After the glitz and glamour of a pay-per-view sell-out at Madison Square Gardens, the UFC returns to Earth with its latest instalment of UFC Apex action this Saturday. Paul Craig returns to the top of the billing when he faces perennial Middleweight contender Brendan Allen in the UFC Vegas 82 main event.
Pintsized’s pick of the main card fights features a Lightweight grappling frenzy between fan favourites Jordan Leavitt and Chase Hooper. Although, we may be denied the meme-loaded match-up as Leavitt remains on standby, days before the event, with his wife close to labour.
Brendan Allen vs Paul Craig
No matter the amount of polish that Brendan Allen applies to his skillset, there will always remain a question mark over his gas tank. Even as the American sits on a five-fight win streak, against increasingly impressive opposition, it is too difficult to shake off his past implosions against Chris Curtis and Sean Strickland. Moreover, it could be argued that Allen was extremely fortunate to have his hand raised against Jacob Malkoun last year, having been outwrestled in the first two rounds.
Despite the glaring issues with backing Allen, his striking remains a level above that of Paul Craig. The Scotsman may have moved down a weight class, but he will only benefit from an extra inch in height and reach on Saturday. Although not insignificant, this is the same ‘Bearjew’ that fought tooth and nail with an over-the-hill Shogun Rua. At 35-years-old, Craig’s lacking speed on the feet will be visibly evident against Allen.
That is why it may be no surprise to see Craig actively pulling guard from the opening bell. Allen represents one of the stronger grapplers at 185lbs, however, many an opponent has fallen victim to Craig’s serpentine submissions off his back. Just ask former Light Heavyweight champion Jamahal Hill (or even former title challenger Magomed Ankalaev). While I can’t see Allen falling into a similar trap, it can never truly be overlooked.
Allen vs Craig Prediction: Allen TKO Round 2
Jake Matthews vs Michael Morales
Promotional lap dog, Jake Matthews, has been gifted with a match-up against one of Welterweight’s most fearsome prospects in Michael Morales. Talk about company benefits! ‘The Celtic Kid’ has spent nearly a decade at the UFC but has never really strung together a convincing run of form across a stop-start career. Although Matthews was victorious last time out against Darrius Flowers, his last meaningful win came in an impressive boxing display against counter-striker Andre Fialho.
While the Australian would be best advised to lean on his wrestling chops and avoid Morales’ powerful hands, Matthews’ defence on the feet is surprisingly neat. The 29-year-old keeps active behind his jab and utilises his straight punches well to maintain a comfortable distance. Unfortunately for Matthews, he will be at a physical disadvantage on the night, with Morales’ fleet feet allowing him to unexpectedly enter striking range. Morales remains a rough prospect in terms of dictating a comfortable pace, however, his freak athleticism should help him overcome his toughest challenge to date.
Matthews vs Morales Prediction: Morales Decision
Jordan Leavitt vs Chase Hooper
After being tea bagged by Paddy Pimblett in a losing effort to close out 2022, Jordan Leavitt returned with a surprising knockout victory against Victor Martinez in February. ‘The Monkey King’ had only knocked out one opponent prior, Matt Wiman, via a slam knockout in 22-seconds. When facing Chase Hooper on Saturday, expect both feather-fisted men to pursue submissions above all else.
Traditionally, when two grapplers meet in the octagon, fans are often treated to an awkward striking battle. If this is to be the case on Saturday, Hooper’s boxing has come a long way since he was systematically broken down by Alex Caceres. The 24-year-old will boast a 3-inch reach advantage this weekend, and although he remains the second-worst striker at Lightweight, he is still a level above Leavitt’s bizarre switch-kicking approach.
Leavitt vs Hooper Prediction: Leavitt Decision
Payton Talbott vs Nick Aguirre
Undefeated UFC debutante, Payton Talbott, has received major backing from the promotion following his convincing decision victory on Dana White’s Contender Series. Talbott reached the scorecards for the first time in his career following September’s win over Reyes Cortez, having previously enjoyed five-fight finishing streaks in both the amateur and professional ranks. Despite showing signs of weakness against the cage, Talbott out struck Reyes nearly 2 to 1, turning up the pace maturely in each subsequent round.
While Nick Aguirre has his strengths on the mat, he will be hopelessly outgunned on the feet on Saturday night. During his UFC debut against Dan Argueta in January, Aguirre was rag dolled on the mat for over ten minutes, registering just 14 significant strikes across the three rounds. Ultimately, Aguirre lacks the wrestling threat to prevent Talbott’s relentless pressure and will eventually wilt.
Talbott vs Aguirre Prediction: Talbott TKO Round 1
Amanda Ribas vs Luana Pinheiro
Amanda Ribas has fallen hard since her breakout submission win over Paige VanZant in 2020. The Brazilian Flyweight remains a firm fan favourite, however, any talks of a potential title run have been left by the wayside. Ribas has transformed into a tough as old boots volume striker over recent years, in part due to her struggles to keep opponents pinned to the mat. While the 30-year-old still mixes in frequent takedown attempts, she has been out-foxed on the ground by the likes of Katlyn Chookagian and Maycee Barber.
Thankfully for Ribas, she is unlikely to face as stern a test on the mat from Luana Pinheiro this weekend. Despite entering MMA from a judo background, Pinheiro has struggled to impose her takedowns in the UFC, failing all five attempts against Michelle Waterson-Gomez last time out. While her submission skills were frequently showcased on the regional scene, she lacks the patience against more experienced opponents to open up finishes.
Ribas vs Pinheiro Prediction: Ribas Decision
Uros Medic vs Myktybek Orolbai
Uros Medic may not be the most stylish fighter on the roster, but ‘The Doctor’ provides ‘must watch’ entertainment every time he enters the octagon. Following four finishes across his 3-1 start within the UFC, Medic continues to be handed tough prospects by the promotion. While the Serbian’s durability remains a red flag, having most recently been dropped twice in the first-round by Matthew Semelsbeger, he showcased surprisingly mature fight IQ to wrestle and buy time to recover. It was a vast improvement from his dismal submission loss to Jalin Turner in 2021.
The power that Myktybek Orolbai possesses, however, is not typically the kind that allows opponents to recover. Entering his UFC debut this Saturday off the back of two consecutive stoppage victories in the LFA, Orolbai is a brick outhouse of an athlete. There is a stiff rigidness to his upper body, but his short steps ensure he keeps a base to strike with power at any given time. Better yet, Orolbai highlighted his patience in the pocket last time out against Hayward Charles, waiting for Charles to miss wildly on his hook before faceplanting him with a menacing uppercut.
Medic vs Orolbai Prediction: Orolbai TKO Round 1