The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight shark tank offers yet another banger this Saturday (Oct. 23, 2021) when Paulo Costa locks horns with Marvin Vettori in a clash of genuine division elites. UFC Vegas 41 also features a Lightweight bout between hard-charging Ricky Glenn and grappling ace Grant Dawson, as well as Nick Negumereanu duking it out with fellow Light Heavyweight brawler Ike Villanueva.
185 lbs.: Jun Yong Park vs. Gregory Rodrigues
A seven-fight win streak, including a submission finish of future PFL tournament champion Ray Cooper III, carried Jun Yong Park (13-4) to the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion. Though he fell to “Contender Series” graduate Anthony Hernandez in his promotional debut, “The Iron Turtle” has gone on to win three straight, most recently upsetting unbeaten Tafon Nchukwi in May 2021.
He stands five inches shorter than “Robocop” and gives up two inches of reach.
Gregory Rodrigues (10-3) put a 1-2 professional start to win his next six fights, setting up an ultimately unsuccessful “Contender Series” bid opposite Jordan Williams. He bounced back to win the LFA Middleweight championship, then cruised past Dusko Todorovic on late notice in his Octagon debut.
He has knocked out and submitted four professional foes apiece.
Park’s nickname isn’t an empty joke; in fact, I’m not at all confident that Rodrigues can finish him on the feet despite the latter’s monstrous power. Luckily, he doesn’t have to because, like most turtles, Park doesn’t particularly like being on his back, and Rodrigues boasts the wrestling and jiu-jitsu pedigrees to ruin Park’s day from there. While Park’s usually adept at scrambling back to his feet, I don’t see him getting out from underneath a physical best like “Robocop.”
Rodrigues has been hurt and stopped before, so it wouldn’t be too outlandish to see Park clip him. Considering how reliant Park’s been on his own grappling, though, I like Rodrigues to hold his own on the feet and dominate in his wheelhouse.
Prediction: Rodrigues via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Mason Jones vs. David Onama
Though he didn’t walk away with the decision, former two-division Cage Warriors champion, Mason Jones (10-1), earned plenty of accolades for his “Fight of the Night” war with Mike Davis in his promotional debut. Next came Alan Patrick, whom Jones brutalized before an errant eye poke produced an anti-climactic “No Contest.”
He has knocked out four opponents and submitted another two.
David Onama (8-0) — the latest Glory MMA standout to join the world’s largest fight promotion — made his name under the KC Fighting Alliance and FAC banners. He’s fought twice already in 2021, stopping Mike Plazola and Brad Robison in less than three minutes combined.
He steps in for Patrick on just four days’ notice.
I really like the look of Onama, who seems more than Octagon-ready at 27 years old. He’s sharp, he hits like a truck, he’s got very solid grappling instincts, and he’s remarkably seasoned for having such a short career. However, Jones is just the wrong person to debut against. That’s because between his ridiculous durability and non-stop aggression, “The Dragon” is poised to drag Onama into by far the deepest waters of his career.
That’s not to say that Onama doesn’t have a strong gas tank or the ability to fight through adversity, just that he’s never had to deal with someone this implacable and devoted to beating the snot out of him. He’ll keep it competitive early, but Jones’ high-level experience should turn the tide for a mid-round finish.
Prediction: Jones via second round technical knockout
115 lbs.: Tabatha Ricci vs. Maria Oliveira
Tabitha Ricci (5-1) went 3-0 under the LFA banner before stepping up on short notice to meet Manon Fiorot in her Flyweight UFC debut. Ricci proved unable to tame “The Beast,” succumbing to strikes midway through the second round.
“Baby Shark” stands five inches shorter than Oliveira and gives up seven inches of reach.
Maria Oliveira (12-4) reached the second round of Rizin’s Atomweight tournament before running afoul of eventual champion Kanna Asakura, snapping a nine-fight winning streak in the process. Though she similarly fell short against Marina Rodriguez on the Contender Series, she went on to defeat her next two opponents on the Brazilian circuit.
Her eight professional finishes include seven by submission.
The bad news for Ricci is that she’s once again facing a much taller, much lengthier opponent. The good news is that Oliveira’s far easier to tie up then Fiorot, is a much lesser wrestler, and lacks the Frenchwoman’s stopping power. So long as Ricci still has the confidence to push forward and get the fight into her preferred range, she shouldn’t have too much trouble tying up and dragging Oliveira to the mat, where she holds an absolutely massive edge.
Oliveira’s visibly improved since her defeats, which occurred before she even turned 22, but her historical troubles with pressure and inability to fight off of her back present juicy targets for a fighter with Ricci’s credentials. In the end, Ricci overpowers her on the ground for a quick finish.
Prediction: Ricci via first round submission
185 lbs.: Jamie Pickett vs. Laureano Staropoli
These two were supposed to fight earlier this month and I haven’t changed my mind, so here’s the previous write up ...
Undaunted by a pair of losses on “Contender Series,” Jamie Pickett (11-6) returned to the program to demolish Jhonoven Pati and finally secure a UFC contract. He’s still looking for his first Octagon victory, having fallen to fellow alumni Tafon Nchukwi and Jordan Wright in successive efforts.
“Nightwolf” will enjoy one inch of height and a whopping 10.5 inches of reach on “Pepi.”
Argentina’s Laureano Staropoli (9-4) warred his way into the Welterweight picture with entertaining wins over Hector Aldana and Thiago Alves, only to fall short against division standouts Muslim Salikhov and Tim Means. A subsequent move to Middleweight failed to produce immediate dividends, as he dropped a decision to Georgian bruiser Roman Dolidze earlier this summer.
He’s scored five knockouts as a professional.
Even with his recent struggles, I don’t think Staropoli is a bad fighter, just someone who got pushed too hard, too fast. While I’m still not sold on Middleweight being his ideal division, I do like his chances here; Pickett is notoriously vulnerable to aggressive strikers due to his poor cage awareness, making him an ostensibly easy mark for the all-action Argentinean. It’s not like Pickett’s reach will do him much good, either, as he constantly struggles to keep smaller men at a distance.
It’s not that I don’t like Pickett or that he can’t do some damage when he turns up the heat, but he’s just too fundamentally flawed to beat even a standard-issue slugger like “Pepi.” In the end, Staropoli walks him down and overpowers him inside for 15 minutes.
Prediction: Staropoli via unanimous decision
UFC Vegas 41 will host banger main event and some well-matched, if not particularly star-studded, tussles that make for a solid event overall. Hope you’ll join us for it — see you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 41 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET.
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