Having gone from successful GLORY kickboxer to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight contender, Giga Chikadze will look to notch the the biggest win of his career this Saturday (Aug. 28, 2021) when he takes on the always-destructive Edson Barboza. UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also host a pair of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 29 Finale bouts, which see Bryan Battle take on late replacement Gilbert Urbina and young gun Brady Hiestand face all-action Ricky Turcios.
UFC Vegas 35 has taken an absolute mauling these last two weeks, leaving us with just a half-dozen “Prelims” undercard bouts. Here’s the first batch ...
145 lbs.: Jamall Emmers vs. Pat Sabatini
Jamall Emmers (14-3) put together an 8-1 run — marred only by a loss to Julian Erosa on “Contender Series” — to earn himself a spot in the Octagon. Though he fell controversially short against Giga Chikadze, he entered the UFC win column with a decision over Vince Cachero.
He’ll enjoy two inches of height and four inches of reach on Pat Sabatini (18-5).
Renzo Gracie Philly’s Sabatini made his name under the Cage Fury banner, enjoying two reigns as Featherweight champion and racking up multiple title defenses. He finally reached UFC in April 2021, when he welcomed Tristan Connelly back to the cage after a lengthy absence with a unanimous decision win.
That victory was just his third by decision, and he’s scored 10 submissions as a professional.
This fight — which is the closest “Prelims” bout odds-wise at the time of writing — boils down to Emmers’ ability to execute. His length, wrestling skills and pace give him all the tools to be a major threat, but lapses in fight IQ have led him to lose winnable match ups. He can’t afford those sorts of screw-ups against Sabatini, who’s got deceptive pop on the feet and needs only the slightest opening to bring his lethal submission game to bear.
Emmers’ uptick in aggression against Cachero was a good sign, though, and while Sabatini is unquestionably a step up in class, Emmers looks to have the edge in the style clash. I like Emmers’ takedown defense, superior gas tank, and dangerous clinch to ultimately win the day in a competitive affair.
Prediction: Emmers via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Mana Martinez vs. Guido Cannetti
A five-fight knockout streak carried Mana Martinez (8-2) to “Contender Series,” where he fell victim to a Drako Rodriguez triangle choke early in the third round. He has since returned to his winning ways with two knockouts in a combined 92 seconds, including a finish of fellow “Contender Series” veteran Jose Johnson in May 2021.
He steps in for Mario Bautista, who tested positive for COVID, on less than two weeks’ notice.
Argentina’s Guido Cannetti (8-5) took part in the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” tournament back in 2014, falling in the opening round and subsequently suffering a second defeat when given another shot. He’s 2-4 in the Octagon itself, most recently suffering a knockout loss to Danaa Batgerel.
He fights for the first time in nearly 18 months.
“Manaboi” has had three scheduled debut opponents in the last little couple weeks: Jesse Strader, who withdrew, Trevin Jones, whom Martinez withdrew against after the death of coach Saul Soliz, and now Cannetti. With all due respect to Cannetti, he’s the weakest of the lot, a 41-year-old brawler who never developed the technique to make up for his awful durability.
Martinez — a sharp counter-puncher with frankly unreasonable power in his hands — is as awful a style match up as you can cook up.
The only feasible way Cannetti can win this is by focusing exclusively on his wrestling to turn the fight into an execrable slog, and the only way that would work is if Martinez sacrificed his solid takedown defense to chase fruitless guillotines. It’s far, far more likely that Martinez simply annihilates him with a left hook in the first few minutes.
Prediction: Martinez via first-round knockout
125 lbs.: J.J. Aldrich vs. Vanessa Demopoulos
J.J. Aldrich (9-4) bounced back from a UFC debut defeat to Juliana Lima by winning three straight, among them an upset of Polyana Viana. She’s 2-2 since, most recently scoring a split decision over Cortney Casey in March 2021.
She’ll have four inches of height and nearly a half-foot of reach on Vanessa Demopolous (6-3).
An inverted triangle finish of Sam Hughes earned Demopoulos the LFA Strawweight title and a spot on “Contender Series,” where she dropped an entertaining decision to Cory McKenna. Though she lost her title to Lupita Godinez her next time out, she returned to the win column with a 38-second finish of Cynthia Arceo in March 2021.
She replaces the injured Tracy Cortez on a week’s notice.
I’m a genuine fan of Demopoulos, who mixes admirable aggression and grit with innovative, lethal grappling. That said, this doesn’t seem like it will go well for her. Aldrich has her out-classed on the feet, and as dangerous as Demopoulos is on the mat, her poor wrestling severely limits her effectiveness. “Lil’ Monster” needs an extremely fortunate guard pull to win, as Aldrich’s huge reach advantage and technical striking make it the kickboxing battle a wash.
As we’ve seen, Demopoulos is never out of a fight and can score a wild submission out of nowhere; therefore, if Aldrich gets lazy on the ground, this can turn on a dime. If she stays composed and leans on her striking, however, she’ll dominate.
And that strikes me as a bit more likely.
Prediction: Aldrich via unanimous decision
Three more UFC Vegas 35 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including an intriguing Light Heavyweight clash between Darren Stewart and Dustin Jacoby. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 35 fight card right here, starting with the 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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 35: “Barboza vs. Chikadze” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.