Bullish to get back to their best, top-15 middleweights Roman Dolidze and Nassourdine Imavov battle it out in the main event of UFC Vegas 85 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
A potential show-stealing lightweight co-headliner at the APEX pits Renato Moicano against Drew Dober while top-10 flyweights Viviane Araujo and Natalia Silva square off.
Also on the card are a pair of welterweight bouts between Randy Brown and Muslim Salikhov and Gilbert Urbina and Charles Radtke as well as a middleweight match-up between the undefeated Aliaskhab Khizriev and Makhmud Muradov.
MAIN CARD (from 2 AM Sunday SA time):
Roman Dolidze (2.40) v Nassourdine Imavov (1.60) (Middleweight)
After a stellar 2022 that saw him string together three stoppage wins, Dolidze (12-2) dropped a decision to former title challenger Marvin Vettori in his only fight last year.
Following three straight victories, Imavov (12-4) was also unable to earn a win in 2023. The 27-year-old started the year with a decision loss to Sean Strickland, who went on to become champion, while his next fight against Chris Curtis was ruled a no-contest after an accidental clash of heads.
It’s an intriguing stylistic battle and the fact that it’s the first UFC headlining opportunity for both men provides extra motivation for the pair of middleweights to put on a show.
Neither fighter has lost by knockout and loves going forward. Dolidze is a powerful brawler with dangerous and at times unpredictable blitzes. He’s a submission threat as well and should have the edge if/when the fight goes to the ground.
Imavov is a more technical striker with a higher volume. Imavov, undoubtedly, is more of a high-volume hitter. He lands 4.55 significant strikes per minute to Dolidze’s 3.02. The Frenchman is a good counter striker, too, but lacks punching power (something Dolidze does not), which has seen four of his six UFC fights go the distance.
In what’s a very close fight, the value lies in underdog Dolidze. “The Caucasian” is 3-1 as a dog in his last four fights and has the type of explosive offence that’s difficult to read and establish rhythm against, whilst he’s also more defensively sound, so he’s worth backing.
Renato Moicano (1.54) v Drew Dober (2.54) (Lightweight)
Expect fireworks in what promises to be a slugfest of a co-main event. These two top-15 lightweights love to stand and trade with Moicano (17-5-1) landing 4.75 significant strikes per minute to Dober’s 4.58.
While he’s a busy and solid striker, Moicano’s best weapon is grappling. His first-round win over Brad Riddell in his last fight was his 10th by submission and as someone who gives up a ton in terms of firepower on the feet, expect him to mix in takedown attempts.
Dober (27-12) is one of the hardest hitters at 155 pounds. His first-round finish of Rick Glenn last October was his 14th win by knockout, and you can bet he’ll be going for the kill once again this weekend as his Brazilian rival has a weak chin that’s seen him suffer three of his last four losses by knockout.
The fight will largely come down to whether Dober can stuff Moicano’s takedown attempts. As the stronger and sharper man (Moicano’s last fight was in back in November 2022), the athletic American is a juicy underdog to rip up “Money.
Randy Brown (1.37) v Muslim Salikhov (3.20) (Welterweight)
The featured bout is a case of new school versus old school. Brown (17-5) is a complete mixed martial artist whereas Salikhov (19-4) is a pure striker.
Brown, whose all-around skillset has earned him six knockouts and five submissions, has won five of his last six fights and seven of his last nine, with his last four wins all coming by decision.
At 33, “Rudeboy” is a solid fighter with plans to break into the top 15 where his opponent resided earlier in his career but has since slowed down. Being 39 will do that to you in a young man’s sport.
Salikhov has lost two of his last three, most recently dropping a decision to Nicolas Dalby last June. “The King of Kung Fu”, who boasts 13 knockouts, isn’t as potent as he was in his prime and isn’t firing off shots nearly as fast as he used to.
Thus, bank on the younger, faster Brown to bag the win, most likely by decision.
Viviane Araujo (3.70) v Natalia Silva (1.29) (Flyweight)
Brazilians hell-bent on climbing to the top of the mountain meet in a battle of top-10 flyweights.
Despite being two places below her countrywomen in the rankings at No. 9, Silva (16-5-1) is the heavy favourite as she’s on a remarkable roll and has a world of potential.
Turning 27 on the day of the fight, which makes her a full decade younger than her opponent, Silva is a rising star who has won 10 in a row, the last four coming in the UFC (all four by decision). She looks to be the total package.
Araujo (12-5) has lost three of her last five but was able to snap a two-fight skid with a decision victory over Jennifer Maia last time out. A crafty striker, she’s mixed it up and fallen short against the division’s elite, including Katlyn Chookagian and reigning champion Alexa Grasso.
That top-tier experience has made her the gatekeeper of the 125-pound division for hot prospects to prove themselves against. At 37, “Vivi” will struggle to keep up and is poised to be outpointed by Silva.
Aliaskhab Khizriev (1.64) v Makhmud Muradov (2.30) (Middleweight)
There’s plenty of intrigue in this middleweight match-up as it pits a returning mystery man in Khizriev against a proven veteran in Muradov.
Khizriev is a perfect 14-0 with nine finishes (five knockouts and four submissions) but has only fought once in the UFC. That submission win over Denis Tiuliulin was back in 2022, so ring rust might be a factor.
A look at the Russian’s résumé reveals he has a knockout win over Rousimar Palhares back in 2018 but the infamous former UFC fighter is the only notable name on his record. Therefore, while clearly talented, it’s unclear just how good “The Black Wolf” really is at this point.
Muradov, who holds a record of 26-8 with 20 finishes, including 17 knockouts, serves as a seasoned and dangerous litmus test. Fighting out of Uzbekistan, he scored his first win since 2021 when he beat brawler Bryan Barberena by decision last July and wants to build on that momentum.
The main issue for “Mach” is he struggles against good grapplers. He’s been submitted four times and I see Khizriev putting him on his back and ultimately forcing him to tap out.
Gilbert Urbina (1.48) v Charles Radtke (2.70) (Welterweight)
Expect a fun and potentially wild brawl when these two welterweights open the main card. Both are in the early stages of their UFC careers, so they’ll be fired up to prove they belong.
Urbina (7-2) came through The Ultimate Fighter in 2021. Fighting at middleweight, he featured in final of Season 29 and ended up being submitted by Bryan Battle. He resurfaced last May down a weight class at welterweight and made up for lost time with a TKO win over Orion Cosce.
Radtke (8-3) also enjoyed a successful UFC debut last year, outgunning Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha in September to stretch his winning streak to five. At the end of the day, though, Urbina is the more skillful fighter with a higher output and three-inch reach advantage, so “The RGV Bad Boy” should deliver as the favourite.