Though COVID-19 cost them their first opportunity to trade leather, Heavyweight finishers Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis will get a do-over this Saturday (Feb. 20, 2021) when they headline the promotion’s latest show inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Down at 135 pounds, Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kunitskaya look to make it two straight wins at each others’ expense, while Heavyweight stalwart Aleksei Oleinik meets rising puncher Chris Daukaus in a crossroads match.
Four more UFC Vegas 19 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so there’s no time to waste ...
185 lbs.: Phil Hawes vs. Nassourdine Imavov
After several early-career struggles, including a knockout loss to Julian Marquez on “Contender Series,” Phil Hawes (9-2) finally punched his ticket to the Octagon with a 78-second wipeout of Khazhimurat Bestaev. His debut proved even more dominant, flattening Aussie prospect Jacob Malkoun in just 18 seconds.
All of the professional wins for “Megatron” have come inside the distance, seven of them by form of knockout.
A knockout of UFC veteran Jonathan Meunier sent Nassourdine Imavov (9-2) to “Contender Series,” but when that fell through, he instead signed on to debut in UFC against Jordan Williams in Oct. 2020. Despite Williams’ persistence, Imavov turned in a dominant striking performance to secure his sixth consecutive victory.
He’ll have two inches of height and five inches of reach on Hawes.
Imavov seriously impressed me against Williams, whom I’d tabbed as a potential headache because of his incredible resilience and relentless approach. Even acknowledging that I underestimated him, however, he looks like he’s in for some trouble against Hawes. Imavov can’t slow things down with takedown attempts when “Megatron” is the better wrestler and his defensive lapses looked poised to sink him against a counter-puncher of this caliber.
If Hawes is what he’s supposed to be, he should dispose of Imavov without too much hassle. Though Imavov’s length and scrambling skills could give Hawes issues if some of the latter’s bad habits crop up, expect Hawes to land a vicious counter right for another early finish.
Prediction: Hawes via first-round knockout
145 lbs.: Jared Gordon vs. Danny Chavez
Jared Gordon (16-4) stormed out of the UFC gate with dominant wins over Michel Quinones and Hacran Dias, only to suffer knockout losses in three of his next four fights. “Flash” fought just once in 2020, returning to Featherweight to dismantle former Cage Warriors champ Chris Fishgold and claim a unanimous decision.
Six of his eight stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
After suffering two straight losses in 2016 and missing all of 2017, Danny Chavez (11-3) rattled off three consecutive first-round knockouts, setting up an Aug. 2020 Octagon debut against T.J. Brown. There, “The Colombian Warrior” used power kicks and strong wrestling to emerge victorious.
He gives up an inch of height and reach to Gordon.
Chavez was one of last year’s bigger surprises for me — I never would have expected a guy with a weak strength of schedule and three knockouts in 10 wins to decisively defeat a well-rounded veteran like Brown. Even considering how good Gordon looked his last time out, I favor him to do the same here, as Gordon seems to lack the durability necessary to properly overwhelm someone who refuses to give ground.
Gordon’s best chance is to try and drag Chavez into deep waters, where the latter had some issues against a hobbled Brown. Between Chavez’s crushing low kicks blunting Gordon’s offense and his wrestling seemingly being sufficient to keep it on the feet, however, “Flash” will have all sorts of issues actually wearing him down without getting battered in the process. In the end, Chavez steadily chips away at Gordon’s mobility until he holds still long enough to get clipped.
Prediction: Chavez via second-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Drakkar Klose vs. Luis Pena
Drakkar Klose (11-2-1) battled his way to a 5-1 Octagon start, notching upset decisions over Marc Diakiese and Lando Vannata, before squaring off with fellow rising contender Beneil Dariush at UFC 248. The pair wound up putting on an absolute firefight that saw Klose badly hurt Dariush before succumbing to the Iranian’s vicious left hand early in the second.
He gives up a half-foot of height and five inches of reach to “Violent Bob Ross.”
Though he bowed out early due to injury, Luis Pena (8-3) emerged as one of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27’s most notable figures and started his Octagon career right with a guillotine finish of Richie Smullen. He has yet to find consistent success in UFC, however, subsequently going 3-3 and tapping to a Khama Worthy guillotine in June 2020.
He steps in for Jai Herbert on less than two weeks’ notice.
I actually really liked the original Klose vs. Herbert match up, as “The Black Country Banger,” a rangy and savvy striker, had the tools to potentially exploit Klose’s tendency to abandon technical striking in favor of swinging big. Pena is going to have a much, much more difficult time of it — he has yet to learn to properly utilize his length in the striking. And while he’s exponentially more dangerous than Herbert on the ground, he lacks the takedown prowess to consistently put Klose on his back.
Pena’s best bet is to work in the clinch and try to take Klose’s back standing, because otherwise, Klose is going to pulverize his lead leg and beat the snot of out him in the pocket once his mobility’s gone. The latter seems a lot more likely than the former, so let’s go with that.
Prediction: Klose via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Eddie Wineland vs. John Castaneda
Eddie Wineland(24-14-1) — reeling from losses in four of his previous six appearances — came up huge with his back against the wall by knocking out Grigorii Popov in 2019. His next assignment pitted him against Sean O’Malley, who leveled him in less than two minutes to earn “Performance of the Night” at UFC 250.
All but one of his victories in the last decade have come by knockout.
John Castaneda (17-5) ended a 15-month layoff in July 2020, stepping in for Umar Nurmagomedov against Nathaniel Wood on short notice. “Sexi Mexi” gave a strong effort, but ultimately fell short against “The Prospect,” losing a clear unanimous decision on “Fight Island.”
He’ll enjoy a slight one-inch reach advantage.
This fight boils down to how much Wineland still has left in the tank. His pressure, takedown defense and crushing right hand look like perfect weapons against Castaneda, who usually struggles off the back foot and found himself out-worked by Wood last time out. The question, then, is whether Wineland can still execute after so many wars and on the heels of a crushing knockout loss.
I may or may not be blinded by nostalgia, but I do still favor Wineland to win a striking battle against an opponent of this caliber, at least if he can prevent Castaneda from setting the pace. In short, he narrowly out-duels Castaneda on the feet, landing the more telling blows to scrape out an entertaining decision.
Prediction: Wineland via split decision
UFC Vegas 19 is not the most stacked card in the world, but at least it’s not a $70 pay-per-view (PPV). See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 19 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
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