The first men’s Flyweight main event of 2023 hits the ESPN airwaves this Saturday (June 3, 2023) when all-action Kai Kara-France squares off with once-beaten finisher, Amir Albazi, inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. UFC Vegas 74 will also showcase a clash of Featherweight veterans between Aex Caceres and Daniel Pineda, as well as a quick return to action for Jared Gordon opposite Jim Miller.
UFC Vegas 74 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, all on ESPN+. Here’s what the broadcast has to offer ...
135 lbs.: Daniel Santos vs. Johnny Munoz
These two were supposed to fight at UFC 288 before Santos withdrew with an injury, so I’ll reuse what I had then ...
After nearly 2.5 years on the sideline, Daniel Santos (9-2) finally made his UFC debut in April 2022, ultimately losing a decision to Julio Arce. His sophomore effort six months later pitted him against John Castaneda, whom Santos survived a disastrous first round to brutalize late in the second and claim “Fight of the Night.”
He faces a two-inch height disadvantage and a four-inch reach disadvantage.
Johnny Munoz’s (12-2) perfect professional start (10-0), which took place entirely in King of the Cage, saw him claim the promotion’s Bantamweight title before ultimately joining UFC in 2020. His 2-2 UFC run has seen him beat Jamey Simmons and Liudvik Sholinian amidst losses to Nate Maness and Tony Gravely.
Seven of his professional wins, including the one over Simmons, came via submission.
I would like to thank the UFC brass for giving Santos a winning matchup and ensuring a longer stay in the organization. “Willycat” is the kind of kill-or-be-killed lunatic who reminds us that, for all we crow about technical wizardry and strategic planning, there’s nothing quite like watching a dude beat the piss out of another dude with no regard for his personal well-being.
Not saying Munoz is doomed, of course. Besides his top-notch ground game, he’s got a great jab that could bedevil the ever-hittable Santos. What he doesn’t have is a great gas tank, which is the last thing you want against a relentless pressure fighter. Between Santos’ output and excellent scrambling ability, Munoz will be hard-pressed to slow things to his preferred pace, and that jab will stop working in a hurry once “Kid Kvenbo” starts losing steam. Munoz clowns on Santos for about a round and a half before Santos’ pressure finally breaks through and buries Munoz in power shots.
Prediction: Santos via third round technical knockout
115 lbs.: Elise Reed vs. Jinh Yu Frey
Elise Reed (6-3) — less than two months removed from a technical knockout finish of Hilarie Rose in her second CFFC title defense — unsuccessfully stepped up on short notice to challenge Sijara Eubanks in her Octagon debut. She’s since alternated losses and wins, most recently following an upset of unbeaten Melissa Martinez with a submission loss to Loma Lookboonmee.
Two of her four professional wins have come via (technical) knockout.
Wins over Gloria de Paula and Ashley Yoder earned Jinh Yu Frey (11-8) her first multi-fight win streak since 2018, only for a controversial decision loss to Vanessa Demopoulos to bounce her from the win column. Things didn’t go much better in her next bout, which saw Polyana Viana knock her out in 47 seconds (watch highlights).
She’ll enjoy a two-inch reach advantage over Reed.
Reed’s poor ground game will keep her out of contention for the foreseeable future, but as we saw in her win over Cory McKenna, getting close enough to put her on her back is easier said than done. Frey is 38 years old and coming off a brutal knockout loss. And considering her long-standing tendency to let fights slip away through passivity, I don’t see her mustering up the pressure and output needed to consistently close the gap on a much more mobile, versatile and active striker.
In Frey’s defense, she did manage to grind out another superior kickboxer in de Paula, but that came in large part because of poor decision-making on the Brazilian’s part. Odds are that Reed does a better job of minding her P’s and Q’s, taking apart Frey at long distance for a dominant decision win.
Prediction: Reed via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Da’Mon Blackshear vs. Luan Lacerda
Da’Mon Blackshear’s (12-5-1) four-fight win streak came to an end in his short-notice UFC debut, which saw Youssef Zalal claw his way to a majority draw after losing the first two rounds. He subsequently fell short against Farid Basharat, but did manage to take a round from the -450 favorite.
He stands three inches taller than Luan Lacerda (12-2) at 5’10.”
Nova Uniao’s Lacerda made his way to UFC on the back of a 10-fight win streak, which included a title run in Shooto Brasil and two submission wins in Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA). These set up an Octagon debut against Cody Stamann, who narrowly outlasted Lacerda to hand him his first defeat since 2014.
All 10 of his professional stoppages have come via submission.
The blueprint is out for Blackshear: put him on his back and there’s not a whole lot that he can do. It’s how Danny Sabatello and Farid Basharat beat him, and even though Lacerda’s not that level of wrestler, he’s skilled enough in that department to put the very squirrely Stamann on his back. His ultra-sharp Brazilian jiu-jitsu is more than sufficient to keep Blackshear on his back for as long as necessary and/or snatch a submission at some point.
If Blackshear has an edge on the feet — which is far from a given considering Lacerda’s basic-but-effective Muay Thai — it’s not sufficient to offset the threat of Lacerda’s far superior ground game. In short, Lacerda drags him to the mat for an early finish.
Prediction: Lacerda via first round submission
265 lbs.: Philipe Lins (16-5) vs. Maxim Grishin (32-9-2)
Philipe Lins (16-5) saw eight fights fall through from June 2020 to Feb. 2023, a span in which he saw action just once. He made up for some of that lost time in his most recent effort, which saw him knockout Ovince Saint Preux in just 49 seconds (watch highlights).
The win marked his ninth professional knockout and 13th finish overall.
Grishin made his first UFC walk in the midst of a nine-year mixed martial arts (MMA) run that saw him tally an impressive record (18-1-2), the lone loss coming to Magomed Ankalaev. He currently sits at 2-2 in the world’s largest MMA promotion, most recently pot-shotting his way to a decision over William Knight.
He fights for the first time in nearly 16 months, as three separate bouts fell through.
One of those three fizzled fights was supposed to be against Lins in Oct. 2022, and my thoughts haven’t really changed. Lins is definitely the faster of the two and showed that he still has something left in the tank against Saint Preux, but his durability issues make it hard to trust him against the steady attack of Grishin.
Grishin’s layoff is certainly a concern, especially as he just turned 39 last month, but he’s still the more reliable operator. In short, a chippy, tit-for-tat striking battle ends abruptly when Grishin’s right hand finds the mark.
Prediction: Grishin via first round technical knockout
Three more UFC Vegas 74 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the late-notice debut of Bantamweight finisher, Muin Gafurov. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 74 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 9 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 74: “Kara-France vs. Albazi” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.