torres is making his UFC debut here on a three-fight win streak after victory on Dana White’s Contender Series back in October last year.
Camacho is a veteran of the sport despite being only 32 years old as his record shows. ‘The Crank’ is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he’s more known for his slugfest style where he brawls and entertains. Torres is a very physical and aggressive fighter, with great power in his hands and a killer instinct with 11 finishes in 12 fights. This is a real test to see where Camacho stands in his career.
Both men have the power to really hurt the other, but whether Camacho’s chin can still stand up after his latest knockout is a big worry. There is the fact that he has a lot more experience, and if he mixes up his attacks to include some ground game then he has a great chance of victory. With that said though, it’s not often that he leans on his grappling as his initial game plan, so I expect a hungry Torres to claim a big stoppage win.
PICK – Manuel Torres via Knockout, Round 1
Katlyn Chookagian (17-4) vs Amanda Ribas (11-2) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Two women’s flyweights looking to get into title contention in a division dominated by one queen. Chookagian has already fought for the belt and got dominated, but she has gone 4-1 since then, including wins in each of her last three against Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 255), Viviane Araujo (UFC 262) and Jennifer Maia (UFC Vegas 46) all by decision. Ribas saw her hype reach an all-time high when she submitted Paige Van Zant at UFC 251, but she was brutally stopped by Marina Rodriguez next time out at UFC 257. She bounced back with a great decision win over Virna Jandiroba at UFC 267 in her last bout.
Chookagian is a karate fighter who uses her range really well and volume strikes to dominate her opponents. Her body kicks are excellent while she has good boxing too and often just completely outworks her opponent. Ribas is a pretty rubbish striker on the feet, but on the ground she is a terrifying prospect with her submission skills. The problem here is that she may not be able to get the fight to the ground.
‘Blonde fighter’ is very good when it comes to ensuring fights go the way she wants, unless it’s against Valentina Shevchenko. She dominates the range, has good takedown defence and is the better striker as well as having the size advantage. Expect her to put in a vintage performance to claim yet another decision win.
PICK – Katlyn Chookagian via Decision
Davey Grant (13-6) vs Louis Smolka (17-8) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Very fun 135-pound scrap coming up in this one. Grant has lost his last two in a row, dropping decisions to Marlon Vera and then Adrian Yanez respectively. Smolka has alternated wins and losses in his last six fights, being on the wrong end of a knockout finish to Vince Morales at UFC Vegas 44 in his most recent outing.
Grant is a terrific grappler who has completely transformed his game in recent years to start chasing knockouts with nasty combinations and wild hooks to the head. Smolka is another entertaining fighter, who uses his cardio as a weapon while throwing good combinations and threatening with chokes when the opportunity presents itself. When you match them skill for skill, Smolka seems to be in a world of trouble with this one.
The Brit is bigger, stronger, the better grappler and hits harder. His cardio is more than good enough to really go the distance at a good pace too and he is by far the more durable of the two fighters. This one will likely turn into a war, and that means Grant clips him midway through the fight for the finish.
PICK – Davey Grant via Knockout, Round 2
Ryan Spann (19-7) vs Ion Cutelaba (16-6-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
The big boys take up the co-main event slot in this one as light heavyweights collide. Spann has lost two of his last three, including getting absolutely squashed by Anthony Smith in the first round in his last bout. Cutelaba overcame a three fight winless run after KO losses to Magomed Ankalaev and a draw with Dustin Jacoby at UFC Vegas 25, by earning a decision win in his last bout against Devin Clark.
Spann is a tidy grappler on the mat with 11 submission wins to his name in his career. His wrestling is decent, while his striking on the feet is okay, but anything outside of his comfort zones is a huge problem for him. Cutelaba on the other hand is a super aggressive fighter who charges forward and threatens with constant takedowns by landing huge power punches in combinations. Spann needs to be able to get this fight down with himself on top to win this, because he’s outmatched by Cutelaba.
‘Hulk’ will look to put Spann on his back foot regularly and will try for takedowns against the cage before swinging huge combinations to try and take his head off. Spann won’t be comfortable with that, and when that happens he tends to just kind of melt away. That’s not ideal against someone so aggressive, so Cutelaba could claim a violent finish early on.
PICK – Ion Cutelaba via Knockout, Round 1
Jan Blachowicz (28-9) vs Aleksandar Rakic (14-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A fight that could easily have been contested for the 205lbs title at some point last year now takes place as a contender bout in the division. Blachowicz was dominated in his last outing by Glover Teixeira as he lost the belt at UFC 267, bringing to an end his five fight winning streak. Rakic on the other hand has won his last two, with just one defeat since losing his pro debut. He dominated Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos (UFC 259) in his most recent bouts.
Blachowicz is a brilliant fighter who is very well-rounded. He has got the legendary ‘Polish power’ in both hands where his boxing combinations score him knockout wins, while his wrestling is also good as he showed against Israel Adesanya back at UFC 259. Rakic’s wrestling has been shown to be brilliant too, while he also has scary power in his hands earning him nine career KO wins. This is a super hard fight to call, because both guys match up so well.
Rakic is nine years younger and the fact that Teixeira was able to take Blachowicz down so easily and control him on the mat will be of big encouragement to him. It shows that he is capable of being controlled and Rakic is very good at that. I think Blachowicz is now going to start a steady decline as age catches up to him, and Rakic is going to pile on the misery for a huge win and secure himself the next title shot.
PICK – Aleksandar Rakic via Decision