This weekend (Sat., Oct. 14, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) remains inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC Vegas 81. It’s going to get better. Repeat after me, it’s going to get better. One more Apex event, and then UFC heads to Abu Dhabi for UFC 294, one of the biggest nights of the year. This one is decidedly closer to cream of the crap than cream of the crop, but there are still highlights and fun fighters. Edson Barboza, Adrian Yanez, Michel Pereira — these athletes deserve full focus, even if the event overall isn’t the most important card of all time.
Let’s dig into all the main card fights leading up to the main event:
Women’s Flyweight: Jennifer Maia vs. Viviane Araujo
Best Win for Maia? Casey O’Neil For Araujo? Andrea Lee
Current Streak: Maia has won two in a row, while Araujo has lost her last two
X-Factor: Maia has more top-notch experience
How these two match up: Given that women’s Flyweight has been fairly empty until recently, and these two women have been contenders for a long while, it feels as though this fight should’ve happened by now!
Maia is a former title challenger with a well-rounded game. She’s not the most fleet-footed athlete, but she can put together good combinations in the pocket, wrestle well in the clinch, and occasionally surprise opponents with her submission prowess. Araujo is also comfortable wherever the fight goes, but she does her best work on the floor. Between the two, she’s the more committed woman in dragging her foes to the floor and dominating from top position, whereas Maia is more willing to let the fight play out wherever.
Araujo’s last performance was a bit concerning. She’s known to have a bit of pop in her punches, but she found herself thoroughly outgunned by Amanda Ribas, a woman known for her shaky defense! Her kickboxing development has been hot-and-cold, and at 36 years of age, I’m not sure a huge leap forward in skill is going to happen.
Is one necessary to defeat Maia? This feels like a close fight that will feature high-volume combinations and clinch work. Ultimately, I favor Maia to score the heavier combos, control more time along the cage, and ultimately finish stronger over the course of 15 minutes. It’ll be competitive, but Maia will do enough to sway the judges.
Prediction: Maia via decision
Bantamweight: Jonathan Martinez vs. Adrian Yanez
Best Win for Martinez? Cub Swanson For Yanez? Davey Grant
Current Streak: Martinez has won four straight, while Yanez lost his last bout
X-Factor: How does Yanez respond from a bad knockout loss?
How these two match up: B-B-B-Bantamweight B-B-B-Banger!
Martinez is riding a quality win streak up the 135-pound latter, and he’s doing it almost entirely off the strength of his kickboxing. Even more specifically, Martinez is ripping opponents apart with his left leg repeatedly. He can kick apart a leg, intercept with a knee, or step in with a massive overhand, and as a result, he’s one of Bantamweight’s top up-and-coming strikers.
Yanez bore a similar reputation as a top young talent until he ran afoul of Rob Font last time out, winding up in a dogfight with a more powerful and determined veteran. That loss aside, Yanez has proven himself a remarkably sharp and powerful boxer, able to pick opponents apart from the front foot or stop them in their tracks with accurate counter shots.
This is a classic kicker vs. boxer match up, and it’s clear what both men must do. Martinez will be looking to keep his distance and break Yanez down, punishing his attempts to come forward. Yanez, of course, will be doing his best to crowd the kicker, extend pocket exchangers, and generally batter Martinez for daring to kick him.
Who finds better success? I’m really liking the look of Martinez lately. He’s performing very consistently, and we’ve seen Yanez struggle with the range of previous opponents like Grant or even Randy Costa. Martinez has the tools to start slowly Yanez down with body and low kicks, and if Yanez really tries to push the issue, he’s a sharp enough counter puncher to hurt him upstairs as well.
Martinez bloodies Yanez up then finishes the aggressive boxer late.
Prediction: Martinez via knockout
Middleweight: Michel Pereira vs. Andre Petroski
Best Win for Pereira? Santiago Ponzinibbio For Petroski? Gerald Meerschaert
Current Streak: Both have won five straight
X-Factor: Pereira is moving up to Middleweight after bombing the Welterweight cut one too many times
How these two match up: This is an obvious striker vs. wrestler match up.
Pereira is a wild man, but unfortunately, he missed weight too many times to contend at 170 lbs. As such, his current win streak means little, as he’s been forced up a class and will start in the middle of the ladder once more. Fortunately, the Brazilian is a walking highlight reel, able to technically strike well at distance until the opening to land something wild appears. Petroski is a bit more straight forward. He can punch, sure, but the man is a wrestler through and through. He’s happy to grind for takedowns, but the Ultimate Fighter veteran does deserve credit for chasing the finish on the floor with strikes and submissions alike.
I don’t expect Pereira to look small in this match up, but it’s undeniable that size and strength were a considerable part of his success at Welterweight. He dwarfed his opponents, kicked them from ridiculously far away, and then threw them off him when they tried to wrestle — physicality was vital. Now, he’s going to be facing a pretty skilled wrestler accustomed to manhandling larger men?
It reads like a bad match up. Admittedly, Petroski isn’t a perfect fighter, hittable and prone to fatiguing late. Are we really expecting Pereira to outlast someone in his Middleweight debut though? He’s had his own cardio issues in the past, and wrestling a large opponent is likely to return them to the forefront.
Prediction: Petroski via decision
Flyweight: Edgar Chairez vs. Daniel Lacerda
Best Win for Chairez? Gianni Vasquez For Lacerda? Rodrigo Sarafian
Current Streak: Both enter following a “No Contest” … against one another
X-Factor: They just fought a few weeks ago!
How these two match up: I’m not so sure we needed this fight a second time. A recently released camera angle reveals that maybe the referee didn’t screw up, and Lacerda was actually asleep from Chairez guillotine choke, so perhaps this controversy never needed to happen.
Whatever your take on the maybe-strangulation, there’s no doubt that Chairez was clearly winning the fight. He’s a grinder, far from the flashiest fighter on the roster but good enough everywhere and able to push the pace hard for 15 minutes. Lacerda, meanwhile, is known for doing all sorts of flash inside five minutes, then fatiguing and getting beaten up afterward. For Chairez to work him over in his best round last time out was telling, and I’m also unsold on his overall style shift.
The way Lacerda wins fights is catching opponents with athletic, wild offense early on. Last time, he tried to fight more measured … but that requires more technical depth than he has! His best chance is the usual guns-blazing approach, but even if he makes that necessary shift, I don’t like his odds of blowing the rather game Chairez out of the water.
I expect another strangle, minus the controversy.
Prediction: Chairez via submission
Bantamweight: Cameron Saaiman vs. Christian Rodriguez
Best Win for Saaiman? Mana Martinez For Rodriguez? Raul Rosas Jr
Current Streak: Saaiman is 3-0 in the UFC and 8-0 overall, while Rodriguez has won two straight
X-Factor: Saaiman is just 22 years old
How these two match up: UFC has a sense of humor sometimes. Rodriguez, a young and talented Bantamweight himself, just upset teenage wunderkind Raul Rosas Jr., so why not match him with another super young and very gifted up-and-comer? Maybe it’ll happen again!
As for the actual abilities of both men, Rodriguez is a skilled kickboxer, but he proved against Rosas Jr. that he can do it all. He countered a lot of takedowns into top control, and he showed good jiu-jitsu in scrambling with him too. That ability will be important against Saaiman, a hyper athletic wrestler who is happy to overwhelm foes on the floor just like Rosas Jr. He’s a more developed striker, however, a definite knockout threat that doesn’t have to be desperate to land takedowns.
In that match up, I do believe that Rodriguez is the more put together striker, but I’m not sure it will benefit him terribly. Saaiman just seems like such a force inside the cage, and his takedowns and power punching are good enough to overcome a small technical edge. More importantly, we’ve seen Rodriguez dominated from top position before. Rosas Jr. managed to clearly take the first frame, and Jonathan Pierce held him down for three rounds in his UFC debut (admittedly at Featherweight). Rosas Jr. fell apart because he gassed and got desperate, but we haven’t seen those issues from Saaiman.
I don’t think it’ll be easy by any means, but Saaiman scores enough top control time to win the scorecards following a chaotic fight.
Prediction Saaiman via decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 81 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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