After clawing their way back into title contention, Middleweight finishers Uriah Hall and Sean Strickland attempt to take the next step this Saturday (July 31, 2021) when they headline the latest event inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. UFC Vegas 33 was supposed to see Chris Daukaus trade hands with fellow Heavyweight striker Shamil Abdurakhimov; however, the big boy bout was scratched at the last minute (details here). As a result, Niklas Stolze — looking to secure his first UFC victory — takes on highly-touted Mounir Lazzez in a re-worked Welterweight co-main event.
Four “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to be examined (check out the first batch here), so let’s take care of that ...
135 lbs.: Nicco Montano vs. Wu Yanan
An impressive underdog run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 culminated in a UFC debut against veteran Roxanne Modafferi, whom Nicco Montano (4-3) out-classed over five rounds to become UFC’s inaugural Flyweight champion. She’s managed just one appearance since, a unanimous decision loss to Julianna Pena in Sacramento.
This marks her first fight in two years and her second since 2017.
Almost exactly one year after her UFC debut loss to Gina Mazany, Wu Yanan (11-4) spoiled Lauren Mueller’s inaugural Octagon appearance with a nasty armbar off of her back. “Mulan” has yet to taste victory since, dropping decisions to Mizuki Inoue and Joselyne Edwards.
This match up is essentially a referendum on what Montano’s got left in the tank. If she can reclaim the form that saw her out-wrestle Pena in the early going, that’s more than sufficient to win the day against Wu, who found herself in several bad spots on the ground against a striking specialist in Edwards. That’s far from a given, of course. That’s because Montano has dealt with injuries, COVID and a whole heap of rust, meaning Wu’s raw aggression could pay dividends if Montano can’t handle that sort of pace anymore.
Even taking that into consideration, Montano’s just too good a grappler for me to pick the consistently underwhelming Wu. So long as her myriad maladies haven’t totally wrecked her abilities, Montano leans on her wrestling to re-enter the win column.
Prediction: Montano via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Collin Anglin vs. Melsik Baghdasaryan
Unbeaten since his second professional bout, Collin Anglin (8-1) entered “Contender Series” on the heels of four consecutive knockout victories. Once there, he defied greater than +250 odds to break down ace striker Muhammadjon Naimov and punch his ticket to UFC.
He’ll enjoy a one-inch height advantage over “The Gun.”
After cutting his teeth on the Eastern kickboxing scene and dabbling in professional boxing, Melsik Baghdasaryan (5-1) returned to mixed martial arts (MMA) with four straight first-round knockouts. He couldn’t make it five against Dennis Buzukja on “Contender Series,” but did manage to walk away with a contract after an entertaining decision win.
Those four knockouts took him a combined 62 seconds.
It’s not often you see a 50/50 fight where one of the participants will almost assuredly spend the first round getting the beating of a lifetime. Baghdasaryan boasts serious power and is skilled enough on the feet to nearly defeat K-1 champ Yuta Kubo, which bodes ill for a striker as defensively porous as Anglin. That said, Anglin did manage to weather everything Naimov hit him with and take over late, while Baghdasaryan visibly slowed after battering Buzukja early. There’s a very real possibility of Anglin — with all due respect to his legitimate skills — Homer Simpson-ing his way to victory.
With that learning experience against Buzukja behind him, though, I like Baghdasaryan to pace himself better and just steadily out-class Anglin instead of trying to take his head off from the get-go. Baghdasaryan also has better defensive grappling than Naimov, so I don’t see Anglin grinding out “The Gun” unless Baghdasaryan totally empties his gas tank. In the end, Baghdasaryan sprawls-and-brawls his way to a dominant decision.
Prediction: Baghdasaryan via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Chris Gruetzemacher vs. Rafa Garcia
Reeling from consecutive submission losses to Chas Skelly and Davi Ramos, Chris Gruetzemacher (14-4) evened up his UFC record with a bonus-winning beating of Joe Lauzon. Injury then kept him out of action for 30 months, after which he got clobbered by Alexander Hernandez upon his return.
“Gritz” stands one inch taller than Rafa Garcia (12-1) at 5’8.”
Mexicali’s “Gifted” cut his teeth under the Combate banner, winning eight fights and claiming the Lightweight title in the process. His efforts ultimately led to a late-notice UFC debut against Nasrat Haqparast, who outstruck Garcia over three rounds to claim a unanimous decision.
He has tapped seven professional foes and knocked out one other.
Gruetzemacher had better hope that the Hernandez debacle was a product of ring rust, because that was more than a little concerning. He’s never been what you’d call a defensive wizard, but “The Great” hit him with practically every punch he threw. While Garcia’s hands aren’t quite as quick or heavy as Hernandez’s, he’s more than capable of demolishing a stationary target.
That said, Garcia has the goods to beat even a fully functional Gruetzemacher. He’s the better overall striker and has plenty of experience in grueling slogs, making it sorely unlikely that Gruetzemacher can break him the way he did Lauzon. Unless Gruetzemacher can spend minutes at a time on top, Garcia keeps it on the feet and boxes him up for a comfortable win.
Prediction: Garcia via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Danny Chavez vs. Kai Kamaka III
Just one month after ending a nearly two-year layoff, Danny Chavez (11-4) stepped up on short notice to face “Contender Series” graduate T.J. Brown, tearing up “Downtown’s” lead leg en route to a unanimous decision victory. He couldn’t do the same against Jared Gordon, who used pressure and top control to neutralize “The Colombian Warrior.”
He’s ended three professional fights via knockout.
Kai Kamaka III (8-4) lived up to the hype in his last-minute UFC debut, which saw him outlast Tony Kelley over three rounds to claim Fight of the night. Subsequent efforts proved less successful, as he tapped to a Jonathan Pearce RNC and lost a controversial decision to T.J. Brown.
He gives up three inches of height and two inches of reach to Chavez.
Odds-wise, this is the closest fight on the card, and I’m inclined to agree with the bookies’ assessment. This is a flat-out dead heat between two men with the tools to exploit the other’s lingering weaknesses. Chavez’s straight punches and raw power are a real problem for Kamaka’s stationary chin, while Kamaka offers the heavy leg kicks and aggressive wrestling that Gordon used to great effect.
Though he let me down against Pearce, I’ve got Kamaka by a hair. Chavez is too willing to cede ground and too ineffective off of his back for my linking, and Kamaka’s at least got the durability to survive the punches his leaky defense lets through. In the end, Kamaka grits out a razor-thin decision on the strength of his top control.
Prediction: Kamaka via split decision
UFC Vegas 33 is an ugly hodgepodge of a card, but at least the main event is solid. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 33 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.
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