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UFC Vegas 59 preview: ‘Santos vs Hill’ predictions

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

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is just one day away from the upcoming UFC Vegas 59 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, which is set to go down tomorrow night (Sat., Aug. 6, 2022) from inside the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring a light heavyweight main event between Top 10 title hopefuls Thiago Santos and Jamahal Hill, a five-round headliner with serious title implications for late 2022 and beyond.

And let’s not forget The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 30 finals.

LIVE! Stream UFC San Diego On ESPN+

PIVOTAL BANTAMWEIGHT CLASH! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to San Diego, Calif., on Sat., Aug. 13, 2022, for the first time since 2015 with a pivotal battle between top-ranked Bantamweight contenders that will see No. 5-ranked Marlon Vera take on former champion and No. 8-seeded Dominick Cruz. In San Diego’s co-main event, Nate Landwehr and David Onama will collide in a Featherweight showdown between dynamic 145-pound hopefuls.

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

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, which includes the welterweight collision between Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, check out Patrick Stumberg’s detailed breakdowns for the UFC Vegas 59 preliminary card by clicking here and here. In addition, in-house pro fighter Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the UFC Vegas 59 main card (and TUF 30 finals) right here.

For the latest “Santos vs. Hill” odds and betting lines from Draft Kings go here.

Let’s get to work.

185 lbs.: Thiago Santos vs. Jamahal Hill

Thiago ‘Marreta’ Santos

Record: 22-10 | Age: 38 | Betting line: +225
Wins: 15 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.77 | Striking accuracy: 47%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.37 | Striking Defense: 55%
Takedown Average: 0.54 (36% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 65%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Magomed Ankalaev

Jamahal ‘Sweet Dreams’ Hill

Record: 10-1, 1 NC | Age: 31 | Betting line: -265
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 79” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 7.06 | Striking accuracy: 51%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.71 | Striking Defense: 45%
Takedown Average: 0.00 (0% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 60%
Current Ranking: No. 10 | Last fight: Knockout win over Johnny Walker

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Brazilian bruiser Thiago Santos was ranked No. 2 in the world, second only to then-top contender and former champion Daniel Cormier. For good reason, too, as “Marreta” had racked up an 8-1 record dating back to late 2016 with seven violent knockouts, including his thunderous third-round finish over former light heavyweight titleholder Jan Blachowicz. Then it all seemed to fall apart, starting with his razor-thin decision loss to 205-pound deity Jon Jones. Santos somehow managed to destroy both of his knees in that contest and came back a much different fighter, evidenced by his putrid 1-4 record over the last three years. Regardless, the former middleweight has been able to cling to the No. 6 spot, which may have more to do with the depth of the division than any residual good will toward the Brazilian’s previous accomplishments, some of which have not aged well. Santos is halfway to his 39th birthday and recently entered double digits in the loss column, though to be fair he consistently fights the best the weight class has to offer. Aside from losing to Jones, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, “Marreta” was defeated by Glover Teixeira, Magomed Ankalaev, and Aleksandar Rakic, who are all currently ranked in the Top 5 of the division. Not exactly bargain basement competition.

Jamahal Hill has been a pleasant surprise at 205 pounds and in many ways is becoming the dangerous contender we (prematurely) thought Johnny Walker would be. Since graduating Dana White’s “Contender Series” with a technical knockout victory over Alexander Poppeck, the 31 year-old “Sweet Dreams” has put together a 4-1 record with three knockouts, including his first-round destruction of the aforementioned Walker back in February. His record should reflect five wins with four knockouts, but Nevada’s ridiculous policy on marijuana had his destruction of Klidson Abreu overturned to a “No Contest.” When you have a fighter who is 10-1 with six knockouts I don’t think I’m dropping any jaws by suggesting he prefers the stand-up game and fortunately for Hill (as well as the fans), Santos — who owns 15 knockouts in 22 wins — is more than willing to oblige. For me, this fight boils down to a classic matchup of a younger fighter on his way up (Hill) taking on an older fighter on his way down (Santos). If we were talking about 2019 Santos or even a “Marreta” without double-knee surgery to his credit, I might be more inclined to lean in his direction, but Santos has gone five fights with zero knockouts and four losses, so it will take something monumentally stupid from Hill — defensively speaking — to change that trajectory.

Not likely.

Prediction: Hill def. Santos by technical knockout

170 lbs.: Vicente Luque vs. Geoff Neal

Vicente ‘Silent Assassin’ Luque

Record: 21-8-1 | Age: 30 | Betting line: -190
Wins: 11 KO/TKO, 8 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 6 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 5.30 | Striking accuracy: 53%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 5.18 | Striking Defense: 53%
Takedown Average: 0.54 (50% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 61%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Belal Muhammad

Geoff ‘Handz of Steel’ Neal

Record: 14-4 | Age: 31 | Betting line: +160
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.63 | Striking accuracy: 49%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.91 | Striking Defense: 62%
Takedown Average: 0.50 (50% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 85%
Current Ranking: No. 13 | Last fight: Split decision win over Santiago Ponzinibbio

I expected Vicente Luque to be next in line for a shot at the 170-pound title (behind Leon Edwards) after the Brazilian was booked to throw down with Belal Muhammad back in April, but then Luque laid an egg against “Remember the Name” and the “Silent Assassin” was just ... well, silent. I’m not sure what happened to the killer who captured four straight wins (and four nasty finishes) heading into that fight but the loss unquestionably set him back several fights. There’s still time to get it done; after all, Luque is just 30 years old, though I can’t help but wonder how long before those miles start to take some of the tread off the tires. You don’t rack up eight performance bonuses — four of which were “Fight of the Night” — by playing it safe. What makes Luque so dangerous for opponents (and so fun for fans) is his ability to win the fight wherever it goes. The Brazilian has 19 finishes in 21 wins, spread across 11 knockouts and eight submissions. In addition, he’s never been stopped on the feet so Geoff Neal is going to have his work cut out for him this weekend in “Sin City.”

Neal has proved to be just as dangerous as Luque, registering 10 finishes in 14 wins, though most of his stoppages come by way of knockout (8). Also like the “Silent Assassin,” Neal was red hot for a brief stretch, compiling five straight wins with four finishes after graduating Dana White’s “Contender Series” back in summer 2017. I’m not sure if Neal hit a rough patch over his last few fights or he couldn’t level up when the competition did, but “Handz of Steel” (spelled with a “Z” to let you know he’s still got street cred) dropped back-to-back decision losses to Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny before squeaking by Santiago Ponzinibbio with a split decision victory. I think what happens in this fight will go a long way in answering that question, though it’s been difficult to nail down a solid prediction when you consider how close Luque and Neal have become in statistics for both striking and grappling. If I wasn’t deathly afraid of a Microsoft Word-type formatting fail, I would include a fancy table to illustrate said statistics.

Instead, you’ll get a screen shot with Luque stats on the left and Neal stats on the right:

UFC Stats

Height and reach are practically even but Neal is a southpaw, which may or may not present a challenge for Luque, depending on what school of thought you’re from. Regardless of who wins, it’s hard to imagine this not being a contender for “Fight of the Night” and when push comes to shove, I think Luque has been far more consistent against tougher competition. Barring a self-destructing chin, I would expect “The Silent Assassin” to war his way to a narrow sweep on the judges’ scorecards.

Prediction: Luque def. Neal by unanimous decision

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 59 main card (and TUF 30) predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 59 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 59 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archives here and here. For the updated and finalized “Santos vs. Hill” fight card and ESPN/ESPN+ lineup click here.