The big lads take center stage once again this Saturday (June 5, 2021) when heavy hitters Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Augusto Sakai collide inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Earlier in the evening, Walt Harris squares off with Marcin Tybura, Roman Dolidze locks horns with Laureano Staropoli in a Middleweight slugfest, and Santiago Ponzinibbio looks to get back on track against unbeaten puncher Miguel Baeza.
Eight “Prelims” undercard bouts set the stage for UFC Vegas 28 on ESPN+, so let’s have a look at the first four below:
125 lbs.: Manon Fiorot vs. Maryna Moroz
The unsuccessful professional debut for Manon Fiorot (6-1) gave way to title runs in both EFC and UAE Warriors, which ultimately set up a late-notice UFC debut in Jan. 2021. There, “The Beast” beat down “Contender Series” graduate Victoria Leonardo for her fourth consecutive stoppage win.
She has finished six professional opponents inside the distance (all via strikes).
A 3-1 Octagon start — anchored by a massive upset of Joanne Calderwood in her debut — put Ukraine’s Maryna Moroz (10-3) in Strawweight contention, where she fell short against division stalwarts Carla Esparza and Angela Hill. Her subsequent move to Flyweight paid dividends, resulting in decision victories over Sabina Mazo and Mayra Bueno Silva.
“Iron Lady” will have two inches of reach on Fiorot.
Moroz’s high-volume boxing may be a delight to watch, but she’s unquestionably up against it here. Fiorot has considerable edges in power and defense that Moroz will struggle to overcome, especially since Fiorot’s range management and kicking attack serve as serious foils for the “Iron Lady’s” preferred long-range attack.
Even if Moroz does manage to build a head of steam, Fiorot has a strong clinch and a decent ground game to fall back on, sorely limiting Moroz’s avenues of victory. Moroz is durable enough to end Fiorot’s knockout streak, but that just means she’ll suffer a full 15 minutes of mauling.
Prediction: Fiorot via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Montana De La Rosa vs. Ariane Lipski
Though her The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 run ended early at the hands of eventual winner Nicco Montano, Montana De La Rosa (11-6-1) fought her way into UFC contention with three consecutive victories. She’s 1-2-1 since, most recently gritting her way through a brutal draw with Mayra Bueno Silva in Feb. 2021.
Nine of her professional victories have come by submission.
Though she started her UFC career 0-2, Ariane Lipski (13-6) managed to even up her Octagon record with a decision over Isabela de Padua and gruesome kneebar finish of Luana Carolina. She couldn’t keep the momentum up, however, suffering her fist stoppage loss since 2014 at the hands of Antonina Shevchenko in Nov. 2020.
“The Violence Queen” gives up one inch of height and reach to De La Rosa.
I’ve long yammered about how De La Rosa’s underwhelming wrestling makes her top-notch ground game a non-factor against strong opposition, but you don’t need to be a Division 1 All-American to take Lipski to the mat. The Brazilian’s takedown defense has been more or less nonexistent throughout her tenure in the Octagon, and considering the sort of damage and adversity De La Rosa fought through in recent efforts, Lipski can’t rely on bludgeoning her into submission before De La Rosa can get her grappling going.
As a long-time fan of Lipski’s brutal striking, I’d love nothing more than to see her finally get her act together and develop a proper sprawl. Alas, I’ve been burned too many times by this point. In the end, De La Rosa spams takedowns and dominates on the mat.
Prediction: De La Rosa via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Sean Woodson vs. Youssef Zalal
Despite entering his “Contender Series” bout with Terrance McKinney as more than a +200 underdog, Sean Woodson (7-1) punched his ticket to UFC with a second-round flying knee. After cruising past Kyle Bochniak in his promotional debt, “The Sniper” took on Julian Erosa, who survived early adversity to catch Woodson in a d’arce choke midway through the third.
He stands four inches taller than “The Moroccan Devil” and will enjoy a four-inch reach advantage.
Youssef Zalal (10-4) emerged as one of 2020’s unexpected highlights by dispatching three opponents in the span of six months. Top prospect Ilia Topuria kept him from going 4-0, and Seung Woo Choi subsequently handed Zalal a unanimous decision loss to start his 2021 campaign.
He’s scored five submission finishes as a professional.
While there’s no shame in losing to a monster like Topuria, Zalal seriously underwhelmed against Choi, struggling to get his wrestling going and failing to really commit to his striking when the takedowns proved elusive. That’s not a good sign against the boxing-savvy Woodson, who’s proven remarkably difficult to take and hold down despite his lanky frame. Combine that with Woodson’s significant edge in volume and you’ve got a recipe for another frustrating defeat.
That said, Erosa did manage to wear down Woodson through sheer persistence and ultimately bring his ground game to bear, but Zalal’s usually happy to let opponents take the lead instead of pressing the issue. Expect that to come back to bite him once again as Woodson racks up the combinations for a comfortable win.
Prediction: Woodson via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Claudio Puelles vs. Jordan Leavitt
Peru’s Claudio Puelles (9-2) looked doomed to a winless (0-2) Octagon start after two brutal rounds against Felipe Silva, only for him to turn the tables with a bonus-winning kneebar midway through the third. Then came a 16-month layoff, which he ended in Sept. 2019 with a decision over Marcos Mariano.
He fights for the first time in more than 20 months.
Less than three weeks after making a successful LFA debut, Jordan Leavitt (8-0) made short work of Luke Flores on “Contender Series” to earn himself a UFC contract. “The Monkey King” proved even more efficient in his UFC debut, where he slammed Matt Wiman unconscious in just 22 seconds.
That win marked his first (technical) knockout win and sixth finish overall.
Not to denigrate Puelles’ accomplishments, but Felipe Silva beat him half to death before an all-time choke and Marcos Mariano was, without exaggeration, one of the worst UFC Lightweights of the modern era. I’ll be very surprised if Leavitt — who boasts a notable wrestling advantage and more than enough jiu-jitsu chops to avoid Silva’s mistakes — doesn’t dominate from bell to bell.
Frankly, my biggest question is whether Puelles can last the distance, especially considering the long layoff. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he manages to just survive 15 minutes of one-sided grappling.
Prediction: Leavitt via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Vegas 28 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a top Featherweight prospect’s Octagon debut and what could be a Welterweight banger between Francisco Trinaldo and Muslim Salikhov. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 28 fight card tonight right here, 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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