Nikita Krylov and Ryan Spann might not be household names, but with the light heavyweight division wide open right now, a big opportunity could lie ahead.
The UFC Vegas 70 main event sees Krylov and Spann — No. 10 and No. 13 respectively in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — fighting to improve their standing at 205, a weight class that’s in flux due to the sudden absence of champion Jiri Prochazka, the rapid ascent of Jamahal Hill, and the fact that its been mostly stuck in the mud since the departures of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier (and we just said farewell to Glover Teixeira too).
Viewing the landscape through that lens, it’s not crazy to think that an impressive win on Saturday could propel Krylov or Spann to a title fight by year’s end, with Krylov compiling an impressive UFC resume across two stints with the promotion and Spann looking like one of the more promising Contender Series signings. Let’s not forget that Hill also emerged from the fires of Dana White’s favorite side project.
If the main event stakes aren’t particularly convincing, the co-main event features a grappling ace who is a sleeper to challenge for the middleweight title soon. Andre Muniz’s spotless 5-0 record gives him the UFC’s longest current win streak at 185 pounds and he can extend that if he shows out against fellow submission specialist Brendan Allen. Muniz recently said that he doesn’t expect current champion Alex Pereira to stick around at middleweight even if he’s victorious in his rematch against Israel Adesanya, but regardless of who is at the top, Muniz is one or two wins away from coming after them.
In other main card action, heavyweight veteran Augusto Sakai looks to snap a four-fight skid against Don’Tale Mayes, Tatiana Suarez returns from a layoff of over 1,350 days when she fights Montana De La Rosa in a flyweight bout, and Mike Malott and Yohan Lainesse meet in a duel of Canadian welterweights.
What: UFC Vegas 70
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Feb. 25. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a five-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Nikita Krylov (10) vs. Ryan Spann (13)
Nikita Krylov has looked like the best version of himself during his recent light heavyweight run; still, I’m not sure it’s enough to overcome MMA’s latest mythical beast: Actually Trained Ryan Spann.
After crushing Dominick Reyes in 80 seconds last November, Spann said post-fight that he’d never properly trained for a fight before and later said on The MMA Hour that “I feel like I wasted a lot of my 20s.” That’s right, the same Spann that won five of his first six UFC fights had never experienced a full camp. Bonkers if true.
Whether you take Spann’s word for it or not, it’s indisputable that he’s looked fantastic in winning three of his past four fights. We go on and on about the benefits of athleticism, but that holds true with Spann, who admitted in the aforementioned MMA Hour interview that often he excelled just because the things came so naturally for him. Now that he’s saying all the right things about being more serious with his preparation and rounding out his already formidable skill set, we might have ourselves a real contender here!
He’ll have to be wary of Krylov, who has also shown plenty of growth in his second run with the UFC. Always eager to finish, Krylov won’t shy away from grinding out a win either, and if he sees Spann as too much of a threat on the feet, he may just resort to testing Spann’s grappling. Spann’s corner can trust him to hold up defensively though, which spells trouble for Krylov.
As far as the striking goes, neither man wastes much time setting up their power shots, so a slugfest could turn this into a crapshoot. You have to favor Spann’s speed and recent track record though as it does feel like he’s just tapping into his striking potential. Spann has plenty of ways to finish, so I’ll pick club-and-sub in Round 2.
Andre Muniz (T7) vs. Brendan Allen
I like Brendan Allen. Fun fighter. Great grappler. I don’t like his chances of getting past Andre Muniz.
There’s not much to break down when one fighter’s greatest strength is dwarfed by his opponent’s expertise in that same area and that’s what we’re looking at with Allen challenging Muniz for a top 10 spot in the rankings. There’s few people in the middleweight division that would want to mess with Allen on the ground, but Muniz is one of them.
As you may have heard, there are levels to this, and while Allen is a fine jiu-jitsu black belt, Muniz’s submission offense is second-to-none in this division (apologies to Rodolfo Vieira) and he has the tools to get the fight where he wants to go. Eventually he’s going to find an opening to punch his way inside and take Allen down. The only question is what round does he finish this one in.
I’m picking a hungry Muniz to find the submission in Round 1.
Augusto Sakai vs. Don’Tale Mayes
Is it crazy that I haven’t given up on Augusto Sakai yet?
The well-traveled Brazilian veteran hasn’t won a fight in almost three years and worse, he hasn’t even made it to the final bell during this four-fight losing skid. But Don’Tale Mayes is a favorable style matchup for him, another heavyweight who is happy to stand and slug it out.
Mayes is considerably more physically gifted than Sakai, but he’s only occasionally managed to put it all together on fight night. When he does, it’s spectacular; when he doesn’t, it’s deflating. Really, whichever direction I go here, it feels like I’m setting myself up for disappointment.
So let’s be smart here and go with the less shopworn and still more promising Mayes. He has the reach to stifle Sakai’s advances and the speed to force Sakai to make difficult adjustments on the fly. As long as Mayes stays springy on the feet, he can take Sakai out.
Let’s go with Mayes to score a late knockout.
Tatiana Suarez vs. Montana De La Rosa
The UFC rarely books tune-up fights, but they did a great job putting this one together. A knee injury cost Tatiana Suarez the past few years of her prime and there’s no telling how she’ll perform in her first fight since June 2019. If she picks up right where she left off, then fans will be reminded that she’s one of the best fighters in the world. Montana De La Rosa is the right name to gauge Suarez’s readiness.
The biggest underdog on the card, De La Rosa has a solid mix of grappling and toughness to give Suarez pause. I say pause, because there won’t actually be any stopping Suarez if her wrestling game is on point. Before her injury, Suarez looked like she was set to truck her way to a title shot, with dominant wins over Carla Esparza (who would later win the strawweight title a second time) and Alexa Grasso (just weeks away from fighting for the flyweight title). In case you forgot, Suarez wasn’t grinding out decisions over her opponents, she was demolishing them.
Nina Nunes exposed some of Suarez’s deficiencies on the feet, though Suarez still managed to earn a unanimous nod. It’s also unlikely that De Le Rosa will be able to establish much in the standup with Suarez bearing down on her.
This fight being at 125 pounds shouldn’t matter much to Suarez, one of the strongest women in the 115-pound division. There’s plenty of work for her to do to prove that she deserves to be back at the top of the rankings, but I’m confident she takes care of business on Saturday before setting her sights on bigger fish this year.
Mike Malott vs. Yohan Lainesse
Why are we putting two kind and gentle Canadians against one another? There are already so few of us in the UFC these days!
National loyalty aside, this is one of the easier fights to pick. Mike Malott has that wacky karate style that’s all the rage these days, which is going to be a headache for Yohan Lainesse to deal with. Lainesse is a lanky fighter who uses his range well and he has good power, but getting a bead on Malott will be tricky especially since Malott excels at counter-striking.
We will see a chess match play out as these two get a feel for each other’s standup styles, then Malott will gradually ramp up the aggression. Lainesse might decide to mix in takedowns, but it will be too little, too late once Malott has his diverse striking game going. Look for Malott to hurt Lainesse late in the first before finishing in the second.
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