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UFC Vegas 43 predictions

Don’t adjust your sets. Yes, Miesha Tate is fighting. For the second time this year, in fact. And yes, she is knocking on the door of a title fight five years after retiring.

It was at UFC 205 in November 2016 that Tate lost a unanimous decision to Raquel Pennington, an outcome that led to her taking a hiatus from competition to focus on other business ventures and becoming a mother. On Saturday, Tate continues her quest to wear UFC gold again when she fights top-10 contender Ketlen Vieira.

Vieira is seeking her own path of redemption as she missed weight for the first time in her UFC career this past February then dropped a unanimous decision in a disappointing performance against Yana Kunitskaya. “Fenomeno” has now lost two of her past three fights, and what once seemed like an inevitable championship clash with Amanda Nunes is rapidly getting away from her.

Saturday’s event also marks the last of 10 straight weeks of UFC events, a dizzying stretch that has included some of the year’s best fights and finishes. UFC Vegas 43 is definitely flying under the radar, but there’s more than enough potential for it to end this run with a bang.

In other main card action, undefeated welterweight Sean Brady faces his stiffest challenge yet in Michael Chiesa, bantamweight veterans Rani Yahya and Kyung Ho Kang face off, the newly christened Joanne Wood looks to stop the hard-charging Taila Santos, and a bantamweight banger between Davey Grant and Adrian Yanez opens the show.

What: UFC Vegas 43

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, Nov. 20. The seven-fight preliminary card begins on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, followed by a five-fight main card on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET.


(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)

Ketlen Vieira (8) vs. Miesha Tate (10)

Ketlen Vieira’s best chance to beat Miesha Tate here is probably to snag a submission in response to Tate’s wrestling. The only problem is that Tate has only been submitted by Amanda Nunes (who rocked her on the feet first) and Ronda Rousey, and Vieira ain’t Nunes or Rousey.

Vieira is dangerous on the ground, but it’s starting to feel like fighters have figured out her game plan, and unless she’s learned to land more strikes there while also seeking a submission, it will be difficult for her to win over the judges. This reality reared its ugly head for Vieira in the Yana Kunitskaya loss.

On the other side of the equation, Tate has great top control and ground-and-pound. As interesting as Vieira can make things on the mat, it’s more likely she eats shots while working off of her back. And on the feet, Tate is ahead in the striking department. All she has to do is avoid that raw power of Vieira and she can pick her apart for three rounds. Throw in a steady diet of takedowns and Tate should have another hard-fought decision win on her resume soon.

Pick: Tate

Michael Chiesa (T8) vs. Sean Brady

Sean Brady is an elite talent that’s about to add an elite name to his resume.

For all of his flaws, Michael Chiesa has had great success in two weight classes and there’s a reason he’s been picked as the next guy to test Brady. Chiesa is incredibly strong, rangy, and knows his way around the mat. Brady has never lost, but if he’s overly aggressive, he could easily get caught by a Chiesa submission. Heck, if he’s too hesitant, he could get caught by a Chiesa submission.

That means Brady has to be calm and level, which is exactly how he’s looked in his first four UFC fights. Call consistency boring if you will, but it’s an important attribute for Brady and a big factor as to why he’s considered such a bright prospect. At 28, Brady is entering his physical prime in addition to being ahead of his time mentally. He’s not going to sweat a fast start from Chiesa.

Brady’s wrestling and jiu-jitsu are good enough to counteract whatever Chiesa plans to bring in the grappling department, and I give him the edge in striking too. He’s compact and patient, which will let him dictate how the fight goes. I see Brady winning on the feet then getting the better of a scrambling Chiesa before finishing with a submission.

Pick: Brady

Rani Yahya vs. Kyung Ho Kang

No one has seen Kyung Ho Kang fight in 700 days and I’m supposed to tell you how he’s going to fight tonight?

In what should be a tactical ground battle, I favor the submission-minded Rani Yahya here. It’s certainly possible that Kang’s aggressive wrestling proves to be too much for the Brazilian vet, who competes for the 40th time as a professional, but Yahya’s jiu-jitsu is just too entertaining to pick against. There are also too many question marks about how Kang will perform after another long layoff. His ground game will have to be on point, lest he spend the majority of the fight working not to get armbarred or swept.

Kang is one of the physically strongest fighters at 135 pounds, so Yahya definitely can’t get comfortable on his back. A slow start could prove costly and Kang could look to simply outpace Yahya. However, Yahya is the best submission fighter that Kang has ever faced inside the octagon and I expect Yahya to make Kang tap-out victim No. 22.

Pick: Yahya

Joanne Wood (9) vs. Taila Santos (T12)

I’m spinning a broken record at this point, but man, it is tough to talk about any Joanne Wood fight and not think about all the bad breaks she’s had.

Seventeen months ago she was supposed to fight Valentina Shevchenko for a UFC title, but that bout was cancelled due to a Shevchenko injury. Wood couldn’t afford to stay on the sidelines so she booked a fight with Jennifer Maia, a terrible stylistic matchup who ended up submitting Wood inside of a round. Maia went on to challenge Shevchenko instead.

Wood rebounded with a win over Jessica Eye, then lost a close split decision to Lauren Murphy that — you guessed it — led to Murphy getting her own well-deserved crack at Shevchenko. Now, Wood was supposed to fight Alexa Grasso on Saturday, a favorable matchup given that Grasso is still finding her legs at flyweight, but instead she faces the fast-rising Taila Santos after Grasso was forced to withdraw.

On paper, this matchup isn’t all that bad for Wood, as she’s always had good takedown defense and that should help her deal with the recently wrestling-inclined Santos. But Santos adding that weapon to her arsenal has been a key to her success, so just being able to mix it up will give Wood problems. This has to stay on the feet and at Wood’s range for her to be in control. If she can draw Santos into a murky Muay Thai fight, then we could see some vintage “Dr. Kneevil.”

Screw it, I’m going with the upset here and picking Wood to win a standup scrap on points.

Pick: Wood

Davey Grant vs. Adrian Yanez

In contrast to that previous pick, I’m sticking with the obvious choice of Adrian Yanez continuing his KO streak.

Yanez is on the cusp of a breakthrough in the loaded bantamweight division and you have to give props to the matchmakers for putting him in the right matchups to boost his stock. His fight with Randy Costa was one of the most fun under-three-rounds bouts of the year and now he has another solid, but beatable challenge in Davey Grant.

The big question mark around Grant these days is whether he’ll ever go back to utilizing the grappling that brought him to the UFC in the first place or stick with the bomb-heavy strategy that has made him a surprising knockout artist. Those bonus checks are hard to resist and Grant has to know that the Yanez booking was made with the expectation that at least one of them will snag one.

With that in mind, Grant willingly goes to war again — and falls to Yanez in a valiant and memorable effort that hopefully earns both fighters an extra 50 Gs.

Pick: Yanez

Preliminaries

Pat Sabatini def. Tucker Lutz

Rafa Garcia def. Natan Levy

Lupita Godinez def. Loma Lookboonmee

Terrance McKinney def. Fares Ziam

Cody Durden def. Aori Qileng

Sean Soriano def. Shayilan Nuerdanbieke

Luana Pinheiro def. Sam Hughes