Lethal Heavyweight strikers take center stage this Saturday (Dec. 18, 2021) when rising contender, Chris Daukaus, looks to topple the venerable Derrick Lewis inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. UFC Vegas 45 also features a Welterweight battle pitting Stephen Thompson against Belal Muhammad and what could be Raphael Assuncao’s last chance against Ricky Simon.
We’ve still got four UFC Vegas 45 “Prelims” undercard bouts to examine (check out the first batch here). Shall we?
185 lbs.: Dustin Stoltzfus vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Dustin Stoltzfus (13-3) capped off a 10-fight win streak with a slam finish of Joseph Pyfer on “Contender Series,” earning a UFC contract in the process. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon itself, as he’s dropped consecutive bouts to Kyle Daukaus and Rodolfo Vieira.
Both Anthony Hernandez and Caio Borralho had to withdraw from bouts with Stoltzfus, leaving him to step in when Abusupiyan Magomedov pulled out of his clash with Gerald Meerschaert (33-14).
Despite snapping a two-fight losing streak with a bonus-winning guillotine of Bartosz Fabinski, Meerschaert entered his Aug. 2021 battle with top prospect Makhmud Muradov as a massive underdog. In a vintage performance, “GM3” survived a hairy start to choke out “Mach” in the second round and claim yet another performance bonus.
His 31 professional stoppages include 26 submissions.
Meerschaert’s chin may not be as indestructible as it was before, but the Muradov fight showed that it’s not completely shot just yet. That’s definitely bad news for Stoltzfus, who needs a knockout if he wants to win this. “GM3’s” volume striking and venomous submission game both look like more than Stoltzfus can handle, and they figure to get ever more insurmountable as the rounds progress.
You have to feel for Stoltzfus, who’s faced nothing but dangerous finishers during his brief Octagon tenure. Hopefully, UFC brass find enough mercy in their hearts to give him a more reasonable match up after Meerschaert wears him down for a mid-round finish.
Prediction: Meerschaert via second round submission
135 lbs.: Raoni Barcelos vs. Victor Henry
Raoni Barcelos (16-2) entered UFC as RFA’s Featherweight champion, and he lived up to his credentials by winning his first five in the Octagon. This set up a clash with Timur Valiev, who survived a near-knockout to narrowly edge Barcelos out by majority decision.
He’s knocked out eight professional foes and submitted two others.
Victor Henry (21-5) — an acolyte of the great Josh Barnett — largely made his name with impressive success on the Japanese circuit. Said success includes his current 8-1 run, which most recently saw him return to the States to choke out Albert Morales in an LXF title fight.
“La Mangosta” steps in for Trevin Jones on less than two weeks’ notice.
Even with a relatively recent loss to Denis Lavrentyev marring his record, it’s hard to argue that Henry hasn’t earned his place in the Octagon. That said, he’s screwed here. I don’t like to use the phrase “better everywhere,” but that really seems to be the case; Henry’s been touched up by lesser strikers than Barcelos, taken down by lesser wrestlers, and outmaneuvered by lesser ground artists.
The bigger question for me is whether the 34-year-old Henry will finally suffer his first stoppage loss in 11 years as a professional. Considering how many weapons the Brazilian brings to bear, it would certainly be an achievement in its own right if he managed to last the full 15 minutes. Sadly, I see Barcelos either icing him with a perfectly timed counter or pounding him out from the top.
Prediction: Barcelos via second round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Justin Tafa vs. Harry Hunsucker (7-4)
Australia’s Justin Tafa (4-3) rebounded from a brutal knockout loss in his UFC debut by battering Juan Adams into submission four months later. Then came a controversial decision loss to Carlos Felipe, followed by a “Fight of the Night” war with Jared Vanderaa that saw “The Mountain” out-work Tafa over three rounds.
All four of his professional wins have come by knockout.
Harry Hunsucker (7-4) rode a five-fight, five-finish streak into “Contender Series,” where he touched up Vanderaa in the early going before succumbing to ground-and-pound. Two fights later, he stepped up on short notice to face Tai Tuivasa, who handed Hunsucker the fourth (technical) knockout loss of his professional career just 49 seconds into the first round.
I’m not prepared to write off the 27-year-old Tafa quite yet. He certainly has the physical tools to be a threat, and I had him beating Felipe despite still being a neophyte in the sport. It’s only if he somehow loses to Hunsucker that I’ll cut bait. That’s because “The Hurricane’s” sloppy offense and lack of defense make him the biggest gimme of Tafa’s Octagon tenure. Tafa may not be on the level of fellow Aussie Tuivasa, but he doesn’t have to be to knock Hunsucker senseless in similar fashion.
While Hunsucker deserves props for answering the call against “Bam Bam” and subsequently signing up to face another heavy hitter, all the props in the world can’t make up for a shaky, oft-unprotected chin. Tafa blasts him into oblivion within the first few minutes.
Prediction: Tafa via first round knockout
125 lbs.: Sijara Eubanks vs. Melissa Gatto
After a series of weight cut issues booted her from UFC’s Flyweight division, Sijara Eubanks (7-6) returned to Bantamweight, where she put together a 2-4 run. Her return to 125 pounds in July 2021 proved a triumphant one, pounding out Octagon newcomer Elise Reed for her first professional stoppage since 2016.
She gives up one inch of height and two inches of reach to Melissa Gatto (7-0-2).
Gatto initially intended to make her UFC debut way back in 2019, only for injuries and travel restrictions to scrap four consecutive fights. She made up for lost time in Aug. 2021, however, dominating Victoria Leonardo en route to a second-round injury stoppage.
That win marked her first via (technical) knockout, though she’s scored four submissions as a professional.
There’s only so much you can glean from Eubanks’ win over Reed, a long-time Strawweight and former Atomweight who took the fight on short notice, but at least there weren’t any red flags. Eubanks looked strong and was admirably single-minded in her pursuit of the takedown instead of faffing about on the feet. That mindset figures to serve her well here, as Gatto’s much-improved boxing outclasses “Sarj’s” powerful but rudimentary stand up.
So long as Eubanks has the drive and motor to keep Gatto on the back foot, she shouldn’t have too much trouble dragging her down and dominating from the top while Gatto fruitlessly chases submissions. If she gives ground and lets Gatto control the pace and distance, she’ll get boxed up. The former seems a bit more likely than the latter.
Prediction: Eubanks via unanimous decision
What better way to end this ridiculous year than two gigantic lads beating the tar out of each other? I’m game, at least. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2021: 182-89-2 (2 NC)
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 45 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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