Middleweight finishers will wrap up UFC’s 2022 campaign this Saturday (Dec. 17, 2022) when Jared Cannonier takes on Sean Strickland inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also on tap for UFC Vegas 66 is a pivotal Lightweight battle pitting Arman Tsarukyan against Damir Ismagulov, before which Amir Albazi welcomes newcomer Alessandro Costa and Julian Erosa looks to continue his improbable resurgence at Alex Caceres’ expense.
UFC Vegas 66 features a nice, even eight “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around. Here’s the first batch ...
155 lbs.: Rafa Garcia vs. Maheshate
Rafa Garcia (14-3) — a former Combate champion — struggled his way to a winless (0-2) UFC start. “Gifted” evened things up with decisions over Natan Levy and Jesse Ronson, but proved unable to topple Drakkar Klose on short notice.
His nine professional stoppages include eight via submission.
Maheshate (9-1) defied nearly 5:1 odds to upset Achilles Estremadura on Contender Series and walk away with a UFC contract. His Octagon debut was even more impressive, flattening Steve Garcia just 64 seconds into the first round.
He stands five inches taller than Garcia at 6’0.”
While it’s clear at this point that Garcia peaks below the Lightweight elite, he’s a significant step up for Maheshate. The 23-year-old has never met a wrestler of this caliber, especially not one with the five-round experience to test his takedown defense all night. Maheshate may be a physical beast, but I’m not convinced he’s prepared for this sort of grind.
To his credit, Maheshate is a very effective counter-puncher, and Garcia’s aggression should give the former plenty of opportunities to land that nasty right down the pipe. Durability has never been among Garcia’s failings, though, so expect him to steadily break down the younger man with relentless wrestling en route to a late finish.
Prediction: Garcia via third round submission
170 lbs.: Bryan Battle vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov
Bryan Battle (8-1) capped off his successful The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) run by choking out late replacement GIlbert Urbina in the finals. Subsequent efforts have seen him defeat another castmate in Tresean Gore and crush Takashi Sato with a 44-second head kick six months later.
He steps in for Michael Morales on two weeks’ notice.
A 55-second knockout of Eric Spicely extended Rinat Fakhretdinov’s (20-2) win streak to 14 and caught Dana White’s eye, resulting in a UFC contract. He would not make his debut for another 16.5 months, at which point he out-classed Andreas Michailidis in June 2022.
He’s ended 17 professional fights inside the distance, 11 via knockout.
I’ll admit to being not terribly high on Fakhretdinov. That’s because while he has some power, he’s often content to be an uninspiring lay-and-pray artist. As “Pooh Bear” showed against Andre Petroski, that’s an approach he can deal with, and I like his mobile, high-volume striking style to out-class Fakhretdinov’s more basic offense.
Fakhretdinov is admittedly a solid-enough wrestler to potentially grind out Battle, but he’s often so passive on top that he’ll struggle to offset the good work Battle does on the feet. In the end, Battle stays long and peppers his way to victory.
Prediction: Battle via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: David Dvorak vs. Manel Kape
Consecutive wins over Bruno Silva, Jordan Espinosa and Juancamilo Ronderos put Poland’s David Dvorak (20-4) on the brink of contention. The final step wound up a bit too treacherous, however, as Matheus Nicolau ended his win streak at 16.
His finishes include eight by knockout and another eight by submission.
Manel Kape’s (17-6) leap into the Flyweight deep end failed to produce immediate results, dropping narrow decisions to top contenders Alexandre Pantoja and Matheus Nicolau. A subsequent uptick in aggression seemed to be just what the doctor ordered, resulting in first-round knockouts of Ode Obsourne and Zhalgas Zhumagulov.
“Starboy” fights for the first time in 12 months, having failed a drug test and seen subsequent foe Rogerio Bontorin botch his weight cut.
I still believe Dvorak is a very skilled fighter, a dangerous boxer with surprisingly stout defensive grappling to back it up. If Kape comes out flat again, Dvorak is more than capable of sharpshooting his way to a decision even if he can’t match Kape’s ridiculous athleticism.
“Undertaker” does have one key issue, though: nasty as he is, he can be caught early. Both Silva and Nicolau hurt him bad before he could find his footing, and considering Kape’s recent penchant for quick destruction, that’s a bad sign. While we’re in for a great stand up battle if things get past the first, odds are Kape cuts it off before it can develop properly.
Prediction: Kape via first round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Sergey Morozov vs. Journey Newson
Back in 2019, Sergey Morozov (18-5) defeated Josh Rettinghouse to avenge a knockout defeat, defend his M-1 Bantamweight title, and secure himself a UFC berth. He’s alternated losses and wins in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, most recently out-dueling Raulian Paiva in June 2022.
His 11 stoppage wins include eight by knockout.
Journey Newson (10-3) opened his UFC career 0-2 (1 NC), a knockout win over Domingo Pilarte overturned because of a failed drug test. This led to almost 20 months on the sidelines, followed by an upset decision over Fernie Garcia upon his return.
He’s the shorter of the two by one inch, but will enjoy a slight reach advantage.
Not to oversimplify things, but Morozov just seems to be better everywhere. His stand up is much more technically sound than Newson’s scattershot approach and he’s the stronger wrestler of the two. Even if you think highly of Newson’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigree, his bottom game in no way holds up to Morozov’s top game.
Though they’re both skilled in enough areas to keep Morozov from absolutely dominating, the difference in class should become clear before too long. In short, his strong boxing and takedown skills carry him to a wide victory.
Prediction: Morozov via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Vegas 66 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including an under-the-radar banger between Said Nurmagomedov and Saidyokub Kakhramonov. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 66 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 (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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