Top-10 light heavyweight finishers Nikita Krylov and Ryan Spann square off in the main event of UFC Vegas 70 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-headlining spotlight inside the UFC APEX in Las Vegas shines on middleweight grappling wizards Andre Muniz and Brendan Allen.
Plus, heavyweights Augusto Sakai and Don’tale Mayes duke it out, Tatiana Suarez makes her long-awaited return against Montana de la Rosa at flyweight and Mike Malott meets Yohan Lainesse at welterweight.
MAIN CARD (from 2 AM Sunday SA time):
Nikita Krylov (1.58) v Ryan Spann (2.45) (Light Heavyweight)
Something has to give when two of the best light heavyweights on the planet, each coming off big back-to-back victories, face off in a five-round headliner.
Sixth-ranked Krylov defeated former title challengers Alexander Gustafsson (by knockout) and Volkan Oezdemir (by decision) while eighth-ranked Spann saw off Ion Cutelaba (by submission) and Dominick Reyes (by knockout).
Krylov’s record of 29-9 with a dozen knockouts and 15 submissions highlights what a well-rounded assassin he is. “The Miner” is an intelligent and calculated competitor who has a significant advantage when it comes to facing elite competition. He’s mixed it up with the who’s who of the light heavyweight division for years, whereas Spann’s only now summiting the top tier.
At 6’5″, “Superman” is one of the tallest and rangiest 205-pounders in the promotion and will have a four-inch reach advantage. Being a southpaw on top of having an 81.5-inch wingspan makes Spann, who’s 21-7, an even trickier challenge on the feet (six knockouts) while he’s an octopus on the ground (12 submission wins).
Krylov deserves to be the favourite, but at the same time, Spann’s a value underdog because of his natural gifts, which extend to one-punch knockout power like he showed when he slept former title challenger Reyes. That first-round win last November was the biggest of his career and moved him to 3-2 as an underdog in the UFC.
With his cerebral approach, the Ukrainian will be wise to the early storm Spann will unleash (20 of his 28 fights have ended in the first round) and use his aggression against him to counterstrike and take the fight to the ground (Spann has a mediocre 50% takedown defence).
For as good as Spann is on the mat offensively, his long limbs are problematic defensively. A submission is in play, but I see Krylov using a complete game plan to wear Spann down and ultimately score a TKO.
Andre Muniz (1.44) v Brendan Allen (2.90) (Middleweight)
Grappling fans are in for a treat in the middleweight co-main event. Both men are masterful submission artists with Muniz (23-4) boasting 15 tapout wins and Allen (20-5) 11. With four and five knockouts respectively, they can crack as well, but this should be a scramble fest of the highest order.
A perfect 5-0 in the UFC and on a nine-fight unbeaten streak, Muniz has moved up to 11th in the rankings. He’s a solid-enough southpaw striker and will have a three-inch reach advantage, so he has an edge there as well as on the ground.
The difference in jiu-jitsu style between the Brazilian and “All In”, who’s won three in a row but is yet to break into the top 15, is Muniz’s savagery. “Sergipano” can both set traps in advance and is as sudden as a heart attack with the arm bar being his go-to submission. Once locked in, it’s best to tap quickly as he showed his ruthlessness when he audibly snapped the legendary Jacare Souza’s arm back in 2021.
Allen, who’s 4-0 in the UFC as an underdog, is not quite on Muniz’s level, so he needs a knockout. Given Muniz’s reach advantage, that’s unlikely, so I see Muniz winning grappling exchanges and positions on the ground and ultimately getting the submission finish.
Augusto Sakai (1.74) v Don’tale Mayes (2.15) (Heavyweight)
Sakai (15-5-1) looked destined for big things after beating former champion Andrei Arlovski and top contender Marcin Tybura before enduring a brutal four-fight skid. Still, the men he lost to, Alistair Overeem, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Tai Tuivasa and Serghei Spivac, were or are all in the top 10, so he’s only faced the very best.
Mayes (9-4-1NC) is not in that league. He secured successive wins over lesser opponents before falling short in his last fight, a loss that has since been turned into a no-contest after Hamdy Sbdelwahab popped for a banned substance. With a record of 2-2-1 in the UFC, he’s the epitome of an average fighter.
As the superior striker in a stand-up fight, a knockout and decision are in play for Sakai and it’s tough to lean one way or another. I believe a decision is more likely, but I’ll be going with the money line.
Tatiana Suarez (1.13) v Montana de la Rosa (6.50) (Flyweight)
Undefeated Suarez returns after three years on the sidelines and is expected to pick up where she left off as a massive favourite. That’s because the season 23 strawweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter is a special wrestler. A former Olympic hopeful, she’s women-handled her way to an 8-0 record with two knockouts and three submissions.
She scored notable wins over former two-time champion Carla Esparza and Alexa Grasso, who’s fighting for the title next week, before injuries halted her rise and while there’s always uncertainty regarding ring rust, technique-wise, she looks set to blow De la Rosa out of the water.
De la Rosa, who’s 12-7-1, almost solely relies on grappling, which makes this a terrible stylistic match-up for her as Suarez has never been taken down. She has a size advantage but that’ll be of little help against a wrestling ace like Suarez, who’ll pin her to the mat and find the finish.
Mike Malott (1.46) v Yohan Lainesse (2.85) (Welterweight)
A clash of Canadians kick-starts the main card. With a 100% finish rate, split evenly between knockouts and submissions, Malott (8-1-1) is a well-rounded killer who announced himself in style when he stopped Mickey Gall with strikes in his UFC debut last April to stretch his win streak to four.
Lainesse (9-1), in contrast, suffered his first loss to Gabriel Green in his UFC debut. Following that knockout defeat, he returned to the win column but was unconvincing as he got the nod over Darian Weeks by split decision. He’s mainly a striker with six knockouts under his belt.
Malott is the more versatile, dynamic and dangerous fighter and he’ll put “White Lion” down.