After falling short against Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan (watch highlights), Mackenzie Dern will look to finally claim her first UFC main event victory this Saturday (May 20, 2023) when she battles ageless veteran, Angela Hill, inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also on tap is a make-or-break opportunity for Middleweight prospect Edmen Shahbazyan, who battles the always-dangerous Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez in the co-feature.
UFC Vegas 73 is down to just six “Prelims” undercard bouts, three of which we’ve broken down below. Let’s have a look ...
155 lbs.: Chase Hooper vs. Nick Fiore
Seventeen months after beating Canaan Kawaihae on Contender Series to earn a developmental contract, Chase Hooper (11-3-1) kicked off his UFC campaign with a technical knockout finish of Daniel Teymur. He’s since lost three of five, including a 92-second knockout at the hands of Steve Garcia in Oct. 2022 (watch it).
He boasts two inches of height and reach on Fiore.
Nick Fiore (6-1) went 5-1 as an amateur before racking up six quick wins on the New England circuit. He then stepped up on short notice to face Contender Series standout, Mateusz Rebecki, who out-warred Fiore en route to a decision win.
None of Fiore’s six professional victories have lasted longer than four minutes.
I can cut Hooper some slack for being 23 years old, but it’s been nearly six years since his professional debut and he’s not improving the way he should. He still looks downright unnatural on the feet, like he’s trying to force his body to move in ways it wasn’t designed to. That’s not something that a bit more muscle can fix.
It’s unclear whether Fiore can handle Hooper’s cardio onslaught — there’s only so much you can glean from a last-minute fight with Rebecki, who out-classed him in every conceivable category and would crumple Hooper into a perfect sphere if they ever fought. Fiore does have a solid grappling pedigree, though, and that’s enough to get him my nod.
Prediction: Fiore via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Natalia Silva vs. Victoria Leonardo
After 2.5 years on the sidelines, Natalia Silva (14-5-1) announced her UFC arrival with a one-sided decision over Contender Series graduate, Jasmine Jasudavicius. She was even more impressive her next time out, stopping unbeaten Tereza Bleda with a bonus-winning spinning back kick in Nov. 2022.
Her 11 professional finishes include seven via submission.
Victoria Leonardo (9-5) had the unenviable task of facing Manon Fiorot and Melissa Gatto in her first two UFC bouts, resulting in back-to-back technical knockout defeats. “Fury” finally claimed her first Octagon win in July 2022, out-wrestling Mandy Bohm to claim a unanimous decision.
She gives up one inch of reach to Silva despite standing one inch taller.
Leonardo’s first two UFC bouts saw her dominated by mobile, kick-heavy strikers whom she couldn’t reliably take down. She faces that same situation here and I do not see it going any better for her. Silva dismantled rugged grapplers in Jasudavicius and Bleda with relative ease, and on paper, Leonardo doesn’t bring anything to the table that those two didn’t.
Silva’s just too fast, too elusive, and too powerful for Leonardo’s basic approach to deal with. The big question here isn’t whether Silva will win, but whether she can put away Leonardo. I’ll be an optimist and say she seals the deal sometime around the midway point.
Prediction: Silva via second round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Takashi Sato vs. Themba Gorimbo (10-4)
Takashi Sato (16-6) started his UFC career 2-1, a submission loss to Belal Muhammad sandwiched between knockout wins over Jason Witt and Ben Saunders. The success wasn’t to last, and he enters the cage this weekend on the heels of three consecutive defeats.
He’s ended 13 professional fights inside the distance, 11 of them via knockout.
Themba Gorimbo (10-4) — the former EFC Welterweight champion — bounced back from a decision defeat to Handesson Ferreira by beating Julio Rodrigues in his Fury FC debut. This set up a Feb. 2023 UFC debut against late replacement, A.J. Fletcher, who choked out “The Answer” 97 seconds into the second round.
He stands three inches taller than Sato and enjoys a four-inch reach advantage.
As much as I’d like to see Sato drop the hammer on Gorimbo (both because “Ten” is the more entertaining fighter and because I still haven’t purged the Japanese MMA favoritism that defined my early years following the sport), it’s hard to have faith in him. He just doesn’t throw those heavy hands nearly enough; he was so terrified by the prospect of grappling with Gunnar Nelson that he threw 23 significant strikes over three complete rounds. Miguel Baeza didn’t even attempt a takedown in the first round of their fight and Sato still landed a measly eight strikes.
I don’t rate Gorimbo terribly highly — his grappling is shaky and his striking technique falls apart if he throws more than two shots at a time, but being willing to throw and keen to wrestle gives him the edge in my book. Unless Sato can plunk him with a one-hitter quitter, Gorimbo out-works and out-wrestles him to a decision win.
Prediction: Gorimbo via unanimous decision
Three more UFC Vegas 73 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict. See you tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 73 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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