With the Middleweight division recently experiencing a change in management, Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland will look to stand above the pack when they headline UFC Vegas 66 this weekend (Sat., Dec. 17, 2022) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. The co-feature pits Arman Tsarukyan against Damir Ismagulov in a clash of dark horse Lightweights, while Drew Dober squares off with Bobby Green in an equally intriguing match up.
Four more UFC Vegas 66 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here). Catch your breath and let’s get back to it ...
115 lbs.: Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Cory McKenna
A dominant Contender Series victory over Hilarie Rose left Cheyanne Vlismas (7-2) with plenty of hype behind her as she entered the Octagon, only to suffer a humiliating decision loss to Montserrat Ruiz in her debut. A 60-second “Performance of the Night” knockout of Gloria de Paula got her back into the win column, and she followed up with a unanimous decision over Mallory Martin.
She’ll enjoy a five-inch reach advantage.
Cory McKenna (7-2) followed her own Contender Series victory over Vanessa Demopoulos by edging out Kay Hansen in her first UFC appearance. A split decision loss to Elise Reed followed, though she secured her first Octagon finish soon after by stopping Miranda Granger via Von Flue choke.
“Poppins” has knocked out and submitted two professional foes apiece.
She may have embarrassed herself on multiple occasions, but Vlismas is a genuinely solid Strawweight with the right toolbox to beat McKenna. She’s more than skilled enough on the feet to maximize her five-inch reach advantage and shut down a determined takedown artist in Martin last time out. With how badly McKenna struggled to control Elise Reed — who got murked on the mat by Sam Hughes not long after — she’ll have all sorts of issues trying to corral “The Warrior Princess.”
This is assuming that McKenna is still the same fighter we saw last time, of course. She’s very young and fighting out of a quality camp in Team Alpha Male, a combination that tends toward explosive growth. Just based on what we’ve seen so far, though, I like Vlismas to take her apart on the feet.
Prediction: Vlismas via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jake Matthews vs. Matthew Semelsberger
A red-hot UFC start gave way to a 2-3 skid for Jake Matthews (18-5), prompting a move from 155 to 170 pounds. It’s paid dividends, as he sits at 7-2 since and is coming off a bonus-winning knockout of Andre Fialho.
He gives up two inches of height and reach to “Semi the Jedi.”
Matthew Semelsberger (10-4) smashed his way to a 4-1 UFC start, the lone loss a unanimous decision to Khaos Williams. This set up a clash with Alex Morono, who survived a flush flying knee to hand Semelsberger his second defeat in four fights.
Six of his seven professional stoppage wins have come by knockout.
It’s past time I give Matthews credit for how much he’s developed. There was a time when he largely skated by on his size and strength, but he’s blossomed into a versatile and highly effective mixed martial artist. The current iteration of him should dispatch Semelsberger without too much issue. As fond as I am of watching Semelsberger’s right hand launch people’s heads into the lower atmosphere, he showed worrying grappling deficiencies against A.J. Fletcher and struggled badly to adapt to both Williams and Morono’s striking.
Semelsberger’s puncher’s chance is also neutered by the fact that Matthews hasn’t been dropped since 2015, and that’s despite fighting the likes of Fialho and Li Jingliang. In the end, Matthews mixes his strikes and takedowns to either a late finish or one-sided decision.
Prediction: Matthews via second round submission
185 lbs.: Julian Marquez vs. Deron Winn
After punching his UFC ticket with a decision win over Tom Lawler, Deron Winn (7-3) started his Octagon career with a “Fight of the Night”-winning decision over Eric Spicely at UFC Greenville. He’s since gone 1-3, including a horrible beating courtesy of Phil Hawes last time out.
He stands six inches shorter than Julian Marquez (9-3) and gives up two inches of reach.
“The Cuban Missile Crisis” shocked Phil Hawes on Contender Series to secure a UFC contract, then stopped three of his first four Octagon opponents while securing as many post-fight bonuses. A 14-month layoff followed, which ended in June 2022 when Gregory Rodrigues became the first man to stop Marquez.
All of his professional wins have come inside the distance, five of them via knockout.
I fully expect Winn to do alright for himself in the early going. Marquez has never been a particularly stout defensive wrestler and his arms are nearly as stubby as Winn’s, so Winn should find it easier than usual to get inside and get his takedowns going.
Thing is, Winn slows down as fights progress and Marquez absolutely does not. We’ve seen Marquez get into early pinches before, only to claw his way back through sheer will, volume, and power. It’s going to get harder and harder to keep Marquez on his back as the fight progresses and Winn’s gas tank starts to wane, and once the takedown is off the table, Marquez’s knack for violence will take over in a hurry. So long as that loss to “Robocop” didn’t shatter his confidence, Marquez weathers a rough first round to batter Winn into submission and ultimately find his neck.
Prediction: Marquez via third round submission
135 lbs.: Said Nurmagomedov vs. Saidyokub Kakhramonov
Said Nurmagomedov (16-2) claimed victory in three of his first four UFC bouts before spending 15 months on the sidelines. He made up for lost time with a 47-second guillotine finish of Cody Stamann, then followed up by cruising past Douglas Silva de Andrade six months later.
His eight professional finishes are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Five months after winning the CFFC Bantamweight title, Saidyokub Kakhramonov (10-2) stepped up on short notice to choke out Trevin Giles in his UFC debut. Eleven months later, he made it 2-0 in the Octagon with a one-sided decision over Contender Series graduate Ronnie Lawrence.
He faces a half-inch reach disadvantage.
This is an opportunity for Nurmagomedov to exorcise some demons. His only UFC loss came against Raoni Barcelos, and Nurmagomedov had taken full control of the fight before an errant spinning back kick allowed Barcelos to take him down and ride out the pivotal third round. The relentless Kakhramonov represents a similar threat— he’s nowhere near the striker Barcelos is, but he’s an incredibly strong takedown artist with a great gas tank.
I’m leaning toward Kakhramonov, but just barely. He’s tough and aggressive enough to jam Nurmagomedov’s kicks and turn it into the sort of slog where the latter’s dynamism is less of a factor. If Nurmagomedov can get past him, though, he’s ready for a Top 10-ranked fighter.
Prediction: Kakhramonov via split decision
There are definitely worse ways to end this mess of a year. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Prediction Record for 2022: 178-90-2
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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