Heavyweight standouts Sergei Pavlovich and Curtis Blaydes will look to punch their ticket to a title shot when they collide in a titanic main event battle at UFC Vegas 71 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Middleweights Brad Tavares and Bruno Silva meet in the co-headliner while lightweight veteran Bobby Green faces Jared Gordon in the featured bout.
Plus, Iasmin Lucindo and Brogan Walker square off in a strawweight scrap and Jeremiah Wells meets Matthew Semelsberger in a welterweight match-up.
MAIN CARD (from 1:00 AM Sunday SA time):
Sergei Pavlovich (2.45) v Curtis Blaydes (1.58) (Heavyweight)
Experts in their respective realms, this weekend’s headliners face off in an explosive clash of styles scheduled for five rounds in which the winner will likely get a crack at the winner between new heavyweight king Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic once that megafight is made official.
In the red corner, you have third-ranked Pavlovich (17-1), a Russian bomber seeking his sixth straight first-round knockout. The 30-year-old entered the upper echelons of the division with sub-one-minute stoppage wins over Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa in his last two fights and he’ll be planning another quick night.
Pavlovich, who boasts 14 knockouts in all, has a massive 84-inch reach (which gives him a four-inch advantage over Blaydes), good hand speed and footwork, and excellent combinations. Intelligently aggressive, he pressures opponents without overextending and putting himself in vulnerable positions.
In the blue corner, you have fourth-ranked Blaydes (17-3), a monster wrestler and staple in the heavyweight top five.
The American ace has rattled off big wins over Jair Rozenstruik, Chris Daukaus, and Tom Aspinall in his last three bouts and a victory over the surging Russian should see him secure an elusive title shot.
A tank of a man who cuts down to make the 265-pound limit, “Razor” has plenty of elite-level experience and unrivalled wrestling in the heavyweight division. He arguably has the best cardio in the division as well, which sees him push a high pace for 25 minutes, along with great top control and brutal ground-and-pound.
His striking is ever-improving and has moved up his knockout tally to 12, but he’ll go all in on his chain wrestling to ground the heavy-handed Pavlovich.
The high-stakes bout boils down to who dictates where the fight takes place. If Pavlovich is able to keep it standing, he should land the fight-finishing blow, but if he’s unable to stuff Blaydes’ takedowns, his impressive win streak will come to an end.
Blaydes has only lost to power punchers, twice to Francis Ngannou – who vacated the title and exited the UFC in January – and once to the UFC’s all-time knockout king Lewis, who caught him shooting in for a takedown. Timing will, therefore, be everything.
As great as Pavlovich has looked, one can’t overlook the manner in which he suffered his only loss. The lone blemish came in his UFC debut to Alistair Overeem in 2018 and saw the kickboxing legend out-grapple him, so there’s a serious question mark behind his takedown defence.
There’s value in Pavlovich as he only needs one clean shot to end the night early, but Blaydes has the better deck of cards. He has enough fight IQ to survive the early storm and take control of the fight with his wrestling from thereon out to score a late ground-and-pound TKO.
Brad Tavares (1.64) v Bruno Silva (2.35) (Middleweight)
Middleweights looking to get back in the win column collide in the co-headliner. Tavares (19-7) is a technical veteran who’s tough as nails. He’s the only fighter to have gone the distance with Dricus du Plessis, dropping a decision to the South African star last time out, which snapped a two-fight win streak.
Unlike his opponent, Tavares takes his time inside the Octagon. He’s a slow-poison type of striker with just two finishes in his 21 UFC appearances.
Silva (22-8), on the other hand, is a knockout artist. An explosive kickboxer, all but three of his wins have come by KO.
“Blindado” burst onto the UFC scene with three consecutive knockout wins but has lost his last two, most recently suffering his sixth submission loss to Gerald Meerschaert.
Tavares is the more technical and tactical fighter, which combined with his durability, should see him outpoint Silva.
Bobby Green (1.40) v Jared Gordon (3.10) (Lightweight)
A veteran of the fight game who debuted in 2008 and has fought in the UFC for a decade, Green announced in February that he’d retire after this bout. This week, however, he clarified that he’ll only be retiring his name as he plans to legally change his name to his fighter nickname, “King.”
Green, whose record stands at 29-14-1 with 10 knockouts and eight submissions, is predominantly a slick striker but has solid grappling as well. After being stopped in his last two fights, this is a favourable match-up for him as Gordon’s a grinder rather than a finisher.
“Flash”, who’s 19-6, only has one finish in his UFC career, a TKO of Michael Quinones in his promotional debut in 2017. A workmanlike all-rounder, he’s all about mixing striking with grappling and pushing a high pace. Robbed of a win over Paddy Pimblett by a baffling judges’ decision in his last fight, he’ll compete with added urgency.
Without the necessary pop in his punches to hurt Green, Gordon will struggle to keep the fan favourable off him. With the takedown defence to keep the fight standing, Green should do more damage and come out with the win.
Iasmin Lucindo (1.30) v Brogan Walker (3.75) (Strawweight)
These ladies are at the same stage of their UFC careers, both having lost their debuts last time out, but their roads to the big show were very different.
Lucindo (13-5) is just 21 and has her exciting style and finishing prowess (eight knockouts and two submissions) to thank for her early entry into the UFC. She delivered on the excitement front in her promotional debut as she put on a striking war with Yasmine Jauregui in which she lost a decision that ended a seven-fight win streak.
Walker (7-3) had to take the long road to realise her UFC dream, which saw her fight the likes of Miranda Maverick, who she defeated, Pearl Gonzales, and Erin Blanchfield in Invicta before getting an invite to compete on season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter last year.
“The Bear” reached the final but was finished by Juliana Miller. At 34, time is not on her side as she looks to make an impact in the 115-pound division. She only has one finish to her name and will aim to contain Lucindo, but the Brazilian has such dog in her that she’ll be the one who breaks her duck.
Jeremiah Wells (1.90) v Matthew Semelsberger (1.90) (Walterweight)
Explosive welterweights are set to start the main card with a bang. Wells (11-2-1) has been ultra-impressive in the UFC, earning stoppage wins over Warlley Alves, Mike Mathetha and most recently, a huge knockout of Court McGee.
Semelsberger (11-4) is 5-2 in the UFC and rebounded from a loss to Alex Morono with a decision win over Jake Matthews in his last appearance. “Semi the Jedi” shares his opponent’s aggressiveness and is a good athlete as a former collegiate gridiron standout.
Wells has shown more upside, fewer weaknesses, and is the more dynamic fighter, so he should score another vital victory.
Prediction: Wells by Knockout.
Best Bet: Wells at 1.90.
Alternative Bet: Wells by KO/TKO/DQ at 4.25.