After falling short against former Middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker, brick-fisted Jared Cannonier will look to re-establish his place in the 185-pound hierarchy against the always-dangerous Kelvin Gastelum this Saturday evening (Aug. 21, 2021) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also on tap are a Lightweight crossroads match between Mark O. Madsen and Clay Guida and a pivotal Flyweight battle pitting Alexandre Pantoja against Brandon Royval.
Three UFC Vegas 34 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to be examined (check out the first batch here), so let’s get cracking ...
145 lbs.: Luis Saldana vs. Austin Lingo
Luis Saldana (15-6) scored both a UFC contract and his fourth consecutive finish in his 2020 “Contender Series” appearance, which saw him stop future The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) competitor Vince Murdock with a front kick and punches. He had quite a bit more trouble against veteran Jordan Griffin in his Octagon debut, but he nonetheless managed to edge out a decision win.
He’ll have an inch of height and three inches of reach on Lingo.
Austin Lingo (8-1) stepped into the Octagon in Feb. 2020 having knocked out his last three foes in a combined 1:03, only to struggle with Youssef Zalal’s wrestling en route to his first professional defeat. While the knockout continued to elude him in his sophomore effort, “Lights Out” nonetheless dominated Jacob Kilburn en route to a unanimous decision victory.
He has knocked out three professional foes and submitted another two.
Even if Saldana was lucky to escape with the win against Griffin, I like his chances here. Lingo lacks Griffin’s wrestling skills and isn’t quite as balls-out with his aggression, which should give Saldana quite a bit more freedom to get his kicking game going. Outside of his genuine power, Lingo is a decent (but unspectacular) boxer who figures to struggle with Saldana’s faster and more versatile kickboxing, especially if Saldana can rack up some early damage to his lead leg.
Saldana does admittedly struggle with pressure, and if Lingo has the boldness and gas tank to constantly keep him on the back foot, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him land one of those bombs before Saldana gets anything going. More likely, Saldana tears him up at long range for a comfortable decision win.
Prediction: Saldana via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Brian Kelleher vs. Domingo Pilarte
Brian Kelleher (22-12) bounced back from two consecutive stoppage losses by winning three of his next four and claiming three post-fight bonuses in the process. Then came fellow high-octane grinder Ricky Simon, who defeated Kelleher via decision in an entertaining battle.
“Boom” has ended 18 fights inside the distance, 10 of them via submission.
Domingo Pilarte (8-2) certainly walked through the fire on “Contender Series,” where he survived an early knockdown to choke out Vince Morales and earn a contract. “Son of Fire” has yet to find his first UFC victory, however, dropping a narrow split decision to Domingo Pilarte and suffering a later-overturned knockout loss to Journey Newsom.
This will be his first fight in 18 months.
It says something about Pilarte’s defensive issues that I expect Kelleher — who’s half a foot shorter than him and gives up seven inches of reach — to win the stand up. Though a capable offensive boxer, Pilarte’s complete inability to keep the fight at range accounts for both of his UFC defeats and his near-disaster against Morales. Kelleher can force his way into the pocket by simply pressuring and letting Pilarte back himself into the fence, and while he’s not a massive puncher, he’s got enough pop to crack Pilarte’s exposed jaw.
Kelleher’s aggression does open him up to takedowns in return, however, and Pilarte’s sneaky good on the ground. That said, “Boom’s” submission defense, scrambling skills and torrid pace should give him the opportunities he needs to drop the hammer.
Prediction: Kelleher via second round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Bea Malecki vs. Josiane Nunes
Bea Malecki (2-0) entered TUF 28 with a perfect (3-0) amateur record under her belt, only to fall short against Leah Letson in the opening round. “Bad News Barbie” has found a bit more success in the Octagon itself, defeating Duda Santana and Veronica Macedo in her two appearances.
This marks her first cage appearance in 17 months.
Josiane Nunes (7-1) hasn’t tasted defeat since a 2013 clash with future UFC standout Taila Santos, bringing a six-fight win streak into her Octagon debut. Said debut was supposed to come against Zarah Fairn in April 2021, but the Frenchwoman hit the scales at 147 pounds for a 139-pound fight.
“Josi” has ended six of her eight professional fights inside the distance (all by knockout).
In one corner stands Malecki, whose impressive height, reach and striking credentials only managed to produce a mediocre arm-puncher. In the other stands Nunes, a one-note slugger who’s largely feasted on poor opposition in her native Brazil.
As cruel as it may be to say, I don’t expect the world from these two.
I do, however, expect Malecki to win. While she’s not particularly adept at using her length (as we saw against the significantly smaller Macedo) she’s the stronger of the two in the clinch and has some heavy kicks with which to control things at range. Nunes does figure to land a lot, but she’s not as devastating a puncher as her record would suggest, meaning Malecki’s superior volume figures to win the day. In the end, Malecki wins an ugly 15-minute striking battle.
Prediction: Malecki via unanimous decision
Cannonier vs. Gastelum and Pantoja vs. Royval alone make this free show worth the price of admission (and there’s some gems in the supporting cast as well). See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 34 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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