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UFC Vegas 67 preview, ‘Strickland vs Imavov’ predictions

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is kicking off its 2023 fight campaign with a stitched together mixed martial arts (MMA) event taking place this Sat. night (Jan. 14) at the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring a light heavyweight headliner between late replacement Sean Strickland — filling in for the injured Kelvin Gastelum — and surging 185-pound prospect Nassourdine Imavov. Before that five-round clash of styles gets underway, Dan Ige will look to cement his place among the top 145-pound contenders when he trades leather with grizzled featherweight veteran Damon Jackson. Their 15-minute affair takes over the co-main event slot, previously held by the since-delayed welterweight bout between Geoff Neal and Shavkat Rakhmonov.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 68 On ESPN+

TOP-RANKED HEAVYWEIGHT HEADLINERS! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Feb. 4, 2023, headlined by a hard-hitting main event between No. 7-ranked Heavyweight contender, Derrick Lewis, finally locking horns with No. 12-seeded Serghei Spivac. In UFC Vegas 68’s co-main event, Light Heavyweight hopefuls Da-Un Jung and Devin Clark hook ‘em up on ESPN+. Please note: UFC Vegas 68 start time for the main card is scheduled for 1 a.m. ET.

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

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, which which air exclusively on the ESPN+ digital network (sign up here), check out Patrick Stumberg’s easy and breezy UFC Vegas 67 preliminary card breakdowns here and here. In addition, resident MMA hero Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the UFC Vegas 67 main card right here. For the latest “Strickland vs. Imavov” odds and betting lines courtesy of our fiscal friends over at Draft Kings go here.

Let’s break it down ...

205 lbs.: Sean Strickland vs. Nassourdine Imavov

Sean “Tarzan” Strickland

Record: 25-5 | Age: 31 | Betting line: -105
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 11 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 5.59 | Striking accuracy: 40%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.18 | Striking Defense: 64%
Takedown Average: 1.09 (62% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 85%
Current Ranking: No. 7 | Last fight: Split decision loss to Jared Cannonier

Nassourdine Imavov

Record: 12-3 | Age: 27 | Betting line: -115
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.08 | Striking accuracy: 54%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.43 | Striking Defense: 62%
Takedown Average: 0.95 (23% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 76%
Current Ranking: No. 12 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Joaquin Buckley

Middleweight mental patient Sean Strickland will jump off the couch for a light heavyweight main event against up-and-coming 185-pound prospect Nassourdine Imavov and I know we’re all supposed to stand and cheer because “Tarzan” is saving the day — following a late injury to the battered Kelvin Gastelum — but I haven’t seen anything from Strickland in recent fights that has me excited. He “fought like a pussy” in a split decision win over Jack Hermansson at UFC Vegas 45 (his words, not mine), got knocked the f—k out by Alex Pereira at UFC 276, then lost a tepid decision to Jared Cannonier at UFC Vegas 66.

Let’s be honest, if Strickland wasn’t running his mouth and regurgitating every moronic thought that came into his head, he would probably be fighting on the pay-per-view “Prelims” somewhere or toiling away in middleweight no man’s land. That’s not to take away from his talent. Strickland is a solid wrestler with sneaky submissions and he’s racked up double-digit knockouts, he just can’t seem to close the show when it matters most, or perhaps he’s not good enough to bag and tag the division’s elite. What I do know is that he’s going to have his hands full this Sat. night in Las Vegas.

Nassourdine Imavov was able to score a UFC contract by racking up an 8-2 record after his first 10 fights on the international circuit, though I don’t think anyone is breaking out the champagne for submission wins over the 8-10 Mateusz Gluch, or the 1-3 Francesco Demontis. The Parisian proved he belonged in UFC with a debut victory over Jordan Williams and after stumbling against the hot-and-cold Phil Hawes, Imavov rattled off three straight wins, including last September’s decision victory over Joaquin Buckley. The fight proved the Frenchman can take a punch (and then some), just as his preceding victory over Edmen Shahbazyan demonstrated Imavov’s pressure, as well as his takedown defense and corresponding retaliation.

That has to be a concern for Strickland fans because Imavov is the larger combatant and coming off a full camp. You can argue that he will also be competing at a disadvantage, training for a different opponent until the eleventh hour, but Strickland is not unlike Gastelum with his solid chin and wrestling-based offense. I find it hard to pick against a rising star who just hit second gear and looks more impressive each time out, especially when he’s paired against a late replacement who appears to be stuck in neutral.

Prediction: Imavov def. Strickland via technical knockout

145 lbs.: Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson

Dan “50k” Ige

Record: 15-6 | Age: 31 | Betting line: -125
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 6 DEC
Height: 5’7“ | Reach: 71” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.80 | Striking accuracy: 45%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.56 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 1.23 (25% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 51%
Current Ranking: No. 13 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Movsar Evloev

Damon “Action” Jackson

Record: 22-4-1, 1 NC | Age: 34 | Betting line: +105
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 15 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 71” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.65 | Striking accuracy: 41%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.83 | Striking Defense: 50%
Takedown Average: 2.62 (40% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 42%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Pat Sabatini

This fight between Dan Ige and Damon Jackson may not have the name value some fans want in a co-main event, but anyone familiar with “50k” and “Action” understands this three-round contest is likely to be balls-to-the-wall action from start to finish. Ige is hovering just outside the Top 10 at No. 13, which could be considered a generous placement after losing three straight and four of his last five. The Hawaiian’s lone win during that span came via bonus-bagging knockout over Gavin Tucker at UFC Vegas 21.

Similarly, Jackson registered a recent performance bonus of his own by smashing and trashing Pat Sabatini at UFC Vegas 60 last September. Despite that violent finish, “Action” is known more for his dangerous submission game, responsible for 15 taps in 22 wins — nine of which have come by way of rear-naked choke. Ige has never been finished in 21 professional fights but that doesn’t make him immune, especially considering he’s been facing mostly strikers over the last few years.

My big concern for Ige heading into this featherweight fracas is his takedown defense. He was dragged to the floor nine times by Movsar Evloev and three times by Chan Sung Jung. When you consider that Jackson has scored 11 takedowns across his last four fights — two of which he finished — then it’s fair to assume Ige will spend some time on the canvas this weekend in “Sin City.” You can never discount the toughness of a gamer like “50k,” I just think stylistically, this is a bad matchup for him.

Prediction: Jackson def. Ige via submission

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 67 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 67 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 67 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive here. For the updated and finalized “Strickland vs. Imavov” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.

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