UFC Vegas 66 predictions


UFC Vegas 66 is headlined by a bout between middleweight contenders, but it’s the co-main event that could provide a true glimpse into the future.

This isn’t a knock against Jared Cannonier vs. Sean Strickland, the main event of Saturday’s show at UFC APEX in Las Vegas. Cannonier, who has been working hard to get numbers beside their names, is now No. 5 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and just challenged Israel Adesanya for a UFC title, Strickland is tied for No. 11 — and have developed enough of a following to merit top billing.

But both fighters have a lot of work to do to earn a second title shot (Strickland has a recent loss to current middleweight champion Alex Pereira) and they’ve been around the block long enough that their matchup lacks a certain spark, to be kind. It feels more mandatory than must-see.

The co-main event between Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov, on the other hand, could be a late entry to the Fight of the Year discussion. After a great fight against Mateusz Gamrot in June, Tsarukyan should be expected to make it to that list. However, he may try to claim another spot if Ismagulov proves too good. At 24-1 with five wins in five UFC outings, there’s no reason to believe Ismagulov won’t live up to the hype.

In his UFC debut, Tsarukyan gave future lightweight champion Islam Makhachev everything he could handle and a win over Ismagulov keeps him on track for a rematch somewhere down the road; on the Ismagulov side, he’s seeking a signature win to establish himself as the one to watch at 155 pounds and that’s exactly what Tsarukyan represents.

In other main card action, flyweight contender Amir Albazi welcomes short-notice replacement Alessandro Costa to the UFC, Alex Caceres makes UFC appearance No. 27 against fellow featherweight vet Julian Erosa, Drew Dober fights Bobby Green in a lightweight strikers duel, and Michal Oleksiejczuk looks to keep the wins coming at middleweight when he fights Cody Brundage.

What: UFC Vegas 66

Where : UFC APEX Las Vegas

When: Saturday, Dec. 17. The seven-fight preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a six-fight main card at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)

Jared Cannonier (5) vs. Sean Strickland (T11)

You couldn’t pick a better bounce-back fight for Sean Strickland after the gutsy (read: insane) standup strategy he employed against Alex Pereira. Strickland was confronted by Pereira, a champion in kickboxing, known for his one shot stopping power. He bravely called Pereira and it was indeed brought on.

Now Strickland is facing another puncher, one who doesn’t possess the same elite striker skills as Pereira. Jared Cannonier certainly is a danger knockout threat. However, I don’t think he will be able to lure Strickland into the final blow as Pereira. It’s the lack of output that concerns me the most.

According to statistician Richard Mann, Cannonier has had problems pulling the trigger in fights and it has cost him, with four of his UFC losses coming by way of decision in bouts where he was out-struck.

But, it is worth noting that these losses were to Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker as well as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira who are all ex-UFC champions. Strickland is not quite in that group.

But Strickland is an effective pressure fighter if nothing else and does a good job of avoiding significant damage when he’s not playing chicken with a Brazilian juggernaut. Strickland is a good choice as this fight will be dominated by the feet and not mix of martial arts.

By decision,


Pick: Strickland

Arman Tsarukyan (9) vs. Damir Ismagulov (15)

It’s a real treat!

Yes, it’s unfortunate that contenders like Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov have to be mashed together because several higher-ranked fighters are squatting in their spots (I won’t name names, but you know who you are); on the other hand, we get to watch these two lightweight studs fight sooner rather than later and isn’t that something to celebrate?

On this occasion, give me the more explosive Tsarukyan to catch Ismagulov and become the first fighter to finish the Kazakh blue-chipper. Tsarukyan is such a dynamic talent at just 26 years old, a well-rounded fighter with elite wrestling and an aggressive standup style. Tsarukyan doesn’t only aim for takedowns; he also chains together takedown attempts. His passion is not just loading up to haymakers. He also loves putting together combos that will keep his opponent off balance. It’s fun stuff.

Luckily for Ismagulov, well-rounded also fits him to a tee. He also has excellent striking and grappling defense, which could be just what the doctor ordered to deal with Tsarukyan. These two are going to show their extraordinary adaptability in a Fight of the Night candidate that would only be more intriguing on paper if it were a five-round fight.

No matter who wins, expect both of these men to be a factor in the 155-pound division for years to come.

Pick: Tsarukyan

Amir Albazi vs. Alessandro Costa

It’s weird calling a flyweight heavy, but that’s as good a description as any to Amir Albazi’s approach to grappling. He is super aggressive on top and someone who emphasizes damage over position. That’s not to say he doesn’t know how to maintain control when he has it, just that when he goes to the ground, he’s going there to finish.

Alessandro Costa stepped in to fill the gap for Brandon Royval, who was injured, but actually uses a very similar method of top control. Albazi could be beaten by Costa if he beats him to the punch.

One issue Albazi had in his recent win over Francisco Figueiredo was dealing with striking from distance, but that shouldn’t factor into this fight with Costa, who has a more compact standup style. That makes Costa a credible threat on the feet though as he loves to uncork his powerful left hand if his opponent’s chin drifts into range. This will be a tactical standup battle until one of the fighters scores a takedown.

I like Albazi’s shooting first to set the tone and make for an enjoyable grappling match.

Pick: Albazi

Alex Caceres vs. Julian Erosa

These next two fights are excellent pieces of matchmaking, both in terms of crowd-pleasing potential and how difficult they are to call.

It’s not a coincidence that Alex Caceres is around for so long. One of the most memorable personalities from The Ultimate Fighter 12 (a season geared around a Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck title fight if you want reference for how far back this was), “Bruce Leeroy” has done an admirable job of, well, keeping his job. Although he has never been able to win a title, he is a good mid-level gatekeeper. That’s what he will present to Julian Erosa this Saturday.

Erosa is just as seasoned as Caceres, but you get the sense that he has the potential to shake up the upper tier of the featherweight division if he can extend his three-fight win streak. The rangy Erosa is a tricky style matchup for anyone, even the similarly built Caceres. It’s not so much Erosa’s measurements that are the problem as the unorthodox way in which he moves and attacks. Caceres is a veteran, and has never been able to fight anyone like Erosa.

Caceres’ submission defense has long been his Achilles heel and that’s going to trip him up again as Erosa has a strong submission game. Erosa will win the fight after a couple of tense feet exchanges.

Pick: Erosa

Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green

Speaking of flip-a-coin matchups, Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green, everyone!

It’s weird, in my mind Dober feels like the fresher fighter, but he’s barely two years younger than Green, has nearly as many fights, and both men have been with the UFC since 2013. Green’s pre-UFC career was more prominent, with his work at King of the Cage and Strikeforce. This is likely why he feels familiar. Dober also has not teased retirement as Green on several occasions.

This will not be about grappling. It will be an intense battle with both the Doberman and Green, who are both hard-hitting and looking for a knockout. Green uses his unique style to confuse and dazzle Doberman. Green can be a formidable competitor in lightweight. Do we get the best version of Green on Saturday? You can guess my answer.

That leads me to tilt towards the more consistent Dober, who will have the more impactful moments in the fight to sway the judges. Green is damn near impossible to finish, but look for Dober to win on points after a wicked slugfest.

Pick: Dober

Michal Oleksiejczuk vs. Cody Brundage

It’s easy to get excited about Michal Oleksiejczuk’s prospects at 185 pounds. As a lightweight heavyweight, he was an easy-going scrapper but appeared to be a slimmer man. His impressive performance may have had a lot to do with the fact that he was fighting Sam Alvey, but still!

Cody Brundage is your classic wrestle-brawler, with a twist. Like most wrestlers, he has a big right hand in the chamber, but he also likes to keep things loose, which can catch opponents off guard (Tresean Gore learned this the hard way). That said, a disciplined striking style is enough to defuse Brundage.

Add in an emphasis on takedown defense and Oleksiejczuk should cruise in this fight. He’s noticeably faster in his new weight class, while retaining the pop that made him a player at 205 pounds. Brundage won’t be able to get his wrestling moving if he doesn’t.

Pick: Oleksiejczuk


Cory McKenna def. Cheyanne Vlismas

Jake Matthews def. Matthew Semelsberger

Said Nurmagomedov def. Saidyokub Kakhramonov

Rafa Garcia def. Maheshate

Rinat Fakhretdinov def. Bryan Battle

Manel Kape (11) def. David Dvorak (T14)

Sergey Morozov def. Journey Newson

Source: https://www.mmafighting.com/2022/12/17/23512671/ufc-vegas-66-predictions?rand=96749