UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, continues its Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) residency this Saturday (March 13, 2021) with another event on the standard ESPN+ airwaves.
UFC Vegas 21’s main event sees Welterweight contender Leon Edwards end his lengthy hiatus against Belal Muhammad, who replaces the COVID-stricken Khamzat Chimaev for his second fight in four weeks. In addition, Misha Cirkunov attempts to finally punch his ticket to Light Heavyweight contention against Ryan Spann, while Philipe Lins faces Ben Rothwell in an effort to finally secure his first UFC victory.
Thanks to some last-minute adjustments, UFC Vegas 21 is sitting on seven “Prelims” undercard matches. Let’s have a look at the first batch below:
145 lbs.: Charles Jourdain vs. Marcelo Rojo
Charles Jourdain (10-3-1) rebounded from a UFC debut loss to Desmond Green with an impressive come-from-behind knockout of Doo Ho Choi that earned him “Fight of the Night.” The former TKO double champ remains winless since then, losing a close split decision to Andre Fili and rebounding from a disastrous start to force a split draw against Josh Culibao.
All of his wins have come inside the distance, seven of them via knockout.
Argentina’s Marcelo Rojo (16-6) has not seen the judges since his fifth professional fight in 2012 and enters the world’s largest fight promotion with wins in eight of his last 10 appearances. He last fought in Nov. 2019, knocking out Victor Hugo Madrigal in 88 seconds.
He steps in for Steve Garcia on short notice after a previous bout with Raoni Barcelos fell through due to COVID-19.
Barcelos vs. Rojo would have been an absolute wipeout in the Brazilian’s favor, as Rojo’s ground game isn’t anywhere near sufficient to deal with Barcelos’ jiu-jitsu onslaught. Jourdain vs. Rojo, on the other hand, is going to be an absolute slugfest. Both men hit profoundly hard, and seeing as neither’s particularly keen on taking it to the ground, they’ll be able to throw their wildest and most destructive techniques with impunity.
Unfortunately for Rojo, he’s still in for a debut loss, as moving up in weight against a hitter as fearsome as Jourdain is a recipe for disaster. Stuck on the wrong side of the size, power and presumably durability differences, expect Rojo to come out guns blazing but ultimately fall short in a firefight.
Prediction: Jourdain via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Jonathan Martinez vs. Davey Grant
Jonathan Martinez (13-3) has quietly put together a 4-1 run since his unsuccessful Octagon debut against Andre Soukhamthath, the only loss a highly questionable split decision against Andre Ewell. His last two wins were his most impressive to date, as he beat down Frankie Saenz and out-dueled the dangerous Thomas Almeida in the span of two months.
His nine professional stoppages include seven by form of knockout.
Former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 finalist, Davey Grant (10-4), has struggled to get his Octagon career going because of constant injuries, fighting just five times in the seven years since his debut loss to Chris Holdsworth. Lately, however, he’s managed to build some momentum with entertaining wins over Grigorii Popov and Martin Day, the latter of which earned him “Performance of the Night.”
He has tapped eight professional opponents overall and knocked out another two.
As much as I appreciate Grant’s newfound willingness to supplement his quality ground game with balls-to-the-wall brawling, I’m not sure it’s terribly sustainable. The man’s still tough as nails at 35, but there’s an abundance of Bantamweights with the firepower to lay down a frightful beating on him. While Martinez may or may not be able to actually put Grant down for good, his recent form suggests bad things for the Brit.
Martinez’s vastly improved takedown defense and advantages in striking technique and raw firepower give him the tools to sprawl-and-brawl Grant into oblivion. That is, of course, assuming he’s fixed the weight issues that made him hit the scale at 140.5 for the Frankie Saenz fight. If he has, “Dragon” batters the ever-durable Grant for a wide decision or late stoppage.
Prediction: Martinez via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Gloria de Paula vs. Jinh Yu Frey
Gloria de Paula (5-2) — girlfriend and training partner of women’s Flyweight contender Mayra Bueno Silva — ended a 14-month layoff by joining “Contender Series” in Nov, 2020. There, she dominated unbeaten judo expert Pauline Macias to earn both a unanimous decision and a UFC contract.
Three of her professional victories have come by form of knockout.
Jinh Yu Frey (9-6) defeated Minna Grusander for the Invicta Atomweight title in 2018 and successfully defended it in a rematch, only to lose it on the scales before a unanimous decision over Ashley Cummings. She’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon, tapping to Kay Hansen in her promotional debut and dropping a decision to Loma Lookboonmee last time out.
She gives up two inches of height and reach to de Paula.
Frey will always be her own worst enemy in the cage, but de Paula’s definitely a close second. The Brazilian is taller, younger, rangier, more powerful, and above all, more active than Frey. Indeed, she landed more significant strikes against Macias than Frey did in her two UFC fights combined. If this stays on the feet, de Paula’s going to bury her in long-range combinations and clinch knees.
If Frey wants to finally enter the UFC win column, she has to either press forward with uncharacteristic volume or try to grind out de Paula from the top. She’s too set in her ways to do the former and de Paula’s rapidly improving grappling position makes the latter deeply unlikely. In short, de Paula starts her Octagon career off right with a dominant striking performance.
Prediction: de Paula via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Matthew Semelsberger vs. Jason Witt
Matthew Semelsberger (7-2) put together a three-fight win streak to set up a late-notice UFC debut against fellow debutant Carlton Minus. Aggression and volume carried Semelsberger to a unanimous decision win in their Aug. 2020 meeting.
He’ll have three inches of height and five inches of reach on Jason Witt (18-6).
“The Vanilla Gorilla” had won four straight when he stepped into the Octagon against Takashi Sato in June 2020, though the momentum didn’t save him from a 48-second stoppage defeat. He did quite a bit better in his sophomore effort, dominating an overweight Cole Williams before submitting him in the second.
His professional finishes are split 8:3 between submissions and knockouts.
This fight entirely comes down to Semelsberger’s ability to keep it standing. He’s the more dangerous striker by a considerable margin, but while he takedown defense is generally solid, his nonstop aggression can leave him open to well-timed shots. Witt showed in his last fight that he is both perfectly happy to impose his wrestling if given the opportunity and capable of doing real damage if he ends up on top.
Still, it’s hard to pick someone with four (technical) knockout losses against someone with the sort of power and output that Semelsberger brings to the table. In the end, “Semi the Jedi” survives a few rough ground exchanges to breakdown Witt for the finish.
Prediction: Semelsberger via second-round technical knockout
Three more UFC Vegas 21 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a potential Middleweight banger between Eryk Anders and Darren Stewart. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 21 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 21: “Edwards vs. Muhammad” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.