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UFC Vegas 71 predictions

In a more just world, Curtis Blaydes or Sergei Pavlovich would be next in line to challenge for the UFC heavyweight championship. But this is the world of MMA, where words like “fair” and “deserves” have no place, so not only are Blaydes and Pavlovich having to face on another in the main event of the first UFC APEX card since late February, but it’s not even clear if this gets either fighter substantially closer to a title shot.

The UFC Vegas 71 headliner is still an important fight, if only for Blaydes or Pavlovich to hold on to their spot in line with another key bout between Jailton Almeida and Jairzinho Rozenstruik just around the corner. Plus, an impressive performance could make one of these fighters the No. 1 alternate — if not the No. 1 contender — for the still-to-be-booked Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic mega match.

Blaydes has done more than enough to earn his chance to shine, and Pavlovich is on the hottest streak in the heavyweight division. Let’s see if either man can make a statement that sways the matchmakers to give them the consideration that they deserve.

In other main card action, Brad Tavares and Bruno Silva meet in the middleweight co-main event, lightweight veterans Bobby Green and Jared Gordon clash, 21-year-old flyweight prospect Iasmin Lucindo faces recent The Ultimate Fighter 30 finalist Brogan Walker, and Jeremiah Wells throws down with Matthew Semelsberger in a welterweight slugfest.

What: UFC Vegas 71

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, April 22. 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)

Sergei Pavlovich (5) vs. Curtis Blaydes (4)

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Sergei Pavlovich challenged. The hulking Russian has put a loss to the far more experienced Alistair Overeem in his UFC debut behind him, marching through his past five opponents with some of the most impressive punching power in the division. Curtis Blaydes, you are in danger.

This is a scary matchup for Blaydes given that by his own admission, he’s fallen short in a handful of high-profile opportunities, stumbles that likely have kept the UFC from fully getting behind him. It’s hard to book someone as your no-doubt No. 1 heavyweight contender when the image of them getting planted by Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou is fresh in your mind.

But outside of those setbacks, Blaydes has handled just about every other notable heavyweight on the roster. His wrestling remains a top-notch weapon and his striking continues to improve. He’s shown enough on the feet to keep Pavlovich honest, so he won’t just be desperately shooting for Pavlovich’s legs until he exhausts himself. It behooves him to get this fight to the ground as soon as he can though.

Pavlovich has better wrestling defense than he gets credit for, but he hasn’t faced anyone with Blaydes’ wrestling offense. Give Blaydes a round or two to navigate Pavlovich’s absurd reach, wear him down, and put him away with ground-and-pound.

Pick: Blaydes

Brad Tavares vs. Bruno Silva

Toughness and a steady striking output have taken Brad Tavares a long way, which is why he’s still popping up on main cards 22 fights into his UFC career despite constantly hovering around the fringes of the rankings. At middleweight, Tavares’ brand of reliable competency can take you a long way.

It won’t get him past “Blindado” Silva on Saturday. If we’re talking toughness, Silva is the only MMA fighter to go three rounds with Alex Pereira and live to tell about it. Yes, he lost a decision, but just ask Israel Adesanya how tough it is to go the distance with “Poatan.” So you can rule out Tavares becoming the first guy to knock Silva out.

If anything, expect the hardy Tavares to be the one to crack. He’ll bother Silva with his volume punching and might even win the opening round, but it’s Silva who has the extra gear to hurt Tavares and add him to his impressive list of KOs.

Pick: Silva

Bobby Green vs. Jared Gordon

This looks like a sure thing for Bobby Green because... oh, wait, legal disclaimer first:


OK, with that said, Green should have this matchup with Jared Gordon in the bag. “King” (soon to be his legal name apparently?) is typically only foiled by people who can hit harder than him, occasionally by grapplers, and every now and then by random Bobby Green things happening. I’m comfortable predicting that none of that he won’t be dealing with any of those pitfalls against Gordon (except for the last part, I guess, I mean he’s still Bobby Green).

Green has the advantage in reach, speed, and striking acumen. He should handle Gordon fairly easily, though Gordon is going to make him work for 15 minutes, that’s guaranteed. When the cards are read though, Green will take a clear-cut decision.

Pick: Green

Iasmin Lucindo vs. Brogan Walker

How to compare the resumes of Iasmin Lucindo and Brogan Walker?

Lucindo is over 11 years younger than Walker, but she also has eight more pro fights. That said, Walker has competed for longer and faced better competition. One also has to ask how much of an asset Walker’s experience is facing off against the quicker and more explosive Lucindo.

If Lucindo’s UFC debut was any indication, she has speed in spades. There’s no shame in losing a decision to Yazmin Jauregui, another blue-chipper, and Lucindo showed plenty of promise in that fight as their were several thrilling striking exchanges. Back up at 125, Lucindo isn’t hampered by any additional weight cutting and she might even be stronger as she continues to mature.

Walker has a good chance to make a better second impression here after stumbling against Juliana Miller and we’ll see how much she mixes up her tactics to throw Lucindo off. Again, Walker’s resume is littered with opponents that have tested her all-around game; Lucindo can’t say the same yet.

Still, I just can’t help but see this as a showcase fight for Lucindo, so look for her to assert herself early and have Walker on the back foot for most of the fight en route to a decision win.

Pick: Lucindo

Jeremiah Wells vs. Matthew Semelsberger

I was legitimately blown away by Jeremiah Wells taking McGee out in his most recent fight. McGee is one of the toughest outs in all of MMA. He’s been in there with some hitters and gone to the scorecards, so seeing Wells emphatically finish him was trippy. I’m picking Wells here, is what I’m saying.

Part of this pick has to do with Matthew Semelsberger being such a tough talent to gauge. One moment he’s playing the spoiler against Jake Matthews, the next he’s getting soundly outworked by the likes of Alex Morono. He also throws in the occasional sub-20-second knockout here and there. I don’t know what version of “Semi the Jedi” is going to show up on Saturday.

In these instances, I make my prediction based on who’s better at their best and for me, that’s Wells. As long as he doesn’t wait too long to find the perfect shot, he should beat Semelsberger to the punch and end this one quickly. It’s always dicey making any guarantees when you have a couple of chuckers like this, but since I have to choose, it’s Wells by first-round knockout.

Pick: Wells


Ricky Glenn def. Christos Giagos

Montel Jackson def. Rani Yahya

Karol Rosa (8, BW) def. Norma Dumont

Justin Tafa def. Mohammed Usman

Francis Marshall def. William Gomis

Brady Hiestand def. Batgerel Danaa

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