With the original main event pushed back a week (details here), Light Heavyweight finishers Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill take center stage at UFC Vegas 48 this Saturday evening (Feb. 19, 2022) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ESPN+-streamed card will also see Kyle Daukaus take on late replacement Jamie Pickett, Jim Miller welcome CFFC champ Nikolas Motta to the Octagon, and Joaquin Buckley face Abdul Razak Alhassan in a fight seemingly guaranteed to generate a brutal finish.
UFC Vegas 48 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around; therefore, let’s power through that post-Super Bowl hangover and dig in ...
125 lbs.: Diana Belbita vs. Gloria de Paula
Romania’s Diana Belbita (14-6) stumbled out of the UFC gate with consecutive losses to Molly McCann and Liana Jojua, the latter of whom caught her in an armbar after getting dropped early. She did better for herself against Hannah Goldy, however, racking up over 100 significant strikes and a clean knockdown to claim a unanimous decision victory.
“Warrior Princess” stands two inches taller than “Glorinha” and will enjoy a slight reach advantage.
Gloria de Paula (5-4) capped off a 4-1 run by cruising past Paulina Macias on the Contender Series to earn herself a UFC contract. Her first UFC victory has proven elusive, as she dropped a decision to Jinh Yu Frey before succumbing to a vicious head kick from Cheyanna Vlismas.
She has scored three knockouts as a professional, two of them in the third round.
I’ll admit that Belbita exceeded my expectations in the Octagon, even in defeat, while de Paula let me down badly in her debut. That said, the stylistic match up does seem to favor the Brazilian. “Glorinha” is by far the more technical striker of the two; indeed, if Belbita can’t consistently push the action and keep de Paula on her heels, she’ll struggle to get through de Paula’s counters and vicious clinch game.
de Paula has admittedly struggled with pressure in the past, so Belbita knuckling down and winning a dogfight through sheer attrition isn’t out of the question. Still, de Paula should be sharp enough to land the more telling blows and eke out a win.
Prediction: de Paula via split decision
135 lbs.: Chad Anheliger vs. Jesse Strader
Chad Anheliger (11-5) brought an eight-fight win streak and two Rise FC belts into his Contender Series appearance, which pitted him against ONE standout Muin Gafurov. Despite entering as more than a three-to-one underdog in places, “The Monster” secured both a split decision and a contract on the strength of an early knockdown and late striking success.
He stands one inch shorter than Jesse Strader (5-2) and gives up nearly a half-foot of reach.
Strader made his name under the Combate banner, where he won three of four while falling to fellow future signee Marcelo Rojo. This led to a March 2021 UFC debut against Montel Jackson, who stopped “Sui Generis” less than two minutes into the first round.
Four of his five professional victories have come via knockout within two rounds.
Part of supporting a fighter is knowing their limitations. Strader’s fun as all hell to watch, but his lack of cardio and durability will forever keep his body-shredding style from carrying him into contention. While Anheliger isn’t any sort of title contender, he’s got a solid gas tank, a solid chin, and some solid counter-striking that should let him take Strader apart when the latter’s early blitz inevitably fails to produce a finish.
The big concern for Anheliger is actually Strader’s underutilized wrestling, as all five of “The Monster’s” pro losses have come by submission. Still, Strader isn’t enough of a submission threat to make what takedowns he manages count, so expect Anheliger to plunk him with a counter once he starts to fade.
Prediction: Anheliger via second round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Jonathan Pearce vs. Christian Rodriguez
The dominant Contender Series appearance from Jonathan Pearce (11-4) didn’t translate into immediate Octagon success, suffering a 93-second beatdown loss to Joe Lauzon in his promotional debut. A drop to 145 paid dividends, however, as “JSP” stopped both Kai Kamaka and Omar Morales in successive efforts.
He has ended 10 fights inside the distance, last going the distance in victory in his second professional fight.
Roufusport’s Christian Rodriguez (7-0) got off to a red-hot pro start with wins in both LFA and CFFC. This led to a Contender Series opportunity against Junior Cortez, which saw Rodriguez dominate but miss out on a contract after coming in two pounds heavy.
“CeeRod” steps in for the injured Austin Lingo on around a week’s notice.
Rodriguez’s slick, powerful hands make him a worthy addition to the roster, but they’re not enough to carry him to victory here. Though he couldn’t get his wrestling going, Cortez’s consistent ability to tie Rodriguez up and put him against the fence bodes ill against a larger, more physical grappler with the stand up skills to set up his entries.
Even with Rodriguez’s obvious skills and potential, I don’t see him getting past someone this suffocating, especially not on short notice. In the end, Pearce keeps the pressure on, gets him to the ground, and puts the screws to him around the midpoint.
Prediction: Pearce via second round submission
135 lbs.: Mario Bautista vs. Khalid Taha
Mario Bautista (8-2) went from falling to Cory Sandhagen in his Octagon debut to out-slugging Jin Soo Son and knocking out Miles Johns, earning a pair of post-fight bonuses for his troubles. This set up a clash with Trevin Jones, who put Bautista to sleep with a vicious uppercut early in the second round.
He’ll have two inches of height and four inches of reach on “The Warrior.”
A short-notice UFC debut against Nad Narimani didn’t work out for Khalid Taha (13-4), who suffered a unanimous decision loss to “Smiler.” Though he bounced back by flattening Boston Salmon, he now finds himself in an 0-2 (1 NC) hole that’s seen him drop consecutive decisions to Raoni Barcelos and Sergey Morozov.
His professional finishes are split 8/3 between knockouts and submissions.
This is a very, very volatile match up. Bautista’s skillset is one that Taha clearly struggles with — he’s not fond of long-range kicks, especially to the legs, and his straightforward boxing attack leaves him vulnerable to counters. As we saw against Jones, however, Bautista’s good work can be erased in an instant.
For all of his flaws, Taha’s definitely not short on power.
Bautista’s length and ability to punish Taha both at range and as he tries to close the distance have me leaning his way regardless, but he’ll have to stay sharp for all 15 minutes. I’ll be an optimist and say he does.
Prediction: Bautista via unanimous decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 48 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 48: “Walker vs. Hill” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.