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UFC Vegas 58 predictions

Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev are crossing paths at just the right time.

Saturday’s UFC Vegas 58 features not just two of the best lightweights in the world — “RDA” is No. 7 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, Fiziev No. 10 — but two contenders who could be knocking on the door of a title shot with a memorable performance.

Dos Anjos, a former UFC champion, has long maintained that even as he approaches his 38th birthday, he has not given up on once again contending for a belt. After a run at 170 pounds that saw him compete for interim gold, the Brazilian veteran has gone 2-0 since dropping back down in weight. Should he fend off Fiziev, he’ll line himself up for an even higher ranked challenge in the near future.

The stakes for Fiziev are obvious. His spectacular knockout of Brad Riddell this past December gave him a signature victory over a top 15 opponent and quality names like Bobby Green and Renato Moicano have also been part of his five-fight win streak, but knocking off a fighter that has actually held a title in MMA’s deepest division? You can just about mark him down for a top 5 opponent next.

In other main card action, promising middleweights Caio Borralho and Armen Petrosyan meet in a clash of styles, bantamweight blue-chipper Said Nurmagomedov takes on his biggest challenge yet in Douglas Silva de Andrade, heavyweights Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman look to stop their skids, Cynthia Calvillo welcomes Nina Nunes to the flyweight division, and Michael Johnson makes his 26th UFC appearance when he fights Jamie Mullarkey in a lightweight bout.

What: UFC Vegas 58

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, July 9. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+, followed by a six-fight main card at 9 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN+.

Rafael dos Anjos vs. Rafael Fiziev

Few fighters in the game are more well-rounded than Rafael dos Anjos, but will that be enough to defuse the dangerous Rafael Fiziev?

“RDA” won’t shy away from a standup scrap, even given Fiziev’s well-earned reputation as an endlessly creative striker. The former lightweight champ has outstanding boxing himself and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he beats Fiziev on the feet. That said, as most have surmised, dos Anjos is best served mixing in his top-shelf grappling to prevent Fiziev from getting into his comfort zone.

From what we’ve seen, Fiziev has the takedown defense to keep this fight where he wants it to be, though he’s yet to face an opponent with dos Anjos’ blend of jiu-jitsu expertise and experience. Not only does he have to prove that he can stay upright, but that he can scramble and get back up in the event that dos Anjos does take him down.

There’s an eight-year age gap here, which also translates into an athleticism gap in Fiziev’s favor and that’s why I like his chances. He’s yet to be tested in a five-rounder, but the early damage he does in this fight should make up for any cardio advantage that dos Anjos may have in the later rounds. It’s going to be a close — and possibly controversial — set of scorecards, but I have Fiziev winning a decision.

Pick: Fiziev

Caio Borralho vs. Armen Petrosyan

Let’s not overthink it: This is a classic grappler vs. striker matchup.

Caio Borralho is a Demian Maia-tested Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a ground game that puts an equal emphasis on damage and position. Armen Petrosyan is a slick striker (as his name would suggest, though he is confusingly not actually related to kickboxing’s famed Petrosyan brothers Giorgio and Armen) and he showed great poise in his UFC debut against Gregory Rodrigues, which was just his eighth MMA bout.

Should this one stay on the feet, it will be an entertaining affair as Borralho has a penchant for breaking out showy strikes even if it means deviating from his base discipline. You have to lean towards the more technical Petrosyan in that scenario though.

Petrosyan’s takedown defense didn’t look great against Rodrigues and he was probably fortunate to walk out of that encounter with a split nod. Had Rodrigues mixed the martial arts more, Petrosyan might not have made it to the judges’ decision. Don’t expect Borralho to make the same mistake.

Borralho by submission.

Pick: Borralho

Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Said Nurmagomedov

Said Nurmagomedov hasn’t shown many significant weaknesses in his UFC career so far, but he has had difficulties fighting off of the back foot. That’s something the typically aggressive Douglas Silva de Andrade can take advantage of.

On defense, Nurmagomedov is capable of landing damaging counters, but once the distance is completely closed he can be roughed up inside. Fortunately for him, he also has strong wrestling so he can change the complexion of the fight that way if Silva de Andrade makes this one messy. And if Nurmagomedov keeps Silva de Andrade at range, he’ll cruise to a decision.

Silva de Andrade has only lost to quality 135ers, a list that includes only Petr Yan and Rob Font. Nurmagomedov’s talent is on par with those names, but has to show an extra gear to deal with the offensive-minded Silva de Andrade.

My prediction for this compelling bantamweight matchup is that Nurmagomedov shows off more of his grappling to keep Silva de Andrade in check and tire him out, setting him up for a late submission.

Pick: Nurmagomedov

Jared Vanderaa vs. Chase Sherman

Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman have their backs to the walls.

In his past five outings, Vanderaa is 1-4. On the other side, Sherman has lost four straight fights and was actually recently released before being immediately brought back to serve as a short-notice opponent for the truly terrifying Alexandr Romanov this past April. In short, these guys need a win.

Conventional wisdom would suggest the more well-rounded Vanderaa could earn the decision by establishing his jab and threatening Sherman with takedowns. But conventional wisdom is boring, so I choose chaos. I choose Sherman throwing caution to the wind and letting his hands go to turn this fight into a slopfest.

At that point, this being heavyweight, it’s at toss-up, but Sherman is the more proven knockout artist and I expect that to narrative to be reinforced on Saturday. It could happen 30 seconds into Round 1 or or with 10 seconds left in Round 3, all I know is I’ve got a feeling that Sherman surprises the doubters with a big KO.

Pick: Sherman

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Nina Nunes — CANCELLED

This is essentially a strawweight fight where the fighters didn’t put themselves through through the rigors of an extreme weight cut and more power to them for that.

Cynthia Calvillo was a legitimate contender at 115 pounds, but she was repeatedly tripped up by the scale and made the wise decision to jump up to 125. Nina Nunes is making her UFC debut at 125 pounds after a strong strawweight run that included wins over Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill, plus a competitive loss to Tatiana Suarez (who hasn’t fought since) in June 2019.

I’ve always believed in Calvillo’s potential. She brings an aggressive wrestling style to the cage and has decent pop in her hands even if her striking technique doesn’t quite stack up to the best in either of the divisions she’s competed in. That includes Nunes, who has always been sharp on the feet and difficult to put away. She’ll frustrate Calvillo with her distance control and turn up the volume in the second half of the fight.

Still, I don’t see Nunes stopping Calvillo’s takedowns for three rounds. Calvillo is a busy fighter on the ground too, so she’ll rack up plenty of points on the scorecards en route to a much-needed decision win.

Pick: Calvillo

Michael Johnson vs. Jamie Mullarkey

Michael Johnson has fought and beaten the best of the best. On Saturday, he has a developing brawler standing across from him, the kind of challenge he hasn’t faced since he was positioned as Justin Gaethje’s first UFC opponent. Jamie Mullarkey is known for his consistent pressure and he’s going to try to overwhelm Johnson.

The more experienced Johnson has always had fast hands and good knockout power, but I’m curious to see how he reacts if his best shots don’t put Mullarkey away early. Mullarkey makes excellent use of head movement to move the bullseye as he marches forward, then knows when to load up if he smells blood. The longer this fight goes on, the more I expect Mullarkey to gain confidence and pull away.

Look for Mullarkey to overcome a solid start from Johnson and find the finish in Round 3.

Pick: Mullarkey

Ricky Turcios def. Aiemann Zahabi

Cortney Casey def. Antonina Shevchenko

Tresean Gore def. Cody Brundage

David Onama def. Garrett Armfield

Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Karl Roberson

Ronnie Lawrence def. Saidyokub Kakhramonov

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