UFC Vegas 67 predictions


Sean Strickland will make UFC history when he steps into the octagon on Saturday.

Just a month ago, Strickland was standing across Jared Cannonier in the main event of UFC Vegas 66 to close out 2022, and now he’s set to fight Nassourdine Imavov in the light heavyweight main event of UFC Vegas 67 to open 2023 (up from both man’s usual class of middleweight due to Strickland replacing Kelvin Gastelum on less than a week’s notice). Strickland is the only fighter to headline consecutive UFC shows.

Tito Ortiz was the first as he defended the light heavyweight title UFC 32 and UFC 33 back when UFC events were far less frequent. There was a three-month gap between Ortiz’s back-to-back headliners as opposed to 28 days for Strickland. The only other fighter to come close to matching this achievement is Deiveson Figueiredo, who headlined consecutive pay-per-views with flyweight title defenses at UFC 255 and UFC 256 to close out 2020, but there were a pair of Fight Night events in between.

Strickland’s willingness to jump on this opportunity shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone given his “punch first, ask questions later” approach to his career, and it could turn out to be a smart move if he can slow down the surging Imavov. Fights against ranked opponents aren’t easy to get when you’re on a losing streak, so Strickland simply stepped up and snagged one.

In the main card action, Damon Jackson and Dan Ige, both featherweight legends, collide. Punahele Soriano faces Roman Kopylov in an exciting middleweight bout. Ketlen vieira will look to establish herself as No. 1 contender at bantamweight with a win over Raquel Pennington, and bantamweight blue-chipper Umar Nurmagomedov opens the show against Raoni Barcelos.

What: UFC Vegas 67

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, Jan. 14. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a five-fight main card at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.

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

Sean Strickland (T11)* vs. Nassourdine Imavov (14)*

(*middleweight ranking)

All things considered, Sean Strickland could have picked a worse short-notice fight. Nassourdine Imavov has all the makings of a future title challenger at 185 pounds, but he hasn’t established himself as a surefire threat just yet. That could change on Saturday.

Imavov’s three-fight winning streak is due to his skillful striking and an unshakeable confidence. You can bet that Strickland will have a lot to say when Imavov meets him in the center of the cage with his hands down, daring Strickland to make the first move. It will then be a match of chess as Strickland tries to execute his high-volume game, while Imavov tries to counter.

The poundage difference from the official weigh-ins shouldn’t be much of a factor here, with Strickland coming in at 204 pounds and Imavov at 194 pounds because neither man is likely to implement too many takedowns into their game and their fight night weights probably won’t be too far off. Strickland could be frustrated and neutralized by Imavov’s wrestling skills in clinch battles.

We can’t ignore the fact that this matchup is very brief. Strickland is a gamer who will work for 25 minutes without issue, but preparing for a tricky opponent like Imavov requires a full camp, not just a consistent cardio routine. You can easily see why Strickland won’t score points on the scorecards if you consider Imavov’s significant advantage in speed.

Imavov through decision.

Pick: Imavov

Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson

Talk about two fighters headed in opposite directions.

Dan Ige has had a rough go of it since a strong run that was capped off by split-decision wins over Edson Barboza and Mirsad Bektic. Beating Barboza resulted in a significant jump up in competition and Ige has struggled, losing three straight and four of his past five. It’s not something to be ashamed about, even though it is a loss to Movsar Evloev and Josh Emmett as well as Chan Sung Jung and Calvin Kattar.

Jackson, who has won four consecutive fights during his UFC 2nd stint, is enjoying the best stretch of his career. That said, the competition he’s faced isn’t near the level of Ige’s, which is a big reason why I’m leaning towards the Hawaiian to snap his skid.

Aside from the fact that Ige has been tested in fires that are just a tad hotter, I like how his skill set matches up with Jackson’s. Although Ige is a veteran of many standup fights his bread and butter was his jiujitsu. He can either out-grapple Jackson, or battle him down to a halt. Ige can be a strong opponent on the feet because he has never lost his mind, while Jackson is known for having defensive weaknesses.

This is a fun featherweight matchup and I’m glad that Jackson is finally getting a top-20 opponent, but I have Ige coming out on top via second-round TKO.

Pick: Ige

Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov

We’ve seen Punahele soriano’s growth as almost all of his fights took place at the UFC. He’s evolved from a raw sprawl-and-brawler to a more defensively responsible fighter. It’s now up to him whether or not he has rehabilitated enough of his flaws.

I have my doubts about Roman Kopylov’s body work, which is one of Soriano’s most problematic areas. Even though Soriano has made great strides, he still finds it difficult to perform body shots. These are an important part of Kopylov’s arsenal. The Russian put this skill to good use against Alessio di Chirico to score his first UFC win.

This will be a large part of his Saturday game plan. It makes sense considering how risky it can be to trade with Soriano and stand in the pocket. Kopylov has knockout power too, but he may want to take a more strategic approach to this matchup.

Look for this one to have a couple of near-finish moments before eventually going to the judges, where Kopylov’s body shots will earn him the nod.

Pick: Kopylov

Ketlen Vieira (3) vs. Raquel Pennington (6)

Ketlen Vieira survived one clinch-heavy fighter in her last fight, can she do it again?

The would-be No. 1 contender’s split decision win over Holly Holm proved to be one of 2022’s more controversial calls, one that I felt the judges got right following a proper Robbery Review. However, Vieira’s loss was only one round away. This is why you should be concerned about Raquel Pennington.

To put it nicely, Pennington is one of the bantamweight division’s most persistent grinders, and much of her success begins with her ability to lock up her opponent, walk them to the fence, and keep them there. It ain’t pretty, but it nets her another check at the pay window, so you have to respect it.

I fully anticipate Vieira will use the same strategy against Pennington as she used against Holm. That is, to be patient and go for head shots in order to win the fight over or finish it. This being a three-round fight makes it a little dicey as it’s much easier to steal two rounds than it is three, but on the flipside Vieira might be more willing to go for broke with only 15 minutes to work through.

This pick is both a hope and a judgement call. Amanda Nunes desperately needs a new challenger, and Vieira is the one (apologies for everyone who clamors for the Nunes-Pennington match), so I’ll be taking Vieira down by vote.

Pick: Vieira

Umar Nurmagomedov (13) vs. Raoni Barcelos

Umar Nurmagomedov is an astronomical favorite in this one, hovering around -1000 depending on where you look, which seems incredibly disrespectful given that he’s going up against Raoni Barcelos, a top-25 fighter in one of MMA’s deepest divisions.

But that is a result of Nurmagomedov’s mystique. Not to mention that he delivered impressive wins to start his UFC career. True to his name, Nurmagomedov is a monster wrestler who just so happens to be a creative striker as well. He’s supremely well-rounded and feels like a top 10 fighter if we’re just going off of the eye test.

It’s surprising that Barcelos has been considered such an underdog given his outstanding grappling skills. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t finished a fight in a few years, but the oddsmakers are definitely overlooking Barcelos’ chances of handing Nurmagomedov his first loss.

Because he is nine years younger than Barcelos and hasn’t yet reached his physical peak, Nurmagomedov will have to be considered because of his athleticism. That’s a scary thought given how dominant he’s been already. He still has the wrestling skills to knock Barcelos out of his game, even if he does not beat Barcelos at his feet.

It’s about to be 16-0 for Nurmagomedov after he takes a convincing judges’ decision.

Pick: Nurmagomedov

Preliminary Card

  • Javid Basharat def. Mateus Mendonca
  • Claudio Ribeiro def. Abdul Razak Alhassan
  • Mateusz Rebecki def. Nick Fiore
  • Allan Nascimento def. Carlos Hernandez
  • Daniel Argueta def. Nick Aguirre
  • Jimmy Flick def. Charles Johnson

Source: https://www.mmafighting.com/2023/1/14/23553524/ufc-vegas-67-predictions?rand=96749