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UFC Vegas 26 predictions: ‘Waterson vs Rodriguez’ early ‘Prelims’ undercard preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is bringing more “Prelims” fights to ESPN+/ESPN this weekend (Sat., May 8, 2021) when UFC Vegas 26: “Waterson vs. Rodriguez” returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.’s Patrick Stumberg kicks off the UFC Vegas 26 “Prelims” party with the first installment of a two-part undercard preview series below.

UFC Fight Night 163 mixed martial arts event in Moscow Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

With T.J. Dillashaw out of commission because of a cut (details here), women’s Strawweight contenders Marina Rodriguez and Michelle Waterson take center stage at UFC Vegas 26 this Saturday (May 8, 2021), which will be simulcast on ESPN/ESPN+ from inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. The evening also features a Heavyweight tussle pitting Ben Rothwell against Philipe Lins alongside Amanda Ribas vs. Angela Hill and what could be fireworks between Diego Ferreira and Gregor Gillespie.

UFC Vegas 26 features just five “Prelims” at the moment, which we’ve broken down below. Care for a look?

170 lbs.: Christian Aguilera vs. Carlston Harris

Christian Aguilera (14-7) put consecutive losses to Matt Frincu and David Michaud behind him to win two three straight, including a 59-second knockout of Anthony Ivy in his Octagon debut. His second effort wasn’t quite as successful, as Sean Brady overpowered “The Beast” on the mat en route to a second-round submission.

Ten of his professional wins, including six of his last seven, have come by form of knockout.

Guyana’s Carlston Harris (15-4) — who boasts wins over future UFC competitors Michel Pereira and Wellington Turman — put together a 6-1 run en route to a stint on Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight.” There, he choked out 17-1 Dagestani standout Saygid Izagakhmaev to secure a spot in the Octagon.

He is the taller man by three inches.

“Mocambique” may be fairly one-note with his suffocating grappling, but it’s the right note to play against Aguilera, whose weakness off of his back was on full display in the Brady fight. Aguilera’s considerable advantages in punching technique and power won’t play much of a factor when Harris has the gas tank and persistence to threaten with takedowns from bell to bell.

While Aguilera really only needs one good shot to turn any fight around, Harris is incredibly difficult to get away from once he manages to tie up, and I don’t see Aguilera finding the money shot during his brief opportunities outside the clinch. Harris grinds him out on the fence and the ground for 15 one-sided minutes, potentially wrapping up Aguilera’s neck at some point.

Prediction: Harris via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jun Yong Park

Less than 10 months after handing “Contender Series” alumn William Knight his first career defeat, Tafon Nchukwi (5-0) got his own shot on the program, which he made the most of with a brutal head kick knockout of Al Matavao. Though he was forced to make his first trip to the judges, his subsequent Octagon debut proved successful as well, overpowering Jamie Pickett en route to a unanimous decision win.

His previous four professional wins and all three of his amateur victories came by form of knockout.

South Korean’s Jun Yong Park (12-4) saw a seven-fight win streak come to an end in his Octagon debut, where he gave Anthony Hernandez everything he could handle before succumbing to a second-round anaconda choke. Subsequent efforts proved more successful, wrestling his way to decisions over Marc-Andre Barriault and John Phillips.

“Iron Turtle” gives up two inches of height and four inches of reach to Nchukwi.

Maybe it’s just some lingering resentment towards trainer Lloyd Irvin, but I’m just not super impressed by Nchukwi. While he’s clearly a tank of a man, he’s so damn slow and plodding that any capable striker not intimidated by his power should be able to get the better of him. Park, a highly adept boxer with some strong wrestling to back it up, looks like he fits the bill.

Nchukwi is admittedly still just 26 and very early in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career — monumental improvement between his last fight and now certainly isn’t out of the question. Still, Park’s seemingly got the technical edge and has never been stopped with strikes, so expect him to out-box Nchukwi for a narrow decision win.

Prediction: Park via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Mike Trizano vs. Ludovit Klein

Mike Trizano (8-1) — Stipe Miocic’s first Lightweight pick on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27 — lived up to the requisite expectations by winning both his fights in the house and subsequently defeating Joe Giannetti at the Finale. After narrowly edging out castmate Luis Pena in his second Octagon effort, he dropped to 145 pounds to face Grant Dawson, who choked him out midway through the second round.

This will be his first fight in almost exactly two years.

Ludovit Klein (17-2) put together a seven-fight win streak on the Eurasian circuit before stepping up on short notice to face Shane Young in Sept. 2020. Though he missed weight by four pounds, he managed to stop Young in just 76 seconds for his third consecutive head kick finish.

His 16 professional finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.

Barring some serious improvement on Trizano’s part during his time away, he’s in for a rough evening. Klein was undoubtedly one of the best “New Blood” surprises of 2020, and his speed and stopping power look far more potent than Trizano’s sound-but-basic kickboxing. So long as Klein’s battle with the scale proves more successful than the last one, I expect another highlight-reel finish.

As good as Trizano is (and he’s definitely solid) he seemingly lacks the “X-factor” needed to trip up Klein on the feet and isn’t a sharp enough wrestler to test the Slovakian’s takedown defense. In the end, either a straight left or a left shin upside the dome seals the deal sometime in the first two rounds.

Prediction: Klein via second-round technical knockout

Two more UFC Vegas 26 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, both of them potential slugfests. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 26 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 26: “Waterson vs. Rodriguez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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