Top-10 flyweights Kai Kara-France and Amir Albazi collide in what promises to be a fast-paced, all-action main event clash at UFC Vegas 74 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Featherweight veterans Alex Caceres and Daniel Pineda face off in the co-headliner at the UFC APEX while Jim Miller meets Jared Gordon in a lightweight match-up.
A pair of flyweight fights gets the action underway as Tim Elliott takes on Victor Altamirano and Karine Silva squares off against UFC newcomer Ketlen Souza.
MAIN CARD (from 3 AM Sunday SA time):
Kai Kara-France (1.90) v Amir Albazi (1.90) (Flyweight)
Scheduled for five rounds, this weekend’s headliner pits an established top contender in Kara-France (24-10-1NC) against a new rising force in Albazi (16-1).
Third-ranked Kara-France fought for the interim title last time out, suffering a stoppage loss to Brandon Moreno. Prior to the June defeat, the New Zealander had rattled off three wins in a row, including knocking out former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.
Albazi will look to keep his undefeated run in the UFC intact. The Iraqi-born ace is 4-0 inside the Octagon with three of those wins coming by stoppage.
He knocked out Alessandro Costa last time out in December to move up to seventh in the rankings and earn this golden opportunity to face a member of the 125-pound elite.
Kara-France is a fast and furious striker whose power and pressure have earned him a dozen knockouts – no small feat at featherweight.
Known as “Don’t Blink”, his hand speed is exceptional and his footwork is fantastic, which sees him both pierce opponents’ defences from different angles and evade attacks coming his way.
He’ll have a significant advantage on the feet, where he can finish fights in a flash, while he also stands to benefit from his vast experience.
Albazi is a powerful wrestler and high-level grappler. An aggressive fighter, he pushes the envelope and boasts an 88% finish rate as a result (five knockouts and nine submissions).
“The Prince” is adept at mixing striking and grappling, mainly as a means to create better openings to take the fight to the ground, where he has good top control and constantly looks to lock in a submission.
With only one loss, he’s one of the best prospects in the division, but this is a major step up in competition for him.
Kara-France has the high-level experience Albazi lacks and some of the best takedown defence in the division (87%), which should see him keep the fight standing for the most part and rack up points with his accurate, high-volume striking en route to a decision victory.
Alex Caceres (1.55) v Daniel Pineda (2.55) (Featherweight)
Experienced campaigners collide in the co-main event.
Caceres (20-13) is a crafty cat. He’s long and unorthodox on the feet and uses his reach and awkwardness well to chip away and stop opponents from finding their rhythm.
With just two knockouts in 27 UFC fights and four in total, he’s an accumulator type of striker. Furthermore, “Bruce Leeroy” is super slick on the ground, where he has seven submissions to his name.
Pineda (28-14) is a predator who’s claimed every single one of his wins by stoppage (nine knockouts and 19 submissions). “The Pit”, however, is aggressive to a fault, often leaving himself open to counters and putting himself in compromising positions on the ground.
Caceres is the more level-headed and dependable fighter and has momentum on his side, having won six of his last seven, so bank on him to get the win, most likely by decision.
Jim Miller (TBC) v Jared Gordon (TBC) (Lightweight)
No one has made more walks to the Octagon than Miller (35-17). Fourty-one of the veteran’s 52 fights have been in the UFC and he’s still hanging tough.
A black belt in jiu-jitsu and taekwondo, “A-10” is a highly skilled and savvy competitor whose chin still holds up after all these years. At 39, though, he’s lost a few steps and sting.
Gordon (19-6) is a grinder. He’s solid rather than spectacular in all areas and plays the long game, mixing up striking and takedowns to ride out decision victories.
“Flash” is younger, faster and has far fewer combat mileage on him. He’ll be made to work hard and will have to be wary on the ground but he should come away with the win on the judges’ scorecards.
Tim Elliott (1.55) v Victor Altamirano (2.55) (Flyweight)
Experience is the key difference between these two well-rounded flyweights. Despite being just four years older than his opponent, Elliott (18-12-1) has 17 more fights under his belt.
He’s faced the elite of the elite, too, including challenging the great Demetrious Johnson for the title back in 2016. Still ticking along strong, he’s won three of his last four and is the most established opponent Altamirano (12-2) has come across yet.
Altamirano’s a high-volume striker and will be well-served to step on the gas from the word go. The former LFA champion is starting to find his feet in the Octagon and a victory over a veteran like Elliott would prove he belongs.
Elliott, however, should outfox and outpoint “El Magnifico” with his veteran savviness.
Karine Silva (1.44) v Ketlen Souza (2.90) (Flyweight)
Silva (15-4) welcomes Souza (13-3) to the UFC in a battle of Brazilians.
Silva made good on her UFC debut with a first-round submission win over Poliana Botelho last June to stretch her winning streak to six and aims to spoil Souza’s first dance inside the Octagon. A straight-up savage, all of her wins have come by finish (nine knockouts and six submissions).
Souza capped a five-fight win streak by winning the vacant Invicta title in her last fight in January to punch her ticket to the UFC. A good kickboxer with heavy hands, eight of her wins are by knockout.
Silva has the striking to go toe-to-toe with her countrywomen on the feet and is the superior grappler, so she’s primed to pick up another W.
All three winning methods (knockout, submission and decision) are in play, but based on her track record, “Killer” will find the finish.