UFC continues its quest to cram Sean Strickland down our throats at every opportunity this Saturday when he battles one-fight UFC veteran Abus Magomedov in “Tarzan’s” fifth main event. UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also host a genuinely interesting Lightweight battle between Damir Ismagulov and Grant Dawson, as well as the return of prospect Michael Morales against Max Griffin.
UFC Vegas 76 features just six “Prelims” undercard bouts this time around, split 3:3 for your perusal. Let’s have a look ...
125 lbs.: Ivana Petrovic vs. Luana Carolina
Ivana Petrovic (6-0) enjoyed a 5-1 amateur career before turning professional in 2021. After a pair of wins on the European circuit, she joined France’s ARES FC, ultimately winning and defending its Flyweight title.
She has knocked out three opponents and submitted another two.
Luana Carolina (8-4) followed her successful Contender Series appearance with a 3-1 UFC start, including an upset of the heavily favored Lupita Godinez. The success wasn’t to last, as she dropped back-to-back bouts against Molly McCann and Joanne Wood.
“Dread” stands two inches shorter than Petrovic and gives up around that much reach.
I have to give credit to the matchmaking here. This is a very winnable debut for Petrovic, whose effective wrestling and excellent top control should serve her well against Carolina’s limited grappling, but her tendency to get dropped and Carolina’s output combine to present a real tripping hazard.
Still, there’s a whole lot going her way, especially since she does some of her best work in the clinch and Carolina isn’t particularly adept at keeping her distance. Plus, Petrovic’s striking has looked sharper of late, so she shouldn’t be totally out-classed on the feet. In the end, she takes down Carolina early and often, racking up ground-and-pound en route to a mid-round stoppage.
Prediction: Petrovic via second round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Alexandr Romanov vs. Blagoy Ivanov
Alexandr Romanov (16-2) emerged as one of UFC’s more exciting Heavyweight newcomers with five straight Octagon victories, four of them inside the distance. Despite that momentum, “King Kong” fell apart down the stretch against Marcin Tybura in his first-ever defeat, then suffered a technical knockout loss at the hands of Alexander Volkov.
Fifteen of his 16 professional wins have come inside the distance, 10 of them via submission.
Blagoy Ivanov (19-5) racked up a perfect record (5-0) in World Series of Fighting (WSOF)/Professional Fighter’s League (PFL), including a stint as Heavyweight champion before joining UFC in 2018. He currently sits at 3-4 in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, most recently dropping a decision to Marcin Tybura in Feb. 2023.
He stands three inches shorter than Romanov and faces a two-inch reach disadvantage.
Romanov is still just 32 years old — practically a child by modern Heavyweight standards —but that last fight was an unimaginably bad look. He ballooned up by at least 25 pounds from his previous bout and looked like he barely trained, folding at the first sign of adversity. While he definitely has the tools to beat the older, slower and smaller Ivanov, it’s an open question whether he still has the drive to use them properly.
That uncertainty has me leaning toward Ivanov, who for all his faults remains determined and borderline impossible to finish. I say Romanov enjoys a round or so of top control before getting dragged into Ivanov’s glacial pace and steadily out-worked in the last two rounds.
Prediction: Ivanov via split decision
155 lbs.: Guram Kutateladze vs. Elves Brener
Guram Kutateladze (12-3) burst onto UFC’s scene by upsetting the debuting Mateusz Gamrot in their 2020 Fight of the Night. He’s fought just once since, losing a narrow split decision to Damir Ismagulov but withdrawing from four separate bouts.
He replaces Jordan Leavitt on short notice.
Elves Brener (14-3) opened his career undefeated (9-0) before losing three of his next five bouts, one of those to current Featherweight standout, Gabriel Santos. After picking up two straight wins, he joined UFC in Feb. 2023, debuting with a hugely controversial split decision over Zubaira Tukhugov.
The Chute Boxe Dhiego Lima-trained fighter boasts 11 wins via submission and one by knockout.
If Kutateladze actually makes it to the cage, which is far from a given, it’s hard to imagine him losing. Both Gamrot and Ismagulov out-class Brener in every aspect of the sport and Kutateladze held his own against them, while Brener needed horrendous officiating to get past an undersized, lethargic Tukhugov.
Barring inhuman improvement on Brener’s part in these last few months, Kutateladze should have little issue keeping it on the feet and taking apart the Brazilian. Indeed, he flattens Brener inside of five minutes.
Prediction: Kutateladze via first round technical knockout
Three more UFC Vegas 76 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including the return of Kevin Lee. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 76 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN/ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 76: “Strickland vs. Magomedov” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.