In what’s sure to be a slugfest for the ages, former Light Heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos takes on all-action countryman Johnny Walker this Saturday (Oct. 2, 2021) atop a 13-fight ESPN+-streamed card. Said card will also see Kevin Holland square off with “Contender Series” grad Kyle Daukaus, free-falling Misha Cirkunov try his hand a new weight class against veteran Krzysztof Jotko, and Niko Prince throw down with Alex Oliveira in another potential war.
We’ve got three UFC Vegas 38 “Prelims” undercard bouts left to examine (check out the first batch here), though, so let’s dig in ...
155 lbs.: Joe Solecki vs. Jared Gordon
Three fights after suffering a knockout loss to future “Contender Series” graduate Nikolas Motta, Joe Solecki (11-2) put forth a standout performance on the program, choking out James Wallace to earn himself a contract. He’s been similarly successful in the Octagon, where he’s put together a three-fight win streak.
All eight of his professional stoppage wins have come in the first round.
Jared Gordon (17-4) announced his arrival to UFC with strong victories over Michel Quinones and Hacran Dias, only to drop three of his next four. Recent efforts proved more successful, overwhelming Chris Fishgold and Danny Chavez in impressive fashion.
“Flash” gives up 2.5 inches of reach to Solecki.
If Gordon could consistently make Featherweight, he’d be a real problem for the division. I’m not quite as sold as him at Lightweight, where he’s suffered three vicious knockout losses and struggled to consistently impose his wrestling. Though Solecki pushes a far more mellow pace than Gordon, he’s skilled enough on the feet and ground to give Gordon fits if “Flash” can’t impose his physicality.
Admittedly, I could be overestimating Solecki a bit. That’s because Gordon’s definitely the more tested of the two and you can’t put too much stock in wins over Matt Wiman and Jim Miller at this stage of their careers. Still, I like Solecki to hold his own on the feet and control the wrestling for the win.
Prediction: Solecki via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Antonina Shevchenko vs. Casey O’Neill
Antonina Shevchenko (9-3) “La Pantera” punched her ticket to UFC by mauling Jaimee Nievera on “Contender Series,” then proved she belonged with a decision over Ji Yeon Kim in her promotional debut. She has since alternated losses and wins, most recently suffering her first-ever submission defeat to Andrea Lee.
Her four professional stoppages include three by (technical) knockout.
Casey O’Neill (7-0) cut her teeth on the Australian circuit before a one-fight sting in UAE Warriors saw her score her first professional (technical) knockout. She’s continued her finishing ways in the Octagon by pounding out Shana Dobson and choking out Lara Procopio during her 2021 campaign.
“King” stands two inches shorter than Shevchenko, but boasts a two-inch reach advantage.
As dangerous as she is on the feet, Shevchenko’s ground game just hasn’t caught up. And, seeing as she’s now 36 years old, I’m not sure it ever will. That’s more than a little problematic against O’Neill, a top-of-the-line ground artist with the skill and durability to keep up with Shevchenko in the striking. For my money, the 23-year-old “King” is one of the best up-and-comers in the division alongside Manon Fiorot, and she’s got the exact toolset necessary to exploit Shevchenko’s shortcomings as others have before.
None of this is to say that Shevchenko can’t win this, especially if she can force O’Neill into extended clinch exchanges. That’d be a long shot at the best of times, though, and considering the way O’Neill overpowered an expert grappler and capable striker in Procopio, “King’s” got too much going her way for me to bank on a long shot. In the end, she swarms Shevchenko on the mat for a mid-round finish.
Prediction: O’Neill via second round submission
135 lbs.: Bethe Correia vs. Karol Rosa
With her career seemingly on the ropes after a 1-4-1 skid, Bethe Correia (11-5-1) revitalized it by upsetting Sijara Eubanks in Mexico City, Mexico. “Pitbull” couldn’t quite do the same to Pannie Kianzad, who defeated her by decision 10 months later.
This will be her first fight in 14 months.
Assorted misfortunes have held Karol Rosa (14-3) to just three fights in the last three years, though she’s emerged victorious each time. Her most recent effort saw her take a decision over late-notice foe Joselyne Edwards in Feb. 2021.
She has knocked out four opponents and submitted another two.
Even acknowledging that Correia’s a better fighter than her poor record and meme status would suggest, I’m not sure what she does to win this one. “Pitbull” has long made up for her lack of technique with toughness and tenacity, a strategy that doesn’t figure to work out against a crisper and higher-volume boxer in Rosa. Rosa isn’t going to wilt when Correia refuses to drop and figures to land more and more telling strikes.
Rosa’s a problem for even ranked Bantamweights ... much less game-but-faded stalwarts like “Pitbull.” Correia is game enough to keep it competitive and push the action for all 15 minutes, but expect Rosa to rack up another 100+ significant strikes in a dominant victory.
Prediction: Rosa via unanimous decision
UFC Vegas 38’s main event is going to be stupid fun while it lasts and there’s a good amount of entertaining match ups scattered throughout. Worth tuning in, I’d say — see you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 38 fight card 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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 38: “Santos vs. Walker” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.