The UFC returns to the Apex centre in Las Vegas after a stunning pay-per-view card last weekend for two heavyweight scrappers as Derrick Lewis takes on Serghei Spivac in the main event.
The number seven and number 12 ranked big men in the UFC go head-to-head in this headline clash, with both guys knowing a win puts them on track to get into title contention during 2023.
It’s a fun card with a few debuts and some sleeper fights, so be sure not to miss it.
Last weekend at UFC 281 we went 10/14 with one perfect pick to move to 776/1202 (64.56%) with 320 perfect picks (41.24%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here, starting with the early prelims section of the card.
Natalia Silva (13-5-1) vs Tereza Bleda (6-0) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Women’s flyweights open up the card here in an interesting bout. Silva made a winning debut in the UFC in her last bout, claiming a unanimous decision win over Jasmine Jasudavicius back in June, while Bleda makes her debut in the organisation after winning a contract on the Contender Series in September.
Silva is a rapid striker, with decent power and snap to her kicks and punches in bunches, and excellent volume to boot. Bleda is a suffocating grappler who is able to chain takedowns together and control opponents, and at only 20 years old the world is truly her oyster. This is a tough bout for her though, because all her weaknesses seem to lie where Silva’s strengths are.
Bleda is quite flat-footed on the feet and she tends to be quite open to kicks, which is Silva’s wheelhouse. With her last fight being against a more experienced version of Bleda (albeit a talent with a lower ceiling), she should be able to land flurries from range and push the pace enough to claim a decision win.
PICK – Natalia Silva via Decision
Brady Hiestand (6-2) vs Fernie Garcia (10-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Bantamweights up next in fun fight. Hiestand’s UFC debut ended in defeat when he dropped a split decision to TUF champion Ricky Turcios back in August 2021, while Garcia earned a UFC contract with a KO win on the Contender Series before losing his debut in a decision loss to Journey Newson at UFC 274.
Hiestand is a decent striker with good power, but it’s his wrestling and takedown game that have stood him out throughout his career thus far. Garcia is a power puncher with good combinations on the feet, but he has struggled with pressure coming back his way and with keeping his fights standing against better opposition. That all adds up to a tough night at the office.
“Bam Bam” must ensure that he doesn’t have the same cardio issues in this fight as he has done in the past, but with Garcia lacking genuine one-punch KO power he should be able to close the distance quickly and secure takedowns for top control and a relatively comfortable win.
PICK – Brady Hiestand via Decision
Vanessa Demopolous (8-4) vs Maria Oliveira (13-5) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
Strawweights up next in another interesting bout. Demopolous has won her last two in the UFC, submitting Silvana Gomez Juarez at UFC 270 before earning a decision win over Jinh Yu Frey most recently. Oliveira has gone 1-1 in the UFC to date, losing her debut via decision against Tabatha Ricci before earning a win last time out against Gloria De Paula via split decision.
Demopolous is at her best when he’s grappling with an opponent, but getting it to the ground has been an issue in the past with bang average wrestling and even worse striking, which can be described as basic at best. Oliveira is a powerhouse who looks to push forward and cause chaos to then catch her opponent out, earning seven KO career wins so far. But she has a reckless abandon for defence, especially to takedowns, and eventually she’s going to end up on her back here.
With that said, Demopolous has to stay out of danger while the fight is on the feet or she could get clipped big. “Lil Monster” should have enough about her with her height and reach advantage and a gas tank that has never let her down to be able to get Oliveira on her back, and then it’s just a matter of time.
PICK – Vanessa Demopolous via Submission, Round 2
Ricky Turcios (12-3) vs Kevin Natividad (9-3) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
TUF champion back in the octagon in this one. Turcios won the show with a split decision win over Brady Hiestand, but then lost his last bout via decision against Aiemann Zahabi back in July. Natividad on the other hand is 0-2 in the UFC so far, getting KO’d in his debut by Miles Johns at UFC Vegas 12 before getting KO’d by Batgerel Danaa at UFC 261 most recently in the first round. This is first fight in 18 months.
Turcios is a fighter whose greatest attribute is his heart, with a love for chaos and a phenomenal gas tank to go with a remarkable ability to scramble to his feet whenever he needs to. Natividad has made his name as a power puncher who doesn’t like to take a step back, with five KO’s in his career so far. There is a clear blueprint to beating Turcios, as shown in his last fight, but Natividad is just not that guy.
“Quicksand” is going to do what he always does, come forward looking for that one big strike and mix his wrestling in to open up the striking. Turcios will love that as he will look to pick Natividad off from range with kicks and flurries, and avoiding being controlled on the mat. it will be chaotic and wild, but expect Turcios’ volume to be enough to get the job done.
PICK – Ricky Turcios via Decision