Photo Credit: CBS Sports courtesy of Getty Images
*This was originally posted May 12, 2022
After another great PPV, we move back to the APEX centre in Vegas for a light heavyweight brawl between two MASSIVE strikers in Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic. Just before that, we’ll see ANOTHER light heavyweight brawl between another two ranked contenders: Ryan Spann and Ion Cutelaba. Throughout the rest of the card, we’ve got not one, but THREE ranked women’s bouts between Virna Jandiroba and Angela Hill, Viviane Araujo and Andrea Lee and Katlyn Chookagian and Amanda Ribas. We’ll also see FOUR UFC debuts this weekend, including DWCS alum, Jake Hadley and Manuel Torres are both on the main card. All of these matchups (plus more) are covered below and feature BLÜ’s predictions along with the Bet99 Sportsbook Odds. As a special bonus, the second episode of The Ultimate Fighter Season 30: Peña vs. Nunes (as seen on UFC Fight Pass) is also covered below.
Main Card (4:30 PM PST)
Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
Hadley: -225 Nascimento: +180
Over 2.5: -184 Under 2.5: +142
The main card opens up with a couple of unusual matchups this week. Jake Hadley is coming off a win on the Contender Series, extending his undefeated record to 8-0 with a 2nd Round submission over TUF alum, Mitch Raposo. Allan Nascimento has only got one fight in the UFC so far with a split decision loss to flyweight standout Tagir Ulanbekov.
The decision may seem obvious: side with the undefeated prospect over the man with a loss in his UFC debut. The thing is, Ulanbekov just lost in a razor-thin decision to the ranked Tim Elliott, all because Elliot won using some not-so-legal techniques. If Nascimento can get in a split decision with someone who was beating Tim Elliott, that tells me he holds an edge over someone like Hadley who has never faced someone of that calibre. It’ll be close, but I predict a decision win for Nascimento.
Nascimento by Decision
Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
Camacho: +105 Torres: -129
Over 1.5: -145 Under 1.5: +112
Here we’ll see another debut from a DWCS alum., this time in the lightweight division with Manuel Torres. Including his Contender Series appearance in October, he’s been on a streak with THREE 1st Round finishes in a row. Camacho, on the other hand, has gone 2-5 in his UFC career so far. His wins haven’t been over anyone all that impressive, but his losses have come to impressive contenders like Li, Neal, Dariush and Dober. Sadly, he’s on a two-fight streak of getting FINISHED in the 1st Round.
Although Camacho’s losses have been against impressive fighters, when you’ve been finished in the 1st Round of your last two fights AND your opponent has three 1st Round WINS in a row, it’s not a good look. There’s a chance Camacho’s experience will play a factor and he could edge ahead in a decision, but from what I can tell, there’s a better chance of Torres getting another early finish to start his UFC career.
Torres by Finish
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
Chookagian: -184 Ribas: +150
Over 2.5: -267 Under 2.5: +200
In yet another ranked women’s bout, this time we’ll be seeing one of the top flyweight contenders, Katlyn Chookagian, face fan-favourite strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Chookagian has solidified her number 1 flyweight contender spot after winning 3 in a row over Calvillo, Araujo and Maia. Sitting at an impressive 17-4 record, all of her losses have come in the UFC to some of the best flyweights of all time like Andrade, Carmouche, Eye and the GOAT, Valentina Shevchenko. Ribas has been doing VERY well in her career as well, achieving a record of 11-2 with her lone UFC loss coming to Rodriguez. Other than that, she’s been flawless in her UFC career with wins over Dern, Markos and Jandiroba.
While Ribas’ record is impressive and she’s a VERY talented prospect at strawweight, this fight will be contested in the heavier flyweight division where Chookagian thrives. Ribas will make it a good fight, but Chookagian is too powerful and too skilled for Ribas and will likely cruise to a decision win if she doesn’t get a finish.
Chookagian by Decision
Louis Smolka vs. Davey Grant
Smolka: +240 Grant: -315
Over 2.5: +160 Under 2.5: -209
In this one, we’ve got a couple of exciting bantamweights ready to BRAWL. Since his debut in 2018, Smolka has an even UFC record at 3-3 with a win over Sumudaerji and 1st Round losses to Schnell, Casey Kenney and Morales. Grant has also had a fairly even record at 4-5, but the most intriguing bouts are the last two: a decision loss to ‘Chito’ Vera and a split decision loss to the VERY impressive Adrian Yanez.
Both these guys are skilled and are looking for a good brawl, but one of them seems to hold a decisive edge on paper. Grant is a POWERFUL striker and proved to be VERY durable and active in his last fight with Yanez. Meanwhile, Smolka was finished in the 1st Round in his last outing by TKO. With Grant’s power, skill, durability and activity, I could see Grant getting an early finish or having a dominant decision win.
Grant by Finis
Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cutelaba
Spann: +190 Cutelaba: -240
Over 1.5: +116 Under 1.5: -150
In the first of two ranked light heavyweight bouts closing the night, the 13th ranked Ryan Spann will be defending his rank against the unranked terror, Ion Cutelaba. After winning in a split decision over Sam Alvey, Spann has gone 1-2, sliding down the rankings with 1st Round losses to Johnny Walker and Anthony Smith. In between those losses though, he managed to grab a 1st Round finish himself over Misha Cirkunov. Cutelaba’s record has also been a bit iffy recently, sitting at 1-2-1 in his last 4, but the two losses were to the quickly rising, top contender Magomed Ankalaev. In his last, he beat Devin Clark in a decision.
This one is a coin toss; either man could realistically grab an early finish. From what I’ve seen Cutelaba is one of the most dangerous men in the division, he just happens to have fought and lost to the top of the division before they were ranked so highly (Ankalaev, Glover and Cannonier). They both have power and they both could get a 1st Round finish, but based on what I’ve seen, Ion is the more skilled fighter. I have to mention the fact that Spann has a 6-inch reach advantage, but I also have to mention that that hasn’t always helped him in the past. Either way, I think we’re seeing a finish here.
Cutelaba by Finish
Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
Blachowicz: +160 Rakic: -200
Over 3.5: -132 Under 3.5: +100
Closing out the night is the former champ, Jan Blachowicz, and the number 3 contender, Aleksandar Rakic. After grabbing the belt in devastating fashion over Dominick Reyes, Jan managed to end the undefeated record of the middleweight king, Israel Adesanya. In his last, sadly his short title reign came to an end after he was wrestled into the ground by the new champ, Glover Teixeira. Rakic has proven to be one of the top contenders with a UFC record of 6-1 with a split decision loss to Oezdemir and decision wins over Smith and Santos in his last three outings.
While it’s impressive to beat Santos and Smith, Rakic just hasn’t been able to make the same statements as Jan. He got a MASSIVE 1st Round KO over Anderson, knocked out Reyes and ended up giving Izzy his first loss. This man was the champion and he has his unbelievable “Polish power”, you have to give Jan the respect he deserves. I think there’s a chance we may even see Jan get another finish.
Blachowicz by Finish
BLU’s Prelim Picks (Prelims begin at 2:00 PM PST)
Virna Jandiroba vs. Angela Hill
Jandiroba: -184 Hill: +145
Over 2.5: -260 Under 2.5: +200
In the first of two ranked women’s bouts on the prelims, we’ll see a closely contested strawweight bout. Jandiroba, currently ranked 12th, has lost two of her last three Octagon appearances, losing to one of the top-ranked contenders Mackenzie Dern and one of the fastest rising contenders Amanda Ribas. Ranked just below her in the 13th spot, Angela Hill has had a rough time recently with a record of 1-4. Amazingly, THREE of those losses have come in split decisions to Gadelha, Waterson and, most recently, Amanda Lemos.
Considering the TIGHT fights she’s had with so many ranked contenders, it seems like Hill has the slight edge in this matchup. It’s well known that she doesn’t get tired and could go 5 rounds at full pace, so she’ll have the edge as the fight goes on. If you combine her stamina with her unbelievable durability, it’s likely that Hill will beat Jandiroba in a close decision.
Hill by Decision
Viviane Araujo vs. Andrea Lee
Araujo: – Lee: +
Over 2.5: – Under 2.5: +
In another closely contested ranked bout, we’ll see the 8th and 9th ranked flyweights square off. Araujo joined the UFC in 2019 and has had an impressive run so far with a record of 4-2 with a win over Modaferri and losses to Chookagian and Eye. Since joining in 2018, Lee has also done very well, going 5-3 with losses to Joanne Calderwood (Wood), Murphy and Modaferri. Since losing a decision to Modaferri, she’s improved tremendously, grabbing two finishes in a row over Antonina Shevchenko and Calvillo.
Just like the last matchup, these women are VERY similar and this will almost surely end in a tight decision. The main factor for me is Lee’s recent improvement; she’s looked like a completely different fighter in her last two bouts with those two finishes. Although Araujo will make it difficult, I think Lee’s grappling skills will help her come ahead in the decision. There’s also a SLIGHT physical edge for Lee considering she’s a couple of years younger and has a couple of extra inches in reach.
Lee by Decision
BLÜ’s Best Bets
Here I highlight some betting lines that you might want to take advantage of for UFC Vegas 54. These are odds that favour the bettor. Although some of them may conflict with my picks, they offer a fair reward for a slight bit of risk.
The Underdog Angela Hill at +145
Hill has been in so many split decisions that it’s actually become a running joke. Those jokes aside, it also means that she’s been having TOUGH, razor-thin decisions against some of the best women in the division. Meanwhile, Jandiroba just hasn’t had that level of performance against a currently-ranked contender. I know it’s going to be a close fight and we may even see ANOTHER split decision for Hill, but this is one matchup that seems to favour her. With odds this close, considering Hill’s history, it’s worth taking the action at +145.
The Underdog Allan Nascimento at +180
His opponent, Jake Hadley, is making his UFC debut after winning on the Contender Series. Nascimento only has one UFC fight, but it was a SPLIT decision loss to a VERY impressive contender in Tagir Ulanbekov who just had a close fight… and perhaps even beat, ranked contender Tim Elliott. What that essentially means is that Nascimento was one judge’s card away from fighting a ranked contender. While Hadley is undefeated and impressive, it seems unlikely that he can put on that same level of performance. Considering all of those circumstances, it seems a tad ludicrous that the betting line has Nascimento at +180; this needs to be jumped on.
The Underdog Jan Blachowicz at +160
To call Jan a +160 underdog is a complete disservice! He JUST lost his belt, plus, he only lost it because of Glover’s wrestling ability. Whenever he’s faced a big striker like Anderson and Reyes, he’s overwhelmed them with his own striking. Rakic is a striker; I believe that Jan is going to get another impressive finish to remind everyone that he’s still very much near the top of the division.
The Short Run
Chookagian + Grant + Jandiroba/Hill Over 2.5
The Long Run
Maximov + Taira + Chookagian + Grant + Jandiroba/Hill Over 2.5
Other Fight News
TUF 30: Episode 2 Recap
For the milestone 30th season of the Ultimate Fighter, we’re going to see coaches Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes lead teams of heavyweights and flyweight women to find the next UFC superstars. Last episode, in the season opener, the coaches made their picks for both their heavyweight and flyweight teams. We also saw the opening matchup of the year between heavyweights Zac Pauga (Team Peña) and Nyle Bartling (Team Nunes). After a close fight, it was the ex-cop, ex-rugby player and ex-NFL player Pauga who won a unanimous decision over the pig farmer Bartling. In this episode though, we saw the first flyweight matchup of the season between Helen Peralta (Team Peña) and Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes).
Interestingly, it was revealed that Neil, picked by Team Nunes, is actually from the same gym as Peña and she’s friends with a lot of her teammates. Not only that, Peña was the one who organized this fight between Neil and her number 1 seed Peralta. Also quite interesting, Neil grew up as a devout Mormon in Utah. After getting rejected from her college cheerleading team, she took up MMA after watching a women’s fight at an event. Just two days before her fight, in a tragic turn of events, it was revealed that Kaytlin Neil’s father had just passed away. To make things more emotional, she revealed that she hadn’t really seen him in about 8 years due to his addictions in an effort to protect herself. As for Peralta, she was the first chosen fighter of Julianna Peña due to her impressive background in Bareknuckle Boxing. The one immediately noticeable thing was her intensity and the confidence she has in her striking ability. As for her background, she recently decided to move to training full time and trust me when I say her training… is pure insanity. When she says she’s going to be the next Ultimate Fighter, I believe her.
Both women were slow to start, each respecting each other’s skills. It was Neil who made the first move, working hard in the clinch, pushing Peralta along the fence. In between clinches though, Peralta was letting loose some pretty heavy blows. Near the end of the round, Neil tried to land a takedown, but Peralta managed to shut it down and use the position to land some HUGE knees, likely clinching the opening round on the cards. Things were slow again to open the 2nd Round, but this time it was Peralta with most of the offence. Nunes was yelling for Neil to shoot for a takedown, but she never went for it. Finally, with 10 seconds left in the 2nd Round, she got her takedown. Not convinced either fighter had grabbed the win, Dana sent the two fighters back into the cage for a final, sudden victory. In the 3rd Round, Peralta came in heavy, pushing Neil along the fence. After that, she moved back to her forward pressure and crisp striking. Kaitlyn shot in for some more takedowns, but Peralta shut them all down. Interestingly, for the first time that I’ve ever seen on TUF, there was a split decision in favour of Neil (Team Nunes). Ultimately, Dana explained that Neil showed more in the final round; she was shooting for takedowns while Peralta stopped using her relentless forward pressure.
It’s sad to see such an incredible fighter go out early in the competition, but there’s obviously a small part of everyone that is happy to see Neil get the win after losing her father. Next week we will be treated to another heavyweight bout, this time between the standout of the season, Usman, facing Sipe, who claims that Usman has been pulling out of fights against him.