An absolute banger of a main event headlines the UFC Vegas 53 card live from the UFC Apex centre in Las Vegas this weekend.
Two top ten bantamweights go head-to-head as Rob Font takes on Marlon Vera in a five-round clash, while Andrei Arlovski takes on Jake Collier in a heavyweight co-main event too.
At UFC Vegas 52 last weekend we had a hot and cold night with our picks as we went 7/11 with zero perfect picks (for the first time since UFC Vegas 40) to move us up to 608/940 (64.68%) with 255 perfect picks (41.94%).
Krzysztof Jotko (23-5) vs Gerald Meerschaert (34-14) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A very interesting middleweight scrap opens up the main card between two well known fighters. Jotko has won four of his last five fights, bouncing back from defeat to Sean Strickland at UFC Vegas 25 with a split decision win over Misha Cirkunov at UFC Vegas 38. Meerschaert on the other hand has bounced back from his super-quick KO loss to Khamzat Chimaev at UFC Vegas 17 with three straight submission wins including a late one against Dustin Stoltzfus most recently at UFC Vegas 45.
Jotko is a kickboxer who looks to fight from range using his kicks and long punches and a steady pace that he has shown he is capable of pushing for the entire 15 minutes. Meerschaert on the other hand is an amazing grappler with all of his UFC wins coming by finish, and more submission wins in his career than any other middleweight in UFC history. It’s a real battle of styles, but this one seems to favour Jotko a little bit more.
Meerschaert is by far the more dangerous of the two, but Jotko is so methodical that he tends to just nullify his opponents and win minutes of fights rather than dominate them. It’s either going to be a Meerschaert submission or Jotko decision, but the Polish fighter is all about claiming wins despite it being the most boring fight of the night and he’s likely to do that again.
PICK – Krzysztof Jotko via Decision
Darren Elkins (27-10) vs Tristan Connelly (14-7) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
‘The Damage’ returns to the octagon in a banger of a fight at 145-pounds here. Elkins has lost five of his last seven, including his most recent outing against the returning Cub Swanson at UFC Vegas 45 where he was KO’d by a spinning wheel kick. Connelly saw a near two-year layoff culminate in a defeat against Pat Sabatini in his most recent bout back at UFC 261.
These are two veterans of the sport likely on their way out of the sport sooner rather than later. Elkins is a grinder who tends to walk through flames to score a takedown and really wear down his opponent before taking over from top position, while Connelly is also a ground specialist although he prefers to use his jiu-jitsu skills when down there. That sets up a pretty exciting encounter if the fight hits the mat, and both guys will back themselves to come out on top in that scenario.
The best bet for Connelly to score a submission is to hurt him on the feet first and then latch on to something. His striking isn’t great however and with the relentless wrestling style of Elkins, I expect him to smother Connelly over the course of the 15 minutes and earn a vintage decision win.
PICK – Darren Elkins via Decision
Jared Gordon (18-4) vs Grant Dawson (17-1-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Very exciting lightweight bout up next between two guys looking to burst their way into the rankings. Gordon has won three in a row since getting knocked out by the now-champion Charles Oliveira in 2019, all via decision with the most recent coming against Joe Solecki. Dawson on the other hand is nine undefeated, with a draw against Ricky Glenn most recently snapping his win streak.
Gordon is a grinder of a fighter who just doesn’t stop coming forward. He doesn’t particularly excel in any area but is decent enough to hold his own in most. Dawson on the other hand is a specialist wrestler who has looked to use his new-found kickboxing skills more often in recent bouts. He tends to use the fence to his advantage too, pinning opponents to the mat and looking to push them into submission situations. But his best times came at featherweight and now that physicality isn’t a stand-out attribute anymore.
‘Flash’ is definitely the more heavy-handed striker on the feet, but Dawson has the edge in the wrestling and should be able to keep Gordon down if he does get the fight down. Gordon’s cardio will still be there at the end of the fight regardless of how the rest of the fight has gone, while Dawson could struggle deeper into the bout. It will be close for the judges, but I think wrestling wins out and earns him a tight decision.
PICK – Grant Dawson via Decision
Andre Fili (21-8) vs Joanderson Brito (12-3-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
This should be a very fun featherweight scrap between two very exciting fighters. Fili is coming off a ‘no contest’ bout against Daniel Pineda back at UFC Vegas 30, while Brito suffered a unanimous decision defeat in his UFC debut to Bill Algeo back at UFC Vegas 46 at the start of the year.
Fili is a very technical kickboxer with some reactive takedowns and good grappling skills on the mat too, while Brito is a very standard Muay Thai fighter but with excellent power in his strikes and nasty clinch work culminating in ten finishes from his 12 victories. Brito was beaten by Algeo last time out, and Fili is a better version of Algeo with more strings to his bow. Obviously, that’s a problem for the Brazilian prospect.
Brito has got huge power and has always got it in him to land one big shot and end the fight there and then. But ultimately Fili is the better fighter here. His kickboxing is sharper, his wrestling is a way for him to be able mix it up and he’s the more experienced guy too. It won’t be easy, but I think Fili takes him all the way and earns the nod from the judges.
PICK – Andre Fili via Decision
Andrei Arlovski (33-20) vs Jake Collier (13-6) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Heavyweight collision in the co-main event between two men at different ends of their UFC career. Former champion Arlovski has won five of his last six, with the only defeat coming against Tom Aspinall, including each of his last three via decision. Collier on the other hand is a former middleweight who has alternated wins and losses since 2014 going back 11 fights. His most recent was a win against Chase Sherman via submission back in January at UFC Vegas 46.
Arlovski is a traditional heavyweight with some good boxing and a lethal left high kick just like the famous Mirko Cro Cop once upon a time. He uses good movement and volume well rather than power punches, but seems to be excellent at avoiding damage and doing well. Collier is a very similar fighter, just ten years younger and he has got a good grappling background in his arsenal too.
This is a strange fight to be the co-main event in all honesty, but I can’t go against the 50-50 record over the last eight years. Arlovski looks as good as he’s looked in a long while recently and has the experience to make his momentum and moments count. Collier likes to throw leg kicks and that could leave him open to a straight right hand counter down the pipe but most likely this looks like a pretty comfortable Collier decision win.
PICK – Jake Collier via Decision
Rob Font (19-5) vs Marlon Vera (18-7-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger of a main event and comfortably the fight of the night on this card. Font saw a four-fight win streak snapped last time out by Jose Aldo in a great fight at UFC Vegas 44, while Vera earned a highlight reel front-kick-to-the-face knockout against Frankie Edgar in his most recent outing at UFC 268.
Font is one of the best pure boxers in the UFC, with incredible hand speed and solid power in his hands as well as some good takedowns as shown against Cody Garbrandt in his most recent win. Vera on the other hand is a really tidy all-round fighter with crisp striking and great technique with his leg kicks and punches, while he also has excellent jiu-jitsu skills and grappling on the mat. Vera has never been finished in his career, but his lack of output early on in fights could see Font have a lot of early success with his boxing to the body.
It’s unlikely that Font will look to grapple at all in this fight, because that is entering Vera’s world. His boxing and speed is where he can win this fight, but Vera is good at applying pressure and forcing his opponents to fight on the back foot. It should be a terrific fight overall, but I think Font’s early work will be enough to edge him a judge’s decision for the bout.
PICK – Rob Font via Decision