Off the back of a +6.88u PPV card, we finished last week on a historical low at -13.1u. A bad decision by judges and two knee injuries butchered a card that started off 2-0, but as always I'm back to break down the next card and am confident we'll continue on the success we've seen throughout the year. At +4.9u on the year, my goal is to end up over 10u and it starts here. Not the biggest names on this card, but we do have some fun prospects and fantastic grapplers littered from beginning to end here. Don't be surprised if we don't see a single knockout on this card, it should be decision and submission-heavy. With all of that said, let's get rolling!
Ramona Pascual (+135) vs Tamires Vidal (-165)
Ramona Pascual might have lost her first two UFC Fights, but she’s had a lot of success despite those losses. She’s now given a young up-and-coming Tamires Vidal who is making her UFC debut to get back on track. While young debutants getting a fighter on a losing skid is typically the UFC trying to promote their new talent, this is anything but. Ramona Pascual is a dangerous fighter who welcomes and does her best work in the clinch, as is Tamires Vidal.
Vidal enters the UFC at 6-1, but that’s very misleading. In her fight with now-fellow UFC athlete Ailin Perez, she was taken down in every round, held there, and took a ton of damage. Perez made a pivotal mistake in the third round as she kneed a downed Vidal as she was getting up, ending the fight. The referee ruled the fight a win for Vidal, but it was anything but. Vidal has nothing for any UFC-level opponent at range. She wings a wild right hook primarily to close distance and get the fight into the clinch. From there, she has poor takedowns and more often than not drags her opponent on top of her. While on the ground, she has no intention of getting back up, and while her scrambling is okay, what she does most often and best is look for leg locks.
She’ll be meeting her match on Saturday in Ramona Pascual. If the Joselyne Edwards fight was any indication, Pascual does fantastic work when it gets to the clinch. Her gas tank is good and she throws solid knees and short strikes in the clinch to damage opponents. Her offensive takedowns aren’t great but her top control and pressure is. Given Pascual should be able to dominate on the feet and avoid the submission threat from Vidal, she should win the fight easily. Bookmakers have this fight wrong. I’m not sure where Vidal has a distinct, irrefutable advantage anywhere in this fight and I’ll take Pascual confidently.
Pick: Pascual +135 (2u)
Jake Hadley (-275) vs Carlos Candelario (+210)
Both Dana White Contender Series graduates, Hadley and Candelario are looking to pick up their first UFC wins on Saturday after losing their debuts. Stylistically this fight is very intriguing as both are best with their offensive wrestling and grappling. In some matchups where both fighters are grapplers, you’ll see those cancel out and the fight stay on the feet. I doubt that happens here. Hadley will look to put the pressure on Candelario early with fantastic offensive wrestling, but Candelario’s defensive wrestling and scrambling ability could give Hadley some challenges.
Prior to his last 3 fights, Candelario had a 4-year layoff, and since returning is just 1-2 in his MMA career. Thrown to the wolves in his first fight against Tatsuro Taira as a +260 underdog, he lost decidedly. What he did show the viewers was his ability to fight out of tough spots and even reverse positions against the fantastic Japanese prospect. He’ll need to showcase that and h is decent counterstriking to beat Hadley on Saturday. That’s something I’m not sure he can do, but I don’t like Hadley as a -275 favorite either. I’ll stay away from this fight.
Johnny Munoz Jr. (-240) vs Liudvik Sholinian (+190)
Two more grapplers match up in our third fight of the night and much like the second, both are trying to get back on track. Munoz is now 1-2 in the UFC with his latest loss coming by way of a quick knockout to Tony Gravely. Sholinian has lost his last two fights, first to Ricky Turcios on The Ultimate Fighter and second to Jack Shore (30-27) on short notice. While he was never expected to win the fight against Shore, it was still disappointing to see him get dominated through 3 rounds.
This fight will come down to whether Sholinian can close the distance, notch his takedowns, and not allow Munoz back up, because while Sholinian was on the Ukrainian national team for wrestling, he’s struggled to keep opponents there. When on the mat, Munoz is a force as well. If Munoz can reverse positions and toss up submissions as he has throughout his career (armbar, heel hook, RNC) he’ll find a lot of success. On the feet, Munoz should have the advantage, so truly I like Munoz wherever this fight goes. Give me Munoz to bounce back after a quick knockout to Gravely and get his career back on track.
Pick: Munoz / Bautista MLP -120 (1u)
Jinh Yu Frey (-120) vs Polyana Viana (+100)
Polyana Viana is good at one thing and one thing only, her Jiu-Jitsu. Nearly all of her wins have come via submission and though she has 4 knockout victories I highly doubt she’ll have the power or striking advantage over Jinh Yu Frey. Both of these fighters are below .500 in the UFC and looking to get back to even here, but Frey lost a bogus split decision that most in the MMA community had her winning 30-27.
Though Frey should have won that fight, she has not been impressive since becoming the Invicta champion. At 2-3 in the UFC, her two true losses were to Gloria de Paula and Ashley Yoder, two well below-average female fighters. Viana doesn’t impress me on the feet much, but if she can get the fight to the mat she has a solid chance of submitting Frey, so I’ll sprinkle a bit on that. I wouldn’t throw much on this fight, but with Viana to win by submission at +350, it’s worth a little.
Pick: Viana by Sub +350 (.5u)
Jeff Bottari - Zuffa LLC
Mario Bautista (-305) vs Benito Lopez (+255)
Now a real estate agent, Benito Lopez makes his long-awaited return from a 3-year hiatus against an upgraded version of himself in Mario Bautista. Both of these fighters love a good flying knee, but what I like most is their boxing ability at range and in the clinch. Where I favor Bautista is his speed and variety in striking. Their power is comparable, but Bautista throws great calf kicks and leads with his jab very well. While he does overextend himself at times with power shots, if he does clinch and log takedowns as he did against Perrin he can give Lopez a lot to think about.
It’s because of the number of questions he’ll ask of Lopez, who has been out for three years, that I like Bautista in this fight. The bookmakers agree. Give me the fighter with good work at range and in the clinch and can wrestle and potentially submit Lopez as well.
Pick: Bautista / Munoz MLP -120 (1u)
Miranda Maverick (-700) vs Shanna Young (+500)
Miranda is a 7-to-1 favorite and while I'm sure she'll win this fight, I'm not willing to place any money behind her doing so at this price. Maverick is a wrestling and submission artist and she should have her way with Young there on Saturday. What gives me pause is her back-to-back losses to Erin Blanchfield and Maycee Barber. Shanna has been through a similar run to Maverick lately, losing back-to-back fights against Macy Chiasson and Stephanie Egger before knocking out Gian Mazany. Miranda Maverick should exploit Shanna Young's horrendous takedown defense to roll to victory on Saturday. I could see Maverick winning on the cards but could also see her progressing on the mat and submitting Young and because of that, I'm not willing to put any money behind Maverick here.
Pick: Maverick -700 but please don't bet it.
Darrick Minner (+170) vs Shayilan Nuerdanbieke (-210)
It feels like the majority of this card so far has been fighters with wrestling and grappling backgrounds and we have yet another one at the midpoint of our Vegas card now. Nuerdanbieke has fought officially 48 times and has 38 wins under his belt in those. He has double-digit wins by decision, knockout and submission so it’s no surprise that he can win in any facet of the game, but where he is best is when he implements his offensive wrestling.
What that will do though is welcome the fantastic submission attempts of Darrick Minner off of his back. Minner won’t sit with his back to the canvas for long before he throws up triangles and awkward submissions to reverse position or simply land. Nuerdanbieke would be smart to stay in full guard and work some ground and pound to win rounds rather than progressing for a submission of his own, though Minner does have multiple losses by way of submission. If there’s a fighter I prefer on the mat, it’s Minner, where the majority of this fight will take place. Give me Minner to win by submission as that’s going to be how he wins if he does.
Pick: Minner by Sub +300 (.5u)
Mark Madsen (+180) vs Grant Dawson (-230)
Former three-time Olympian and one-time silver medalist Mark Madsen looks to continue his undefeated MMA record in his biggest test against 18-1-1 Grant Dawson. A huge step up for Madsen from Vinc Pichel, he’ll look to take his Grecko Roman style into this matchup to do what he does best: take opponents down.
It won’t be straightforward for the Danish international, Dawson is phenomenal when the fight gets to the ground. With 11 wins by submission in his career it’ll be interesting to see if Madsen can hold Dawson down and mitigate sweeps and submission attempts from the UFC veteran. If Dawson is able to do that and get in top control his ground-and-pound is fantastic and should take Madsen to the woodshed.
Madsen’s path to victory is takedowns and control time on the mat, not damage or threat of ending the fight. Because of that, I can’t back him even as a sizable dog, and I think this is where the 38-year-old’s undefeated record turns to dust.
Pick: Dawson / Maverick MLP -155 (1u)
Jeff Bottari - Zuffa LLC
Tagir Ulanbekov (-227) vs Nate Maness (+175)
Tagir Ulanbekov came in with a load of hype behind him in being related to Khabib Nurmagomedov, and his 11-1 record coming in reflected that. He was made a massive favorite in each of his first three fights but was upset by Tim Elliot in his last outing. Being dropped in the first round and having close second and third rounds, you could have scored it Ulanbekov’s way but as is the case often with Ulanbekov, his wrestling is phenomenal but he doesn’t damage opponents much nor threaten the submission all that well.
You’d think I’m crazy saying that if you simply looked at his record of 6 submissions and 2 knockouts compared to 6 decision wins, but those stats are largely misleading. Most of those came against much lower levels of competition, and all three of his UFC fights have gone to decision now.
Nate Maness will give Ulanbekov problems from the first to the final minute, but where I’m concerned is his weight cut. Nate Maness at 135 pounds was already tall and skinny, and now he’s attempting to cut down to 125. If he looks good on the scale Friday, he should be able to bulk up well before the fight on Saturday and have a decided size advantage. I’m concerned he’ll make weight but until he shows he cannot, I’ll believe he can.
To his game, Maness is as versatile as they come. As a striker, he has high output and throws punches from all angles, including awkward punches coming from low release points. He compliments them well with kicks and should have a decided advantage on the feet given Ulanbekov’s very basic striking game. While Ulanbekov should have the wrestling advantage, as I mentioned he tends to get top control and do nothing with it. Maness will be throwing up submissions and wriggling around, not settling to be held on his back. I doubt the judges will score Ulanbekov’s top control for much, and I think Maness could give him trouble on the mat. The line is where it is because of people’s confidence in Ulanbekov’s wrestling, but I haven’t been sold on it. Give me Maness.
Pick: Maness +175 (1.5u)
Josh Parisian (+105) vs Chase Sherman (-135)
It’s still incredible to me that Chase Sherman is in the UFC. At 4-9, it’s a testament to how poor the heavyweight division is that Sherman is still in the UFC. He came in with a lot of hype at 12-1 but has struggled throughout his entire career. Though he knocked out Jared Vanderaa in his last fight, he was submitted by Jake Collier and Alexandr Romanov in back-to-back fights after losing to Parker Porter and Andrei Arlovski by decision.
Josh Parisian has not had the long career that Sherman has, but he’s had a mixed bag himself. At 2-2, he’s still developing his game and will look to implement his offensive wrestling as he always does to beat opponents. A true wrestler at heavyweight, his striking is basic but he uses it almost solely to clinch and log takedowns. That hasn’t worked all that well for him with losses to Parker Porter and being crucified by Don’Tale Mayes, and one of his two wins was a controversial split decision.
I hate that I’m on Sherman given his record, but his striking is levels above Sherman and he’s seen this type of fighter too many times (i.e. Vanderaa). Expect him to stuff takedowns, tire out Parisian, and use his gas tank to his advantage. This isn’t a high-level fight, and it’s gross that it’s near the top of the main card, but here we are in the heavyweight division. Give me Sherman.
Pick: Sherman -135 (1.5u)
Chris Unger - Zuffa LLC
Neil Magny (-125) vs Daniel Rodriguez (-105)
Neil Magny enters his 28th UFC fight of his career with an impressive 19-8 record, and if I can assure you of one thing it is this: if Magny wins it will be by decision. He holds the record for most UFC wins by decision at 13 and it’s a testament to his cardio and fight IQ to stay out of danger and not over-exert himself in looking for a finish.
Opposite of him is follow veteran Daniel Rodriguez “D-Rod”. At 7-1 and coming off of a controversial split-decision victory over The Leech, Rodriguez will look to continue to build hype and possibly crack the top 10 with a victory here. D-Rod is a tricky striker with some solid defensive submissions to boot. He's happy to stay in the pocket and accept damage to deal it, setting traps to get opponents in that range. He's likely the more powerful striker if he can land, but I doubt Holland will take the bait. Instead, I expect Magny to keep the fight at range with his six-inch reach advantage or work in his offensive wrestling.
My fear for Magny is that at range D-Rod will have the power advantage, in the clinch I favor Rodriguez’s knees and elbows, and on the mat those defensive submissions could cause Magny problems. This should be an entertaining chess match for 15 minutes, and I’ll take the slight underdog to get it done over the long-time UFC veteran.
Pick: D-Rod -105 (1u)
Marina Rodriguez (-220) vs Amanda Lemos (+175)
Our main event touts two fantastic female strikers that get it done in completely different ways. Lemos unloads rare knockout power but doesn’t necessarily have the cardio to support it through five rounds, while Marina Rodriguez will be able to go for twenty-five minutes with volume boxing. Both fighters are on the wrong side of their 30s and are desperate to get a win to launch them up toward title contention. A loss puts them in purgatory, fighting top contenders with no real direction toward the top.
Breaking down Marina Rodriguez first, as I said she’s volume-oriented with great cardio. Eight of her nine fights have come via decision with her lone knockout coming against Amanda Ribas impressively. She doesn’t utilize kicks often at all, but her combinations within range are *chef’s kiss* with the way she works in body strikes. Her best asset is that she’s able to run that pace for the entirety of a 5-round fight, just as she did against Michelle Waterson-Gomez.
Waterson-Gomez won’t appreciate this article, but she also was annihilated by Amanda Lemos. Lemos choked her out in the 2nd round, and that’s been a trend of Lemos. Just two of her last eight fights have gone to decision, a testament to her sheer power. Whether on the feet or on the mat, she’s always looking for finishes and typically it takes a toll on her gas tank.
This fight should stay on the feet, and I doubt that Rodriguez gets rocked by Lemos early in this fight. Given the nature of it being five rounds, I expect Rodriguez to be defensively sound early and tire out Lemos, taking advantage as the fight hits championship rounds. Because of that, I’m going with the favorite to win in the latter stages of the fight. Give me Rodriguez in the fourth round, fifth round, or by decision at plus-money.
Pick: Rodriguez in R4, R5, or Dec +105 (1.5u)
Jeff Bottari - Zuffa LLC
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