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UFC Vegas 50 preview, ‘Santos vs Ankalaev’ predictions

UFC Fight Night: Santos v Walker Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is just “one more sleep” away from the upcoming UFC Vegas 50 fight card, which is set to go down tomorrow night (Sat., March 12, 2022) from inside the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring a light heavyweight headliner between Thiago Santos and Magomed Ankalaev.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 55 On ESPN+

Bantamweight Battle! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., May 21, 2022, with a must-watch women’s Bantamweight contenders’ bout between former champion and No. 2-ranked contender, Holly Holm, taking on No. 5-seeded Ketlen Vieira. In UFC Vegas 55’s co-main event, No. 14-ranked Santiago Ponzinibbio will lock horns with Michel Pereira in an absolute Welterweight firecracker.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, which includes the bantamweight showdown between Brazilian bruiser Marlon Moraes and “Kung Fu Monkey” Song Yadong, check out Patrick Stumberg’s prim and proper UFC Vegas 50 preliminary card breakdowns here and here. In addition, groom-zilla in training Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the UFC Vegas 50 main card right here.

For the latest “Santos vs. Ankalaev” odds and betting lines courtesy of our fiscal friends over at Draft Kings go here.

Let’s get to work.

205 lbs.: Thiago Santos vs. Magomed Ankalaev

Thiago “Marreta” Santos

Record: 22-9 | Age: 38 | Betting line: +435
Wins: 15 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.95 | Striking accuracy: 48%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.28 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 0.61 (36% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 66%
Current Ranking: No. 5 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Johnny Walker

Magomed Ankalaev

Record: 15-1 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -600
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.60 | Striking accuracy: 55%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.05 | Striking Defense: 62%
Takedown Average: 1.15 (31% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 85%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Volkan Oezdemir

Thiago Santos comes into this five-round headliner after securing a unanimous decision win over Johnny Walker at UFC Vegas 38 last October, a victory that snapped a dreadful three-fight losing streak dating back to his admirable (but ultimately unsuccessful) performance against then-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 239. While a great boost for his confidence, I’m not sure a judges’ nod over Walker can be used as a measuring stick for the rest of the 205-pound division because — and I say this with all due respect — Walker has been complete garbage over the last three years, dropping four of five and getting stopped twice. What we do know for certain is that Santos turned 38 last January and has not looked the same after double-knee surgery. You can argue that his power is still there but it hasn’t helped him close the show since Jan Blachowicz went ass over tin cups more than three years back. That might be his most impressive win to date and one that silenced arguments that Santos should have stayed at middleweight, where he also registered knockout victories over the likes of Jack Hermansson and Anthony Smith, among others.

Magomed Ankalaev stumbled in his UFC debut, getting choked into submission by Paul Craig at UFC Fight Night 127 back in March 2018. The Dagestani bruiser was able to shake off that loss and get back to his winning ways, to the tune of seven straight wins with four knockout finishes. He’s certainly a compelling prospect in a division starved of fresh faces, I just don’t understand a betting line of -600 when you look at his strength of schedule, particularly when compared to the resume of his opponent. Ankalaev fought six opponents after falling to Craig (which includes two bouts against Ion Cutelaba) and only two of those fighters have winning records under the UFC banner. Is anybody jumping out of their chair for unanimous decision wins over Nikita Krylov and Volkan Oezdemir, who are both 2-3 over their last five? Santos hasn’t been perfect but it’s kind of hard to be when you battle a murderer’s row at 205 pounds. In his last five fights, “Marreta” faced one current and two former champions, as well as the No. 3-ranked fighter in the division. Not too shabby. The question for me heading into this contest is how well the Brazilian can perform at his age with over a decade of fights under his belt. That’s a lot of miles to put on those tires and Ankalaev is just 29 — though he’s never been five rounds in his career so we don’t know what kind of pace he can maintain if this thing goes the distance.

I know the new school expects Ankalaev to continue his upward trajectory and based on some of the recent struggles from Santos, that’s not an outrageous prediction. At the same time, I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, partly because I’m a sucker for aging veterans hoping for one last run, but mostly because Ankalaev hasn’t done enough to prove he’s ready for a passing of the torch just yet.

Prediction: Santos def. Ankalaev by knockout

135 lbs.: Marlon Moraes vs. Song Yadong

“Magic” Marlon Moraes

Record: 23-9 | Age: 33 | Betting line: +195
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 6 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 6 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’6“ | Reach: 67” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.34 | Striking accuracy: 40%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.47 | Striking Defense: 53%
Takedown Average: 0.89 (41% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 46%
Current Ranking: No. 10 | Last fight: Technical knockout loss to Merab Dvalishvili

Song “Kung Fu Monkey” Yadong

Record: 18-6-1, 1 NC | Age: 24 | Betting line: -240
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 4 DEC, 1 DQ
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 67” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.88 | Striking accuracy: 42%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.77 | Striking Defense: 59%
Takedown Average: 0.46 (42% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 60%
Current Ranking: No. 14 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Julio Arce

Much like Justin Gaethje, who also crossed over from World Series of Fighting (WSOF) back in summer 2017, expectations were high for Marlon Moraes, who held the bantamweight title under his previous promotion. For the most part, “Magic” lived up to his nickname and made the rest of the contenders disappear, putting together a 4-1 record to earn a shot at the vacant 135-pound title. Then came a technical knockout defeat to Henry Cejudo at UFC 238 and it all seemed to fall apart. After losing to the since-retired “Triple C,” Moraes is just 1-3 and coming off three consecutive knockout losses, including last September’s collapse at the hands of Merab Dvalishvili. To be fair, Dvalishvili is ranked No. 8 and his other two losses came against Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font, who are both ranked in the Top 5, so it’s not like the Brazilian was getting washed by scrubs. It still doesn’t explain how the world’s No. 1 bantamweight nearly fell out of the Top 10 with such dizzying speed. It’s not too late to right the ship at age 33, but this may be a do-or-die situation for “Magic.”

Song Yadong cut his teeth on the international circuit and appeared for ONE Championship in a losing effort back in late 2014. UFC signed “The Kung Fu Monkey” as part of its expansion into mainland China and to his credit, Yadong has performed well, putting together a 7-1-1 record with a notable victory over Marlon Vera at UFC on ESPN 8 roughly two years back. More impressive is the fact that Yadong is just 24 years old and yet to enter his prime. And yes, the Tianjin native started competing professionally when he was just 15 because that kind of thing isn’t frowned upon overseas. Just ask 17 year-old Victoria Lee, who is already 3-0 with three finishes for ONE Championship. Similar to the argument we made for Thiago Santos in this weekend’s headliner, it’s not fair to compare Yadong with Moraes over the last few years because “The Kung Fu Monkey” has only faced one fighter in the Top 10 and that was Vera. Moraes, meanwhile, has been locked inside the shark tank since the day he debuted and suffered the consequences.

It’s hard for me to envision a fighter as talented as Moraes dropping four straight. I’m not picking him with a ton of confidence, but I do believe his speed and experience will be enough to win two of the three rounds. Yadong has proven to be a tough out and hasn’t been finished since Alexey Polpudnikov folded him back in 2016. Expect a spirited contest that could be decided in the final exchange, with Moraes coming out on top.

Prediction: Moraes def. Yadong by unanimous decision

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 50 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 50 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 50 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive here. For the updated and finalized “Santos vs. Ankalaev” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.