Marvin Vettori is on the cusp of capping off a productive 2020.
Fighting for just the second time this year, Vettori enters his first UFC headliner against top-5 contender Jack Hermansson this Saturday at UFC Vegas 16. His other win in 2020 was a thrilling submission victory over Karl Roberson, a rival who rubbed Vettori the wrong way for a variety of reasons before they finally settled things in the octagon.
A win over Hermansson would be a gigantic step towards a title shot and possibly a rematch with middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Beating Hermansson is no easy task though. “The Joker” has won seven of his past nine fights, with his only losses coming to top opposition in Jared Cannonier and Thiago Santos. He’s also proven himself to be one of the best finishers at 185 pounds and could be the first to stop Vettori. Just ask Kelvin Gastelum, who was caught by a Hermansson heel hook in just 78 seconds.
Vettori isn’t the only one who could seriously shake up next week’s rankings. Contender Series standout Jamahal Hill has lived up to the hype in two UFC appearances so far and for his third octagon assignment he’s drawn veteran light heavyweight Ovince Saint Preux. Hill can break out from the pack in a major way if he can topple Saint Preux, who missed weight by a pound and a half on Friday.
In other main card action, Gabriel Benitez hunts for his first UFC win as a lightweight when he faces Justin Jaynes, Montana De La Rosa steps in to halt the hype train of Taila Santos in a flyweight bout, light heavyweights Roman Dolidze and John Allan look to add to their impressive finishing tallies, and Movsar Evloev and Nate Landwehr meet in a battle of former M-1 Global champions.
What: UFC Vegas 16
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
I should probably stop picking against Jack Hermansson, right? Despite his prodigious finishing ability and wins over high-level competition like Kelvin Gastelum, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and David Branch, I always seem to find a reason not to pick him. No more!
Marvin Vettori is just entering his prime and his best days are ahead of him. Fast forward to a year from now and we could be talking about a legitimate top-5 contender at 185 pounds. Like a lot of fighters at this stage of his career though, there are defensive deficiencies that put a ceiling on his potential for now. Defensive deficiencies could be costly when standing across from someone as lethal as Hermansson.
He’s going to learn from this fight, just as Hermansson has learned from his battles with the middleweight division’s best. Unfortunately for Vettori, I think that lesson will come in the form of a humbling defeat. Vettori’s standup and athleticism will keep him competitive in the early going, but Hermansson should get this one to the ground at some point and find a submission finish late in the first or in the second.
Unlike the main event, I do think this is a bridge too far for the younger fighter. Jamahal Hill is eight years younger than Ovince Saint Preux, but more importantly he’s 20 UFC fights younger than “OSP.” That’s a huge experience gap to overcome, especially when you consider the luminaries that Saint Preux has beaten or gone the distance with.
Even if you view Saint Preux as being on the outside looking in when it comes to the 205 elite, Hill is even further out right now. At 6-foot-4, Hill has made the most of his natural gifts and fighting instinct, but Saint Preux can match his measurements and certainly has more ways to win this fight on paper.
Speed kills and Hill’s agility is going to give Saint Preux a lot of problems. He’ll have to force Hill to fight at his pace, lest he become Hill’s next knockout victim. You love to see a guy with Hill’s finishing ability, but Saint Preux’s chin is solid and it should hold up here.
Saint Preux has to get this one to the ground to minimize risk, then attack with submissions until Hill has no choice left but to tap.
Pick: Saint Preux
Gabriel Benitez has always been a talented all-rounder who lacks that one spectacular skill to put him over the top. Occasionally, he’s also shown a reluctance to pull the trigger, which shouldn’t be an issue with the aggressive Jaynes. Benitez’s boxing will be his best weapon if he hopes to stifle Jaynes on the feet.
One thing to watch is whether Jaynes changes up his game plan, which is usually comprised of him rapidly closing the distance rather than trying to win a range-striking duel. If he steps too far into Benitez’s range, Benitez will chew him up with fast hands. That said, Jaynes has an affinity for first-round finishes and if he wants another one he may have to get right in Benitez’s face.
This has the potential to be a wild one, which means it could be Benitez who lands a surprising haymaker to end the fight. I’m leaning towards Jaynes testing Benitez’s chin though and taking this one out of the hands of the judges.
Don’t let Taila Santos’ 16-1 record fool you, there’s some generous matchmaking in there to put it nicely. The five opponents she faced before appearing on Dana White’s Contender Series had a combined record of 3-4, and three of those wins all belonged to one fighter. If you are liking Santos’ chances, it would be because of the poise she showed in her previous win over the gritty Molly McCann. She looked comfortable standing with McCann and showed rare poise for someone in just their second UFC fight. It’s not a stretch to say that Santos is already one of the best standup fighters at 125 pounds.
The challenge for Montana De La Rosa is to not be completely outclassed on the feet and to make Santos respect her enough there so that she creates openings for takedowns. On the mat is where De La Rosa can steal this one. She has better jiu jitsu and she’s aggressive going for submissions. Santos has to be careful pursuing De La Rosa to the ground if she scores a knockdown or manages to get De La Rosa down some other way.
I’ll probably regret this, but I feel that De La Rosa is being overlooked and I predict she either catches Santos with a submission off of her back or out of a scramble.
Pick: De La Rosa
Roman Dolidze has got style. He’s part of an influx of talent that the light heavyweight division has seen in the last couple of years and he’s got the kind of standup game that is going to make him popular. He’s not going to wow anyone with his volume, rather he’ll bide his time until he can unleash a high-voltage strike, possibly of the spinning variety.
He’ll have a willing dancer partner in John Allan, another striker comfortable fighting from both southpaw and orthodox stances. Allan may want to test Dolidze’s ground game, but this has the makings of a tactical standup battle with both wary of the other’s power. It’s possible that Allan will look to push the pace from the opening bell and take Dolidze out of his comfort zone.
I give Dolidze the edge for his more unpredictable approach and I see him catching Allan with something out of nowhere for the knockout.
Blue-chipper Movsar Evloev is the most heavily-favored fighter on this card and for good reason. He combines solid technical striking with explosive takedowns, which has been the formula for many a champion. He’s still hunting for his first UFC finish, but he may want taking too many risks against Nate Landwehr.
“The Train” joined the UFC with a reputation as a disciplined brawler and he showed that in his fight with Darren Elkins, putting it on Elkins in a brutal and bloody three-round scrap. With his power and durability, he’s not a name anyone at featherweight should want to see on a fight contract. Unless you have the wrestling of Evloev, of course.
In all likelihood, Evloev will go out with something to prove and invite standup exchanges with Landwehr. He has the skill to win them too, but he has to avoid being dragged into a dogfight. It’s not one big bomb that Evloev has to be wary of, it’s the constant pressure of Landwehr that could lead to his first defeat.
Evloev’s team should be well-prepared for this one with both fighters coming from M-1 Global, so Landwehr probably won’t be able to keep this one standing for long. As long as Evloev mixes it up, he should cruise to a decision or a late finish on the ground.