In this week’s “Understanding the Undercard”, we preview the prelims for UFC Vegas 44. UFC Vegas 44: Font vs Aldo takes place on Saturday, December 4th, 2021. The preliminary card begins at 7:00 PM EST.
Pitolo enters this bout with a rare chance to move a UFC losing streak to four fights. He’s lost to Darren Stewart, Impa Kasanganay, and Julian Marquez in succession. The primary reason behind his struggles is his grappling. He appears to be dealing with the fact that he was out-grappled in the early parts of his UFC career by attempting more takedowns. That’s led to him picking up a pair of submission losses. This includes the only submission win of Darren Stewart’s career.
Times have not been much better for Todorovic heading into UFC Vegas 44. The Serbian has lost two fights in a row. His last loss, which came at the hands of Gregory Rodrigues, was supposed to be a fight with Pitolo. In that fight, Rodrigues was able to take down Todorovic, but not control him all that much. However, with the advantage on the feet as well, Todorovic fell by unanimous decision and to 1-2 in his UFC stint.
The Final Word
Although these two have attempted a lot of takedowns in their collective time with the UFC (and on Contender Series), both are much better on the feet. Given the need for a win here, I could see either shooting takedowns to try to win rounds, but I’m not sure either are sharp enough in that realm to get one. As a result, I think the winner winds up being determined on the feet, where Todorovic is just a little cleaner with better head movement.
My pick: Todorovic by (T)KO.
Manel Kape is one of the more frustrating prospects at 125lbs. The former Rizin bantamweight champion entered the UFC with high expectations all around. However, the early performances were marked by passivity and wild reactions to losing decisions – which is what he did to both Matheus Nicolau and Alexandre Pantoja. When on his game and pressing forward, Kape is as dangerous with his hands (and knees) as any flyweight with big knockout power.
Zhumagulov didn’t have the hot start to his UFC career either. Although he didn’t nearly have the expectations Kape did, he did struggle a bit early on, particularly with persistent takedown attempts. He landed just two of his fourteen attempts in his first two UFC fights. However, in his most recent fight, he found his hands again, stinging Jerome Rivera on the feet and getting a guillotine finish.
The Final Word
This UFC Vegas 44 fight comes down to intent. Both of these men have had issues with their approach and both seem to have fixed it to an extent in their last fight. If they both keep that approach, I do think Kape has an advantage with the hands both in terms of accuracy and power. An added bonus for him is that even if Kape reverts to his more reserved approach, Zhumagulov should be in his face enough to reverse that trend.
My pick: Kape by decision.
Largely known for his grappling chops, Matthews rode those skills to a three-fight winning streak. He beat the likes of Diego Sanchez and Emil Meek with a heavy top game and lots of control time. However, he then ran into the steamroller that is Sean Brady and lost via submission. Now looking to rebuild his case for a high-profile opponent, he’s given a teammate of his last foe.
In his UFC debut, Jeremiah Wells came out looking like he had nothing to lose. Filling in for Ramazen Emeev on short notice against Warlley Alves, he made good of his chance to make a first impression. With a variety of results in the first on big haymakers, one landed flush and Wells made the follow-ups count. It wasn’t a pretty performance all around, with Wells ending the first round mounted, but sometimes that doesn’t matter.
The Final Word
Judging by some of his regional wins, I expect Wells to come out swinging with big shots at UFC Vegas 44. Although there is always a chance that one of them lands, Jake Matthews is a bit more nuanced in his striking defense and the way that he counters them than Wells’ previous opponents. I expect Matthews to duck under a big hook and get in on the legs for a takedown. I think Wells has what it takes to avoid submissions, but the early grind will wear him out.
My pick: Matthews by decision.
Cheyanne Vlismas arrives at UFC Vegas 44 on the heels of a viral knockout of Gloria de Paula. As de Paula attempted to stand up from a grounded position, she caught a kick to the side of the head and Vlismas caught 50k. This was a nice turnaround for Vlismas, who lost her debut to a late replacement in Montserrat Ruiz by being held down for the better part of three rounds. Vlismas will attempt to play spoiler herself here as she steps in for Martin‘s original opponent, the aforementioned Ruiz.
Despite Vlismas stepping up on short notice, Martin will be a sizable +165 underdog here. A lot of that has to do with the ways in which she has been beaten over her 1-2 stint in the UFC. In both losses, her submission defense did not hold up against tough grapplers. She was submitted in both of those losses, once in top position and once on the bottom. Her lone UFC win also came by submission with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
The Final Word
Although the momentum is all pointing in one direction, I think this is a bad stylistic matchup for Vlismas. She was taken down at will by Montserrat Ruiz with the same head and arm takedown. Now she faces a much more polished wrestler in Martin. In addition, while I think there are holes in Martin’s submission game, Vlismas has no submissions to speak of since turning pro. So I expect Martin to be able to grind this one out.
My pick: Martin by decision.
In his last two fights, Alonzo Menifield has evolved from his earlier UFC-self. Like a lot of light heavyweights, Menifield entered the UFC on the heels of big power and looked to wield it immediately. It worked, with Menifield scoring a knockout of Paul Craig in just his second UFC bout. However, he then learned the limitations of that style too as his defense and gas tank suffered in back-to-back losses. Now he has a much more measured approach and seems to have sacrificed a small amount of the finishing power to do so.
William Knight is a guy who is a lot like the early iteration of Alonzo Menifield. He swings big and isn’t afraid to put himself in a bad spot in effort to land a massive blow. Some of that lack of fear comes from the athleticism that got him out of bad positions in the past. On the Contender Series, he was in an awful position against Cody Brundage and used his power to stand up and change the tide. As he found out against Da Un Jung, that’s a little more difficult here in the UFC.
The Final Word
The evolution of Alonzo Menifield is what I expect to carry him to victory at UFC Vegas 44. He’s a much more calculated fighter and seems to have a much better understanding of how to apply his energy and power. He’s also recently polished up his wrestling game and I expect that to be where he finds a bit of his success.
My pick: Menifield by (T)KO.
After nearly two years outside of the cage, Claudio Puelles returned this past June with a vastly improved game. Not working at Sanford MMA instead of back in his native Peru, he showed off some impressive grappling efforts and cleaner boxing. Those skills led to an upset of highly touted Jordan Leavitt, making it three straight victories for Puelles. He now gets a chance to make a much quicker turnaround for win number four.
Chris Gruetzemacher also scored an upset win his last time out. Coming in as a +265 underdog to Rafa Garcia, Gruetzemacher overcame four takedowns and poured on the aggression. By being in Garcia’s face early and often, he was able to wear down his opponent and build momentum late in the fight. As a result, he took the final two rounds on each judges’ scorecard.
The Final Word
While overcoming the takedowns was a nice showing for Gruetzemacher, giving them up in the first place was a bit of an alarm. Puelles has great jiu-jitsu and the ability to tap people out at any time of the fight. In addition, his cardio should hold up quite a bit better than Garcia. So if he manages to get out to a lead, as I believe he will, I don’t expect him to relinquish it. Puelles by decision.
Jared Vanderaa entered the UFC largely thanks to his grappling. He’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu under former UFC fighters Tom Gallicchio and Joe Stevenson. He was also a high school wrestler. Using these skills, he picked up a number of finishes to get a shot on Contender Series. However, since coming to the UFC he’s struggled with the grappling of others. Both Sergey Spivak and Alexandr Romanov finished him with ground and pound.
Azamat Murzakanov has typically fought at light heavyweight but will be making the move to heavyweight for UFC Vegas 44. The move is necessitated by his original opponent, Philipe Lins, dropping out and them needing a last-second replacement. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects Murzakanov who largely relies on his power – in both punching and takedown realms.
The Final Word
The size disparity is really going to be a huge factor here. It’s unclear just how heavy Murzakanov will come in at being as he typically makes 205lbs seemingly easy and he was preparing for a fight in that weight class. Still, I think the skills he brings with his wrestling, as well as his ability to land that big left hand, is enough to get him by Vanderaa here.
My pick: Murzakanov by (T)KO.
Alex Morono is one of those fighters who, despite having a very strong jiu-jitsu foundation, would much prefer to box with his opponents. He holds a second-degree black belt under Vinicius Draculino but did not even attempt a takedown last time out. This approach has seen variable results. He was able to finish Donald Cerrone with strikes but struggled a bit with the hands of former champion Anthony Pettis.
Mickey Gall is not one of those fighters who shies away from his grappling. In fact, he leans on it nearly to a fault, leaving some pundits to call him one-dimensional. He assuaged some of those concerns last time out with some really improved hand speed. That clearly paid off as it drew Jordan Williams‘ attention to the striking side just in time for Gall to finish the fight with a submission.
The Final Word
Mickey Gall has never beat a UFC opponent who could go toe-to-toe with him in the grappling department. Even Mike Perry, who always has suspect grappling abilities, was able to force him to stand with him. I think Gall is going to struggle to get Morono down. Even if he does manage to make it to the mat, I think Morono gets up easily and defends the submission attempts in the process. On the feet, which is where I expect this to be for the majority of the time, I think it’s all Morono.
My pick: Morono by (T)KO.
Louis Smolka, having just turned thirty years old, has pretty much been through the UFC ringer. Over a couple of stints with the UFC, he’s fought a who’s-who of opponents and even main evented a card. Tim Elliott, Ray Borg, Brandon Moreno, Matt Schnell – his list of opponents has been brutal. While the results have gone through a roller coaster, the one constant has been his excitement level. Whether winning or losing, he brings the action and has some of the better finishing ability at the lighter weight classes – either on the ground or on the feet.
Vince Morales is the type of fighter who is going to sit down in front of an opponent and get into exchanges. He isn’t afraid of what that means, which has done him well in some cases and not so well in others. When he did it to Chris Gutierrez, he got his leg chewed up and TKOed by leg kicks. Against Drako Rodriguez, it helped him overcome some takedowns en route to a big decision victory.
The Final Word
Standing in front of Louis Smolka is never a good idea. He has finishes in each of his last seven victories. Those come with slick, but risky, submissions as well as big strikes. I think as long as Smolka mixes in enough wrestling to keep Morales guessing, he should look better on the feet. He can’t get too comfortable in the pocket himself, but as long as he doesn’t this should be his fight to win at UFC Vegas 44.
My pick: Smolka by submission.
Most of the odds for these fights are razor close – so if you like any of these fighters, get it on them right away. You can also get the best odds for those fighters right here.