After failing to conquer Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, Middleweight contenders Marvin Vettori and Jared Cannonier look to prove they still belong among the elite this Saturday (June 17, 2023) when they battle it out inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. UFC Vegas 75 will also see top Lightweight Arman Tsarukyan take a step back in class against Joaquim Silva and unbeaten Christian Leroy Duncan take on fellow Middleweight striker, Armen Petrosyan.
First, though, we’ve got to get through eight UFC Vegas 75 “Prelims” undercard bouts. Here’s the first half of the ESPN/ESPN+ lineup:
125 lbs.: Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Felipe Bunes
Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-8) — once the Fight Nights Global champion thanks to wins over future/former UFC competitors Tyson Nam, Tagir Ulanbekov and Ali Bagautinov — finds himself 1-5 in the Octagon. His last two appearances proved the most controversial of the lot, dropping highly questionable split decisions to Jeff Molina and Charles Johnson.
“Zhako” stands three inches shorter than Felipe Bunes (13-6) and gives up 4.5 inches of reach.
Bunes capped off an undefeated (7-0) run with a flying submission of TUF veteran, Yoni Sherbatov, only to lose four of his next five. Undaunted, he took his talents to Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA), beating Wascar Cruz in his debut before knocking out Yuma Horiuchi to claim the promotion’s Flyweight title.
His professional finishes are split 8:3 between submissions and knockouts.
If Zhumagulov gets a fair shake from the judges, I like his chances. Bunes is skilled and well-rounded, but has historically demonstrated vulnerability to the swarming punches and steady low kicks that are Zhumagulov’s bread and butter. Though Bunes does have significant height and reach advantages, Zhumagulov has proven adept at closing the distance when not facing a huge difference in athleticism.
The two big concerns are Zhumagulov’s cardio, which seems to dwindle partway through the second round of late, and Bunes’ wrestling. Though both could carry “Felipinho” to victory, Zhumagulov should have enough in the tank to take the first two rounds at minimum with high-volume striking.
Prediction: Zhumagulov via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Tereza Bleda vs. Gabriella Fernandes
Tereza Bleda (6-1) made her Contender Series walk with the Oktagon MMA title around her waist, then handed Nayara Maia her first defeat to claim an Octagon berth. Her UFC debut pitted her against former Jungle Fight champion, Natalia Silva, who knocked Bleda from the ranks of the unbeaten with a spinning back kick to the face (watch it).
She’ll enjoy three inches of height and five inches of reach on Gabriella Fernandes (8-2).
Fernandes capped off her three-fight LFA stint by choking out Karoline Martins for its interim Flyweight title. Five months later, she stepped up on short notice to face Jasmine Jasudavicius in her UFC debut, starting strong but succumbing to the latter’s wrestling attack down the stretch.
Her five finishes include three by submission.
This honestly feels a lot like Fernandes’ fight with Jasudavicius. Though the 22-year-old Bleda is slowly inching her way toward functionality on the feet, she’s still badly out-classed by Fernandes. Thing is, that only matters if Fernandes can consistently stay out of the clinch, which proved beyond her capabilities against the similarly plodding Jasudavicius.
Once Bleda gets her hands on her, it’s one-way traffic.
I’m not prepared to write off either of these women after poor debuts, but four months isn’t enough time for Fernandes to have fixed the issues that doomed her against Jasudavicius. In short, consistent takedowns and long stretches of top control should carry Bleda to a dominant victory.
Prediction: Bleda via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Dan Argueta vs. Ronnie Lawrence
Dan Argueta (9-1) went one-and-done on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 29 thanks to eventual tournament winner, Ricky Turcios. After racking up three wins in LFA and claiming its Bantamweight title, “Determined” made the jump to UFC, falling to Damon Jackson in his debut before cruising past late replacement, Nick Aguirre, seven months later.
All but one of his six stoppage wins have come in the first round.
A one-sided wrestling clinic against Jose Johnson sent Ronnie Lawrence (8-2) to the Octagon, where he defeated Vince Cachero and Mana Martinez in similar fashion. Saidyokub Kakhramonov proved a step too far, giving “The Heat” a taste of his own medicine to end his five-fight win streak.
He’s the taller of the two by one inch, but faces a 1.5-inch reach advantage.
Whoever dictates where the fight takes place will emerge victorious. Argueta’s nonexistent striking defense gives Lawrence a huge edge on the feet, while Lawrence’s inability to keep Kakhramonov off of him gives Argueta a clear path to victory.
I’m leaning toward Lawrence, though Argueta should be more effective than usual now that he’s back in his proper weight class. Lawrence showed against Martinez that he can do huge damage to unprotected chins and getting manhandled by a beast like Kakhramonov doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a poor wrestler. In short, he tears up Argueta on the feet and survives some stretches on his back to edge out a decision.
Prediction: Lawrence via split decision
205 lbs.: Zac Pauga vs. Modestas Bukauskas
Zac Pauga’s (7-1) success on TUF 30 made him a sizable favorite in the finals, only for Mohammed Usman to shut his lights off with one punch (watch it). He had a bit more success against Jordan Wright, out-landing “The Beverly Hills Ninja” over three rounds to return to the win column.
He faces a two-inch reach advantage alongside his one-inch height disadvantage.
Modestas Bukauskas’ (14-5) UFC tenure came to an abrupt and brutal end when Khalil Rountree kicked his knee to pieces. He regrouped in his old Cage Warriors stomping grounds, reclaiming their Light Heavyweight title with a fourth-round knockout of Chuck Campbell, then made a triumphant UFC return by upsetting Tyson Pedro in Feb. 2023.
His professional finishes include nine knockouts and two submissions.
Though he looked good on TUF, Pauga’s UFC efforts haven’t inspired a ton of confidence. Getting lamped by the absolutely dreadful Usman and failing to put a dent in the undersized and fragile Jordan Wright are bad looks, especially for a 35-year-old.
Bukauskas, by contrast, looks to have solved at least some of the issues that held him to such a poor UFC start. He definitely hits quite a bit harder than Pauga and offers a more versatile striking offense. If Pauga can’t neutralize him against the fence like he did Wright, he’s in for a rough night, and Bukauskas is far better than Wright in almost every aspect of the sport. He uses constant motion to steadily piece Pauga apart en route to one of his customary late finishes.
Prediction: Bukauskas via third round technical knockout
Four more UFC Vegas 75 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, including a pair each of interesting Flyweight and Bantamweight bouts. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 75 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 75: “Vettori vs. Cannonier” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.