Former Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos was slated to return to the division against fast-rising Islam Makhachev this Saturday (Nov. 17, 2020), only for the Dagestani to withdraw with an infection (details). Luckily, contender-turned-broadcaster Paul Felder was ready to lace up the gloves once again. Up at 170 pounds, knockout machines Abdul Razak Alhassan and Khaos Williams duke it out in a seemingly guaranteed slobber knocker, while Julian “the Cuban Missile Crisis” Marquez returns from two years away to face Saparbeg Safarov at Middleweight. In addition, Sean Strickland will make a two-week turnaround against Brendan Allen.
Before all that, though, UFC Vegas 14 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts that will set the main card stage. Let’s dissect the first four ...
135 lbs.: Jose Quinonez vs. Louis Smolka
While he failed to defeat Alejandro Perez in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” finals, Jose Quinonez (8-4) put together a four-fight win streak to secure himself a foothold in the crowded UFC Bantamweight division. “El Teco” has since lost two of three, defeating Carlos Huachin, but falling to top prospects Nathaniel Wood and Sean O’Malley.
He will have a slight reach advantage over Louis Smolka (16-7) despite standing an inch shorter.
A three-fight stoppage streak brought “Da Last Samurai” back to the Octagon after a four-fight skid prompted his exit, and he started his second run strong with an armbar finish of Sumudaerji. He’s enjoyed more mixed success in his last three, sandwiching a knockout of Ryan MacDonald between submission losses to Matt Schnell and Casey Kenney.
His 14 professional stoppages are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
This is, in a strange way, sort of uncharted territory for Quinonez. Since that Perez loss in 2015, he’s beaten five sub-UFC caliber opponents and been dominated by two fringe contenders. We’ve yet to really see him against a middle-of-the-pack opponent like Smolka, so it remains unclear where exactly “El Teco” stands in the division.
My guess? Somewhere above Smolka.
Along with being a natural Bantamweight fighting a man whose best work came at 125 pounds, Quinonez looks to have the edge in wrestling and boxing. While Smolka only really needs one window of top control to get the submission finish, he’s unlikely to get it without getting battered, and his durability doesn’t look as impressive as it used to be. So long as he doesn’t decide to try his luck against Smolka’s guard game, Quinonez out-strikes him to an entertaining decision win.
Prediction: Quinonez via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Randa Markos vs. Kanako Murata
From 2014 to 2019, Randa Markos (10-9-1) alternated losses and wins with clockwork regularity. The trend finally ended this year, though not in the way she’d have liked, as she dropped decisions to the fast-rising Amanda Ribas and Mackenzie Dern.
“Quiet Storm” steps in for Livinha Souza on little more than one week’s notice.
Kanako Murata (11-1) — a former amateur wrestling ace who once defeated Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis on the mat — has not tasted defeat since falling to UFC veteran Rin Nakai in her fifth pro fight, subsequently amassing wins in Pancrase, DEEP and Rizin. She successfully choked out Liana Pirosin in her Invicta debut before narrowly edging out Emily Ducote to claim the promotion’s Strawweight title last November.
Her four submission wins include two by Von Flue choke.
To be frank, Murata is the biggest UFC Strawweight signing in a long time. While the Ducote fight showed that she’s still not a finished product, she’s already extremely impressive and boasts the strongest wrestling pedigree in the division with the possible exception of Tatiana Suarez. I expect her to make an immediate impact at 115 pounds, starting with finishing off Markos’ winning record.
Though the better striker of the two, “Quiet Storm” has struggled with lesser takedown artists than Murata and isn’t likely to overwhelm the latter’s strong submission defense from her back. A relentless series of well-timed takedowns carry Murata to a successful debut.
Prediction: Murata via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Tony Gravely vs. Geraldo de Freitas
Tony Gravely (19-6) entered “Contender Series” in the midst of a 10-1 run, the sole loss coming to Bellator standout Patchy Mix, and upped it to 11-1 with a contract-winning finish of Ray Rodriguez. This led to an entertaining but unsuccessful January debut opposite contender Brett Johns, which ended up earning both men “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
He is the shorter man by two inches and surrenders 2.5 inches of reach.
Geraldo de Freitas (12-5) — who hadn’t lost since 2015 — extended his win streak to seven with a UFC debut victory over Felipe Colares last year. He just barely failed to do the same to Chris Guteirrez six months later, losing a split decision that the majority of the mixed martial arts (MMA) media had him winning.
This will be his first fight in 15 months because of COVID-19 scrapping a March bout with Jack Shore.
He may have ultimately lost, but Gravely held his own against a top 15-ranked fighter in his first Octagon appearance, which bodes well for his future in the promotion. He has a more favorable matchup in de Freitas, whom he outclasses in the wrestling and seemingly has the skills to outclass on the feet.
While Gravely’s five submission losses should give de Freitas some confidence, he has to actually get Gravely to the mat first, and I don’t see him doing so without a massive miscalculation on the American’s part. Gravely sprawls-and-brawls with a dash of top control to claim his first Octagon win.
265 lbs.: Don’Tale Mayes vs. Roque Martinez
Don’Tale Mayes (7-4) finally secured a UFC contract last year with a first-round knockout of Ricardo Prasel in his third “Contender Series” appearance. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon itself, as both Ciryl Gane and Rodrigo Nascimento forced him to submit in successive efforts.
“King Kong” stands eight inches taller than Roque Martinez (15-6-2) and has almost 10 inches of reach on him.
Guam’s Martinez followed up his brutal war with Jake Heun by defending his DEEP Openweight title with a knockout of Seigo Mizuguchi, then beat down Hideki “Shrek” Sekine in his return. Then came Alexander Romanov, who manhandled Martinez in the latter’s short-notice Octagon debut this past September.
He has knocked out eight professional opponents and submitted another three.
Limited as he is, I’ll be surprised if Mayes contrives to lose this one. Martinez isn’t going to out-technique him on the feet or exploit his lacking grappling the way Gane and Nascimento did. On the contrary, he’s here for a slugfest against a much bigger and more powerful brawler, and his edge in punching technique can’t make up the massive gap in horsepower.
Neither of these men have many winning match ups in UFC’s Heavyweight division, but unfortunately for Martinez, he’s on Mayes’ list. In the end, Mayes clobbers him with haymakers sometime in the first round.
Prediction: Mayes via first-round technical knockout
Three more UFC Vegas 14 undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a debuting “Contender Series” standout and what figures to be Welterweight mayhem between Alex Morono and Rhys McKee. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 14 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 7 p.m. ET.
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