UFC Marina Rodriguez will seek to cement a strawweight title shot when she takes on fellow Brazilian standout Amanda Lemos in the main event of UFC Vegas 64 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-headliner at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas will see top-15 welterweights Neil Magny and Daniel Rodriguez rumble.
Heavyweight finishers Chase Sherman and Josh Parisian face off in the featured bout, Tagir Ulanbekov takes on Nate Maness in a flyweight affair and Grant Dawson meets unbeaten Mark Madsen in a lightweight main card opener.
MAIN CARD (from 1.00 Sunday SA time):
Marina Rodriguez (1.46) v Amanda Lemos (2.85) (Strawweight)
From humble beginnings in Brazil to headlining a UFC card in the fight capital of the world, Rodriguez (16-1-2) and Lemos (12-2-1) are fighters through and through. Highly-skilled assassins, they’ve climbed rung for rung into the strawweight top 10 and can see the championship in the distance.
Rodriguez, in particular, is within reach of a shot at the gold. Since dropping a split decision to current 115-pound queen Carla Esparza in July 2020 (her only career loss), she’s won four straight to move into third position behind only former champions Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas.
Those were all against top contenders – a knockout of Amanda Ribas, decision wins over Michelle Waterson-Gomez and Mackenzie Dern and, most recently, a split decision win over Yan Xiaonan in March.
On such an impressive roll, one has to think a victory over Lemos will put her in line to face the winner of next weekend’s title tilt between Esparza and Zhang.
Lemos is four places behind her countrywoman in seventh. She had a five-fight win streak snapped by former champion Jessica Andrade in April but bounced back from that, her solitary defeat at strawweight, with a submission win over Waterson-Gomez in July.
Both ladies are capable on the ground but it’s their striking acumen that makes them two of the best 115-pounders on the planet. Lemos has the power advantage and is one of the more dangerous female fighters on the roster with an 83% finish rate (seven knockouts and three submissions).
Rodriguez isn’t quite as prolific but her controlled aggression and fearlessness have seen her score six knockouts and one submission victory. At 5’6″, she’s two inches taller but that counts for little as the headliners share an identical 65-inch reach.
The red-hot Rodriguez is the slicker and more technical striker. She’s been in such a consistent flow state in terms of her stand-up over her current streak that the smart money is indeed on her.
Tactically, she’s the more disciplined fighter and, crucially, has five-round experience as her wins over Waterson-Gomez and Dern both came after the full 25 minutes.
Lemos has never gone into the main event rounds and while it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she can win a decision, a stoppage is more likely if you’re going to back the underdog.
That said, Rodriguez will more than likely use her speed, footwork and crisp striking to outpoint “Amandinha.”
Neil Magny (1.83) v Daniel Rodriguez (2.00) (Welterweight)
The co-main event is a fascinating fight between a mainstay in the welterweight top 15 in Magny (13th) and a new addition to this top tier in Rodriguez (14th).
The pair were originally set to square off three weeks ago but Rodriguez picked up an elbow infection. Now back to 100%, presumably, “D-Rod” is determined to make it five wins in a row.
Rodriguez (17-2) last competed on the reshuffled UFC 279 card where he was originally scheduled to face Kevin Holland but faced Li Jingliang instead after Khamzat Chimaev’s botched weight cut threw the card in disarray.
Perhaps due to the last-minute change, Rodriguez didn’t look like himself and by all accounts lost to “The Leech” but escaped with a fortuitous split-decision victory.
At his best, he’s a solid all-around fighter who throws high-volume strikes. The southpaw has eight knockouts and four submissions to his name, however, he’s become more tactically driven of late.
Magny (26-9) is the epitome of an MMA tactician. The highlight reel above may look impressive, and it is, but he holds the record for most decision wins in UFC history with 13 and had won three of his earlier fights on points as well prior to joining the UFC back in 2013.
The veteran was submitted by undefeated prospect Shavkat Rakhmonov in June but won back-to-back fights before that and remains a tough and tricky test for most 170-pounders.
“The Haitian Sensation” will have a massive six-inch reach advantage and his craftiness to seamlessly mix striking and grappling, coupled with Rodriguez’s suspect takedown defence, should see him win a decision.
Chase Sherman (1.76) v Josh Parisian (2.10) (Heavyweight)
Whenever brawlers on the outskirts of the heavyweight division like these two are paired up, the fight can go one of two ways. It’ll either be a drab affair that drags for the full 15 minutes or a quick finish.
Fortunately, these two are aggressive and evenly matched, so they’ll bring out the best in one another, which should lead to someone getting knocked out. Stats strengthen this call with Sherman (16-10) boasting a 94% knockout rate and Parisian (15-5) having an 85% finish rate (11 knockouts and two submissions).
The most important factors are that the former is lighter and faster on the feet and the latter has a bad habit of being reckless at times, so Sherman should be the one left standing.
Tagir Ulanbekov (1.46) v Nate Maness (2.85) (Flyweight)
This is a classic striker versus grappler tilt with a twist. Maness (14-2) is mainly a stand-up fighter with five knockouts while Ulanbekov (13-2) is a submission artist with six tapout wins.
The twist is that Maness is dropping down to flyweight for the first time. The move will give him a three-inch height and two-inch reach advantage but it’s always a gamble backing someone making their first big weight cut as it’s unclear just how significantly it’ll affect them.
Therefore, Ulanbekov is the wise option, especially as his camp knows Maness inside and out given his teammate Umar Nurmagomedov beat Maness in his last fight. “Mayhem” has never been submitted, so expect Ulanbekov to grind out a decision win.
Grant Dawson (1.46) v Mark Madsen (2.85) (Lightweight)
You rarely find an undefeated fighter as the underdog. Even more so if that fighter is an Olympic silver medallist in Greco-Roman wrestling.
So, why is Denmark juggernaut Madsen with his flawless 12-0 record the dog? His gas tank depletes at a rapid rate, which is a major red flag in this main card opener as Dawson is a big step up in competition and a jiu-jitsu wizard who’s won two-thirds of his fights (12) by submission.
That combination means Madsen will most likely not be able to lay and pray, with Dawson set to throw up one submission attempt after the other and thereby, not only threatening but also making Madsen work.
Undefeated in the UFC in his own right at 6-0-1 and with an excellent overall record of 18-1-1, Dawson’s grappling prowess, which extends to sweeps to get back to the feet, makes him the man who’ll hand “The Olympian” his first loss.