After falling to Brandon Moreno in a bid for interim Flyweight gold (watch highlights), Kai Kara-France looks to return to contention this Saturday (June 3, 2023) when he battles Amir Albazi in the latest main event inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, 20 pounds north, Alex Caceres and Daniel Pineda attempt to build off their recent bonus-winning finishes, while Tim Elliott takes on late replacement, Victor Altamirano, in another potential banger at 125 pounds.
We’ve got three more UFC Vegas 74 “Prelims” undercard bouts to examine (check out the first batch here); scroll on down and check out the goods:
170 lbs.: Abubakar Nurmagomedov vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos
After a lengthy stint with World Series of Fighting (WSOF)/Professional Fighters League (PFL), Abubakar Nurmagomedov (17-3-1) kicked off his UFC tenure with a shock upset loss to David Zawada. Injury and illness have held him to just two fights in the last 3.5 years, though he emerged victorious in both efforts against Jared Gooden and Gadzhi Omargadzhiev.
His 10 professional finishes are split 6:4 between knockouts and submissions.
An impressive seven-fight win streak put Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (23-7) on the brink of contention, only for the Brazilian to hit a 1-2 skid. “Capoeira” roared back in brutal fashion against the debuting Benoit Saint-Denis, putting on one of 2021’s most vicious beatings en route to a unanimous decision victory.
This marks his first fight in 19 months due to a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) suspension.
It’s a shame that Nurmagomedov has struggled to stay active because he’s really developed beyond “Khabib’s less-impressive cousin” into an effective, well-rounded fighter. As much as I love watching “Capoeira” wreck people, I like the current Nurmagomedov’s chances. Takedown defense has long dogged Zaleski dos Santos and Nurmagomedov’s striking looks sufficient to keep him afloat on the feet.
Though Zaleski dos Santos could just blast Nurmagomedov into oblivion with an out-of-nowhere haymaker or wheel kick, Nurmagomedov’s basic, effective approach looks like just the ticket against the rusty Brazilian. In the end, persistent takedowns carry him to his third UFC victory.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: John Castaneda vs. Muin Gafurov
John Castaneda (19-6) put a UFC debut loss to Nathaniel Wood behind him to stop Eddie Wineland and Miles Johns back-to-back. He looked poised to make it three straight after pummeling Daniel Santos at the APEX, but ultimately succumbed to a comeback knockout late in the second round.
“Sexi Mexi” has knocked out and submitted seven professional foes apiece.
Muin Gafurov (18-4) rolled into Contender Series in the midst of a 6-1 run, but failed to capitalize on -450 odds in a split decision loss to Chad Anheliger. After serving a USADA suspension for a diuretic, “Tajik” took his talents to Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA), stopping Herbeth Sousa and Diego Silva back-to-back to claim the promotion’s Bantamweight title.
He steps in for the injured Mateus Mendonca on less than two weeks’ notice.
The short notice looks like the X-factor here. If both men are in peak condition, it’s hard to see Gafurov losing — he’s the heavier hitter, the stronger wrestler and an adept pressure fighter. Considering how much Castaneda struggled with Santos’ relentless advance, Gafurov looks like a nightmare matchup.
That’s a big “if,” though.
Gafurov faded badly on Contender Series and missed weight his next time out. Castaneda has the output to turn the tide if Gafurov slows down at any point, especially since the latter isn’t terribly difficult to hit. Still, there’s enough going in Gafurov’s favor to win him at least the first two rounds. In short, expect him to keep Castaneda on the back foot and rack up takedowns to seal the deal.
Prediction: Gafurov via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Andrei Arlovski vs. Don’Tale Mayes
Unfazed by a 1-4 (1 NC) skid, the ageless Andrei Arlovski (34-21) quietly put together a 6-1 run to secure his place in Heavyweight contention. The momentum wasn’t to last, though, as he suffered a 110-second submission loss to Marcos Rogerio de Lima in Oct. 2022.
“Pitbull” has ended 17 professional fights by knockout, though none since 2015.
Following a pair of submission losses to Ciryl Gane and Rodrigo Nascimento, Don’Tale Mayes (9-5) evened up his UFC record by beating Roque Martinez and Josh Parisian. He’s winless since, losing a later-overturned decision to Hamdy Abdelwahab and a sustained one to Augusto Sakai in successive efforts.
“Lord Kong” will enjoy three inches of height and four inches of reach on Arlovski.
I think it fair to say that Arlovski’s resurgence was partially illusory — most of the men he beat in that 6-1 run are no longer employed by UFC and the best of the remainder was Philipe Lins. Still, his ability to drag opponents into low-output slogs should work nicely against Mayes, who never quite managed to harness his impressive athleticism into a cohesive offense.
Mayes needs to either consistently get on top or keep things at long range, neither of which he seems capable of doing. In short, expect another Arlovski grind as he once again befuddles a physically superior opponent for a decision win.
Prediction: Arlovski via unanimous decision
It’s good to see one of UFC’s most consistently entertaining divisions get the spotlight it deserves. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 72-42-1
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.