Fast-rising Light Heavyweight, Magomed Ankalaev, looks to make a case for a title shot this Saturday evening (March 12, 2022) when he meets the ultra-dangerous Thiago Santos in his first UFC main event. Also on tap for UFC Vegas 50 are a Bantamweight crossroads fight pitting Marlon Moraes against Song Yadong, Alex Caceres putting his five-fight win streak on the line against the returning Sodiq Yusuff and Terrance McKinney making a two-week turnaround against Drew Dober.
Four more UFC Vegas 50 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s not dally ...
170 lbs.: Matthew Semelsberger vs. A.J. Fletcher
Matthew Semelsberger (9-3) kicked off his Octagon run with a three-round decision over Carlton Minus and a 16-second knockout of Jason Witt, only to fall short against Khaos WIlliams. His next bout was a return to form, as he took just 15 seconds to annihilate Octagon newcomer Martin Sano.
“Semi the Jedi” will enjoy three inches of height and eight inches of reach on A.J. Fletcher (9-0).
“The Ghost” entered Contender Series on the heels of four consecutive first-round finishes, including two wins in the span of two months. He made it five and secured a contract in the process by annihilating Leonardo Damiani with a gorgeous flying knee.
He has knocked out and submitted four pro foes apiece.
I cannot for the life of me figure out why UFC matchmakers looked at Fletcher — a green but very gifted young fighter with real potential — and decided that he should debut against Semelsberger. It’s not that Fletcher has no chance here, but Semelsberger looks like a horrid match up for him. That’s because “Semi the Jedi” does an excellent job of punishing the sorts of naked kicks and unsafe entries Fletcher has yet to expunge from his game.
Fletcher’s key weapon here is his wrestling, and it’s worth noting that Semelsberger hasn’t really had his takedown defense tested in the Octagon. That said, Fletcher’s inability to hold down Damiani and Semelsberger’s solid cardio suggest that even if Fletcher does drag him down, he’s going to get clipped eventually. In the end, Semelsberger plunks him with a counter right for another quick finish.
Prediction: Semelsberger via first round knockout
125 lbs.: J.J. Aldrich vs. Gillian Robertson
Though she fell to Juliana Lima in her 2016 Octagon debut, J.J. Aldrich (10-4) established herself as a contender with wins in six of her next eight bouts. Her current two-fight win streak features decisions over Cortney Casey and Vanessa Demopoulos.
She boasts a 4.5-inch reach advantage.
The 6-2 UFC start for Gillian Robertson (10-6) gave way to consecutive decision losses to Taila Santos and Miranda Maverick. Undaunted, she bounced back by choking out Priscila Cachoeira in Dec. 2021.
“The Savage” steps in for Ariane Lipski on less than three weeks’ notice.
With all due respect to the oft-underrated Aldrich, this match up is a lot less competitive than the original one. Not in the sense that Robertson is exponentially better than the fast-improving Lipski, to be fair, but in the sense that it’s a more polarized clash of styles. If Robertson can outwrestle her opponents, she wins the vast majority of the time, and my money says she can out-wrestle Aldrich.
As vastly superior as Aldrich is on the feet, I don’t trust her to keep it there once Robertson decides to change levels, and getting out from underneath “The Savage” is a mighty tall task. Barring any complications from the late notice, Robertson’s top game carries her to another rear-naked choke finish.
Prediction: Robertson via second round submission
135 lbs.: Trevin Jones vs. Javid Basharat
Trevin Jones (13-7) put together one of the more impressive Octagon starts in recent memory, knocking out Timur Valiev and Mario Bautista, though the former victory was overturned because of a failed drug test. “5 Star” couldn’t keep the momentum up against Saidyokub Kakhramonov, however, tapping to a guillotine choke in the final minute of the third round.
He stands two inches shorter than “The Snow Leopard,” but sports a slight reach advantage.
After running into visa issues in his first attempt, Javid Basharat (11-0) finally reached Contender Series in Oct. 2021. There, he systematically dismantled Oron Kahlon before polishing him off with a bonus-winning guillotine.
All of his professional wins have come inside the distance, six of them by submission.
This fight honestly boils down to Basharat’s composure. He’s incredibly elusive when he commits to a long-range fight, and Jones seems like he’ll have all sorts of issues getting close enough to actually utilize his decent grappling and killer right hand. If Basharat tries to take the lead, however, I could definitely see him running into one of Jones’ patented instant-comeback punches.
I’ll be an optimist and say “The Snow Leopard” keeps his wits about him. He fought a perfect fight against Kahlon despite the latter going way over the line with his comments, so he shouldn’t have too much trouble sticking to a gameplan here. In short, he punishes Jones’ legs and body for a wide decision.
Prediction: Basharat via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Damon Jackson vs. Kamuela Kirk
The return for Damon Jackson (19-4-1) to the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion after 4.5 years away saw him defy considerable odds to choke out Mirsad Bektic, claiming both his first UFC victory and a “Performance of the Night” bonus in the process. Though he subsequently suffered a knockout loss to Ilia Topuria, “The Leech” got back in the win column by beating Charles Rosa 10 months later.
He’s the taller man by one inch, but gives up four inches of reach.
Kamuela Kirk (12-4) put a pair of consecutive losses behind him to score two dominant finishes under the LFA banner. The subsequent short-notice UFC debut for “The Jawaiian” pitted him against Makwan Amirkhani, whom Kirk narrowly out-lasted for a unanimous decision win.
The win was his first trip to the judges in victory, as he’d submitted six and knocked out four others as a professional.
While there’s a solid argument to be made that Kirk deserved the loss against Amirkhani, I don’t see him having anywhere near as much difficulty here. The striking is decidedly in his favor, and Jackson’s top-notch top game is hamstrung by wrestling that, on paper, can’t break through Kirk’s takedown defense the way Amirkhani did.
There’s the issue of this being another short-notice fight for Kirk, of course, but he seems to have the edge just about everywhere. Better striking, better wrestling and more than enough submission chops to steer clear of Jackson’s chokes. Depending on how he decides to proceed, he’ll either box up Jackson on the feet or overpower him on the mat.
Prediction: Kirk via unanimous decision
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2022: 32-13
Remember that 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+ “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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