After a few weeks away, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the airwaves this Saturday evening (Jan. 14, 2023) when Nassourdine Imavov battles super short notice replacement, Sean Strickland, in 2023’s first re-worked main event. UFC Vegas 67, which takes place inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, also features a Featherweight crossroads bout pitting Dan Ige against Damon Jackson and an under-the-radar Bantamweight battle between Umar Nurmagomedov and Raoni Barcelos.
Before all that, though, we’ve got three more “Prelims” undercard bouts to get through (check out the first batch here). Shall we?
185 lbs.: Claudio Ribeiro vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan
Claudio Ribeiro’s (10-2) brutal (and successful) war with Kelles Albuquerque earned him the Future MMA Middleweight title and a shot on the Contender Series. There, he flattened Ivan Valenzuela in just 25 seconds to secure a UFC contract.
All of his professional wins have come by knockout, eight of them in the first round.
A 4-1 UFC start gave way to three consecutive losses for Abdul Razak Alhassan (11-4), who finally returned to the win column in 2021 by stopping Alessio Di Chirico via head kick. His next outing pitted him against Joaquin Buckley, whom he battled to a razor-thin decision loss in Feb. 2022.
He stands three inches shorter than Ribeiro and gives up four inches of reach.
It’s easy to see the reason UFC brass chose this fight to lead the “Prelims” undercard. A combined 100 percent finish rate and mutual tendency to end things in the opening minutes make it hard to see this playing out as anything other than a slobber knocker.
As volatile as the match up looks on paper, though, I’m confident Alhassan gets it done. Ribeiro’s tendency to back himself to the fence plays right into Alhassan’s preferred berserker blitzes, his poor defensive grappling opens him up to Alhassan’s “Judo Thunder” should things go sour on the feet, and Alhassan might actually be the better of the two at protecting his face. Alhassan should bulldoze him in seconds, but even if he doesn’t, he’s got a better Plan B than Ribeiro.
Prediction: Alhassan via first round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Mateusz Rebecki vs. Nick Fiore
Mateusz Rebecki (16-1) rode a 12-fight win streak into Contender Series, which included seven defenses of the FEN Lightweight title. He was similarly effective at the APEX, choking out Rodrigo Lidio midway through the first round.
His 14 finishes are split 8/6 between knockouts and submissions.
Nick Fiore (6-0) went 5-1 as an amateur before turning pro in early 2020. He’s yet to see a second round in the paid ranks, stopping all comers in under four minutes apiece.
He steps in for the injured Omar Morales on around two weeks’ notice.
There’s a dearth of recent Fiore footage out there, so it’s hard to predict this one with any sort of certainty. On paper, though, it’s all Rebecki. While Fiore has a strong jiu-jitsu pedigree and quality training partners like Rob Font and Calvin Kattar, Rebecki is exponentially more proven against meaningful opposition. On top of that, Rebecki looks to have a serious edge in wrestling and punching power, plus ADCC-worthy grappling of his own.
I’ve been surprised before, but there’s way too much going Rebecki’s way. In short, he blows away Fiore with a nasty left hand sometime in the first frame.
Prediction: Rebecki via first round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Javid Basharat vs. Mateus Mendonca
A masterclass submission finish of Oron Kahlon on Contender Series earned Javid Basharat (13-0) his 11th professional victory and a UFC contract to boot. Though he had to make his first trips to the judges to do so, he successfully claimed victories over Trevin Jones and Tony Gravely in his first two Octagon outings.
He’s submitted six professional opponents and knocked out five others.
At just 21 years of age, Chute Boxe’s Mateus Mendonca (10-0) claimed a unanimous decision victory over UFC veteran Pedro Nobre under the Future MMA banner. Then came a nearly two-year layoff, followed by a 48-second wipeout of Ashiek Ajim on the Contender Series.
He’ll have more than two inches of reach on Basharat despite standing three inches shorter.
I do not understand the matchmaking here. Mendonca is an entertaining, super-promising 23-year-old who merits careful guidance as he polishes his technique to match his gifts. I’m not sure what pitting him against Basharat — a more completed project who deserves at least a fringe contender after beating Gravely — is meant to accomplish (I mean, besides making for an entertaining fight).
Even if Mendonca finds himself struggling to deal with Basharat’s slick out-fighting, he’ll never stop pursuing, and his solid clinch work might even pay dividends. I still like Basharat to play matador, neutralizing “Bocao” with lateral movement and sharp potshots as Mendonca tries to take his head off from bell to bell.
Prediction: Basharat via unanimous decision
UFC Vegas 67 features an intriguing main event and some volatile match ups, making for a solid opener to 2023. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Final Prediction Record for 2022: 181-94-2
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 67 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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