Nikita Krylov and Ryan Spann might not be household names, but with the light heavyweight division wide open right now, a big opportunity could lie ahead.
The UFC Vegas 70 main event sees Krylov and Spann — No. 10 and No. 13 respectively in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — fighting to improve their standing at 205, a weight class that’s in flux due to the sudden absence of champion Jiri Prochazka, the rapid ascent of Jamahal Hill, and the fact that its been mostly stuck in the mud since the departures of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier (and we just said farewell to Glover Teixeira too).
It’s reasonable to believe that a win Saturday on the UFC could make Spann or Krylov the champions by the end of this year. Krylov has compiled a strong UFC resume in just two UFC stints, while Spann is looking promising as he joins the Contender Series. Hill was also a product of Dana White’s side project.
If the main event stakes aren’t particularly convincing, the co-main event features a grappling ace who is a sleeper to challenge for the middleweight title soon. Andre Muniz’s spotless 5-0 record gives him the UFC’s longest current win streak at 185 pounds and he can extend that if he shows out against fellow submission specialist Brendan Allen. Muniz said recently that Alex Pereira, the current champion, won’t be staying at middleweight if he wins his fight against Israel Adesanya. However, Muniz still has one to two wins in hand.
In other main card action, heavyweight veteran Augusto Sakai looks to snap a four-fight skid against Don’Tale Mayes, Tatiana Suarez returns from a layoff of over 1,350 days when she fights Montana De La Rosa in a flyweight bout, and Mike Malott and Yohan Lainesse meet in a duel of Canadian welterweights.
What: UFC Vegas 70
Where : UFC APEX Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Feb. 25. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a five-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Nikita Krylov (10) vs. Ryan Spann (13)
Nikita Kralov looked the most beautiful version of herself during his light-heavyweight bout; however, it isn’t enough to defeat MMA’s latest legend: Ryan Spann.
After crushing Dominick Reyes in 80 seconds last November, Spann said post-fight that he’d never properly trained for a fight before and later said on The MMA Hour that “I feel like I wasted a lot of my 20s.” That’s right, the same Spann that went 12-0 to start his career with none of those fights going past the three-minute mark of Round 1 had never experienced a full camp. If true, it’s a bit crazy.
Whether you take Spann’s word for it or not, it’s indisputable that he’s looked fantastic in winning three of his past four fights. We go on and on about the benefits of athleticism, but that holds true with Spann, who admitted in the aforementioned MMA Hour interview that often he excelled just because the things came so naturally for him. Now that he’s saying all the right things about being more serious with his preparation and rounding out his already formidable skill set, we might have ourselves a real contender here!
He’ll have to be wary of Krylov, who has also shown plenty of growth in his second run with the UFC. Krylov is always eager to win and will not hesitate to grind out a victory. If he considers Spann to be too dangerous on the feet, he might just test Spann’s grappling. Spann’s corner can trust him to hold up defensively though, which spells trouble for Krylov.
As far as the striking goes, neither man wastes much time setting up their power shots, so a slugfest could turn this into a crapshoot. You have to favor Spann’s speed and recent track record though as it does feel like he’s just tapping into his striking potential. Spann has plenty of ways to finish, so I’ll pick club-and-sub in Round 2.
Andre Muniz (T7) vs. Brendan Allen
I like Brendan Allen. Fun fighter. Amazing grappler. His chances of passing Andre Muniz are not good.
There’s not much to break down when one fighter’s greatest strength is dwarfed by his opponent’s expertise in that same area and that’s what we’re looking at with Allen challenging Muniz for a top 10 spot in the rankings. Muniz, who is the top middleweight in his division, would be the first to challenge Allen.
As you may have heard, there are levels to this, and while Allen is a fine jiu-jitsu black belt, Muniz’s submission offense is second-to-none in this division (apologies to Rodolfo Vieira) and he has the tools to get the fight where he wants to go. Eventually he’s going to find an opening to punch his way inside and take Allen down. The only question is what round does he finish this one in.
I’m picking a hungry Muniz to find the submission in Round 1.
Augusto Sakai vs. Don’Tale Mayes
Is it crazy that I haven’t given up on Augusto Sakai yet?
The well-traveled Brazilian veteran isn’t fighting in nearly three years. Worse, he didn’t make it to the end of this losing streak with four fights. Don’Tale Mayes, another heavyweight, is an ideal matchup. He is eager to fight and will gladly stand.
Mayes is considerably more physically gifted than Sakai, but he’s only occasionally managed to put it all together on fight night. It’s amazing when he succeeds; it’s disappointing when it doesn’t. It feels as though I am setting myself up to fail in any direction that I take here.
So let’s be smart here and go with the less shopworn and still more promising Mayes. Sakai can’t stop Sakai from moving forward and he has the ability to change things quickly. As long as Mayes stays springy on the feet, he can take Sakai out.
Let’s play with Mayes for a late knockout.
Tatiana Suarez vs. Montana De La Rosa
The UFC rarely books tune-up fights, but they did a great job putting this one together. A knee injury cost Tatiana Suarez the past few years of her prime and there’s no telling how she’ll perform in her first fight since June 2019. Fans will remember her as one of the greatest fighters in the country if she continues to perform exactly the same way she did before. Montana De La Rosa can be used to assess Suarez’s readiness.
De La Rosa, the biggest underdog of the card has enough grappling and toughness for Suarez to take pause. I say pause, because there won’t actually be any stopping Suarez if her wrestling game is on point. Before her injury, Suarez looked like she was set to truck her way to a title shot, with dominant wins over Carla Esparza (who would later win the strawweight title a second time) and Alexa Grasso (just weeks away from fighting for the flyweight title). In case you forgot, Suarez wasn’t grinding out decisions over her opponents, she was demolishing them.
Nina Nunes exposed some of Suarez’s deficiencies on the feet, though Suarez still managed to earn a unanimous nod. It’s also unlikely that De Le Rosa will be able to establish much in the standup with Suarez bearing down on her.
This fight being at 125 pounds shouldn’t matter much to Suarez, one of the strongest women in the 115-pound division. She still has a lot of work to complete before she can claim her place at the top. But I am confident that she will get the job done on Saturday and then move on to bigger fish next year.
Mike Malott vs. Yohan Lainesse
Why are we putting two kind and gentle Canadians against one another? We are so few in the UFC today!
National loyalty aside, this is one of the easier fights to pick. Yohan Lainesse will have to contend with Mike Malott’s bizarre karate style. Lainesse is a lanky fighter who uses his range well and he has good power, but getting a bead on Malott will be tricky especially since Malott excels at counter-striking.
As the two players get to know each other, we will be able to see them play chess. Then Malott will increase his aggression. Lainesse may try to add takedowns but that will not be enough once Malott’s striking skills are in full swing. Look for Malott to hurt Lainesse late in the first before finishing in the second.
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