Predictions, Odds, Analysis! UFC Vegas 99, X-Factor

This weekend (Sat., March 23, 2024), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) remains inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC Vegas 89. In this week’s warehouse card, a former UFC champion graces center stage … because she’s on a two-fight losing streak. Rose Namajunas will remain at Flyweight against Amanda Ribas in the main event as she looks to get her career back on track, while the co-main event is JUSTIN TAFA, whose undisclosed injury got his brother beaten senseless just about a month ago.

Top-notch stuff, per usual. Let’s dig into all the main card fights leading up to the main event:

UFC 293: Adesanya v Strickland

Heavyweight: Justin Tafa (+140) vs. Karl Williams (-180)

Best Win for Tafa? Parker Porter For Williams? Chase Sherman
Current Streak: Tafa is unbeaten in his last four, while Williams is 2-0 inside the Octagon
X-Factor: What happened to Tafa last month that forced a withdraw?
How these two match up: Heavyweights and the Apex, a love story like chlamydia and brothels.

Justin is the better of the two Tafa brothers, even if they’re functionally the same. He’s a big hitter with some decent timing and setups for his power shots, though his ground game remains thoroughly unremarkable. Williams, conversely, has shown some well-rounded skills in his short UFC career. He’s bounced between Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight, but much like Jailton Almeida, seems to favor applying his athleticism edge to slower opponents who don’t know how to wrestle.

Like Tafa.

I’m not quite as confident in Williams as the odds makers, however. Though Williams has the height and reach advantage, Tafa will have 30 pounds on him, and that kind of mass certainly matters in wrestling exchanges. It makes takedowns more difficult, and perhaps more importantly, it makes holding down the bigger man more exhausting. Williams isn’t much of a finisher, so fighting 15 minutes is likely (yuck).

Fortunately for him, Tafa is not Derrick Lewis. If Williams is exhausted after a round of wrestling, chances are, Tafa will be too! Between his quick hands and athletic double, Williams should be able to control this dance.

Prediction: Williams via decision

UFC Fight Night: Shahbazyan v Hernandez

Middleweight: Edmen Shahbazyan (-220) vs. A.J. Dobson (+160)

Best Win for Shabazyan? Brad Tavares For Dobson? Tafon Nchukwi
Current Streak: Shabazyan lost his last bout, whereas Dobson has lost two straight
X-Factor: Shahbazyan’s cardio and confidence are in question
How these two match up: Remember when Shahbazyan was a ranked Middleweight climbing the ladder and talking title shots? That was an awful long time ago.

The 26-year-old boxer has undeniable skills. He’s a sniper on the feet, and his wrestling is actually pretty good … until fatigue sets in. Then, everything goes to crap, and you can visibly watch Shahbazyan fall apart in the cage.

Can that flaw be fixed?

Dobson is a Contenders Series pickup who has yet to really thrive in the promotion. He’s well-rounded enough but not exceptional anywhere — in his UFC losses, he was picked apart by the striker and outwrestled by the wrestler. At 32 years of age, expectations around Dobson aren’t through the roof.

Shahbazyan needs a step back in competition, and he got one. He should have little issue jabbing up Dobson and using his range control to keep Dobson off his hips. Historically, Dobson is durable, but Shahbazyan is a great finisher when he’s on his game.

The question is whether Shahbazyan can recover mentally from all these losses? Time and time again, we’ve seen him broken down by the wrestling grind. If Dobson shoots constantly and Shahbazyan starts breathing a little heavy, will “Golden Boy” be able to keep it together?

Hopefully, he proves he can handle that pressure here, to us and to himself.

Prediction: Shahbazyan via knockout

UFC Fight Night: Talbott v Aguirre

Bantamweight: Payton Talbott (-175) vs. Cameron Saaiman (+135)

Best Win for Talbott? Nick Aguirre For Saaiman? Mana Martinez
Current Streak: Talbott recently won his UFC debut, whereas Saaiman suffered his first professional loss
X-Factor: Talbott is a slow-starter
How these two match up: Talented young Bantamweights — this should be a whole lot of fun.

I’ve told this story before, but I watched Talbott earned his UFC call up by beating up several of my friends on the regional scene. Even back then, it was clear that Talbott was a gifted striker with unique composure in the chaos, an invaluable trait that has resulted in a majority of his wins via finish.

Saaiman is a really athletic young finisher himself. He’s got some kickboxing experience, and it shows in his ability to put together combinations and work at a high rate. Christian Rodriguez exposed some general roughness around the edges last time out, but given his age, that feels like a forgivable flaw.

Talbott is going to take advantage much more brutally than “CeeRod,” however. Saaiman operates on one rhythm, which means more skilled strikers can pick up on his timing and walk him into big shots. Since he’s so willing to engage, his own offense is more likely to backfire.

Talbott has exactly the game to capitalize on that flaw, and he makes his connections count. The only possible question is whether or not Saaiman can abandon his own striking and just wrestle Talbott for three rounds? It feels unlikely, though some early control success isn’t impossible.

Ultimately, the two men will have the kickboxing match they usually want, and Talbott is just the better striker.

Prediction: Talbott via decision

UFC Fight Night: Quarantillo v Jackson

Featherweight: Billy Quarantillo (-185) vs. Youssef Zalal (+140)

Best Win for Quarantillo? Alexander Hernandez For Zalal? Austin Lingo
Current Streak: Quarantillo won his last bout, while Zalal won three straight to earn his way back to the UFC roster
X-Factor: Zalal accepted this fight on short notice
How these two match up: This is a quality pairing of skilled Featherweights.

Quarantillo is definitely a step above the average Contenders Series fare. He’s got some funky striking, good wrestling, and a jiu-jitsu black belt. More importantly, he has the conditioning and grit to push a gnarly pace for 15 full minutes, which tends to be what defeats opponents more than anything else.

Zalal picked up a bit of hype early in the Apex era until he ran afoul of Ilia Topuria, a Spanish wrestler who turned out to be pretty good. “The Moroccan Devil” does his best work at kickboxing range, but he’s quite capable of timing takedowns and grinding for top position too.

I can hardly think of a fighter I would like to face less than Quarantillo on short notice. He’s a nightmare on the best of days, an exhausting and grueling task. Pair his style with Zalal’s relative lack of preparation, and it’s really hard not to envision Zalal exhausted by the midway point in the fight.

Zalal is a good fighter, but he’s not a great finisher, and he needs a stoppage to avoid the Quarantillo pace.

Prediction: Quarantillo via decision

Noche UFC: Padilla v Nelson

Featherweight: Fernando Padilla (-175) vs. Luis Pajuelo (+135)

Best Win for Padilla? Julian Erosa For Pajuelo? Robbie Ring
Current Streak: Padilla lost his last bout, whereas Pajuelo debuts on a five-fight win streak
X-Factor: UFC jitters for Pajuelo?
How these two match up: Looking For A Fight vs. Contenders Series.

Padilla’s two UFC bouts have been confusing. Wiping out Julian Erosa in 100 seconds was impressive, but then he was baffled and shut down by Kyle Nelson’s kickboxing in his next appearance. At 27, Padilla does still have some time to figure out how to make his physical gifts work for him. Pajuelo is a willing striker himself, having stopped seven of his eight wins via knockout. It’s hard to take Contenders Series performances too seriously, but Pajuelo did really impress there, bullying his opponent standing before battering him with knees while on the ground.

This is going to be a kickboxing match, and Padilla does have a significant edge in height and reach, as well as the bonus of already having some UFC experience. Despite those aspects being in his favor, his woefully underwhelming showing last time out has me leaning toward the debutant.

Pajuelo largely ran through solid opposition on the regional scene. He appears to be the heavier hitter with enough accuracy to weave through the reach differential and find his target. He also likes to push the pace anyway, which is a perfect way to close distance.

Prediction: Pajuelo via knockout

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 89 On ESPN+

FLYWEIGHT FISTICUFFS! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to its APEX venue in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., March 16, 2024, with a titanic tilt between Australian power puncher and master of the Shoey, Tai Tuivasa (14-6), and longtime 265-pound keeper of gates, Marcin Tybura (24-8), across five rounds of heavyweight action. In UFC Vegas 88’s ESPN+-streamed co-main event, Tar Heel “Butcher” Bryan Battle (10-2) looks to win his third straight at the expense of Congo “Ninja” Ange Loosa (10-3) in a high-stakes Welterweight scrap.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 89 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN (simulcast on ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 89: “Namajunas vs. Ribas” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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