After injuries dashed his Flyweight title ambitions, former Bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt, returns to his usual stomping grounds this Saturday (May 22, 2021) to face fellow knockout artist Rob Font inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Earlier in the evening, surging Strawweight contender Yan Xiaonan throws down with former champion Carla Esparza and heavy-hitting Justin Tafa looks to bounce back from a controversial defeat against “Contender Series” graduate Jared Vanderaa.
UFC Vegas 27 boasts seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around; therefore, let’s have a gander at the first batch:
145 lbs.: Josh Culibao vs. Sha Yilan
Josh Culibao (8-1-1) amassed a perfect record (8-0) in his native Australia en route to UFC, earning several regional title along the way. He’s still chasing his first Octagon victory, however, suffering a technical knockout loss to Jalin Turner and fighting Charles Jourdain to a draw.
He’ll have two inches of height and reach on “Wolverine.”
Sha Yilan (19-6) — who previously fought 10 times in 2017 alone — went 5-1 in the cage during his 2020 campaign. That run saw him avenge a previous defeat and extend his overall streak to 7-1.
He has knocked out nine professional foes and submitted another five.
Losing to a colossal Lightweight like Turner on short notice is definitely forgivable, but while Charles Jourdain is a terrifying man, Culibao’s sloppiness and cardio issues are cause for concern, especially since Culibao’s successfully gone to the championship rounds three times in his career. Still, this looks like a much more forgiving matchup. Though a fearsome wrestler, Yilan is limited on the feet and has yet to face top-notch opposition; the Culibao who drew with Jourdain likely wins, while a return to his pre-UFC form would almost certainly guarantee victory.
That’s not to say that Sha can’t surprise people, especially if his relentless takedowns put a dent in Culibao’s gas tank. Perhaps this is just me trying to save face after the effusive praise I lavished on Culibao in my “New Blood” article, but I like him to sprawl-and-brawl to a comfortable decision.
Prediction: Culibao via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Yancy Medeiros vs. Damir Hadzovic
A move from Lightweight to Welterweight paid immediate dividends for Yancy Medeiros (15-7), who scored three consecutive finishes and a “Fight of the Night” bonus for his war with Alex Oliveira. He’s since struggled to recapture that form, dropping three straight to Donald Cerrone, Gregor Gillespie and Lando Vannata.
His 12 professional finishes include eight by form of knockout.
Damir Hadzovic (13-6) put a UFC debut loss to Mairbek Taisumov behind him to win three of his next four, including a bonus-winning comeback knockout of Marcin Held. Later efforts proved less successful, as “The Bosnian Bomber” dropped a decision to Christos Giagos before tapping to a rear-naked choke from Renato Moicano.
He gives up nearly a half-foot of reach to Medeiros.
I’ve been hard on Medeiros in the past, but it’s worth remembering that he’s only lost to very capable fighters in the Octagon; indeed, he’s still got power and remains tough as nails. Hadzovic doesn’t figure to test his wrestling the way Gillespie did and lacks the technical flair that Cerrone and Vannata used to overwhelm the Hawaiian. He’ll give Medeiros a straight fire fight, which Medeiros presumably still has the tools to win.
Even if Medeiros never panned out, he’s at least capable of dealing with a mid-tier bruiser like Hadzovic. Expect him to overwhelm the Bosnian down the stretch for either a late finish or unanimous decision.
Prediction: Medeiros via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Rafael Alves vs. Damir Ismagulov
Rafael Alves (19-9) entered “Contender Series” with the Interim Titan FC Lightweight title around his waist and left with a UFC contract after tapping Alejandro Flores with a guillotine choke. He was slated to debut in February, only to miss weight by 11 POUNDS and get yanked from the fight.
His 14 finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Damir Ismagulov (22-1) — who has won 17 straight since his lone career defeat — made two successful defense of the M-1 Lightweight title before jumping ship to UFC in 2018. He’s presently 3-0 in the Octagon, including well-aged wins over Joel Alvarez and Thiago Moises.
He fights for the first time in nearly 21 months.
I genuinely consider Ismagulov one of the Lightweight division’s dark horses — he thoroughly shut down two extremely dangerous grapplers in Alvarez and Moises and isn’t too shabby on the feet, either. Alves, though a physical monster, doesn’t figure to derail him. Ismagulov is unquestionably the more technically sound of the two in most areas and is savvy enough to avoid Alves’ explosive bursts of offense.
Short of a head kick out of nowhere, Alves simply doesn’t have the means to overcome Ismagulov’s patience, wrestling skills and stout fundamentals. In the end, Ismagulov grinds him out on the feet and the mat for a wide decision.
Prediction: Ismagulov via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Vegas 27 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the long-awaited Ottagon debut of Heavyweight veteran Chris “Beast Boy” Barnett. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 27 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
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