This weekend (Sat., Dec. 17, 2022), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will return to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC Vegas 66. The final show of 2022 is actually pretty fun. It’s not a contender for event of the year or anything, but showing up to bat are some Top 10 contenders, crafty veterans and some real deal prospects — what more is there to ask for? That’s not even considering the main event striker’s clash between Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland, which seems to carry equal potential for an early knockout and back-and-forth war.
Let’s take a closer look at the match ups that lead up the to co-main event:
Flyweight: Amir Albazi vs. Alessandro Costa
Best Win for Albazi? Zhalgas Zhumagulov For Costa? Andres Luna Martinetti
Current Streak: Albazi has started his UFC career 3-0, whereas Martinetti debuts on a seven-fight win streak
X-Factor: Costa is a short-notice replacement
How these two match up: A pair of strong grapplers collide.
Albazi has proven himself really slick in a short time. He’s a physical talent with strong wrestling, but he’s not content to just hold his opponents. “The Prince” has a very strong jiu-jitsu game, and he’s actually a highly technical striker as well. Already, he’s advanced into the Flyweight Top 10.
Costa certainly shares some traits with Albazi. He’s a very strong wrestler in his own right, a quality submission fighter, and has knockout power in his hands. A “Contenders Series” veteran and regional champion in Brazil, Costa deserves his spot on the roster regardless of this late opportunity.
Unfortunately for “Nono,” Albazi is a serious ask without a full camp. Costa’s grappling style means that he’ll be engaging Albazi on his strongest area, whether that’s a good idea or not. From a distance, Albazi appears to be the slightly superior technical wrestler, but even if that’s not the case, it’s going to be tough to keep up with him for three rounds.
Defeating a wrestler the quality of Albazi requires excellent preparation, and Costa just didn’t have that opportunity here. Barring a flying knee or something similar, the Brazilian ends up stuck on bottom eventually.
Prediction: Albazi via decision
Featherweight: Alex Caceres vs. Julian Erosa
Best Win for Caceres? Sergio Pettis For Erosa? Hakeem Dawodu
Current Streak: Caceres came up short last time out, whereas Erosa has won three straight
X-Factor: Both veterans have hit their stride in the last year or two
How these two match up: I just don’t see how this could be anything less than a fun fight.
Caceres has his own unique flair. He definitely fights more like a Karate guy than anything else, but even so, Caceres has funky kicks and tricky setups that you won’t see from someone like Stephen Thompson. He’s also an underrated grappler, a serious submission threat if able to take the back.
He fights in a wildly different manner, but Erosa also fulfills the role of lanky, tricky, and tough veteran. His third UFC stint has proven his most successful by a country mile, as Erosa has picked up major confidence en route to winning five of six. In particular, he’s pretty exceptional at hurting an opponent and then capitalizing by jumping on the neck.
The path to defeating Julian Erosa is typically to hit him very hard. Erosa fights with his hands low, trusting his range control and head movement to keep him safe. It often works to great effect, but faster men have also found his chin and made him pay — that’s the double-edged sword of his fighting style.
Fortunately for “Juicy J,” Caceres just isn’t a huge knockout threat. He’s much more of a volume fighter, even as he’s settled into the Featherweight division and put on some size. Likely, Erosa can take his opponent’s shots without major issue, and if that’s the case, Erosa’s heavy counter punching game is likely to be more punishing.
Expect some back-and-forth exchanges and scrambles, but Erosa does enough to sway the judges.
Prediction: Erosa via decision
Lightweight: Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green
Best Win for Dober? Terrance McKinney For Green? Josh Thomson
Current Streak: Dober has won two in a row, whereas Green came up short in a last-second booking vs. Islam Makhachev in his last appearance
X-Factor: Green is the faster man
How these two match up: Two longtime Lightweight veterans will throw down.
Dober has come a long way since his UFC debut. He’s shored up his defensive wrestling a good deal and evolved from volume striker to genuine knockout artist, and he’s been tough as nails all the while. Green is built from a similarly sturdy material. An exceptional athlete even at 36 years of age, “King” relies primarily on his boxing skills and slick defense to outwork opponents.
The only thing that makes me nervous about this fight is Green’s well-established history of losing close decisions. Dober is a volume striker and pressure fighter, two traits the judges love. Green works off the counter, meaning he has to massively outland opponents in order to convince those idiots that his strikes matter.
Ugh ... Between Green’s range and speed advantages, I do feel like he’ll get the better of most exchanges with Dober, and he has the wrestling edge in his back pocket as well. Ultimately, I’m going to side with Green because I think he’ll win the fight itself, and trying to guess whether the judges get it right is a hopeless endeavor.
Prediction: Green via decision
Middleweight: Michal Oleksiejczuk vs. Cody Brundage
Best Win for Oleksiejczuk? Gadzhimurad Antigulov For Brundage? Tresean Gore
Current Streak: Oleksiejczuk won his last bout, while Brundage won two in a row
X-Factor: Oleksiejczuk has twice the professional experience of his opponent
How these two match up: Striker vs. wrestler!
Oleksiejczuk can CRACK! The Polish striker has scored 12 wins via knockout, despite being undersized at 205-pounds for much of his career. His takedown defense and conditioning are historic weaknesses, but perhaps his recent drop down to Middleweight will help alleviate those issues.
Brundage is a pretty straightforward wrestler turned fighter. He’s added the necessary skill for baseline UFC success — e.g. a nice overhand right and ability to snatch the neck — but he’s definitely still a developing talent.
Does Brundage have the wrestling to give Oleksiejczuk a headache? Certainly. However, Oleksiejczuk is not a completely inept wrestler, especially when he’s fresh and at the correct weight class. Brundage will have to survive some serious shots in order to last long enough to get his wrestling game going, and that doesn’t seem likely against a sniper like Michal Oleksiejczuk.
Knockout No. 13 is en route.
Prediction: Oleksiejczuk via knockout
‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2022: 50-31
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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 66: “Cannonier vs. Strickland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.