It’s “Veteran vs. Prospect” this Saturday (Aug. 29, 2020) when Anthony “Lionheart” Smith and Aleksandar Rakic attempt to rebound from recent setbacks at each others’ expense in UFC Vegas 8’s ESPN+-streamed main event. UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also host the return of Robbie Lawler against towering contender Neil Magny and the long-awaited rematch between Light Heavyweight finishers Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba.
We’ve still got three “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the first batch here) to analyze before we can get into the meat of that, though, so grab your forks and let’s dig in ...
185 lbs.: Impa Kasanganay vs. Maki Pitolo
Impa Kasanganay (7-0) scored one of the biggest numerical upsets in “Contender Series” history last year when he defied +500 odds to beat knockout artist Kailan Hill by decision. Assorted misfortunes kept him out of action for the next 12 months, after which he returned to “Contender Series” with a victory over Anthony Adams.
He makes an 18-day turnaround on Saturday evening.
Maki Pitolo (13-6) — who flatted Justin Sumter with body shots on “Contender Series” — rebounded from his debut loss to Callan Potter with a second-round mauling of Charles Byrd in June. Two months later, he took on fellow bruiser Darren Stewart, who caught “Coconut Bombz” in a sneaky guillotine partway through the first round.
He has scored seven professional knockouts and three submissions.
The gap between what Pitolo can do and what he’s actually done in the Octagon remains enormously frustrating. At his best, the Hawaiian is a fearsome offensive boxing machine who can punish the body like few others. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that “Coconut Bombz” since “Contender Series” — even his win over Byrd was a comeback finish after spending most of the first round off of his back.
That said, he’s still a far tougher opponent than any Kasanganay’s faced before. Indeed, his last two victories came over highly limited opposition, leaving him with just a fraction of Pitolo’s experience against quality foes. Even with his recent struggles, Pitolo figures to be the better boxer and have enough grappling chops to either keep it standing or hold his own on the mat.
Prediction: Pitolo via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Hannah Cifers vs. Mallory Martin
Hannah Cifers (10-6) got off to a strong 2-1 Octagon start in 2018, giving elite prospect Maycee Barber her toughest out to date and scoring decisions over Polyana Viana and Jodie Esquibel. Recent sailing hasn’t been quite as smooth, as “Shockwave” has suffered stoppage losses to Angela Hill, Mackenzie Dern and Mariya Agapova.
This marks her fourth appearance of 2020 and her third in the span of three months.
Though her decision win over Micol di Segni on “Contender Series” didn’t earn Mallory Martin (6-3) a contract, she got her Octagon shot in Dec. 2019 when she faced former Invicta champ Virna Jandiroba on short notice. “Carcara” proved too much to handle, snapping Martin’s five-fight winning streak.
She’ll have three inches of height and two inches of reach on Cifers.
While I still don’t see Martin becoming an elite Strawweight, there’s no shame in losing to one of the division’s best wrestlers in Jandiroba. She’s still a solid fighter with the tools to exploit Cifers’ ongoing difficulties in the ground. And “Shockwave’s” powerful right hand is nowhere near enough of a game-changer to make up for the wrestling gap.
There really just isn’t an avenue of victory for Cifers, as what striking advantage she may have is entirely offset by the threat of Martin’s ground game. Barring a one-shot knockout from out of nowhere, Martin bullies her to the mat and batters her for Cifers’ fourth consecutive stoppage loss.
Prediction: Martin via second-round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Zak Cummings vs. Alessio Di Chirico
A narrow decision loss to Michel Prazeres sent Zak Cummings (23-7) to Middleweight, where he defeated Trevor Smith and Trevin Giles to extend his run to 4-1. He failed to do the same to Omari Akhmedov, however, dropping a decision at UFC 242.
Twelve of his 18 stoppage wins have come by submission.
Alessio Di Chirico (12-4) put his 1-2 Octagon start behind him with a bonus-winning knockout of Oluwale Bamgbose and an upset decision over Julian Marquez on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27 Finale. He enters the cage on a two-fight losing streak, having dropped consecutive decisions to Kevin Holland and Makhmud Muradov.
He’ll give up one inch of reach to Cummings.
While I do think Cummings would be best served getting his weight in check and returning to 170 pounds — where he can better bring his size and strength to bear — I like his chances here. He appears to have Di Chirico just slightly out-classed in mostly every area, boasting the heavier hands, more proven wrestling and scarier submissions.
So long as he isn’t pulled into the same sort of lull that led him to throw just 69 strikes in 15 minutes against Akhmedov, Cumming should land the more telling blows and control the grappling exchanges to win a slow-paced battle. Di Chirico just doesn’t have enough firepower or wrestling chops to take control.
Prediction: Cummings via unanimous decision
UFC Vegas 8’s current main card bouts are guaranteed violence, and the undercard doesn’t look too shabby, either. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 8 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 9 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 8: “Smith vs. Rakic” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.