Some of the finest under-the-radar Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) grapplers get 25 minutes to show their stuff this Saturday (June 25, 2022) when Arman Tsarukyan puts his five-fight win streak on the line against Polish ace Mateusz Gamrot. UFC Vegas 57, which will take place inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also get to see undefeated Shavkat Rakhmonov chase a signature victory at Neil Magny’s expense and Thiago Moises look to right the ship against Christos Giagos.
Three more UFC Vegas 57 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to be examined (check out the first batch here), so enough beating around the bush …
205 lbs.: Carlos Ulberg vs. Tafon Nchukwi
City Kickboxing’s Carlos Ulberg (4-1) impressed on Contender Series with a vicious one-punch finish of Bruno Oliveira, but wound up on the wrong end of an equally brutal knockout in his “Fight of the Night” Octagon debut opposite Kennedy Nzechukwu. Then came 11 months on the sidelines, followed by a comfortable decision victory over Fabio Cherant in Houston.
He’ll enjoy four inches of height on Tafon Nchukwi (6-2), though their reaches are identical.
“Da Don” punched his ticket to the Octagon with a head kick knockout of Al Matavao on Contender Series, then cruised past Jamie Pickett for his first UFC victory. He’s 1-3 since, a win over Mike Rodriguez sandwiched between losses to Jun Yong Park and Azamat Murzakanov.
Four of his six wins have come by knockout, each inside of two rounds.
Both of these guys have a lot to prove. Ulberg was successful, but agonizingly dull, against Cherant, who didn’t bother to throw more than three punches per minute, while Nchukwi choked against a gassed Murzakanov. Based on their recent performances, a stand up fight absolutely favors Ulberg. Nchukwi’s just so darn slow that I don’t see him chasing down Ulberg as the latter backs straight up or catching him with a quick counter like Cherant did.
Nchukwi’s secret weapon is his wrestling, especially since nobody’s tested Ulberg’s takedown defense so far. That would require him to actually get his hands on Ulberg, though, which the aforementioned speed discrepancy makes rather difficult. In the end, expect another stinker as Ulberg runs circles around Nchukwi for 15 minutes.
Prediction: Ulberg via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Shayilan Nuerdanbieke vs. TJ Brown
A 7-1 run on the Chinese circuit brought Shayilan Nuerdanbieke (37-1) to UFC, where he fell to fast-rising Josh Culibao in his promotional debut. He looked poised for a second straight defeat against Sean Soriano, but leaned on his wrestling to overcome an early deficit and claim a unanimous decision win.
All told, 28 of his 37 professional victories have come inside the distance, 18 via form of knockout.
T.J. Brown (16-8) initially struggled to find his footing in the Octagon, suffering a comeback submission loss to Jordan Griffin and a leg-mangling decision loss to Danny Chavez. He’s gone on to even his UFC record at 2-2 with a narrow decision over Kai Kamaka III and a wider one over Charles Rosa.
“Downtown” stands one inch taller than Shayilan and sports a three-inch reach advantage.
You’ve got to feel for Brown. That’s because all the talent, skill and versatility in the world is shackled to a body made of splintered toothpicks. Luckily, Shayilan doesn’t have the tools to exploit Brown’s lack of durability, being more of a takedown-or-bust sort of fighter who plays right into the wrestling-savvy and scramble-happy hands of Brown. That’s assuming that Brown even wants to grapple with him, as his length and clear edge in striking technique make this a wash on the feet.
Shayilan’s only chance outside of the proverbial puncher’s is to try and grind him out. However, considering how much trouble he had trying to take down Culibao and how long it took him to get his wrestling going against a truly abysmal grappler in Soriano, I don’t see it. In short, Brown pieces him up for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Brown via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Raulian Paiva vs. Sergey Morozov
Getting bounced from the Flyweight division after multiple failed weight cuts didn’t slow down Raulian Paiva (21-4), as he narrowly edged out Kyler Phillips in his UFC Bantamweight debut. He wasn’t quite so fortunate against Sean O’Malley, who battered Paiva in Dec. 2021 to snap the Brazilian’s three-fight win streak.
He boasts two inches of height and 2.5 inches of reach on Sergey Morozov (17-5).
Morozov — the former M-1 Bantamweight champion — put his UFC debut loss to Umar Nurmagomedov behind him to cruise past Khalid Taha. He dominated early in his subsequent bout with Douglas Silva de Andrade, only to succumb to a second-round club-and-sub.
His professional finishes are split 8/3 between knockouts and submissions.
I get that he can’t make the 126-pound limit anymore, but even acknowledging that Paiva just faced a pair of absolute killers back to back, his ceiling at Bantamweight is significantly lower than at Flyweight. A big part of that is his lackadaisical striking defense; though he could power through incoming fire against smaller men, Phillips and O’Malley had his brain pin-balling around the inside of his skull on multiple occasions.
Against a surprisingly capable boxer in Morozov, that’s more than a slight issue. The ground game already favors Morozov, and the huge amount of damage Paiva’s taken of late means I can’t trust him to dominate on the feet, either. Morozov could get clipped, as he did against “D’Silva,” but I like his power and wrestling to carry him to either an early finish or competitive decision.
Prediction: Morozov via unanimous decision
UFC Vegas 57’s main event is a banger and a half, and you don’t even need an ESPN+ subscription to enjoy it. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2022: 86-43
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 57 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.
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