This weekend (Sat., Jan. 14, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will kick off the New Year inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC Vegas 67. In the main event, long-time Middleweight contender, Kelvin Gastelum, was supposed defend his spot in the Top 10 opposite surging French striker Nassourdine Imavov. However, Gastelum suffered a pretty terrible mouth injury (see it here) just a few days ago, paving the way for Sean Strickland to step up on super short notice to battle Imavov in a re-worked Light Heavyweight attraction. The remainder of the card isn’t extraordinary by any means, but there are some fun match ups and top talents mixed throughout the 13-fight event.
Let’s take a closer look at the match ups that lead up the to co-main event:
Middleweight: Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov
Best Win for Soriano? Dusko Todorovic For Kopylov? Alessio di Chirico
Current Streak: Both men won their last bout
X-Factor: Kopylov showed off real improvements in his last performance
How these two match up: This is a battle of strikers.
Soriano definitely falls more into the category of power puncher than technician. The Southpaw is really good at closing distance suddenly with a massive left hand, using a wide stand to transfer huge amounts of power into his shots. Kopylov, conversely, is a former Fight Nights Global champion with some sharp boxing. He hasn’t yet lived up to his initial hype, largely because his wrestling defense and conditioning haven’t always been up to the task.
Fortunately, he showed up in shape last time out, scoring a third-round stoppage win.
Between the two, Kopylov is a bit more technical, the better combination puncher. I’m not sure, however, it’s a wide enough disparity to really matter. Soriano is the more athletic man, and his straight left is the most formidable weapon between them. I don’t know that Kopylov can avoid the shot, seeing as he has to exchange with Soriano in order to land his own shots.
Expect the Hawaiian to score his fourth UFC stoppage.
Prediction: Soriano via knockout
Women’s Bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington
Best Win for Vieira? Holly Holm For Pennington? Aspen Ladd
Current Streak: Vieira has won two straight (though the Holm victory was controversial), while Pennington has won four in a row
X-Factor: Vieira can make baffling in-fight decisions
How these two match up: I could see this fight going in a multitude of ways.
Vieira is a strong Bantamweight that likes to bully opponents. She can do so effectively at distance, in the clinch, or from top position. The Brazilian isn’t all brawn though, as she holds a Judo black belt and has a rather punishing jab. Pennington is a scrapper who puts together her punches well and is tough in exchanges. She also has a real knack for snatching up sudden strangles from strange positions, which could come into play here.
I could really see this going on of two ways. Hopefully, we get a competitive kickboxing scrap, in which Vieira’s jab and counter punches are pitted against Pennington’s body-head combos. Alternatively, the two could end up in an endless clinch slog, in which case whoever pushes the other woman into the fence more will likely be the winner.
In either case, I slightly favor Vieira. Her willingness to work with her back along the fence will always worry me, especially against a decent dirty boxer in Pennington, but overall, she should be the woman landing the harder shots and more likely to gain top position.
Prediction: Vieira via decision
Bantamweight: Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos
Best Win for Nurmagomedov? Brian Kelleher For Barcelos? Said Nurmagomedov
Current Streak: Nurmagomedov is 15-0 and has won three straight inside the Octagon, whereas Barcelos returned to the win column last time out
X-Factor: Barcelos is 35 years of age
How these two match up: This is a great fight.
With the last name Nurmagomedov, how much of an intro does the Russian really need? He’s lived up to the family name in a major way thus far, relentlessly grounding his opposition in consistently dominating performances.
Barcelos perhaps missed his window to contend inside the Octagon, not joining the UFC roster until fairly late in his professional career. Nevertheless, the Brazilian is a hugely talented veteran, an accomplished wrestler with a jiu-jitsu black belt and powerful Muay Thai.
This is far and away the toughest test of Nurmagomedov’s career. Barcelos is not a jiu-jitsu guy who learned takedowns like many of his countrymen; he’s a standout wrestler with a 93 percent takedown defense rating inside the Octagon. He’s also the superior striker by a considerable margin, so the potential is there for Barcelos to really shock Nurmagomedov.
Hell, I’m siding with the underdog. Years ago, fans theorized what would happen if Khabib ever squared off opposite Jose Aldo. This is about as close a substitute match up as can happen right now, and hopefully, fight fans appreciate what a unique clash opens the main card.
Prediction: Barcelos via decision
Final ‘X-Factor’ Picks for 2022: 52-33
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.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 67: “Strickland vs. Imavov” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.