This weekend (Sat., Feb. 6, 2021), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will return to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a trio of events in Abu Dhabi. Though subject to extreme change, the card as it stands is a lot of fun: Alistair Overeem will look to continue his unlikely final charge toward the Heavyweight crown opposite Alexander Volkov, and Frankie Edgar will attempt a similar veteran vs. (relative) young gun victory over Cory Sandhagen. Even more fortunate, the rest of the main card is compelling, filled with talented veterans and prospects.
Let’s take a closer look at some main card fights:
Women’s Bantamweight: Marion Reneau vs. Macy Chiasson
Best Win for Reneau? Jessica Andrade For Chiasson? Pannie Kianzad
Current Streak: Reneau has lost three straight, whereas Chiasson returned to the win column last time out.
X-Factor: Is “Belizean Bruiser” close to retirement at 43 years of age?
How these two match up: Veteran vs. prospect matchmaking at 135 pounds.
Reneau has been locked in the cage with many of the best female Bantamweights to ever strap on UFC gloves, and despite my retirement speculation above, she appears athletic as ever despite the recent losses. She’s a heavy-handed boxer with strong jiu-jitsu, though her historic issue lies in forcing those advantages.
Chiasson is a former Featherweight and considerable physical force at 135 pounds. She has the power in her hands and raw aggression to simply blitz opponents when they cannot stand up to her strength, but she’s also demonstrated the technique to win the full 15 minutes on the feet and mat.
This is likely to be a close fight. If Reneau could be trusted to pursue takedowns and actively implement her jiu-jitsu advantage, that close fight might even favor her. However, between the two, Chiasson better understands her own fighting style, even with half as many pro fights.
Chiasson likes to bully opponents. She muscles them around in the clinch, scores takedowns when they’re easily available, and generally just plays a physical game. Given Reneau’s largely reactive approach to fighting, it seems unlikely that her counter punches are enough to scare off the larger woman, and Chiasson’s clinch control time could prove valuable in deciding the judges’ scorecards as well.
Prediction: Chiasson via decision
Flyweight: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Manel Kape
Best Win for Pantoja? Brandon Moreno For Kape? Kai Asakura
Current Streak: Pantoja lost his most recent bout, while Kape has won three straight.
X-Factor: Potential UFC jitters for Kape.
How these two match up: This might end up the best fight on the card.
Pantoja is one of the awesome, high-level jiu-jitsu black belts who is equally likely to end up in a “Fight of the Night”-type brawl as he is chase the submission. His two most recent victories actually come via knockout, but Pantoja can really do it all.
It’s hard to watch Kape’s RIZIN fights and not look forward to his UFC career. The 27-year-old “Prodigio” is an excellent athlete who is comfortable everywhere, but he largely prefers to time his opponent with power punches.
All of the former RIZIN champion’s victories in the promotion came via stoppage.
There is a loss on Kape’s record that’s worrying: Ulka Sasaki. The Japanese grappler is certainly talented, but considering Pantoja strangled him inside a round, it’s hard not to be at least a bit concerned about the potential for Pantoja to ground Kape.
Fortunately, some time has passed since that defeat, and Kape has only grown stronger in the interim. As it is, Kape’s speed and counters should prove an excellent antidote to Pantoja’s aggression and combinations, and without Sasaki’s lanky build, Pantoja may have more difficult baiting his foe into takedowns.
There will be some exciting moments for each man, but Kape lands the more powerful shots en route to a decision nod.
Prediction: Kape via decision
Bantamweight: Cody Stamann vs. Askar Askar
Best Win for Stamann? Bryan Caraway For Askar? Kevin Wirth
Current Streak: Stamann’s win streak came to an end last time out, whereas Askar debuts on short-notice following a single win
X-Factor: It’s a major step up in competition for the newcomer
How these two match up: An established contender faces off with a highly talented prospect.
As is demanded of elite Bantamweights, Stamann can do it all. I don’t know if he actually has a Karate background of some kind or just fights like it, but Stamann manages distance nicely with side kicks and shifting combinations. He also tends to time his powerful double leg shot very well, which makes for a very effective controlling style.
Gone are the days when UFC newcomers have gigantic weaknesses or lapses. Askar Askar — not to be confused with UFC Flyweight Askar Askarov — brings an excellent 11-1 record to the cage with him, and though his general preference involves takedowns and suffocating top control, the Palestinian born athlete can strike too.
Stamann is one hell of a debut opponent. Askar is talented, but Stamann really can handle himself in all areas, and he’s such a strong wrestler that it’s hard to see “Ak-47” being able to impose a grappling-heavy game plan. Between the two, it’s more likely that Stamann is the one scoring takedowns, and even if he doesn’t, Stamann is simply the smoother, craftier man at range.
Askar is here to stay, but his first UFC bout is unlikely to go well.
Prediction: Stamann via decision
Lightweight: Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Beneil Dariush
Best Win for Ferreira? Rustam Khabilov For Dariush? Michael Johnson
Current Streak: Ferreira has won six straight bouts, while Dariush has won five in a row!
X-Factor: Who improved more since their 2014 meeting?
How these two match up: Man oh man, the Lightweight division is awesome.
The first time these two met, neither man was particularly refined on the feet. Instead, the two jiu-jitsu aces battled on the mat, where Dariush’s wrestling and top control proved sufficient in smothering the Brazilian for a decision nod.
Seven years later, Ferreira has become one of the division’s better pressure fighters. He marches opponents down with combinations and uses that cage positioning to set up takedowns, at which point his ever-excellent grappling game comes into play.
Meanwhile, Dariush’s kickboxing has come a tremendously long way under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro and Kings MMA. Everything that comes from the Southpaw’s left side packs major power: round kicks to all targets, knees up the middle, and overhands, all capable of ending the night in an instant.
Though ranked as No. 10 and No. 13, respectively, this is one of those crazy Lightweight bouts where either man could give any top fiver trouble.
So, enough singing praises, who wins? It is statistically a terrible move to pick the older man in a rematch that he lost opposite a younger fighter, yet I do favor Ferreira. Dariush has thrived in chaos during his recent run, but it’s a risky style of fighting, Ferreira, alternatively, appears completely dialed into what makes a fighter consistently successful, and his grinding style may trouble Dariush’s historically average gas tank.
Prediction: Carlos Diego Ferreira via decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 18 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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 18: “Overeem vs. Volkov” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.