The eternally red-hot Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight division offers yet another slugfest this Saturday (Dec. 4, 2021) when Rob Font meets Jose Aldo atop an ESPN-aired card inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, 20 pounds north, Brad Riddell squares off fellow kickboxing ace Rafael Fiziev, while Jimmy Crute takes on Jamahal Hill in a clash of top Light Heavyweight prospects.
Four UFC Vegas 44 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to be examined (check out the first batch here). On we go ...
185 lbs.: Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic
It’s been a rough UFC road for Maki Pitolo (13-8), who earned his way into the world’s largest fight promotion with an impressive body shot finish of Justin Sumter. He currently sits at 1-4 in his last five bouts, most recently tapping to a late anaconda choke from Julian Marquez at UFC 258.
“Coconut Bombz” is the shorter of the two by three inches.
He needed to make his first trip to the judges to do it, but Dusko Todorovic (10-2) secured a UFC contract by beating Teddy Ash on “Contender Series,” then returned to his finishing ways with a ground-and-pound technical knockout of Dequan Townsend in his Octagon debut. He’s lost two fights since to fellow series veterans Punahele Soriano and Gregory Rodrigues, the latter of them in June 2021.
He sports six professional knockout wins and three submissions.
I didn’t expect terribly much out of Todorovic, but I’d be lying if I said Pitolo hadn’t let me down. When he’s firing on all cylinders, he’s a terrifically entertaining and destructive boxer. When he’s not, well, you’ve seen what happens. He didn’t even impress in his one UFC win, as Charles Byrd dominated the first round before imploding in the second.
While Todorovic isn’t anything to write home about, he’s a decent grinder who can keep Pitolo flat against the fence for 15 minutes without too much issue. Pitolo definitely has the tools to batter him into submission, but I’m long past expecting him to actually utilize them.
Prediction: Todorovic via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells
Jakes Matthews’ (17-5) move to Welterweight paid immediate dividends, claiming victory in six of his next seven bouts. Then came the red-hot Sean Brady, who caught “The Celtic Kid” in an arm triangle late in the third round.
He stands two inches taller than Jeremiah Wells (9-2-1) at 5’11,” but gives up three inches of reach.
Nearly two years after choking out Marco Smallman for CFFC’s Welterweight championship, Wells stepped into the Octagon to meet former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” winner Warlley Alves. Wells claimed the first round with solid wrestling and raw aggression, then violently knocked Alves out 30 seconds into the second round for his third straight win.
His seven stoppages are split 4/3 between knockouts and submissions.
Even if Matthews failed to become Australia’s new standard-bearer, he still looks to be a level above wells. He’s unquestionably the more skilled of the two on the feet, where his learned kickboxing out-classes Wells’ full-body swings, and Wells ostensibly lacks the overpowering wrestling that Rocco Martin and the aforementioned Brady used to neutralize Matthews.
Between the technical gap and Wells’ unsustainable pace, he needs an early knockout to win this. Seeing as Matthews has never even been visibly hurt on the feet in the Octagon, that doesn’t seem terribly likely. In short, Matthews sprawls-and-brawls his way to an increasingly one-sided victory.
Prediction: Matthews via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Manel Kape vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Manel Kape (16-6) didn’t exactly hit the ground running in the Octagon, suffering controversial decision losses to Alexandre Pantoja and Matheus Nicolau. The writing seemed to be on the wall when he missed weight in his third bout, but a beautiful flying knee finally got “Prodigio” into UFC’s win column.
All but one of his professioanl victories have come inside the distance, 10 of them by form of knockout.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov’s (14-5) championship run in Fight Nights Global earned him a spot in UFC’s deep end, where he fell to Raulian Paiva and Amir Albazi in successive efforts. His persistence ultimately paid off in July 2021, choking out Jerome Rivera in impressive fashion.
He gives up one inch of height and two inches of reach to Kape.
His Octagon record may not be particularly pretty, but Zhumagulov is more than capable of ruining Kape’s day if “Prodigio” hasn’t fixed the volume issues that have plagued him thus far. “Zhako” is utterly relentless and puts together the sorts of eye-catching flurries that could sway a judge on the fence.
If Kape does have his head on straight, it’s a different story. He’s by far the heavier hitter of the two, is the more diverse striker and has a decent amount of height and reach to work with. Plus, one has to imagine that he’s twice bitten, thrice shy at this point. In the end, quick, long-range combinations should keep him out of Zhumagulov’s reach and carry him to victory.
Prediction: Kape via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Mallory Martin vs. Cheyanne Buys
A 1-2 professional start gave way to five straight wins for Mallory Martin (7-4), among them a “Contender Series” victory over Micol de Segni in 2019. Things haven’t gone quite as smoothly in the Octagon, as she sandwiched a comeback finish of Hannah Cifers between submission losses to Virna Jandiroba and Polyana Viana.
She has knocked out and submitted two professional foes apiece.
Cheyanne Buys (6-2) dominated Hilarie Rose on “Contender Series” to earn herself a UFC contract and her fourth straight win, only for Montserrat Ruiz to halt her momentum in its tracks in her promotional debut. She got back on track in a big way, however, flattening Gloria de Paula with a “Performance of the Night”-winning head kick four months later.
She steps in for the aforementioned Ruiz on around three weeks’ notice.
Buys’ wrestling failed her spectacularly against Ruiz, and while the striking-savvy de Paula had no inclination to test it again, Martin certainly has the skills and drive to do so. That win over Cifers showcased what Martin can do when she’s not pitted against elite ground artists.
That fight also showcased her serious defensive issues, and Buys is well-equipped to exploit them even more than Cifers did. Plus, Buys did well in the grappling on “Contender Series,” so I’m willing to chalk up the Ruiz debacle to “Conejo’s” bizarrely unique approach. So long as her recent run-in with COVID hasn’t sapped her strength, expect Buys to tear apart Martin on the feet for a dominant victory.
Prediction: Buys via first round technical knockout
UFC Vegas 44 features a main- and co-main event you don’t want to miss. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2021: 169-86-2 (2 NC)
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 44 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET.
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