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Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 54: Costa vs. Vettori

Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC on ESPN+ 54: Costa vs. Vettori.


UFC on ESPN+ 54
Date: October 23, 2021
Location: UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card
Start Time: 4:00 p.m. ET, 1:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Light Heavyweights: Paulo Costa vs. Marvin Vettori

Overall Records: Costa 13-1, Vettori 17-5-1
UFC Records: Costa 5-1, Vettori 7-3-1
Last Fight: Adesanya def. Costa (title fight)–R2 TKO–UFC 253 (9/26/20), Adesanya def. Vettori (title fight)–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Costa 4-1, Vettori 4-1
Rankings: Costa #2, Vettori #5
Betting Odds: Costa +150, Vettori -185
Preview: The main event is a battle of polarizing middleweights both looking to get back into the win column and launch another title shot run as Costa and Vettori square off in what is now a catchweight bout after a late change. If you were to ask both men, this would actually be a fight for the real UFC Middleweight Championship. Both are coming off losses to Israel Adesanya in their respective title shots, but both are delusional in accepting the loss. Costa lost at UFC 253 in September 2020, but, if you were to ask him, the only reason he lost is because he drank wine the night before the fight and was hungover, and, had he not done that, he would’ve finished Adesanya easily. Vettori might even be a little more delusional in the sense that he clearly lost a decision to Adesanya at UFC 263 in June, in a fight that everyone and their mothers, including Vettori’s own coaches, scored for Adesanya. However, Vettori still thinks he was robbed and that he really won that fight, even though it wasn’t even close. Neither one of these guys are the brightest bulbs in the bunch, but they’re both quality fighters who are tough as nails. For Costa, the loss was the first of his career, as he went in 13–0. He has twelve wins by stoppage, with eleven coming by knockout. Vettori’s loss ended a five-fight win streak, the longest during his UFC tenure, and eleven of his 17 career wins have seen him finish his opponent.

The weight issue is definitely something that is going to be a factor in this fight. Costa has always been a huge guy for the middleweight division, and he’s had issues getting down, though he’s never missed. You also have to wonder how much he cares and if he even bothered to try and get down, especially since it was Wednesday when he was asking for the catchweight change. Between the supposed wine drinking and the contract disputes where he claims he should be the highest-paid fighter in the sport to the turning down fights so he could get a hair transplant, it all makes one wonder if he really is still committed to the sport. Vettori’s commitment and goal is clear- he wants another shot at Adesanya. Even though Vettori is no small middleweight, the size difference will be a factor. Costa is an explosive powerhouse with vicious knockout power. If he catches you with the right hand, it can be lights out.

Vettori is good at avoiding being hit and has some decent striking himself, landing combos from the southpaw stance to set up his wrestling. Costa can be taken down, though he is good at getting back to his feet. Vettori is going to need to constantly pressure as the smaller guy, something he is very good at. Costa has seemed to lose a step, or maybe he just doesn’t care, it’s hard to know, but he’s still dangerous because he can take your head off. With everything going on around Costa, it’s hard to know what kind of condition he’s in. Vettori has very good cardio, and the added bonus of not having to cut much weight will benefit his stamina.

In a battle of aggressive fighters, it will take some patience to win this one. If Costa loses, I don’t know what his future is, and I could see him walking away from UFC. Regardless of a win or a loss, I feel he’s headed to the light heavyweight division for his next fight. As far as who I think wins this fight, with everything surrounding Costa, I see Vettori being able to use his aggression and constant pushing forward to dominate the fight.

PICK: VETTORI

(NOTE: After I wrote this and while this was being edited for publishing, the fight was officially changed to a light heavyweight bout. Even with that happening, I don’t see the fight going much differently than it would’ve had it been at 195 lbs., though it does give Costa even more of an unfair advantage.)

Lightweights: Grant Dawson vs. Ricky Glenn

Overall Records: Dawson 17-1, Glenn 22-6-1
UFC Records: Dawson 5-0, Glenn 4-3
Last Fight: Dawson def. Santos–R3 KO–UFC On ESPN 21 (3/20/21), Glenn def. Silva–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21)
Last Five Fights: Dawson 5-0, Glenn 3-2
Betting Odds: Dawson -450, Glenn +340
Preview: A battle between a rising prospect and a hard-nosed veteran takes place here as rising contender Dawson takes on former WSOF champ Glenn. The 27-year-old Dawson comes into this fight with an impressive 17-1 record, and he’s riding an eight-fight win streak, with wins in his first five UFC bouts. He’s shown to be a finisher in his career, as 15 of his 17 wins have come by stoppage, including three of his UFC wins. This is his second fight since moving back to lightweight, and it’s a division he looks to be extremely comfortable in after having issues making the featherweight limit. Glenn is taking this fight on short-notice with an abbreviated training camp, as he replaced an injured Diego Ferreira. It will be Glenn’s second UFC bout of the year after he missed a couple of years of action. He’s looking for his second straight win after scoring a 37-second knockout of Joaquim Silva in June. Glenn is a dangerous fighter, as he’s scored 16 of his 22 wins via a finish, with 13 knockout victories.

Dawson’s offensive attack centers around the takedown, as he’s scored takedowns in every one of his UFC bouts. Glenn is an underrated wrestler, as he’s defended 66% of takedowns attempted on him, but he’s also struggled with grinding wrestlers, which is the style of Dawson. Glenn is the better pure striker, though Dawson is elusive and quick on his feet, and he lands combinations well. Dawson generally uses his punches to set up the grind. Glenn can hold his own in the clinch and punish with some elbows, but Dawson is going to be after those legs and working hard, where he can set something up on the mound with his underrated ground game. Glenn is going to make Dawson work hard for the win, and Glenn could find himself in some good moments, but this fight is designed to get Dawson a win to move onto facing ranked opposition like he was originally slated to here. I see Dawson dominating and finishing Glenn during the second round.

PICK: DAWSON

Women’s Bantamweights: Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Joselyne Edwards

Overall Records: Clark 10-6 1 NC, Edwards 10-3
UFC Records: Clark 3-2, Edwards 1-1
Last Fight: Clark def. Alpar–R3 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 36 (9/19/20), Rosa def. Edwards–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 42 (2/6/21)
Last Five Fights: Clark 3-2, Edwards 3-2
Betting Odds: Clark -165, Edwards +140
Preview: A bantamweight bout featuring a woman coming off a long injury layoff against a fairly new UFC bantamweight as Clark returns to battle Edwards. Clark is fighting for the first time in over a year after suffering a torn ACL in her last fight. That came in September 2020 when she finished Sarah Alpar in the third round. That ended a two-fight losing skid and marked her first win since January 2018, as she’s been plagued by injuries and weight cutting issues that have limited her action. Edwards wasn’t even on the roster when Clark last fought, but she’s already making her third UFC appearance in this one. She debuted on short notice in Abu Dhabi in January, scoring a win over Wu Yanan. She made a quick turnaround, fighting three weeks later, where she dropped a decision to Karol Rosa. She’s had one bout cancelled since then, but a nice layoff for her might be what she needed after really two fights with just a month of total preparation time. Edwards has scored eight of her ten wins by stoppage.

Edwards is going to have a nice six-inch reach advantage in this one. Clark is the better overall fighter of the two, by a pretty decent margin, but that is if she returns to form. She’s trained at a lot of places, but seems to be back home in Las Vegas and feeling good and ready to make a run. Clark does land her strikes at a pretty high volume and she’s good at being defensive on the feet. Clark mixes it up on her feet more, as she pushes forward and utilizes the leg kicks to go with her combinations. Edwards is more of a rangy striker who lands straight punches. Clark could look for the takedown, as grappling is something Edwards struggles with. Clark is just better everywhere, and if the injury didn’t slow her down, this is a great fight for her to shake off the rust as she looks to break into the bantamweight rankings.

PICK: CLARK

Featherweights: Alex Caceres vs. Seungwoo Choi

Overall Records: Caceres 18-12 1 NC, Choi 10-3
UFC Records: Caceres 13-10 1 NC, Choi 3-2
Last Fight: Caceres def. Croom–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 44 (2/27/21), Choi def. Erosa–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21)
Last Five Fights: Caceres 4-1, Choi 3-2
Betting Odds: Caceres +240, Choi -300
Preview: A featherweight tilt that could bring one of the best fights on the card takes place here when long-time UFC veteran Caceres takes on rising contender Choi. Caceres’ UFC career has been a real roller coaster, to say the least. He was a cast member of season 12 of TUF, and got a UFC deal despite not making it to the finals, largely due to his personality. His UFC career started off 1–3, but then he scored five straight wins, including a submission of Sergio Pettis. However, he went 4–7 over his next eleven, and it was looking like his UFC tenure may have been coming to an end. However, Caceres has since won his last four fights and has himself set up to potentially break back into the rankings, and he’s still just 33-years-old despite being around with the promotion for over a decade. Choi also comes into this fight having had a roller coaster career. He started fighting in 2015, years after Caceres was on the UFC roster, and went 7–1 to start his career. He earned a UFC deal, but lost his first two bouts with the promotion. He’s since won three straight bouts, coming off a first-round finish of Julian Erosa, which marked the sixth knockout win of his career.

It’s a shame we’re going to see a solid win streak end here regardless of who wins or loses as both have proven to be capable of being able to sneak inside the divisional rankings. Choi is going to have a little bit of familiarity with Caceres, as Caceres is a lot like his last opponent, Erosa, in that he’s a lanky volume striker. Choi has some power in his hands and he’s good at mixing his combinations and leg kicks. Caceres is the better grappler of the two, but he spends more time defending takedowns than he does going after them. Choi is not going to be someone who spends a lot of time hunting the takedown, though his wrestling has been improving with every fight. This one is likely going to stay on the feet, where Choi’s power and Caceres’ tendency to leave his hands low are going to be the key difference for both men. This feels like it will be a close fight, but I like Choi due to the power he has in his punches.

PICK: CHOI

Welterweights: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Dwight Grant

Overall Records: Trinaldo 26-8, Grant 11-3
UFC Records: Trinaldo 16-7, Grant 3-2
Last Fight: Salikhov def. Trinaldo–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Grant def. Sekulic–SpDec–UFC 261 (4/24/21)
Last Five Fights: Trinaldo 3-2, Grant 3-2
Betting Odds: Trinaldo -130, Grant +110
Preview: A welterweight bout between a pair of late bloomers in the sport of MMA takes place here as Trinaldo steps in on short-notice to battle Grant in one of the more interesting battles on the card. Trinaldo replaced Gabe Green, who was forced to pull out due to undisclosed reasons, taking the fight just over a month prior to the show. He’s coming into his second fight at 170-lbs looking to rebound from a loss to the ultra-tough Muslim Salikhov in June. That ended a three-fight win streak Trinaldo was on, but the move up in weight classes was necessary as he’s 43-years-old and the weight cuts are getting tougher, though he is still plenty capable of competing with the younger fighters in the sport. Grant is no young gun himself, but he’s had some recent success inside the Octagon. He was signed off an impressive showing on The Contender Series, but followed it up with a loss in his UFC debut. He’s since won three of his past four bouts, and is coming in off a decision win over Stefan Sekulic in April. Grant has scored seven of his eleven wins by knockout.

Don’t let Trinaldo fool you: He’s 43, he looks like he’s 75, and he fights like he’s 24. He has power in his fists and is a veteran kickboxer with a strong wrestling game, good takedowns and good submission prowess. He has gotten slower as he’s gotten older, but Grant isn’t that much younger, as he’s only 37. Trinaldo’s durability is now in question with his age, but Grant isn’t one to talk in that position. Grant tends to fight slow and have a low-volume approach, and he likely won’t scare Trinaldo with his power. Grant is going to have a six-inch reach advantage, but whether he uses it to his advantage will be key. Trinaldo tends to just walk forward and hasn’t been afraid to take a punch, but that chin is going to turn on him one day if he continues to fight that way. Grant hopes this fight will be that day. In the end, I see some fun exchanges happening, but Trinaldo grinding it out to take a win on the scorecards.

PICK: TRINALDO

Light Heavyweights: Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ike Villanueva

Overall Records: Negumereanu 10-1, Villanueva 17-12
UFC Records: Negumereanu 1-1, Villanueva 1-3
Last Fight: Negumereanu def. Camur–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21), Prachnio def. Villanueva–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)
Last Five Fights: Negumereanu 4-1, Villanueva 2-3
Betting Odds: Negumereanu -250, Villanueva +200
Preview: The main card opener is a pair of light heavyweights looking to score their second UFC win as Negumereanu takes on Villanueva. Negumereanu returned from over a two-year layoff in June, scoring a split decision win over Aleksa Camur. That rebound him from his first career loss, which came in his UFC debut. He started his career 9–0 with nine finishes, but both of his UFC bouts have seen him go the distance, so he’s in search of a finish here. Villanueva will be making his fifth walk to the Octagon in this bout. He was signed on short notice during the pandemic, and his UFC run has been a mixed bag as he’s lost three of his four appearances. However, his fights have had action, as they’ve all ended within the first six minutes. He’s shown to be a finisher, as 15 of Villanueva’s 18 wins have come by knockout, but he’s also been finished in 11 of his 12 losses.

I really don’t know why this fight is on the main card, but the fact that it is shows the real lack of depth on this show. Negumereanu has been disappointing in his two UFC bouts, as he hasn’t really shown anything impressive that he did before he was signed. With Villanueva, it’s basically a what you see is what you get situation. He’s in UFC due to the need of bodies in 2020 to fight during the pandemic, but now that everyone on the roster seems to be getting back to a normal fight schedule, he might not be as needed as much. Villanueva knows that, as he’s calling this fight his “Game 7”, knowing that a loss likely ends his UFC career. A win will keep it going for at least one more fight. A good thing for him is that Negumereanu tends to get hit a lot, and doesn’t seem to mind it. Villanueva has power that Negumereanu has yet to deal with during his career. Neither one has much technical skill, and it is doubtful either ever finds themselves in title contention.

This is not a great fight on paper, and it might not be good in execution. Negumereanu has more talent, but he hasn’t fought like it. With Villanueva knowing his back is against the wall, he’s going to be looking to take Negumereanu’s head off. I think that pays off and the power of Villanueva is something Negumereanu won’t be able to prepare for.

PICK: VILLANUEVA


Preliminary Card
Start Time: 1:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 a.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Middleweights: Jun Yong Park vs. Gregory Rodrigues

Overall Records: Park 13-4, Rodrigues 10-3
UFC Records: Park 3-1, Rodrigues 1-0
Last Fight: Park def. Nchukwi–MajDec–UFC On ESPN 24 (5/8/21), Rodrigues def. Todorovic–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21)
Last Five Fights: Park 4-1, Rodrigues 4-1
Betting Odds: Park -110, Rodrigues -110
Preview: A middleweight bout serves as the featured prelim as Park looks to continue his impressive UFC start against Rodrigues in a solid match-up. Park is a Korean fighter the promotion has been looking to build up, and he’s delivered recently. After suffering a submission defeat to Anthony Hernandez in his UFC debut, Park has rebounded with three straight wins, and is coming off a decision win over Tafon Nchukwi in May. Park is still in search of his first UFC stoppage. Rodrigues makes his second appearance as a UFC roster member, but this will be the first time he has had a full training camp. He made his debut on short notice in June, scoring a decision over Dusko Todorovic. He’s looking to improve on his 80% finishing rate.

Park’s nickname is “The Iron Turtle”, but don’t let that fool you as he does anything but fight slow. He brings pressure and lands a good amount of strikes per minute. Rodrigues is solid on his feet as well and has some tremendous power. Rodrigues is also good with the wrestling and his jiu-jitsu, so he’s going to be the more dangerous fighter of the two. Park does rely on his grappling quite often, and it hasn’t really failed him. He hasn’t shown the ability to finish his foes, and I don’t see this fight being the one that changes that. Rodrigues is very durable, though he’s been stopped before, but Park is likely someone who doesn’t scare him. Park doesn’t like fighting off his back, and Rodrigues should look to utilize a heavy takedown attack and constant work from the top. This is a solid match-up, but I lean towards Rodrigues taking home the win.

PICK: RODRIGUES

Lightweights: Mason Jones vs. David Onama

Overall Records: Jones 10-1 1 NC, Onama 8-0
UFC Records: Jones 0-1 1 NC, Onama 0-0
Last Fight: Jones NC Patrick–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Onama def. Robison–R1 TKO–FAC 10 (10/8/21)
Last Five Fights: Jones 3-1 1 NC, Onama 5-0
Betting Odds: Jones -450, Onama +340
Preview: A fight that came together just a few days before the show takes place here in the lightweight division as Jones remains on the card and welcomes Onama for his UFC debut. Jones was slated to have a rematch with Alan Patrick in this one, but Patrick pulled out, and Onama signed on Tuesday of this week to make his debut. Jones is in search of his first UFC win. He signed with the promotion after starting 10–0, but suffered a loss to Mike Davis in an exciting bout in his debut. He fought Patrick in June, but that fight ended in a no contest in the second round due to an accidental eye poke. Onama debuts on the heels of a perfect 8–0 record to start his career. He’s fighting just two weeks after his most recent fight, as he scored a win on October 8 with the FAC promotion. Onama, who typically fights as a featherweight, has scored all eight of his wins by finish, with five coming in the first round.

Onama is talented enough to be in UFC, though it is early, and he’s debuting against the wrong guy in Jones. Onama does hit hard and is sharp on the feet, but he’s not ready for someone as aggressive as Jones. Jones never stops coming forward, and he’s durable with a strong gas tank. Onama has had so many fights end early that we don’t really know what kind of conditioning he has, and that is without the likelihood that Jones zaps it pretty quickly. Jones has the tools to finish opponents on the feet, and the tools to take them down and dominate from the top and find the submission. He’s unlike anyone that Onama has fought, and that spells good news for him and bad news for Onama. Jones could drag Onama into the deep waters, but I see him taking Onama down and pounding him out somewhere in the first round as he looks to quickly move up the lightweight ladder.

PICK: JONES

Women’s Strawweights: Tabatha Ricci vs. Maria Oliveira

Overall Records: Ricci 5-1, Oliveira 12-4
UFC Records: Ricci 0-1, Oliveira 0-0
Last Fight: Fiorot def. Ricci–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Oliveira def. Tabosa–R1 TKO–Arena Global 10 (2/12/21)
Last Five Fights: Ricci 4-1, Oliveira 3-2
Betting Odds: Ricci -250, Oliveira +200
Preview: A strawweight bout between a pair of young females takes place here as Ricci fights for the second time as a UFC roster member when she welcomes Oliveira for her debut here. Ricci gets a full training camp for her second appearance, but this time at her normal weight class of 115-lbs. She started her career with a perfect 5-0 record, which brought a short-notice call. Unfortunately, she ran into the buzzsaw that is Manon Fiorot in her debut, who finished her in the second round. She welcomes Oliveira to the promotion in this one. Oliveira enters on the heels of two straight wins. She fought on The Contender Series, losing in the first round to current title contender Marina Rodriguez. Oliveira has been impressive in her career, with a 67% finishing rate.

Ricci is going to be giving up some size to Oliveira, as Oliveira will have a four-inch height edge and an eight-inch reach advantage. Oliveira isn’t the grappler that Fiorot is, so Ricci will likely be able to get inside the reach and tie it up, and Ricci will have the advantage in the clinch. Ricci has good wrestling and likes to pressure opponents, and Oliveira has typically struggled against opponents who pressure her and make her fight off her back. Both women do tend to get hit quite often, but I’m not expecting some type of striking clinic here. In the end, I see Ricci utilizing the pressure and takedown game on her way to a boring decision win.

PICK: RICCI

Middleweights: Jamie Pickett vs. Laureano Staropoli

Overall Records: Pickett 11-6, Staropoli 9-4
UFC Records: Pickett 0-2, Staropoli 2-3
Last Fight: Wright def. Pickett–R1 TKO–UFC 262 (5/15/21), Dolidze def. Staropoli–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21)
Last Five Fights: Pickett 2-3, Staropoli 2-3
Betting Odds: Pickett +200, Staropoli -250
Preview: A middleweight bout that was pushed back a couple of weeks looks to finally take place here as Pickett and Staropoli step inside the Octagon after a false start. They were slated to fight on the 10/9 card, but COVID-19 protocols involving Pickett’s team forced the bout to be pushed back. Both men are looking to end losing skids in this one. Pickett was signed to the roster after finding that the third time is the charm on The Contender Series, but he’s lost his first two UFC bouts, putting his future on the roster into jeopardy. He has scored nine of his eleven wins by stoppage. Speaking of having their UFC future in jeopardy, Staropoli fits that description to a tee. He started his career 9-1, including wins in his first two UFC fights. However, he’s lost three straight heading into this one, making it a must-win fight for him.

Staropoli is an aggressive fighter, something that Pickett struggles with. Staropoli is a lot better than his recent run has shown him to be, while Pickett might be a finished product. Even though Pickett is going to have a nine-inch reach advantage, he never tends to fight to exploit his reach edges. He tends to let opponents inside the pocket way too easily, which opens himself to getting hit quite often. Pickett is going to have to fight like he did on his last Contender Series appearance, as if he fights like he has in his first two UFC bouts, this one is going to end up like those. Staropoli will be coming forward and showing aggression, and I see him wearing Pickett down as he gets a finish somewhere in the second round.

PICK: STAROPOLI

Lightweights: Khama Worthy vs. Jai Herbert

Overall Records: Worthy 16-8, Herbert 10-3
UFC Records: Worthy 2-2, Herbert 0-2
Last Fight: Mullarkey def. Worthy–R1 KO–UFC 260 (3/27/21), Moicano def. Herbert–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)
Last Five Fights: Worthy 3-2, Herbert 3-2
Betting Odds: Worthy +145, Herbert -175
Preview: An exciting lightweight battle between two explosive fighters looking to end losing skids takes place here as Worthy battles Herbert in one of the top match-ups on the card. Worthy had a long career on the regional scene, going 14-6 and battling the likes of Paul Felder, Kyle Nelson, Matt Bessette and Billy Quarantillo, to earn his shot on short-notice against Devonte Smith. He was impressive in his debut, finishing Smith in the first round, and backed that up with a submission of Luis Pena. However, he’s dropped his last two fights, both first-round knockout losses, to Ottman Azaitar and Jamie Mullarkey. Worthy does have a 75% finishing rate. Herbert is a former Cage Warriors champion who came to UFC with a lot of hype, but he’s dropped his first two bouts inside the Octagon. Herbert is looking to show flashes of why he was hyped up in this one, and show off those same skills that has seen him score nine of his ten wins via a finish.

There’s always the saying of “anything can happen in a fight”, but this one is one that you shouldn’t miss. It should be fun and explosive and a don’t blink fight. Both are super aggressive on the feet and have a lot of power. Herbert hasn’t really been able to show that yet in his two Octagon appearances, as he’s had opponents who like to grapple and who have stifled his striking. Worthy is someone who will be worthy enough of standing and trading with Herbert. Herbert is the better overall kickboxer, but Worthy has some tremendous power in his hands. Worthy may try to grapple a little, but he doesn’t have the chops of a Trinaldo or a Moicano, who both dominated Herbert on the mat, but Herbert shouldn’t have to worry about the takedowns. It’ll come down to who lands the hardest shot first, and with Herbert being more skilled on the feet, I like his odds to pull of his first UFC win here.

PICK: HERBERT

Flyweights: Jeff Molina vs. Daniel Lacerda

Overall Records: Molina 9-2, Lacerda 11-1
UFC Records: Molina 1-0, Lacerda 0-0
Last Fight: Molina def. Aoriqileng–UDec–UFC 261 (4/24/21), Lacerda def. Sarafin–R1 KO–Shooto Brazil 108 (7/24/21)
Last Five Fights: Molina 5-0, Lacerda 4-1
Betting Odds: Molina -165, Lacerda +145
Preview: A pair of young flyweights looking to establish themselves in the flyweight division battle here as Molina makes his second UFC appearance, while Lacerda will be making his promotional debut. Molina comes into this fight looking to extend his eight-fight win streak, which included a decision win over Aoriqileng in his UFC debut at UFC 261 in June. He got his contract off a solid showing on The Contender Series, but is looking to get back to his finishing ways, as he’s scored five submission wins and two knockout wins. Lacerda debuts riding a three-fight win streak, with the hope that being with the world’s top promotion brings more activity, as he’s had a lot of cancelled fights over recent times. He scored a first-round knockout in his last bout to earn his UFC contract, and he’s looking to keep his 100% finishing rate in tact with another win.

This will be the toughest fight for Lacerda in his career and will show how much more he has to prove. Molina is a high-volume striker who doesn’t mind getting hit because he has good defense on the feet. Molina has struggled with wrestling in the past, though Lacerda’s wrestling skills leave a lot to be desired. Lacerda should look to mix in the calf kicks as Molina tends to just attack with his hands. Lacerda does have the power edge. We’ve never seen Lacerda go past the first round, so his conditioning is a question mark. We know Molina can go the distance. Lacerda has been impressive on the regional scene, but this is a step up for him. I think this fight could go either way, and I’m going to go with Molina just based on his ability to go deeper in fights.

PICK: MOLINA

Women’s Strawweights: Livinha Souza vs. Randa Markos

Overall Records: Souza 14-3, Markos 10-11-1
UFC Records: Souza 3-2, Markos 6-10-1
Last Fight: Lemos def. Souza–R1 TKO–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Pinheiro def. Markos–R1 DQ–UFC On ESPN 23 (5/1/21)
Last Five Fights: Souza 3-2, Markos 1-4
Betting Odds: Souza -135, Markos +110
Preview: A pair of strawweight veterans battle here in a pivotal fight for both women, as you could say both are at a crossroads in their careers coming into this one. Souza had been on the brink of making her way up the ladder at 115-lbs, winning three of her first four UFC fights. However, she was finished in the first round by Amanda Lemos in her first fight, and she looks to avoid dropping to a .500 record inside the Octagon in this one. Markos was one of the more popular fighters from the strawweight season of TUF, but he’s had a lot of ups-and-downs during her UFC career. She’s scored some solid wins, as her resumé includes wins over Carla Esparza and Angela Hill. However, she’s never scored consecutive UFC wins, and she comes into this fight on a four-fight losing skid. A loss her would be her 11th with the promotion, and could signify the end of her UFC career, so this is a definite must-win fight.

What we have here, I believe, is two fighters who have already hit the peak of their careers, and both are just trying to score wins to keep their roster spot. Markos had a legitimate shot to become a threat in the past, but she never evolved. She’s tried lately, mixing her training camps up, and while she might get better that she was, she’s far from contender status. Souza just never used what worked for her best to become the contender many thought she would be when she was signed. Both have thrown away a lot of fights lately, so this makes for an interesting battle. Markos’ takedown defense has been bad lately, and maybe her second camp under Travis Lutter will improve that. Souza knows how to work from the top and knows how to grind out a decision. Both will likely want it on the feet, though, and neither are overly impressive on standing. Markos lands a little more and can jab her way to a win if she wants. This will be a close fight, but Markos has made too many mistakes and given away too many fights she was capable of winning. I see that happening here again.

PICK: SOUZA

Bantamweights: Jonathan Martinez vs. Zviad Lazishvili

Overall Records: Martinez 13-4, Lazishvili 12-0
UFC Records: Martinez 4-3, Lazishvili 0-0
Last Fight: Grant def. Martinez–R2 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 45 (3/13/21), Lazishvili def. Steele–R1 SUB–LFA 90 (9/4/20)
Last Five Fights: Martinez 3-2, Lazishvili 5-0
Betting Odds: Martinez +110, Lazishvili -135
Preview: A bantamweight bout that came together on Wednesday of fight week opens the card as Martinez welcomes short-notice replacement Lazishvili to the Octagon for the first time. Martinez was originally slated to fight Aaron Phillips in this one, but Phillips had to pull out as he’s been suffering from long-term effects of contracting COVID-19. Martinez is looking to rebound from a loss in his last fight, as he was finished by Davey Grant in March. Prior to that setback, he had won four of his previous five and was working his way up the bantamweight ladder. He doesn’t get an easy replacement as Lazishvili comes to UFC with tons of momentum, having won his first 12 professional fights. He hasn’t fought in over a year, but his career leading to his signing has been impressive, as he’s shown tons of submission skills in score nine of his twelve wins by submission. He’s one of the rising prospects coming from the country of Georgia, joining fellow countrymen Merab Dvalishvili, Giga Chikadze and Ilia Topuria as UFC roster members.

Martinez has shown himself to be a solid fighter on the feet, fighting out of the southpaw position. He lands over four significant strikes per minute, is accurate and has good defense. He also has some decent power and will mix in the calf kicks. Lazishvili is solid on the feet, but uses his striking to set up the takedowns. Lazishvili is a lot like Dvalishvili in that he knows how to dominate opponents on the mat. He’s not as good as Dvalishvili, though not a lot are. Lazishvili is a submission hunter, though, and he can find them and find them good. He’s adept at taking the back, where he likes to find the rear-naked choke or trap an arm for an armbar. Martinez has good takedown defense and has never been submitted, but that will be tested here. If Lazishvili had a full camp, I would like him in this one. With it being this short of notice, it opens the fight up to going either way. I like Martinez just because he’s been preparing for longer and has some very good skills as well as the experience.

PICK: MARTINEZ

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