Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev cross paths at the right time.
Saturday’s UFC Vegas 58 not only features two of the best lightweights in the world — ‘RDA’ is No. 7 in the MMA Fighting World Rankings, Fiziev No. 10 — but two contenders who could be knocking on the door of a title. fired with a memorable performance.
Dos Anjos, a former UFC champion, has long maintained that even as he nears his 38th birthday, he hasn’t given up on fighting for a belt again. After a run at 170 pounds that saw him compete for interim gold, the Brazilian veteran has gone 2-0 since losing weight. Should he fend off Fiziev, he will be lining up for an even bigger challenge in the near future.
The stakes for Fiziev are obvious. His spectacular knockout of Brad Riddell last December earned him an iconic victory over a top 15 opponent and quality names like Bobby Green and Renato Moicano were also part of his five-fight winning streak, but toppling a fighter who has actually held a title in MMA’s deepest division? You can pretty much score it 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 faces his biggest challenge yet in Douglas Silva de Andrade, heavyweights Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman look to stop their slip-ups, 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 complete than Rafael dos Anjos, but will that be enough to defuse the dangerous Rafael Fiziev?
“RDA” won’t hesitate to take a fall, even given Fiziev’s well-deserved reputation as an infinitely creative striker. The former lightweight champion has exceptional boxing himself and it’s not impossible that he beats Fiziev on the feet. That said, as most have surmised, dos Anjos is best served mixing up his high-end grappling hook to keep Fiziev out of his comfort zone.
From what we’ve seen, Fiziev has the takedown defense to keep this fight where he wants, although he has yet to face an opponent with the mix of expertise and experience in jiu. -Dos Anjos jitsu. Not only does he have to prove he can stand, but he can hold his own and get back up in case dos Anjos knocks 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 offset any cardio advantage dos Anjos may have in the later rounds. It will be a tight – and possibly controversial – set of scorecards, but I have Fiziev winning a decision.
Caio Borralho vs Armen Petrosyan
Let’s not think too much about it: this is a classic grappler versus attacker matchup.
Caio Borralho is a Demian Maia-tested Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a ground game that emphasizes damage as much as position. Armen Petrosyan is a skilled striker (as his name suggests, although he’s not really related to the famous kickboxing Petrosyan brothers Giorgio and Armen) and he showed great poise in his debut at the UFC against Gregory Rodrigues, which was only his eighth MMA fight.
If this one stays up it will be an entertaining affair as Borralho has a penchant for showy strikes, even if it means straying from his core discipline. You should lean towards the more technical Petrosyan in this scenario though.
Petrosyan’s takedown defense didn’t look great against Rodrigues and he was probably lucky to come out of this encounter with a mixed nod. If Rodrigues had mixed martial arts more, Petrosyan might not have been judged by the judges. Don’t expect Borralho to make the same mistake.
Borralho by submission.
Douglas Silva de Andrade vs Said Nurmagomedov
Said Nurmagomedov hasn’t shown many significant weaknesses in his UFC career so far, but he’s struggled to defend with the back foot. This is something that the typically aggressive Douglas Silva de Andrade can take advantage of.
On defense, Nurmagomedov is able to land against damage, but once the distance is fully closed, he can be brutalized inside. Luckily for him, he also has a strong fight 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 bay, he will make a decision.
Silva de Andrade has only lost to quality 135ers, a list that only includes Petr Yan and Rob Font. Nurmagomedov’s talent is on par with those names but needs to show some extra gear to deal with the attacking-minded Silva de Andrade.
My prediction for this compelling bantamweight matchup is for Nurmagomedov to show more of his fight to keep Silva de Andrade in check and wear him down, setting him up for a late submission.
Jared Vanderaa vs. Chase Sherman
Jared Vanderaa and Chase Sherman have their backs against the walls.
In his last five outings, Vanderaa is 1-4. On the other side, Sherman has lost four straight fights and was in fact recently released before being immediately brought back to serve as a short-term opponent to the truly terrifying Alexandr Romanov last April. In short, these guys need a win.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the more complete Vanderaa could win the decision by establishing his jab and threatening Sherman with takedowns. But conventional wisdom is boring, so I choose chaos. I pick Sherman throwing caution to the wind and letting his hands go to turn this fight into a slopfest.
At this point, he’s a heavyweight to throw away, but Sherman is the most proven knockout performer and I expect the narrative to be bolstered on Saturday. It could happen 30 seconds into the first round or with 10 seconds left in the third round, all I know is that I have a feeling Sherman is surprising the doubters with a big knockout.
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Nina Nunes — CANCELED
It’s basically a strawweight fight where the fighters haven’t put themselves through the rigors of extreme weight reduction and more power for it.
Cynthia Calvillo was a legit contender at 115lbs, but she was repeatedly tripped up by the scales and made the wise decision to move up to 125. Nina Nunes makes her UFC debut at 125lbs after a strong weight run straw 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 always believed in Calvillo’s potential. She brings an aggressive wrestling style to the cage and has good pop in her hands, though her striking technique doesn’t quite compare to the best in either division she’s competed in. This includes Nunes, who has always been strong on her feet and hard to put away. She will frustrate Calvillo with his 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 also a busy fighter on the court, so she’ll rack up plenty of points on the scorecards en route to a much-needed decision victory.
Michael Johnson vs. Jamie Mullarkey
Michael Johnson has fought and beaten the best of the best. On Saturday, he has a developing brawler in front of him, the kind of challenge he hasn’t faced since being positioned as Justin Gaethje’s first UFC opponent. Jamie Mullarkey is known for his constant pressure and he will try to overwhelm Johnson.
Johnson, the more experienced, has always had quick hands and good punching power, but I’m curious to see how he’ll react if his best shots don’t fend off Mullarkey early. Mullarkey makes excellent use of head movement to move the target as he moves forward, then knows when to charge if he smells blood. The longer this fight lasts, the more I expect Mullarkey to gain confidence and walk away.
Look for Mullarkey to overcome a strong start from Johnson and find the finish on lap three.
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Ronnie Lawrence beats. Saidyokub Kakhramonov