Originally UFC Vegas 71’s co-feature, Song Yadong vs. Ricky Simon gets the five-round spotlight it deserves this weekend (Sat., April 29, 2023) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ESPN+streamed card also sees Caio Borralho look to continue his Middleweight rise at Michal Oleksiejczuk’s expense, Rodolfo Vieira battle Cody Brundage, and Marcos Rogerio de Lima battle undefeated Waldo Cortes-Acosta in a Heavyweight slugfest.
UFC Vegas 72 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts to look at before then, though, so let’s not delay …
145 lbs.: Julian Erosa vs. Fernando Padilla
After an initial 1-1 UFC stint and an 0-3 second go-round, Julian Erosa (28-11) finally found his footing with a 5-1 Octagon run. He entered his subsequent clash with Alex Caceres as a moderate favorite, but succumbed to a head kick midway through the first round.
He’s ended 23 professional fights inside the distance, 12 of them via submission.
After edging out Nate Richardson to move his Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) record to 3-1, Fernando Padilla (14-4) signed on to challenge Cameron Graves for the Fury FC Featherweight title on Lookin’ for a Fight. He wound up stopping Graves in two to claim both the title and a UFC contract.
He fights for the first time in nearly two years, having withdrawn from a planned Oct. 2021 UFC debut with visa issues.
I really like the matchmaking here — two versatile, 6’1” finishers should make for a heck of a show. Erosa has the edge in experience, cardio and probably wrestling, while Padilla is the more durable of the two and potentially the bigger hitter. It’s a fight that could end at any moment, and that volatility is what has me leaning toward Padilla. He’s the rare fighter who can match Erosa’s dimensions, and since Erosa has long struggled to keep things at his preferred range, odds are Erosa will consistently be in the danger zone when they exchange.
I admittedly can’t pick Erosa’s fights to save my life, so don’t be surprised if he takes over down the stretch, but expect Padilla to clip him in the opening minutes of a slugfest.
Prediction: Padilla via first round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Stephanie Egger vs. Irina Alekseeva
Stephanie Egger (8-3) made a one-month turnaround for her short-notice UFC debut against Tracy Cortez, resulting in a decision loss that snapped her three-fight winning streak. She’s since won three of four in the Octagon, all inside the distance, and taken home “Performance of the Night” for her armbar finish of Jessica-Rose Clark.
Her professional finishes are split 4/3 between submissions and knockouts.
Irina Alekseeva (4-1) started her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career with three wins in two months, only to fall to Liliya Kazak in Dec. 2019. “Russian Ronda” would not return to action until 22 months later, when she grinded her way past Stephanie Page in her Bellator debut.
Saturday’s bout ends an 18-month layoff.
Much can change in 1.5 years, but the Alekseeva who last stepped into the cage doesn’t have a lot to offer Egger. Despite “Russian Ronda’s” judo pedigree, Egger seems like the more effective clinch artist and is exponentially more of a submission threat. Though Alekseeva does pack some power in her ugly boxing and has some decent body kicks, I doubt she can stop Egger from tying up and overpowering her inside.
Egger is just way more proven in the sort of close-quarters engagement that Alekseeva prefers, and the latter doesn’t have enough alternative weapons to successfully execute a Plan B. In the end, Egger finds her neck or her arm sometime in the first two rounds.
Prediction: Egger via second round submission
135 lbs.: Brian Kelleher vs. Journey Newson
An 0-2 skid gave way to a 5-2 run for Brian Kelleher (24-14), marred only by decision losses to division mainstays Cody Stamann and Ricky Simon. The momentum wasn’t to last, and he enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of submission defeats to Umar Nurmagomedov and Mario Bautista.
Ten of his 18 professional finishes have come via submission.
Three years and four fights into his UFC career, Journey Newson (10-4) finally notched his first official Octagon victory with a decision over Contender Series graduate, Fernie Garcia. Then came Sergey Morozov, who used a steady takedown attack to drop Newson’s UFC record to 1-3 (1 NC).
He’ll enjoy a 1.5-inch reach advantage over Kelleher despite standing one inch shorter.
As spotty as Kelleher’s UFC record is, it’s worth noting that he’s only lost to really, really good Bantamweights. Marlon Vera, John Lineker, Montel Jackson, Stamann, Simon, Nurmagomedov and Bautista are all levels above Newson. Kelleher’s grit and aggression have consistently carried him past fighters of Newson’s caliber, especially since Newson lacks the strong takedowns that generally bedevil “Boom.”
Newson is well-rounded, but lacks any one area in which he can consistently overwhelm Kelleher. He might still get some top control if he commits to his wrestling, but odds are Kelleher out-works him on the feet for a competitive decision.
Prediction: Kelleher via split decision
135 lbs.: Hailey Cowan vs. Jamey-Lyn Horth
Hailey Cowan (7-2) bounced back from an upset loss to Kelly Clayton by choking out Monica Franco in her LFA debut. This set up a Contender Series bout opposite Claudia Leite, whom Cowan narrowly edged out to claim a split decision and UFC contract.
Jamey-Lyn Horth (5-0) went 3-0 as an amateur, including two wins over Lupita Godinez, before racking up four finishes on the Canadian circuit. She continued her decision drought in her LFA debut, which saw her choke out Mayra Cantuaria for the promotion’s Flyweight title.
She fights for the first time in more than 16 months.
Rust and size are Horth’s two major obstacles. She’s fought just once in the last three years and has spent the entirety of her fight career, both amateur and professional, as a Flyweight. Her solid takedown defense and far superior kickboxing give her the tools necessary to batter Cowan on the feet, but she’ll need to execute perfectly in extremely non-ideal circumstances.
Honestly, I think she’s capable of it. Her defensive grappling looked solid against Cantuaria and she’s the more natural and dangerous striker by a huge margin. Cowan could still rack up a lot of clinch and top control, but expect Horth’s more damaging blows to carry the day on the scorecards.
Prediction: Horth via unanimous decision
Three more UFC Vegas 72 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict, including a solid-looking Flyweight tussle. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 72 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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