More than five years after first trading hands, surging Welterweight contenders Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad will share the cage once again this Saturday (April 16, 2022) when the Octagon returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Top Middleweight prospects Caio Borralho and Gadzhi Omargadzhiev are set to lock horns as well, as are Welterweight knockout machines Andre Fialho and Miguel Baeza.
UFC Vegas 51 features eight “Prelims” undercard bouts that will set the main card stage. Let’s serve up the first batch ...
265 lbs.: Chris Barnett vs. Martin Buday
The long-awaited UFC debut of Chris Barnett (22-7) wasn’t quite the triumph he wanted, falling victim to Ben Rothwell’s signature “Gogo Choke” in May 2021. That triumph would come five months later in the form of a wheel kick finish of Gian Villante at UFC 268 (watch highlights).
“Beast Boy” has knocked out 17 professional foes overall.
Slovakia’s Martin Buday (9-1) capped off his run on the European circuit by knocking out Kamil Minda for the Oktagon Heavyweight title. Then came a Contender Series opportunity, which saw him maul Lorenzo Hood to claim a spot in the Octagon.
He’ll have seven inches of height and two inches of reach on Barnett.
As much as I enjoy watching Barnett fight and wish for his continued success, this looks like a repeat of the Rothwell fight. Buday’s size, strength and clinch work present a hard counter to Barnett’s dynamism, and though Barnett is the better striker by a decent margin, he’s not going to get many opportunities to actually use those skills if Buday stays aggressive.
If Barnett can’t land one of his fancy kicks or clip Buday with punches on the way in, he’s going to get ground into dust on the fence and/or the mat. In the end, Buday smothers him to a decision victory.
Prediction: Buday via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Jordan Leavitt vs. Trey Ogden
Jordan Leavitt (9-1) followed his Contender Series victory by slamming Matt Wiman into oblivion in his UFC debut. He fell short against Claudio Puelles his next time out, but returned to the win column in December 2021 with an inverted triangle finish of Matt Sayles.
“The Monkey King” stands two inches shorter than the 5’11” Trey Ogden (15-4).
Three victories under the LFA banner earned Ogden a spot in a main event, where he suffered a submission loss to Nick Browne. He’s undefeated (3-0) since, including an arm triangle finish in front of Dana White at Fury FC 53.
Seven of his 11 professional submissions have come via rear-naked choke.
The stylistic match up definitely favors Ogden here, but he’ll have to be careful. He has the wrestling edge and recently showed off a much-improved striking attack. In fact, he can theoretically determine where the fight takes place and control the action from there. He does have a history of submission losses, though, and had to work his way out of a deep armbar two fights back. As we saw against Sayles, Leavitt doesn’t need a big opening to lock up something nasty.
At the same time, Leavitt’s struggle to consistently take down Leavitt and his previous issues with Claudio Puelles suggest that he won’t get any opportunities to use his submissions skills unless Ogden willingly gives them to him. In short, Ogden shuts down his takedowns, jabs him up and tears up his legs en route to victory.
Prediction: Ogden via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Istela Nunes vs. Sam Hughes
Istela Nunes (7-2) bounced back from an unsuccessful ONE title shot against Angela Lee with a unanimous decision over Gina Iniong. Then came a three-year layoff, which ended when Ariane Carnelossi choked her out in Oct. 2021.
She stands an inch shorter than “Sampage” but boasts a two-inch reach advantage.
Sam Hughes (5-4) followed her submission loss to Vanessa Demopoulos with a nasty first-round guillotine of Danielle Hindley to improve her LFA record to 2-1. This set up a short-notice UFC debut, kicking off an 0-3 run in the world’s largest fight promotion.
Three of her four professional finishes have come by first-round submission.
On paper, Nunes should take apart Hughes on the feet like Tecia Torres and Luana Pinhero before her. There’s an X-factor, though, and that’s Hughes’ wrestling. She’s had few opportunities to use it in the Octagon, as her first three foes were seasoned grapplers, but Carnelossi’s six takedowns make it a potential avenue to victory.
That said, Nunes entered the Carnelossi fight with three years of rust and still managed to mostly neutralize the wrestling until she faded in the middle of the second. Hughes is nowhere near as aggressive as “Sorriso,” meaning Nunes can lean on her technique and power advantages without draining her gas tank. When the dust settles, long-range power punches should carry her to her first UFC victory.
Prediction: Nunes via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Alatengheili vs. Kevin Croom
Alatengheili (14-8-2) defeated Danaa Batgerel and Ryan Benoit in the Octagon before suffering a rough loss to the fast-rising Casey Kenney on “Fight Island.” He looked poised to return to the win column against Gustavo Lopez, but losing a point for fence grabs forced him to settle for a draw.
He faces a six-inch height advantage and a seven-inch reach disadvantage.
Kevin Croom (21-14) saw a stunning upset submission of Roosevelt Roberts in his UFC debut overturned due to a failed drug test. “Crash” is still looking for his first official Octagon victory, having dropped decisions to Alex Caceres and Brian Kelleher in his next two efforts.
His professional finishes are split 10/6 between submissions and knockouts.
Alatengeili’s biggest enemy in this fight is his own lack of urgency. He has the wrestling skills to recreate Kelleher’s successful grappling efforts and his dynamite right hand looks like a potent weapon against Croom’s offbeat striking. It’s just a question of whether “The Mongolian Knight” will actually use those advantages — he’s been out-landed in all of his UFC appearances, twice by more than a two-to-one margin. Croom, on the other hand, is nothing if not dogged.
Still, while Alatengheili doesn’t always do a lot, it’s often just enough. Indeed, a conservative approach should carry him to victory, though he’ll make it closer than it needs to be.
Prediction: Alatengheili via split decision
Four more UFC Vegas 51 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict tomorrow, including the return of Drakkar Klose. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 51 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 8:30 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 51: “Luque vs. Muhammad 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.