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UFC Vegas 41 predictions

It looked like we had another relatively low wattage UFC main event on our hands, but then Paulo Costa said—in the words of the immortal Bonnie Raitt (and Shirley Eikhard)—Let’s give ‘em something to talk about.

For the second time this year a UFC bout has seen its weight class officially changed just days before the event (Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler at UFC 266 last month was the first) as the scheduled UFC Vegas 41 middleweight headliner between Costa and Marvin Vettori was bumped up to light heavyweight after Costa admitted that he wasn’t going to make the 185-pound limit.

The late negotiations raised all kinds of questions. Why wasn’t Costa close to middleweight size when he arrived in Las Vegas? Had he made an honest attempt to cut weight during his training camp? Should Vettori accept the fight and should he demand a more severe penalty than 20 percent of Costa’s purse? Should that even be his decision or should the UFC and the Nevada Athletic Commission make the call for him?

All of that intrigue is before we even get to the fight itself, which features two recent UFC title challengers vying to stay in contention. If Costa’s gamesmanship gives him an edge, will a win move him one step closer to a rematch with Israel Adesanya or will it be a sign that it’s time for him to change divisions? And what will it mean if Vettori beats him?

In other main card action, Grant Dawson looks to keep a win streak going when he fights Ricky Glenn in a lightweight matchup, Jessica-Rose Clark takes on Panamanian bantamweight Joselyne Edwards, featherweight veteran Alex Caceres faces the streaking Seung Woo Choi, Dwight Grant meets veteran Francisco Trinaldo in a welterweight contest, and light heavyweights Nicolae Negumereanu and Ike Villanueva open the show.

What: UFC Vegas 41

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, Oct. 23. The eight-fight preliminary card begins on ESPN+ at 1 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET.

*(Costa and Vettori are ranked at middleweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings)

Paulo Costa (4)* vs. Marvin Vettori (6)*

A lot of people are viewing Paulo Costa managing to get this fight to light heavyweight as a major advantage for him, but I see it as a sign of a lack of discipline and that’s going to hurt him in a matchup that’s already unfavorable. Changing weights on fight week didn’t work out for Nick Diaz against Robbie Lawler, and while Costa and Diaz are at vastly different stages of their careers, that kind of chicanery hurts more than it helps I feel.

It’s not as if Costa is some seasoned veteran who can just flip the switch when it’s game time. As talented as he is, this is just Costa’s 15th pro bout and his first coming off of a loss, a devastating one at that. He’s never faced this kind of mental hurdle before and if his behavior this week is any indication, he’s not exactly clearing it. Extreme weight cutting is dumb, there’s no arguing that, but for Costa to sign up for a middleweight bout and then so cravenly manipulate the parameters, that tells me his mind isn’t 100 percent on the fight.

Marvin Vettori is a dangerous man that demands all of one’s attention. He’ll never be the fastest, strongest, or the most talented middleweight, but he’s a classic grinder and he has a skill that Costa hasn’t really had to defend against much: wrestling. Though Costa has fought world class wrestlers like Yoel Romero and Johny Hendricks, neither is famous in MMA for using their wrestling offensively. That will be a different story with Vettori, who will look to get this one down early and often.

Taking Costa down won’t be easy, but Vettori will do it enough times to wear Costa down and frustrate him. Eventually, the hulking Brazilian will expose his defenses and Vettori will finish by submission.

Pick: Vettori

Grant Dawson vs. Ricky Glenn

Grant Dawson’s physical gifts aren’t as pronounced at lightweight as they were at featherweight, but he’s still going to be load to deal with for anyone at 155 pounds. His top game is some of the best in the division and it could be a long 15 minutes of ground-and-pound for Ricky Glenn if he isn’t careful.

Then again, it could also be a short fight that goes less than a round if Dawson can impose his will in the opening minutes. As in his previous bouts against more experienced opposition, Dawson will struggle at times to take Glenn down and keep him down, but he has the cardio to hang with Glenn until he can assert himself. Once Dawson gets going with his ground attack, there won’t be much Glenn can do to stop him.

Pick: Dawson

Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Joselyne Edwards

This is a pivotal fight for both women as we’re going to find out if Jessica-Rose Clark has finally found a home at 135 or if she’s going to be a litmus test for up-and-comers like Joselyne Edwards. The matchmakers did a great job here of setting up a fight that will test if both fighters have shored up their weaknesses enough to climb the ranks.

Clark has always had solid fundamental striking, but on the feet she’ll be at a disadvantage against the taller and technically superior Edwards. The good news for Clark is that if she can get this to the mat, it’s Edwards who could end up floundering as she’s yet to show that she can consistently defend against grappling and takedowns. Clark has to close the distance without getting pieced up and if she does, this is her fight to lose.

I like Edwards a lot and could see her going on a run at bantamweight in the future, but she has to show that her takedown defense has improved first. So Clark is the pick right now.

Pick: Clark

Alex Caceres vs. Seung Woo Choi

With a 25th UFC appearance about to be notched on his belt, Alex Caceres has proven he’s one of the toughest veteran tests in all of MMA. Plenty of faces that were fresh to the UFC have attempted to make a name off of him over the years and many have been left wanting.

Seung Woo Choi could be next on that list. “Sting” has won three straight fights in increasingly impressive fashion, capped off by a 97-second TKO of Julian Erosa this past June that showed just how dangerous he can be at the top of his game. Choi’s strengths already include great movement and excellent pressure. Now that he’s adding precision and accuracy? Featherweights beware.

I do like Caceres to test Choi’s defense, both on the feet and on the ground, but overall I’m a believer that Choi’s improvements are real. I’ve been so impressed with him during his current streak that I’ll go as far as to predict he becomes the second fighter to finish Caceres with strikes.

Pick: Choi

Dwight Grant vs. Francisco Trinaldo

Now at welterweight, Francisco Trinaldo is going to be giving up size and reach in pretty much all of his matchups and that’s definitely true here against Dwight Grant. “Massaranduba” is going to have a rough time closing the distance for his power punches and takedown attempts, plus I’m not sure how his cardio is going to hold up having to fight at a weight class that I don’t think is ideal for him (he’d really fit perfectly in that 165-pound range, but that’s a discussion for another day).

My one major concern for Grant is that he’s too patient at times and against an opponent who attacks in flurries, that could cost Grant on the scorecards if this goes the distance. Trinaldo is notoriously difficult to put away, which doesn’t help.

These two are no strangers to the scorecards and I expect them to end up going the distance again, with Grant eking out another close decision in a UFC career that’s been full of them so far.

Pick: Grant

Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ike Villanueva

We’ve got a fan friendly light opener on deck here as striking-minded light heavyweights Nicolae Negumereanu and Ike Villanueva have been paired up. This serves not only as a fun way to kick off an afternoon card, but also as a veteran test for the young Negumereanu.

The Romanian prospect has the advantage in length and speed here, so watch for him to pick Villanueva apart early and possibly finish late. On the other hand, the longer the fight goes I like Villanueva’s chances because he has the kind of raw power and veteran savvy that has kept him in the game for over a decade. We’re still learning how Negumereanu deals with the deep waters of a fight, so Villanueva could steal a win here if he makes it ugly.

I’m trusting Negumereanu to work through whatever rough patches Villanueva will put him in and eventually score a knockout victory.

Pick: Negumereanu


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