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UFC Vegas 17 preview, ‘Thompson vs Neal’ predictions

UFC Open Workout Photo by Han Myung-Gu / Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will close out its wild and wacky 2020 fight campaign with the still-kinda-stacked UFC Vegas 17 mixed martial arts (MMA) event this Sat. night (Dec. 19) from inside the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Headlining the UFC Vegas 17 fight card, which airs exclusively on ESPN+, are welterweight contenders Stephen Thompson and Geoff Neal, who collide for a spot atop the ever-shrinking list of 170-pound title hopefuls. Prior to that striker’s delight, former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will try to get back into the win column at the expense of the rough-and-tumble Marlon Vera.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the UFC Vegas 17 preliminary card breakdown expertly deconstructed by Patrick Stumberg here and here. Resident MMA champ Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Thompson vs. Neal” odds and betting lines click here.

Let’s get to work ...

170 lbs.: Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson

Record: 15-4-1 | Age: 37 | Betting line: +100
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.93 | Striking accuracy: 44%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.73 | Striking Defense: 59%
Takedown Average: 0.36 (45% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 78%
Current Ranking: No. 5 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Vicente Luque

Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal

Record: 13-2 | Age: 30 | Betting line: -120
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 6.04 | Striking accuracy: 49%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.57 | Striking Defense: 65%
Takedown Average: 0.85 (50% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 92%
Current Ranking: No. 11 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Mike Perry

Stephen Thompson was a decorated kickboxer with multiple world titles in both IKF and ISKA, which is the combat sports equivalent of earning those cute little Webelos patches in Cub Scouts. I know that sounds disrespectful but go ahead and name three kickboxers Thompson defeated during his Frank Dux-esque streak of 57-0. Can’t name three? How about one? No question “Wonderboy” is talented and he’s one of the better outside strikers in MMA, but Thompson turns 38 in February and hasn’t finished a fight in nearly five years. To make matters worse, he’s dropped three of his last five, including a knockout loss to Anthony Pettis and a five-round decision to Darren Till in a bout that featured zero takedown attempts from “The Gorilla.” Simply put, he was outstruck bell-to-bell, both in significant strikes and total strikes. That doesn’t leave me feeling very confident as we head into his 22nd pro MMA bout against a younger, hungrier opponent.

Geoff Neal burst onto the scene back in summer 2017, smashing and trashing Chase Waldon to score a UFC contract on Dana White’s “Contender Series.” Since then, Neal has racked up five straight wins with four nasty finishes over some very tough competition. Last year’s destruction of Mike Perry highlighted just how dangerous “Handz of Steel” can be when he’s locked in and that’s bad news for Thompson. Neal has only been finished once in his career and that came against rising middleweight phenom Kevin Holland under the XKO banner, and when you consider what Holland has done thus far at 185 pounds, the loss seems far more forgivable. Outside of that, it’s hard to find fault with a guy who’s finished 10 of 13 wins, eight by way of knockout. His success against Thompson will likely depend on how willing he is to stand in the pocket and throw down, because Neal certainly isn’t going to win a karate-style match against “Wonderboy.”

This fight will be an excellent test for Neal and I would not be surprised if he needed a round or two to adjust to Thompson’s style. To me, this fight boils down to how well Neal can apply the pressure, as well as how well Thompson can defend it. “Handz of Steel” has only wrestled once in six fights for UFC (including Contender Series) and that came against Niko Price, so fans can expect this to contest to remain upright. Even though “Wonderboy” has more experience and battled tougher competition, we’re still faced with a fighter who’s on his way down against a fighter who’s on his way up. Honestly, I would be shocked if this fight lasted all 25 minutes.

Prediction: Neal def. Thompson by technical knockout


135 lbs.: Jose Aldo vs. Marlon Vera

Jose “Junior” Aldo

Record: 28-7 | Age: 34 | Betting line: -140
Wins: 17 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 10 DEC | Losses: 4 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’7“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.48 | Striking accuracy: 44%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.55 | Striking Defense: 62%
Takedown Average: 0.60 (61% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 90%
Current Ranking: No. 7 | Last fight: Technical knockout loss to Petr Yan

Marlon “Chito” Vera

Record: 16-6-1 | Age: 28 | Betting line: +120
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 8 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 6 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.70 | Striking accuracy: 48%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.05 | Striking Defense: 52%
Takedown Average: 0.86 (42% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 69%
Current Ranking: No. 15 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Sean O’Malley

Want to hear an impressive stat? Jose Aldo has 16 fights for UFC and the only time “Junior” fought an opponent who wasn’t ranked in the Top 5 at the time of their fight was his Octagon debut at UFC 129 against No. 8-ranked Mark Hominick. Since then it’s been nothing but a steady stream of killers year in and year out. Regardless, Aldo is in desperate need of a win after dropping three in a row and five of his last seven, particularly the way UFC has been dumping former Brazilian champions like Anderson Silva and Fabricio Werdum. At age 34 and no more weight classes left to shrink down to, this might be a make-or-break fight for a combatant who was once considered to be at or near the top of the pound-for-pound food chain. I’m also not convinced there’s longevity at bantamweight when you consider what Aldo has to put himself through to get there.

Hitting the 135-pound mark has never been an issue for Marlon Vera, despite standing an inch taller than Aldo. Barely making the bantamweight rankings at No. 15, “Chito” has won six of his last seven, but perhaps no victory garnered as much attention as his UFC 252 beatdown over Sean O’Malley, who is still calling himself the uncrowned champ. Either “Sugar” is in denial or his weed is just that damn good. Vera hasn’t gotten much attention over the last six years because his level of competition has been mediocre, at best. Anyone want to rattle off stats on Guangyou Ning? How about Wuliji Buren? I think you get my point. Even with his wealth of experience, “Chito” is facing a major step up in competition. I know the Aldo of 2020 is not the Aldo of 2010, but even a fading “Junior” is more dangerous than most of the ham-and-eggers Vera is used to trading leather with.

A three-round fight benefits Aldo because of his gas tank, which was never great to begin with. And the former champ has a bizarre tendency to wean himself from an established gamplan as the clock ticks away. Vera has never been finished in 23 professional fights and I don’t expect that to change here. It will, however, be interesting to see if “Chito” implements his wrestling like he did against Song Yadong. Perhaps that’s part of his Plan B if things start to get dicey on the feet and assuming Aldo hasn’t completely collapsed, they most certainly will. Vera will likely open aggressively and finish strong, but Aldo will be too busy between those bookmarks for Vera to overcome the judges’ discretion.

Prediction: Aldo def. Vera by unanimous decision

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 17 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 17 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 17 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete “Thompson vs. Neal” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.

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