The UFC kicks off February with a card that has some sneaky appeal if you look at it in the right light.
Saturday’s UFC Vegas 47 main event shouldn’t need much selling as two compelling middleweight contenders have been booked to go five rounds in a classic clash of styles. Jack Hermansson — No. 8 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — brings a fierce grappling game to the octagon while Sean Strickland (9) has proven to be one of the best strikers at 185 pounds since moving up a weight class. Both are looking to stay in contention in a lively division and even putting aside Strickland’s unfiltered persona, there’s plenty of reason to be intrigued solely by what’s about to go down inside the UFC APEX octagon.
Two more key middleweight bouts lie ahead with Israel Adesanya defending his UFC title in a rematch with Robert Whittaker at UFC 271 next week and top contenders Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier squaring off at that same show, so the winner of this weekend’s headliner will have a good idea of what lies ahead of them on their own championship path.
In other main card action, Punahele Soriano meets Nick Maximov in another striker vs. grappler matchup, welterweight up-and-comers Shavkat Rakhmonov and Carlston Harris face off, Sam Alvey looks to stop a seven-fight winless skid as he takes on short-notice replacement Brendan Allen in a light heavyweight bout, Tresean Gore meets Bryan Battle in a re-booking of the Ultimate Fighter 29 middleweight tournament final, and Julian Erosa fights Steven Peterson in a 149-pound catchweight bout after Peterson badly missed the featherweight limit.
What: UFC Vegas 47
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Jack Hermansson (8) vs. Sean Strickland (9)
Jack Hermansson has all the tools to pick up a fast finish in this one. Though I do consider this to be a grappler vs. striker matchup, Hermansson can stand and trade with confidence and Sean Strickland isn’t exactly a dead duck on the ground. They both have the versatility to not to be overwhelmed by the other’s strengths.
In a five-round fight, you have to lean towards Strickland. He has a deep gas tank and once he gets going going on the feet, he’s difficult to slow down. Strickland throws with accuracy and volume while also being mindful of his opponent’s weapons. Don’t let his reckless attitude fool you, when it comes to the standup game, Strickland is as disciplined as they come.
Any prolonged instances of ground fighting will favor Hermansson, but I see Strickland surviving those moments before taking the fight back to where he wants it. As foolish as it is to count out Hermansson, I just can’t see him dictating the action in this one. It will go the distance and Strickland takes a clear decision.
Punahele Soriano vs. Nick Maximov
Is there an echo in here? Because guess what, we’ve got another striker vs. grappler matchup and this one is even more stark in comparison than the main event.
Puna Soriano throws bombs. Yes, that’s a simplistic and cliche description of his fighting style at this point, but it can’t be stressed enough. Puna. Soriano. Throws. BOMBS. He has good technique, but his right hand is always locked and loaded and he’s not afraid to throw it up with little or no setup.
On the other side of this matchup is the BJJ-minded Nick Maximov. He’s unrefined on the feet and one has to be concerned about whether he has enough striking to set up his takedowns. It hasn’t been too much of an issue for him so far, but Soriano’s combination of strength and athleticism could give Maximov problems.
If Maximov gets out of the first round, he should be able to grind out a win or even submit Soriano. That’s a big if though, because Soriano will look to end this one early. I haven’t seen enough of Maximov yet to pick him for the upset here, so I like Soriano to hurt him early and finish in the first or second round.
Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Carlston Harris
Excellent matchmaking here as we should be treated to a chess match between two welterweights that have impressed in their UFC appearances so far.
Carlston Harris is more likely to initiate the action here, while Shavkat Rakhmonov is more inclined to stay coiled and poised before exploding for a flurry or a takedown attempt. Both men know how close they are to advancing into a top 15 spot, so you can bet they’ll be cautious early on. Were this at a packed venue as opposed to the comfy confines of the UFC APEX, you might even hear a smattering of boos.
But once they make their move, the intensity will quickly go to 11. Rakhmonov throws blistering combinations, which Harris has an answer for in the form of his timely counter punches. Harris also has a slick submission game, but Rakhmonov is strong in top position. They’re evenly matched in several areas.
Harris is one of the more intriguing upset picks on the night, so I don’t blame anyone who likes the Guyanese fighter to hand Rakhmonov his first loss. I still think Rakhmonov gets it done though, wearing Harris down with his wrestling before finding a submission late.
Sam Alvey vs. Brendan Allen
Is Brendan Allen the ultimate opportunist?
With respect to Sam Alvey, when Alvey’s originally scheduled opponent Phil Hawes (himself a replacement for Ian Heinisch) was forced to bow out and the matchmakers subsequently began their search for another alternate, you can imagine that Allen saw this as an opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing December loss to Chris Curtis. After all, Alvey hasn’t won a fight since June 2018 and Allen should be favored to extend Alvey’s winless streak to eight, a number that would tie Alvey with B.J. Penn’s own dubious record of UFC futility.
They say you shouldn’t count out a man with nothing to lose and a lot to prove though, so don’t start shoving Alvey out the door just yet. He’s a durable fighter with a tricky style that always seems to bring out the worst in his opponents, plus he’s always had a strong left hand even if recent results have been inconclusive. Perhaps with his back to the proverbial wall, we’ll see a side of Alvey that we haven’t in some time.
However, he simply doesn’t have the versatility of Allen, a developing prospect who is comfortable on the feet or on the mat. Allen has a big advantage on the ground and that’s where I expect this fight to take place for as long as it lasts. Look for Allen to trade some punches with Alvey before dragging him down to the ground and setting up a fight-ending submission in the first or second round.
Tresean Gore vs. Bryan Battle
Tresean Gore showed a ton of potential in his two TUF 29 appearances, so I can understand why some viewers considered him to be the uncrowned king of the season. Before a knee injury forced him out of the finale, he was a popular pick to beat fellow finalist Bryan Battle.
We should put some respect on Battle’s name though. He outclassed Gilbert Urbina to win the show (in fairness, Gore also finished Urbina in the semifinals) and he has an experience edge that shouldn’t be overlooked. As talented as Gore is, he hasn’t been in the, er, battles that Battle has been in yet.
A key for Battle will be controlling range and using his length to frustrate Gore because if Gore can get his hands going, it will be a short night for Battle. Battle also has to mind his Ps and Qs when grappling because Gore has some serious muscle behind his takedowns. Conversely, a few stuffed attempts could tire Gore out.
I see Battle outlasting Gore after a competitive first round and out-grappling him for a submission win in the second.
Julian Erosa vs. Steven Peterson
It’s a shame that Steven Peterson came in three pounds heavy because this should be a leading candidate for Fight of the Night. It’s a great piece of matchmaking between two featherweights who are always bonus hunting.
Julian Erosa has the edge in finishing ability and he remains one of the 145-pound divisions more underappreciated fighters. All he does is take on tough fighters and hunt for finishes, which will be tough to find against the hardy Peterson. It won’t be for lack of trying, but Erosa will probably have to go the distance to get the win here.
One of Erosa’s best attributes is how well he uses his reach. He attacks from awkward angles while somehow also generating solid power, making him difficult to deal with even if you’re an aggressive fighter like Peterson. Wanting to pressure Erosa and actually figuring out how to do it are two very different things. Peterson will have his moments during the fight, but I expect Erosa to get the better of the majority of the exchanges.
Erosa is a bigger threat on the ground than Chase Hooper is and Hooper was able to take Peterson down on multiple occasions. If Erosa mixes in takedowns along with his wonky striking game, then a competitive decision will go his way.