The last UFC card of the year could have major title implications for several divisions heading into 2022.
In the UFC Vegas 45 main event, the stakes are obvious: Derrick Lewis has been holding on to a top 5 spot for years and Chris Daukaus wants to take it. The odds favor Daukaus too and why shouldn’t they? All the fast-rising contender has done since debuting in the UFC last year is rack up knockouts and performance bonuses. Lewis is fresh off of a one-sided loss to Ciryl Gane and he seems ripe for the picking.
A win over Lewis puts Daukaus on the short list of potential challengers for whoever emerges victorious from Francis Ngannou and Gane’s heavyweight championship unification bout next month.
Two more names that can put themselves into position to compete for gold soon are co-headliner Stephen Thompson and fearsome strawweight Amanda Lemos. “Wonderboy” has said multiple times that welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is running out of fresh challengers and he’d be happy to take that call, while Lemos has looked like the real deal at 115 pounds with first-round finishes in three of her past four appearances. Either Thompson or Lemos will be more than worthy of a title opportunity with an impressive performance on Saturday.
In other main card action, Raphael Assuncao looks to stop a career-worst losing skid when he fights Ricky Simon, Diego Ferreira takes on former two-division KSW champion Mateusz Gamrot, and Cub Swanson and Darren Elkins collide in a battle of featherweight veterans.
What: UFC Vegas 45
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Dec. 18. The eight-fight preliminary card begins on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Derrick Lewis (4) vs. Chris Daukaus (8)
Derrick Lewis typically thrives in these situations. Meaning that when a relatively fresh contender tries to take his number, “The Black Beast” sends them packing.
Look at Lewis’ past four losses: Ciryl Gane, Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, and Mark Hunt. That’s three UFC champions and, well, Mark Hunt. He rarely loses to anyone that’s not in the top tier at heavyweight and the jury is still out on Chris Daukaus. Wins over veterans Shamil Abdurakhimov and Aleksei Oleinik bolster Daukaus’ case, but he’s yet to take on an opponent with the one-shot stopping power of Lewis.
This is a tricky one for me as I’m on board with the notion that Daukaus is a shoo-in to someday fight for UFC gold, I’m just not sure if Lewis is the contender he leapfrogs to get there. Say what you want about Lewis supposedly being unable to win the big one, he wins just about everything else.
It will be fun to see if Daukaus breaks out his jiu-jitsu to teach “Mr. Just Stand Up” a lesson and such a tactic could change the whole complexion of the fight. If this one stays standing though, I think Lewis’ nose for the knockout gets him the W.
Stephen Thompson (5) vs. Belal Muhammad (13)
Constant pressure and endless cardio are the name of the game for Belal Muhammad. The problem is that neither of those qualities have ever presented much of a problem for “Wonderboy.”
Stephen Thompson thrives on picking apart opponents that are technically inferior to him in the striking department. Unless you can threaten with some serious power, he’s not going to divert from his game plan, which involves masterful range striking, accurate counters, and sudden bursts of offense. I just don’t see what Muhammad has to offer that’s going to put Thompson in any significant danger.
Unless Muhammad is willing to take some big risks to close the distance and hunt for a knockout, this will be a long three rounds for him.
Thompson by decision.
Amanda Lemos (12) vs. Angela Hill (13)
Amanda Lemos has been an absolute buzzsaw during her current win streak, so credit to Angela Hill for rushing headfirst into it. That said, she may come to regret this decision.
Similar to what I just wrote about Muhammad, Hill is a volume striker that often relies on outworking her opponents as much as “outskilling” them. She uses her reach well and can also be nasty with her kickboxing in close. Add in her experience edge and there’s potential for a major upset here.
Lemos has faced good competition in the UFC, including Livinha Souza and Mizuki Inoue, but Hill is a notch above the best that Lemos has beaten so far. If Lemos is serious about fighting for a title in 2022, she has to not only win tonight, she has to win by finish or a dominant decision. Fortunately for her, she has the skills to do either.
With the greatest respect to the always-game Hill, Lemos is ready for the spotlight and in her first UFC main card appearance I fully expect her to hurt Hill early and then score a submission victory.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Ricky Simon
I didn’t mention him in the opening blurb, but Ricky Simon is another fighter that could vault themselves into the title picture with a win on Saturday. Bantamweight is the most frenzied of shark tanks right now and Simon could rise above those infested waters by knocking Raphael Assuncao off and extending his current win streak to four.
You hate to pick on a guy for his age, but Assuncao is slumping and it’s no coincidence that he’s doing so seven months shy of his 40th birthday. In a division that is thriving with talent, the slightest dulling of the edge can cost you and Assuncao hasn’t exactly been a Hattori Hanzo blade lately.
Unfortunately for Assuncao, Simon is very much in the mold of the kinds of fighters that have plagued him in recent years. Simon is fast, he hits hard, and he can mix in wrestling when he needs it. Assuncao’s fundamentals and grappling remain his strong points, but with his athleticism declining, how effective can he still be?
I have Simon outlasting Assuncao and finding a finish late in the second or early in the third.
Pick: Ricky Simon
Diego Ferreira (11) vs. Mateusz Gamrot
With his weight problems under control (at least for now), look for Diego Ferreira to get back on track.
Ferreira is one of the most well-rounded lightweights and he’s shown improved striking as his UFC career has progressed. You have to be concerned about his gas tank and the possibility of Mateusz Gamrot going all-out for takedowns in the early going to wear Ferreira down. Wrestling has made a fool out of many jiu-jitsu black belts, especially those with a tendency burn all of their energy in the first round.
Still, Ferreira has shown that he can bounce back from adversity — in this case losing back-to-back fights to Gregor Gillespie and Beneil Dariush — and he’ll be determined to avoid an 0-3 campaign. His game plan should revolved around forcing Gamrot to fight at his pace rather than inviting a brawl. As fun as it is to go bonus hunting, Ferreira needs to focus on winning by any means at this point and I think he gets it done on the scorecards.
Cub Swanson vs. Darren Elkins
Don’t expect Cub Swanson to be tripped up by the Darren Elkins trap.
Elkins has a unique gift for falling behind in fights and then storming back to take advantage of his opponent’s diminished gas tank. He’ll give you the first round, but after that he’s all about dragging you into deep waters. Look for Elkins to test Swanson’s takedown defense and grappling early.
Swanson, who heads into his 40th pro bout, is vulnerable fighting off of his back, but he also has an active guard that could give Elkins problems. On the feet, Swanson has the clear edge, so long as he doesn’t try to match Elkins haymaker for haymaker. His jab is a weapon he should establish to set up his heavier hooks later on.
This one will go the distance and could see some wild swings in live betting odds by the time Swanson and Elkins are through. I’m confident Swanson gets the better of the exchanges though and also does more, ahem, damage by the end of the fight. Swanson wins it on the scorecards.
Gerald Meerschaert def. Dustin Stoltzfus
Raoni Barcelos def. Victor Henry
Harry Hunsucker def. Justin Tafa
Sijara Eubanks (14) def. Melissa Gatto
Andre Ewell def. Charles Jourdain
Raquel Pennington def. Macy Chiasson
Josh Parisian def. Don’Tale Mayes