This weekend (Sat., May 14, 2022), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will return to Las Vegas, Nevada, and its Apex facility for UFC Vegas 54. At this point, everyone reading should know the drill: last weekend was a big pay-per-view (PPV) event with high stakes, so now it’s time to slow it all back down with the standard Apex fare. As usual, the main event of Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic is the only bout that carries immediate divisional implications, but there are still some quality action fighters who promise to entertain on Saturday night.
Let’s take a closer look at these main card donnybrooks:
Bantamweight: Davey Grant vs. Louis Smolka
Best Win for Grant? Jonathan Martinez For Smolka? Ben Nguyen
Current Streak: Grant has lost two in a row, whereas Smolka came up short last time out
X-Factor: Grant takes huge chances with his wild swings
How these two match up: Expect a fight that breaks the punch stats or ends in an early knockout.
Sometime around the start of COVID-19, Grant was reborn. Previously a grappler who only fought every couple years, Grant has been far more active since his 2020 return, and he now relies almost exclusively on massive swings to chase the knockout.
At one point, Smolka was a Flyweight contender. A loss streak saw him released, however, and after working his way back to the promotion as a Bantamweight, he’s established himself more as an action fighter than title threat. Either way, he really tries to put a pace on opponents, throwing punches-in-bunches while occasionally looking to jump on the neck.
This reads like an abysmal match up for the Hawaiian. Grant is bigger, hits harder, and is unlikely to be deterred by Smolka’s volume attack, nor is he likely to lose the wrestling battle. Perhaps Smolka can wear Grant down with activity alone, but if “Dangerous” can eat Marlon Vera’s violent output without slowing too terribly, that seems unlikely.
The odds are far higher that Smolka throws himself into the fire and gets smoked.
Prediction: Grant via knockout
Women’s Flyweight: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
Best Win for Chookagian? Jennifer Maia For Ribas? Mackenzie Dern
Current Streak: Chookagian has won three in a row, while Ribas won her last bout
X-Factor: This is a former Bantamweight vs. former Strawweight
How these two match up: This is a sneaky good women’s Flyweight fight.
Aside from the champion, Chookagian is the most accomplished woman at 125 lbs. She’s defeated several fellow title contenders, and while no one is clamoring for a Shevchenko rematch, Chookagian has proven herself a tricky opponent for the majority of the division thanks to her rangy kickboxing.
Ribas is a really well-rounded contender. A Judo and jiu-jitsu black belt, Ribas also some some technical striking, though she gets cracked a bit more often than is preferred. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old talent remains one to watch at 115- or 125-pounds.
This is tricky, as both women have clear advantages. Chookagian is the bigger woman, more established at the weight class, and she has a kickboxing advantage. Importantly, Chookagian is also just damn good at doing enough to win decisions, an underrated skill in a division where finishes are uncommon.
Ribas, on the flip side, is younger, more athletic, and the superior grappler. The question, then, becomes whether or not the Brazilian will be able to get her takedowns going at 125-pounds vs. an experienced counter wrestler.
Will this intriguing style match up produce a fun fight? I wouldn’t be so confident. However, I still am overall high on Ribas’ potential, so I’ll side with the Brazilian to make a splash in the Flyweight rankings.
Prediction: Ribas via decision
Lightweight: Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
Best Win for Camacho? Nick Hein For Torres? Kolton Englund
Current Streak: Camacho has lost two in a row, whereas Torres is debuting on a three-fight win streak
X-Factor: Camacho has missed weight twice previously at 155-pound
How these two match up: Veteran vs. prospect violence!
Camacho has over 30 professional fights, and he’s better-known for entertaining slugfests rather than his jiu-jitsu black belt. Historically, Camacho is a durable brawler, though he did get creamed in his last appearance almost two years ago opposite a short-notice Justin Jaynes.
A “Contender Series” product, Torres is an aggressive athlete with some real power in his hands. He’s comfortable at distance and in top position, having finished his victories via knockout and submission at a fairly even rate.
This bout should tell us a lot about where Camacho stands in 2022. “The Crank” has some very real skills, but he also has been in tons of punishing wars and enters following a major layoff. It’s always iffy whether or not Camacho will follow the game plan, and it’s also unclear if he still has the chin to trade big shots with a hungry young talent.
Still, Camacho has a good deal more experience, and to be frank, it’s hard to be high on most “Contender Series” vets lately. If Camacho mixes up his attack, Torres is likely to play into his game on the mat, and that’s when Camacho’s skill can really shine.
Prediction: Camacho via decision
Flyweight: Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
Best Win for Hadley? Mitch Raposo For Nascimento? Ruslan Abiltarov
Current Streak: Hadley debuts at 8-0, while Nascimento lost his own UFC debut last time out
X-Factor: UFC jitters?
How these two match up: This scrap might have a few more eyes on it than the average Flyweight contest.
Hadley is a “Contenders Series” product also, but he actually had a fair bit of hype behind him ahead of the show. A Bellator veteran and former Cage Warriors champion, Hadley had enough momentum behind him that even a weight miss and irritated UFC employees didn’t prevent his signing.
Nascimento is a pretty fun fighter himself. A high-volume kicker unafraid to scrap, Nascimento is first and foremost a submission threat. However, he has a struggled a bit when his opponents are able to force their way into top position.
It seems likely each man tests the other in every area. They’ll trade on the feet, wrestle along the fence, and swap submission attempts once on the mat. There’s always a chance one side connects on a perfect overhand or fully sinks in a choke, but otherwise, the recipe for a closely contested and varied battle is there.
Though Hadley likely has the higher ceiling, I like Nascimento here. He’s generally fought a higher level of competition, and he’s more experienced overall. In a back-and-forth scrap, that experience is invaluable.
Prediction:: Nascimento via decision
‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2022: 26-12
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 54 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN2/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.
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