After Darren Till fell to injury and Kevin Holland to COVID-19, surging Italian Marvin Vettori stepped up to the plate to face top Middleweight contender Jack Hermansson in the UFC Vegas 16 main event this Saturday (Dec. 5, 2020). UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also see a Light Heavyweight crossroads match between Ovince St. Preux and Jamahal Hill, as well as Flyweight prospect Taila Santos taking on Montana De La Rosa.
Various calamities have left us with just a half-dozen “Prelims” undercard bouts to go with the five-fight ESPN+-streamed main card. Let’s look at the first half ...
145 lbs.: Ilia Topuria vs. Damon Jackson
A former Bantamweight who moved up to 145 pounds after missing weight for what would have been a Cage Warriors title-winning submission of Brian Bouland, Ilia Topuria (9-0) started his run in the weight class with stoppage wins under the Brave CF banner. October saw him step up on short notice to fight the surging Youssef Zalal, whom Topuria overpowered over three entertaining rounds.
Like Damon Jackson (18-3-1), all but one of his wins have come inside the distance, including seven submissions.
After washing out of UFC with an 0-1-1 (1 NC) record, “The Leech” put together wins in eight of his next 10, earning an LFA title along the way. This past September saw him step up on short notice to choke out the heavily favored Mirsad Bektic and take home a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus for his efforts.
He’ll enjoy four inches of height and reach on his foe.
This figures to be a solid referendum on Topuria’s maturity. His heavy hands and top-notch wrestling look sufficient to take Jackson’s venomous submissions out of the equation and control things on the feet. If he decides to test his jiu-jitsu against the more seasoned “Leech;” however, he could very easily find himself in the same position Bektic did.
To his credit, Topuria fought a smart, efficient fight against Zalal despite limited preparation time. Jackson’s finishing skills mean Topuria will have a smaller margin of error this time, but between his newfound UFC experience and the benefits of a full camp, I expect similar success here. In the end, Topuria keeps it standing and turns the lights out with an overhand right somewhere in the first half of the fight.
Prediction: Topuria via second-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Gabriel Benitez vs. Justin Jaynes
Though his The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” run proved unsuccessful, Gabriel Benitez (21-8) established himself as one to watch with wins in five of his first seven Octagon appearances, including an upset of Jason Knight. He enters the cage this weekend on a two-fight skid, however, falling to Sodiq Yusuff and Omar Morales in competitive efforts.
He’s ended 18 professional bouts inside the distance, 11 of them via submission.
Justin Jaynes (16-5) didn’t let short notice or a one-year layoff stop him from demolishing Frank Camacho in his Octagon debut and taking home a $50,000 bonus in the process. He started his sophomore effort strong with an early knockdown of Gavin Tucker, but ultimately succumbed to the Canadian’s submission skills in the third.
“Guitar Hero” gives up an inch of height and three inches of reach to “Moggly.”
While dropping the iron-tough Tucker is a praiseworthy accomplishment, Jaynes’ last fight raised an uncomfortable number of red flags. His lack of cardio and striking craft came back to bite him in a big way, and he needs both of those to get past a kickboxer of Benitez’s caliber. Considering it’s been less than four months, I don’t see him making the necessary adjustments.
Jaynes’ wrestling figures to be the avenue to victory, but Benitez is a difficult man to hold down, and he’s got the gas tank to stay alive in the scrambles all night. In sum, expect the Mexican’s power kicks to steadily take over until he puts a fading Jaynes away somewhere around the midpoint.
Prediction: Benitez via second-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Jose Quinonez vs. Louis Smolka
These two were slated to fight a few weeks ago before Louis Smolka (16-7) screwed up his weight cut so badly he had to be removed. My thoughts haven’t changed, so I figured I’d just reuse what I had ...
While he failed to defeat Alejandro Perez in TUF: “Latin America” finals, Jose Quinonez (8-4) put together a four-fight win streak to secure himself a foothold in UFC’s crowded 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 Smolka 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 has 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
Three more UFC Vegas 16 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including two debuting submission machines. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 16 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN2 “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN2 10 p.m. ET.
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