One of the most efficient knockout artists in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) looks to take his final step toward a title fight this Saturday (April 22, 2023) when Sergei Pavlovich battles lethal veteran, Curtis Blaydes, inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, 130 pounds south, Ricky Simon puts his five-fight win streak on the line against Song Yadong, while Brad Tavares meets Bruno Silva in a clash of Middleweight mainstays.
UFC Vegas 71 features seven “Prelims this time, all of which join the main card on ESPN+. Let’s get cracking ...
265 lbs.: Mohammed Usman vs. Junior Tafa
Despite entering The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 30 house on the heels of a submission loss to Brandon Sayles, Mohammed Usman (9-2) worked his way to the finals with narrow decisions over Mitchell Sipe and Eduardo Perez. Then came undefeated Zac Pauga, whom Usman upset via one-punch knockout to claim both tournament victory and “Performance of the Night.”
He is the shorter man by one inch.
Junior Tafa (4-0) — a decorated kickboxer with Glory experience — turned his talents to mixed martial arts (MMA) in July 2022. His first four professional fights came in the span of less than six months, capped off by a 98-second knockout of Tsuyoshi Sudario in Rizin.
All of his professional MMA victories have come by knockout, three of them in the first round.
I think Tafa’s call-up was premature, honestly. He’s less than a year into his pro MMA career and he’s clearly working through some teething issues as he tries to convert his style from the ring to the cage. I’d have given him a few more softballs before easing him onto the world stage, although you could argue that’s what they’re doing by having him debut against Usman. “The Motor” doesn’t figure to test Tafa’s takedown defense and doesn’t have much to offer on the feet besides power, which Tafa’s more than able to deal with.
Tafa is definitely green enough to fall apart, but against someone willing to trade leather, it’s hard to pick against him. He out-slugs Usman for another quick finish.
Prediction: Tafa via first round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Francis Marshall vs. William Gomis
Though he was forced to make his second professional trip to the judges, Francis Marshall (7-0) sufficiently out-classed Connor Matthews on Contender Series to secure a UFC contract. His Octagon debut came four months later, resulting in a second round knockout of veteran Marcelo Rojo.
Four of his five professional finishes have come via submission.
Undefeated since his fourth professional fight in 2016, William Gomis cut his teeth on the European circuit before joining UFC in Sept. 2022. His Octagon debut pitted him against Jarno Errens, whom “Jaguar” edged out by majority decision.
He’ll enjoy three inches of height and one inch of reach on Marshall.
He may not have impressed in his UFC debut, but Gomis is going to give Marshall some real issues. “Jaguar’s” blend of strong kicks and tireless lateral movement present a puzzle for the fairly linear “Fire,” who’s not exactly a defensive wizard. This is a test of Marshall’s maturity and ability to stick to a gameplan in the face of adversity.
My guess is he passes. Gomis can get sloppy in combination, opening him up to Marshall’s powerful hands, and has shown a recent reliance on wrestling that could come back to bite him against a superior grappler. Marshall weathers the storm of kicks to rack up takedowns and win enough pocket exchanges to secure a win.
Prediction: Marshall via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Priscila Cachoeira vs. Karine Silva
Priscila Cachoeira (12-4) clawed her way out of an 0-3 UFC hole with knockouts of Shana Dobson and Gina Mazany, only to suffer a submission loss to Gillian Robertson and subsequently settle for a bogus decision over Ji Yeon Kim. There was nothing controversial about her most recent effort, which saw her demolish Ariane Lipski in 65 seconds.
“Zombie Girl” gives up two inches of reach to Karine Silva (15-4) despite standing two inches taller.
“Killer” fought through a round of overpowering wrestling to choke out Yan Qihui on the Contender Series, earning a UFC contract in the process. Her subsequent Octagon debut pitted her against Poliana Botelho, whom Silva finished via bonus-winning d’arce choke late in the first round. All of her pro wins have come inside the distance, eight of them via (T)KO.
The ingredients are there for another Cachoeira upset. Silva doesn’t fight well off of her back foot and her cardio is unproven, neither of which are issues you want to have against an impossibly durable and relentless slugger. I’m just not convinced that Silva’s issues are enough to offset her advantages, namely her speed and, more importantly, her ground game. Cachoeira is a non-entity off of her back, essentially relying on opponents gassing themselves out trying to keep her down, and that’s not a viable strategy against a skilled finisher.
So long as Silva doesn’t get caught up in a slugfest, she’s sharp enough to hold her own on the feet and drag things into her wheelhouse as needed. She finds Cachoeira’s neck before cardio can become an issue.
Prediction: Silva via first round submission
135 lbs.: Brady Hiestand vs. Danaa Batgerel
Brady Hiestand (6-2) battled his way past Josh Rettinghouse and Vince Murdock in the TUF 29 house, only to fall just short against teammate Ricky Turcios in the finals. A yearlong layoff followed, after which he out-dueled Contender Series graduate, Fernie Garcia, for his first Octagon victory.
His pro wins are split evenly between knockouts, submissions, and decisions.
Danaa Batgerel (12-4) put his “Fight of the Night” UFC debut loss to Alatengheili behind him with three consecutive first round knockouts, one of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” The momentum wasn’t to last, and he enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of consecutive losses to Chris Gutierrez and Kyung Ho Kang.
“Storm” faces one-inch height and reach disadvantages.
For Hiestand’s sake, that loss to Turcios better have been a learning experience. Cardio and durability issues are the last things you want against an aggressive, heavy-handed slugger like Danaa, especially since Hiestand can’t rely on grinding out a wrestler of “Storm’s” caliber.
To be fair, Hiestand is at the stage of his career where dramatic improvements are to be expected, so he’s got a shot at recreating Alatengheili’s successful efforts and neutralizing Danaa with key takedowns. More likely, though, Danaa lands the heavier blows and overpowers the hittable Hiestand down the stretch to edge out a decision.
Prediction: Danaa via split decision
Three more UFC Vegas 71 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including an intriguing clash of styles between Rani Yahya and Montel Jackson. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 71 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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