After a star-studded pay-per-view (PPV), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to standard ESPN+ this Saturday (March 6, 2021) with another show inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Leading the way is Welterweight contender Leon Edwards, who takes on late-notice opponent Belal Muhammad in his first fight since July 2019. Earlier in the evening, Ryan Spann tries to bounce back from a rough loss against the resurgent Misha Cirkunov, while Dan Ige looks to do the same against Gavin Tucker.
We’ve got three more UFC Vegas 21 “Prelims” bouts to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s not waste anymore time ...
185 lbs.: Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart
Eryk Anders (13-5) followed up his successful LFA title run with wins in three of his first four Octagon appearances, only to lose his next three in quick succession. Victories over Vinicius Moreira and Gerald Meerschaert put him back on track, though he failed to get past Krzysztof Jotko in his most recent effort.
He’ll have one inch of height and reach on “The Dentist”
Darren Stewart (12-6) stumbled his way to an 0-3 (1 NC) UFC start, though he did walk away with “Fight of the Night” for his terrific war with Julian Marquez. He’s gone on to win five of his next eight, earning another two post-fight bonuses along the way.
Eight of his professional victories have come inside the distance, seven by form of knockout.
Now here’s a fascinating crossroads tussle. Anders went from profoundly entertaining and promising to consistently underwhelming, while Stewart went from genuinely hapless to utterly devastating. Anders likely has the tools to win this, but Stewart’s far more likely to fully unleash his own arsenal, which has me leaning the Brit’s way.
Stewart just powers through adversity far better than Anders does, and Anders’ lack of a great takedown game should give Stewart free reign to knuckle down and overpower him. Whether in a slugfest or a slow-paced slog, Stewart lands more and heavier blows to seal the win.
Prediction: Stewart via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Cortney Casey vs. J.J. Aldrich
Following a length run at 115 pounds, Cortney Casey (9-8) announced her arrival in the Featherweight division by tapping Mara Romero Borella with a bonus-winning armbar. One month later, she stepped up on short notice against Gillian Robertson, who caught her in a rear-naked choke late in the third round.
Four of her seven stoppage wins have come by form of knockout.
Though her efforts on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23 failed to result in an immediate Octagon invite, J.J. Aldrich (8-4) went on to win four of her next five following an unsuccessful debut against Juliana Lima. Then came young gun Sabina Mazo, who defeated her by narrow split decision in Jan. 2020.
Though the shorter of the two by two inches, she’ll enjoy a slight reach advantage.
For a match up between striking specialists with zero UFC knockouts between them, this could end up being a lot of fun. Aldrich clearly has the edge in speed and crispness, while Casey’s physicality and relentlessness allow her to trade hands with almost anyone in the division. It will come down to whether Aldrich’s mobile sharp-shooting pleases the judges more than Casey’s flurries and forward movement.
Casey once went to three consecutive split decisions, so there’s no telling what will actually happen after the final bell rings, but between the aforementioned speed advantage and Casey’s lack of upper-body movement, Aldrich will end up landing the cleaner shots. And I say that sways at least two judges.
Prediction: Aldrich via split decision
135 lbs.: Rani Yahya vs. Ray Rodriguez
Now in his nineteenth year as a professional, Rani Yahya (26-10-1) makes the walk this weekend in the midst of a 7-2-1 run dating back to 2014. He is winless since 2018, however, dropping a decision to Ricky Simon and drawing with Enrique Barzola in his most recent effort.
He has dispatched 20 professional opponents via submission.
Ray Rodriguez (16-7) got his first crack at UFC stardom on “Contender Series,” where he was summarily mauled by Tony Gravely. One year later, he stepped up on short notice to face Brian Kelleher in the Octagon, tapping to a guillotine 39 seconds into the first round.
He’ll enjoy a three-inch reach advantage.
Like Demian Maia, Yahya has his mixed martial arts (MMA) game down to a science: he’ll come out guns blazing in pursuit of takedowns, which he has enough energy to properly attempt for about eight minutes. His gameplan is to either score an early submission, making up for his relative lack of physicality through world-class technique and sheer effort, or if that fails, last just long enough to win the second round and avoid losing the third 10-8.
Plan A should be plenty against Rodriguez, whose submission defense has consistently failed him throughout his career and whose takedown defense looks similarly porous. Yahya can only threaten with that ground game for so long, but with such a considerable gap in grappling prowess, he’ll get the finish well before his gas tank empties.
Prediction: Yahya via first-round submission
UFC Vegas 21 features a solid main event and several other quality contender clashes make for a nice evening of fights. See you Saturday, 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.