A lethal predator meets a former champion when Vicente Luque faces Rafael dos Anjos in a mouth-watering welterweight headliner at UFC Vegas 78 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Veteran Octagon warrior Cub Swanson squares off against Hakeem Dawodu in the co-main event at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, while light heavyweights Khalil Rountree and Chris Daukaus collide in the featured bout.
There are two fights in the middleweight division with AJ Dobson taking on Tafon Nchukwi and Josh Fremd facing Jamie Pickett, plus, Polyana Viana and Iasmin Lucindo meet in a strawweight match-up.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s JP Buys looks to break his UFC duck in the featured preliminary bout against American finisher Marcus McGhee.
MAIN CARD (from 1 AM Sunday SA time):
Vicente Luque (2.00) v Rafael dos Anjos (1.83) (Welterweight)
In one corner, you have an animal with his back against the wall in Luque (21-9-1).
The 31-year-old was closing in on a title shot following a string of four stoppage wins before running into Belal Muhammad last April. The decision loss to a fellow top contender wasn’t a train smash but a shock knockout loss to unheralded Geoff Neil four months later was.
Having spent the last year plotting and preparing for the perfect comeback, Luque’s landed a high-profile opponent and is relishing the opportunity to reintroduce himself as one of the most dangerous men in the 170-pound division.
With his complete skillset and killer instinct, “The Silent Assassin” has claimed all but two of his wins by stoppage (11 knockouts and eight submissions). He’s comfortable in chaos and usually gets the better of exchanges on the feet or scrambles on the ground.
Naturally aggressive without being reckless, it’ll be interesting to see if he takes a more cautious approach, particularly in the early going, to ensure he doesn’t make any costly mistakes.
In the other corner, you have a decorated veteran in former lightweight champion Dos Anjos (32-14), who started his second stint at welterweight with a submission win over Bryan Barberena in December.
Barberena was a decent test first up but isn’t among the division’s elite like Luque, so this fight sees RDA return to the deep end of the shark-infested welterweight pool. The win, his 11th by tap-out, was enough to make him the favourite going into this one, which is quite surprising in my opinion.
At 38, he’s not over the hill, but he’s 3-3 in his last six fights and had a clear grappling advantage over Barberena that he won’t have against Luque. He also doesn’t have the knockout power his opponent possesses, leaving his best possible path to victory outworking his younger foe over 25 minutes.
I really like Luque as the underdog and got him at 2.35 last week. He’s the more dynamic striker, won’t have major heat coming back his way and has the grappling to match Dos Anjos, leaving him poised to return to winning ways.
Cub Swanson (2.85) v Hakeem Dawodu (1.44) (Featherweight)
A nearly 20-year veteran, Swanson (28-13) has scrapped with some of the best and holds victories over former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier.
At 39, his career is winding down and the damage of all the wars over the years showed in his last fight when he was stopped by Jonathan Martinez in October.
After that failed drop to bantamweight, Swanson returns to featherweight and should look better as a result, but the flip side is he’s facing a jacked 145-pounder looking to make a name off Swanson’s legacy.
Swanson still has stopping power, with his last two wins coming by knockout. He’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt as well and has veteran tricks that’ll make him a tricky test for his up-and-coming opponent.
Dawodu (13-3-1) is a fluid, technical and hard-hitting striker looking to rebound from a decision loss to Julian Erosa in September.
The Canadian will have a significant strength and, more importantly, speed advantage, with the former set to help him keep the fight on the feet and the latter set to enable him to dart in and out and score while evading counter strikes.
“Mean Hakeem” has seven career wins by knockout, but seven of his nine UFC fights went the distance. Younger, faster and benefitting from a three-and-a-half-inch reach advantage, the 32-year-old looks set to win on the scorecards.
Khalil Rountree (1.55) v Chris Daukaus (2.50) (Light Heavyweight)
A surging Rountree (11-5) welcomes a struggling Daukaus (12-6) to the light heavyweight division in the featured bout.
Rountree has finally found the consistency he’d been chasing for years in his current run, stringing together three consecutive wins for the first time in his career.
Daukaus, in contrast, has lost three in a row and was finished in all of them, prompting him to drop down to the 205-pound ranks.
It’s a tough first assignment for him in his new weight class as Rountree has the power of a heavyweight and the speed of a middleweight.
“The War Horse” is a far superior athlete and will score an early knockout to add to Daukaus’ woes.
Polyana Viana (2.64) v Iasmin Lucindo (1.50) (Strawweight)
Like the main event, this is an intriguing all-Brazilian affair. Viana (13-5) is a ferocious striker who’s earned three first-round stoppage wins in her last four fights including a 47-second knockout of Jinh Yu Frey in November.
An experienced UFC campaigner, “Dama de Ferro” is dangerous on the ground as well with eight submission wins to her credit.
Lucindo (14-5) has split her first two fights in the UFC, bouncing back from a debut decision loss to Yazmin Jauregui with a decision win over Brogan Walker in April.
Full of potential at just 21, she’s exceptionally heavy-handed for a strawweight, boasting eight wins by knockout, and is 8-2 in her last 10 fights.
Lucindo is a fighter to keep an eye on, but in a fight that’s evenly matched, Viana’s experience should prove decisive and makes her a good-value underdog.
AJ Dobson (2.20) v Tafon Nchukwi (1.70) (Middleweight)
Pugilists on a two-fight skid seek to get back on track in this middleweight match-up.
Dobson (6-3) lost on points to Jacob Malkoun and Armen Petrosyan, while Nchukwi (6-2) was knocked out by Azamat Murzakanov and Carlos Ulberg at light heavyweight and hopes to start fresh as he returns to the 185-pound division.
Despite having competed at 205 pounds, Nchukwi won’t have a size advantage and is in fact, the shorter man by an inch at 6’0″. The Cameroon prospect is a pure striker (four knockouts) and a busy one at that, throwing 6.05 significant strikes per minute to his opponent’s 4.34.
Dobson has the more diverse skillset. On top of being a solid striker, the American has the wrestling and grappling that keep opponents in two minds and make him an all-around threat (three knockouts and two submissions).
As the more well-rounded fighter, I fancy Dobson to cash out as a dog.
Josh Fremd (1.28) v Jamie Pickett (3.75) (Middleweight)
It’s safe to say Pickett (13-9) is fighting to stay in the UFC as he’s 2-5 in the promotion and has lost three on the trot (all by stoppage).
“The Night Wolf” has plenty of power, which saw him pick up nine knockouts on his road to the UFC, but doesn’t have a single stoppage win inside the Octagon.
Fremd (10-4) is coming off a slick showing that saw him submit Sedriques Dumas in March and he’ll have the same gameplan here as Pickett has a known weakness on the ground, where he’s been tapped out on four occasions.
Fremd will have to time his entries well as Pickett’s long and rangy, but he should be able to close the gap safely and sink in a fight-finishing submission to send Pickett packing.