The future is now as rising lightweight juggernauts Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot collide in the main event of UFC Vegas 57 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-headliner at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas features another rising star in undefeated welterweight Shavkat Rakhmonov, who faces his litmus test in the form of 10th-ranked Neil Magny.
Heavyweights Josh Parisian and Alan Baudot hunt a much-needed win, Thiago Moises takes on Christos Giagos at lightweight, Nathan Maness and Umar Nurmagomedov battle at bantamweight and Chris Curtis clashes with Rodolfo Vieira at middleweight.
Be sure not to miss the prelims as South African star JP Buys will showcase his skills in a crunch flyweight fight against Cody Durden.
MAIN CARD (from 4 AM Sunday SA time):
Arman Tsarukyan (1.32) v Mateusz Gamrot (3.35) (Lightweight)
While not two of the most recognised names yet, casual fans shouldn’t sleep on this five-round main event as the headliners are two of the fastest-rising and promise-filled contenders in the lightweight division. Ranked 11th and 12th, Tsarukyan (18-2) and Gamrot (20-1) are both on a tear and have the potential to become champion one day.
Tsarukyan has put together a five-fight win streak, most recently scoring back-to-back finishes of Christos Giagos and Joel Alvarez, while his American Top Team teammate has finished his last three foes, the most recent being a TKO of Diego Ferreira in December.
They are incredibly similar and evenly matched. Both have seven knockouts and five wins by submission and as well-rounded as they are, their shared biggest strength is their grappling, making for a fascinating, high-stakes fight that ought to be a pick ‘em.
You really have to look for fine details and know what stats to shine a spotlight on to discover small advantages either way. Having done that, four factors have emerged that give Tsarukyan the edge over the former two-division KSW champion.
When it comes to grappling, Tsarukyan’s top control is exceptional. He nails his opponent to the mat to hammer home his dominance and has vicious ground and pound, which was on full display when he bludgeoned Alvarez last time out. Gamrot scores more takedowns, but that also means his foes are able to work their way back up.
Gamrot has a versatile jiu-jitsu game that Tsarukyan will have to be wary of. He’s picked up finishes with heel hooks, key locks, guillotines and most recently submitting veteran Jeremy Stephens via kimura and if he is to pull off the win, it’ll most likely be with a flash tap-out technique. I don’t see it happening, though.
Often when elite grapplers face off, the fight primarily turns into a stand-up battle and while I expect a few takedowns and scrambles, I do believe it’ll come down to striking. The noticeable difference between the two on the feet is the number of significant strikes they absorb per minute, with “Gamer” (2.69) enduring almost double the amount of blows Tsarukyan (1.36) allows his opponents to get off.
Secondly, Tsarukyan has a more diverse arsenal, which along with a two-inch reach advantage, should see him rack up more points to ultimately come away with a decision win.
Neil Magny (4.10) v Shavkat Rakhmonov (1.23) (Welterweight)
Almost a decade into his UFC career, Magny (26-8) is still a sleeper and a big underdog in this co-headliner despite being five places above Rakhmonov in the rankings in 10th position.
That’s because the veteran is solid rather than spectacular. His ability to mix everything together makes him a tricky rather than dangerous test. On a two-fight win streak, his last six fights all went the distance and he has the most decision wins in UFC welterweight history (12), one of them coming over former champion Robbie Lawler in 2020.
Rakhmonov is the polar opposite. A killer out of Kazakhstan, he’s undefeated with 15 wins and 15 finishes. Eight are by knockout, including his most recent win over Carlston Harris in February, and seven by submission. What’s more, nine of his stoppages came in the first round.
As crafty as 34-year-old Magny is, he’s been stopped by a number of young and dynamic fighters, which is exactly what “Nomad” is. Exceptionally explosive, I expect the 27-year-old to overcome the wiliness of and stop “The Haitian Sensation.”
Josh Parisian (2.00) v Alan Baudot (1.83) (Heavyweight)
Desperation will drive these heavyweights as the loser may well get a pink slip. Strikers who seized titles in smaller promotions, success has been hard to come by for both behemoths in the UFC.
Parisian (14-5) picked up a win over Roque Martinez in between losses, while Baudot (8-3-1NC) is yet to break his duck after three visits to the Octagon.
As they’re very evenly matched, Parisian’s a good underdog pick. He’s shown more promise inside the Octagon and with his greater experience, I see him getting his hand raised by TKO or decision.
Thiago Moises (1.36) v Christos Giagos (3.05) (Lightweight)
Also seeking to get back on track, these are two talented lightweight grapplers. Both men have hit a bit of a ceiling when coming up against elite competition and have been paired up to see who can tap into and turn potential into a winning run.
Moises (15-6) most notably came up short against fourth-ranked Islam Makhachev, the most feared force in the division, in his first main event last July, while Giagos (19-9) lost to current top dog Charles Oliveira back in 2018 and headliner Tsarukyan last time out.
Moises has shown he’s capable of more, his high-profile wins over Michael Johnson and Bobby Green highlighting this, and he’s on a different level than “The Spartan” on the mat, so the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt should secure a submission win.
Nathan Maness (7.00) v Umar Nurmagomedov (1.10) (Bantamweight)
Despite being a bright bantamweight prospect with a stellar 14-1 record and three-fight unbeaten run inside the Octagon, well-rounded Maness is being written off as a massive 7.00 underdog.
That’s because he’s set to cross paths with the cousin of former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The 26-year-old is a mauling wrestler much like “The Eagle” and has lived up to the hype with submission wins in his two UFC fights to move to a perfect 14-0.
Bank on Nurmagomedov to steamroll and tap out Maness.
Chris Curtis (1.71) v Rodolfo Vieira (2.15) (Middleweight)
A fascinating fight to jump-start the main card, Curtis (28-8) is a knockout artist while Vieira (8-1) is a multi-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion.
Curtis caught fire and lived up to his “Action Man” moniker last year, stringing together no less than six wins. That included hitting the ground running in the UFC with knockouts of Phil Hawes and Brendan Allen, both as a sizeable underdog.
Vieira is a submission magician who’s claimed all but one of his wins by tap out and has never been to a decision. He hasn’t fought since he rebounded from his first career loss with a submission win over Dustin Stoltzfus last July, so momentum is in Curtis’ corner.
There are two clear likely outcomes here – Curtis by knockout or Vieira by tap out, and the former’s staunch and strong enough to keep the fight standing and land the hammer blow. Having said that, I’m happy to take the safer outright bet.