UFC Vegas 78 features veterans dos Anjos, Luque, and Cub Swanson at the top of the card, as well as Canadian featherweight contender Hakeem Dawodu. But outside of those two fights, it’s slim pickings as far as star power goes, and that’s due to the fact that the card is filled with fighters who have earned their way to the big show through the UFC’s various talent-finding programs.
Thirteen of the twenty-six fighters competing tonight at UFC APEX were signed either through Dana White’s Contender Series, The Ultimate Fighter, or Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight. Here’s the complete list: (all DWCS fighters won a contract on the show, unless otherwise noted):
- Juliana Miller (TUF 30 winner)
- Jose Johnson (DWCS)
- Josh Parisian (2-0 on DWCS, which led to a spot on TUF 28)
- Martin Buday (DWCS)
- Francis Marshall (DWCS)
- Isaac Dulgarian (DW: LFAF)
- Terrance McKinney (DWCS, lost to Sean Woodson)
- Mike Breeden (DWCS, lost to Anthony Romero, who also wasn’t signed!)
- JP Buys (DWCS on second try)
- Jamie Pickett (DWCS on third try!)
- Tafon Nchukwi (DWCS)
- AJ Dobson (DWCS)
- Khalil Rountree (TUF 23)
And that’s not even diving into how inexperienced this cast of characters is, with eight fighters having less than 10 pro fights and several others hovering around that mark.
All these people have extraordinary stories and their success should be celebrated, but as far as quality of competition goes, it’s fair for the average viewer to question whether the UFC is delivering the highest-quality product possible (answer: they aren’t and thanks to their cushy TV and streaming deal with ESPN, they don’t have to).
As always, best of luck to the men and women about to step into the cage and here’s hoping they put on a show that silences all of the couch-bound critics.
What: UFC Vegas 78
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Vicente Luque vs. Rafael dos Anjos
Age is a major factor to consider in both the main and co-main event, but when it comes to Vicente Luque and Rafael dos Anjos, the difference is deceiving.
Yes, “RDA” is a couple of months shy of his 39th birthday and Luque is just about to turn 32. However, in terms of fight mileage, the gap is narrower with having begun his career in 2004, about five years before Luque. And while dos Anjos’ 46 pro fights is impressive, Luque crossed the 30-fight threshold not too long ago himself.
And that’s a hard 30-plus fights that Luque has been through. Even when he’s been the hammer, he’s come close to being the nail on many occasions, a pattern that may have caught up to him in his past two losses to Geoff Neal and Belal Muhammad. Dos Anjos has been in his fair share of damaging battles as well, but he’s shown already that he can perform past what we would consider to be his prime. The same can’t be said for Luque. Maybe this is where he turns things around. Maybe not.
The striking has to favor the larger Luque, who remains a constant knockout threat even as his durability has diminished. He’s no slouch on the ground either and though it’s unlikely he’ll become the first man to submit dos Anjos, he’s not lost off of his back either. Still, look for dos Anjos to mix his standup and ground game as expertly as he has throughout his Hall of Fame career to prevent Luque from gaining any sort of rhythm.
I’m picking dos Anjos to navigate five tense rounds and beat Luque on the cards.
Pick: Dos Anjos
Cub Swanson vs. Hakeem Dawodu
The difference in wear and tear here is more significant, with Cub Swanson having begun his fighting career in 2004, nearly a full decade before Hakeem Dawodu. We’re also talking about the featherweight division, where speed kills and the competition has to feel like it’s constantly getting better and younger every day for someone like Swanson.
You know what? I’m still going with Swanson to pull off the upset here.
Skill-for-skill, give me Swanson over a bunch of these young gunners any day. Let’s ignore that ill-fated drop down to 135 pounds he just attempted and focus on what a tough out he’s always been. At featherweight, he’s typically only lost to the best of the best, with names like Jose Aldo, Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar, Brian Ortega, and Chad Mendes putting red on his ledger, with a smattering of other solid competitors in there as well. Dawodu certainly has the talent to be added to the list, it’s more of a matter of consistency with him.
Can Dawodu push the pace? Can he be the aggressor? Can he come out fast and hurt Swanson and then compose himself for the rest of the fight if a first-round finish doesn’t materialize? This should be a strong resume builder for Dawodu, he just has to snatch the opportunity.
Until I see him prove that he belongs in that upper tier of featherweights, I’m sticking with “Killer Cub.”
Khalil Rountree vs. Chris Daukaus
Now this is one matchup where I can’t get past the speed and athleticism difference. Chris Daukaus made a wise decision to drop down from heavyweight after simply being overwhelmed by some of the larger human beings in that division, but getting lined up against another knockout artist might not be what’s best for his health.
As pointed out by the esteemed Jed Meshew, one advantage that Daukaus had at heavyweight was that he was usually quicker than the opposition, which won’t be the case now that he’s coming in 40 pounds lighter, especially against Rountree. That said, one advantage he still has is that he’s a high-level grappler, which he didn’t have much reason to show before as he found his KO touch more often than not.
Rountree’s takedown defense comes and goes, so this is a tricky one to figure out. Sometimes he looks like a classic sprawl-and-brawl fighter, at other times he looks like, well, Rob Font getting Cory Sandhagen’d (too soon?). I’ve yet to see Daukaus properly show off his jiu-jitsu, so Rountree is safe... probably?
I wouldn’t bank on Daukaus stifling Rountree’s standup game for three rounds. Rountree by knockout.
Polyana Viana vs. Iasmin Lucindo
Iasmin Lucindo brings impressive physicality to the 115-pound division. That may explain why the 21-year-old is heading into this fight as the favorite over the more UFC-experienced Polyana Viana, because strawweight is kind of like heavyweight even though it’s on the opposite end of the divisional spectrum: Plus-athleticism and aggression can take you a long way.
I’m skeptical that it’s enough to overcome the dangerous Viana, who is relentless hunting for finishes. The problem is if she can’t finish, she’s a little lost when it comes to winning over the judges. All five of her career losses have come by way of decision.
On the flip side, all of Lucindo’s losses have come by way of submission, and that just so happens to be an area where Viana excels. Lucindo has been particularly susceptible to one of Viana’s specialties, the armbar, so look for the veteran to lock in her favorite hold for the win here.
AJ Dobson vs. Tafon Nchukwi
This is the first of two main card bouts that went from middleweight to catchweight due to one of the competitors egregiously missing weight. In this case, Tafon Nchukwi came in 3.5 pounds over for his fight with AJ Dobson, and while I’m not sure that gives him a significant advantage, I’m also not sure he needs one against the well-rounded, but, uh, relatively non-descript Dobson.
Look, neither of these guys are chasing UFC gold anytime soon and that’s OK. The best we can hope for as fans is that they ascend beyond middleweighty middleweight status — Nchukwi is actually tempting fate by coming down from light heavyweight — and deliver an enjoyable brawl. Considering that they’re both fighting for their jobs, it could go either way, really.
Nchukwi by decision? Your guess is as good as mine.
Josh Fremd vs. Jamie Pickett
Speaking of best-case scenarios middleweighty middleweight matchups, I’m optimistic that we get a finish to kick off the main card. And once again, I’m going with the fighter who came in heavy, as much as it pains me.
This isn’t to say that missing weight automatically gives you a big advantage (Mike Chiappetta dispelled this myth a long time ago; in short, most of the time the weigh-in offenders who went on to win were already favored anyway), in this case I’m more concerned with Jamie Pickett’s 2-5 UFC record. It’s not like Pickett is going the distance with top-30 fighters or anything. Four of those five losses have been by knockout or submission, three before the end of Round 1.
So the only explanation for this fight opening the main card (not that it matters since it’s all on the same platforms anyway) is that the matchmakers are confident it isn’t going the distance and I’m inclined to agree.
Fremd was on a nice run of fast KOs before making it to the UFC and I think he can find that spark in his strikes again and put Pickett away early.
Marcus McGhee def. JP Buys
Terrance McKinney def. Mike Breeden
Francis Marshall def. Isaac Dulgarian
Martin Buday def. Josh Parisian
Da’mon Blackshear def. Jose Johnson
Juliana Miller def. Luana Santos