The chaos of UFC 261 still lingers in the air, but it’s time for us to move on to a card that has the potential to match its action, if not its star power.
UFC Vegas 25 signals a return to the relatively subdued UFC APEX in Las Vegas following an eventful trip to a packed stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., and light heavyweights Dominick Reyes and Jiri Prochazka have the responsibility of closing out a show that is going to have a strange vibe after seeing fans back int he seats again. They won’t be lacking in motivation, live audience or not.
As unfair as it sounds, Reyes is in danger of going from The Man Who Would Be King after nearly dethroning Jon Jones at UFC 247, to perennial also-ran after being overwhelmed by Jan Blachowicz for a vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 253. Potentially having three straight losses shouldn’t erase the 12 straight wins that Reyes began his career with, but this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business and Reyes hasn’t officially scored a victory since 2019.
Prochazka is coming off of an impressive win over Volkan Oezdemir in July, but even he has to deal with the possibility that his hype could cool off if he doesn’t put on a strong showing against Reyes. Many fighters have had spectacular UFC debuts only to see that be their peak rather than the beginning of their climb and as much as Prochazka has already accomplished in his career, there’s no guarantee that he remains in the title talks for the near future should Reyes put him down.
In other main card action, veteran featherweight contender Cub Swanson looks to hand Giga Chikadze his first UFC loss, light heavyweights Ion Cutelaba and Dustin Jacoby meet in a matchup with plenty of heat following Friday’s faceoff fracas, middleweights Sean Strickland and Krzysztof Jotko put their three-fight win streaks on the line, fast-rising bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili takes on the gritty Cody Stamann, and Poliana Botelho fights Luana Carolina in a 128.5-pound catchweight bout.
What: UFC Vegas 25
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, May 1. The entire event airs on ESPN2 and ESPN+, beginning with a five-fight preliminary card at 7 p.m. ET, and followed by the six-fight main card at 10 p.m. ET.
They really didn’t give Dominick Reyes or Jiri Prochazka an easy path to a title shot here. Both men are talented and athletic and capable of ending a fight in a flash. Whatever game plan they have going in, it could be scrapped in a hurry depending how the opening exchanges go.
Reyes has to avoid falling prey to the unorthodox and occasionally mesmerizing movement of Prochazka. It can look at times like Prochazka is fooling around, but the Czech standout has shown that there is a method to his madness. He can strike from angles that few light heavyweights can and do so with precision. It falls on Reyes to cut off those angles early so as to make Prochazka the one who has to guess what’s coming next.
This won’t be a head-on brawl; rather we’re likely to see plenty of fakes and feints before the action gets going. Once it does though, this fight won’t last long. I expect the first round to be a feeling-out process and the finish to come in round two. And I like Reyes to be the one landing the knockout blow. I give him the slight edge in speed and I don’t think his chin should be considered suspect at all just because he couldn’t deal with Jan Blachowicz’s infamous Polish Power. Look for him to avoid the best of Prochazka’s shots while slipping in to land his own.
We’re about to find out just how much Reyes has learned from his struggles.
It’s time for Cub Swanson to show another up-and-comer that he’s not the veteran to make your name off of.
Make no mistake, Giga Chikadze is as exciting a fresh face as their is as 145 pounds. He’s a smart fighter with outstanding technical striking skills, a combination that has carried him to a 5-0 start in the UFC including a four-win campaign in 2020. In his most recent outing, his patience was finally rewarded with a fast finish as he needed less than a round to put away Jamey Simmons.
In MMA, technical superiority is just one factor. There’s no measuring the heart and toughness that Swanson brings to the cage, not to mention the all-around game that has kept him in the top-15 of the featherweight rankings for the better part of the last decade. He’s seen it all and he won’t be thrown off by the gifted Chikadze.
In my eyes, what will be more telling is how Chikadze reacts when he’s dragged into deep waters by Swanson. “Killer Cub” has been in absolute wars and when it comes to MMA, few have been tested like he has. Kron Gracie and Doo Ho Choi are two names that come to mind when thinking of exciting fighters who discovered that there was another level of competition after going the distance with Swanson.
This isn’t about Chikadze getting “exposed” as I think Swanson is the perfect opponent for him at this stage of his UFC journey. I just don’t see him getting over this hump yet.
Give me the technical kickboxing acumen of Dustin Jacoby over the wild-man strength of Ion Cutelaba.
The wrestling and finishing power of Cutelaba can never be counted out. If he closes the distance early, it could be big trouble for Jacoby and another first-round finish for Cutelaba. If Jacoby can weather that storm though, the fight is there for the taking. Cutelaba is a poor defensive fighter who relies on his natural durability to make up for the fact that he gets hit a lot. That’s a bad strategy against a fighter with Jacoby’s striking skills.
Jacoby will eschew clinch offense and focus more on range fighting in this one, not an easy thing to do in the smaller cage at the APEX. But I think he’ll outwork Cutelaba on the feet and show enough takedown defense to win this fight on the scorecards.
The oddsmakers have Sean Strickland as a near 3-to-1 favorite in this one, which is a little disrespectful to the long-tenured Krzysztof Jotko.
There’s reason to be confident in Strickland. He’s looked like a new man since jumping back up to 185 pounds, unburdened by a more difficult weight cut and free to let his hands—and words—fly inside the cage. His self-belief is through the roof right now and that makes him dangerous.
If you’re picking Jotko here, it’s because you think he can use his size and experience to muck this one up. Picture a scenario where Jotko is quick to counter and clinch, and also to crowd Strickland’s space, and you can understand why Jotko is a live underdog. It might not always be pretty, but the man wins decisions. In 16 fights going to the scorecards, Jotko has had his raised on all but one occasion.
This fight will go the distance too, with Strickland emerging the victor of a closely fought contest.
I don’t know when Merab Dvalishvili is going to come across an opponent who can solve his wrestling, but I doubt it happens this weekend.
Cody Stamann is a strong wrestler in his own right and more than capable of giving Dvalishvili a tough fight. But at the end of the day, I don’t think he has the striking or takedown defense to keep Dvalishvili off of him. Dvalishvili is a rapidly improving striker and now that he’s added that to his sturdy grappling base, he’s well on his way to a future title shot.
For Stamann to win, he’ll have to stick and move and if the timing is right, be aggressive with his own takedown attempts. It’s unlikely anyone can hold Dvalishvili down, but putting him on his backside a few times in the fight could make a world of difference. Even then, Stamann could find himself getting reversed and going for a ride even in a best case scenario. Dvalishvili is just that good.
Dvalishvili by convincing decision.
Unless Luana Carolina has a hidden jiu-jitsu black belt somewhere, I expect this to be a standup battle that Poliana Botelho dominates.
Carolina has been given touch matchups in her previous two outings, first having to take on former KSW champion Ariane Lipski in July (and we all remember how that turned out *shudder*) and now drawing the older, more experienced Botelho. In terms of physical gifts and potential, Carolina is an intriguing prospect for sure, but she needs more seasoning. Her level of competition before being signed off of the Contenders Series just doesn’t match up with Botelho’s.
This should make for an excellent main card opener, with neither woman being afraid to take the center of the octagon and trade shots. I’m picking Botelho to find the finish via strikes, possibly in the first.