The poster child of Dana White’s Contender Series jumps way up class this Saturday (Feb. 10, 2024) when Joe Pyfer meets dangerous veteran, Jack Hermansson, inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ESPN+ broadcast also features a Featherweight showdown between eternal contenders Dan Ige vs. Andre Fili, as well as Middleweight power-puncher Robert Bryczek’s Octagon debut against Ihor Potieria.
UFC Vegas 86 features another hefty eight-strong “Prelims” undercard lineup, so let’s take a gander at the first batch …
170 lbs.: Max Griffin vs. Jeremiah Wells
Max Griffin (19-10) initially struggled to find his Octagon footing, dropping six of his first nine inside the cage. A solid three-fight win streak soon put him back in the mix, though he presently sits at 1-2 in his last three.
“Pain” sports two inches of height and reach on Jeremiah Wells (12-3-1).
Wells parlayed his CFFC title run into an Octagon opportunity, then hit the ground running with four straight wins. He looked poised to make it five against Carlston Harris, but succumbed to a comeback submission partway through the third round.
His nine professional finishes are split 5:4 between knockouts and submissions.
This really just boils down to horsepower for me. Wells is by all accounts physically stronger, heavier-handed, and the superior wrestler. Even if Griffin has sharper striking technique, the same was true of most of Wells’ pre-Harris opponents and Wells still muscled his way to victory.
It’s far from a guaranteed win, of course; Griffin dropped four of his last five opponents and Matthew Semelsberger’s right hand sent Wells to the shadow realm at least once. Still, between Wells’ power, his willingness to grind things out if needed, and Griffin’s tendency to fall just short in his biggest fights, there’s too much going Wells’ way. He outslugs and outgrapples Griffin to a competitive decision.
Prediction: Wells via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Zac Pauga vs. Bogdan Guskov
Strong efforts in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 30 house made Zac Pauga (6-2) a prohibitive favorite at the Finale, but momentum failed to save him from a one-punch knockout loss to Mohammed Usman. Though he rebounded with a decision over Jordan Wright six months later, he fell right back below .500 thanks to Modestas Bukauskas.
He stands one inch shorter than Bogdan Guskov (14-3) at 6’2.”
Six months after scoring his second consecutive sub-minute finish, Guskov stepped up on short notice to battle veteran Volkan Oezdemir in Paris. Though a ballsy move, it proved an unsuccessful one, as “No Time” lived up to his nickname with a quick submission finish.
All 14 of his professional wins have come inside of two rounds, 12 of them via knockout.
Pauga isn’t going terribly far in the Octagon. Even in a cursed division like 205 pounds, decent athleticism and functional striking can only get you so far, especially when he’s already in his mid-30s.
They’re at least enough to carry him past Guskov, though. The only two times “Czarevitch” faced seasoned strikers, he got crushed by a former Welterweight in Vyacheslav Vasilevskiy and an inconsistent contender in Oezdemir. I’m not saying Pauga takes a great shot, but “The Ripper” is far more likely to land flush, especially since he has takedowns to fall back on. In short, Pauga bulldozes him in the first frame.
Prediction: Pauga via first round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Hyder Amil vs. Fernie Garcia
Strong runs in Bellator and Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) sent Hyder Amil (8-0) to Contender Series, where he squared off with Turkey’s Emrah Sonmez. Despite his opponent missing weight, “Hurricane” survived a rough start to take over down the stretch and claim both a decision and a contract.
Four of his five professional finishes have come via knockout.
Fernie Garcia (10-4) brought a four-fight win streak into Contender Series, where he scored his first professional knockout to claim a UFC contract. He’s still chasing his first Octagon win, having dropped three straight to Journey Newson, Brady Hiestand and Rinya Nakamura. He steps in for Melsik Baghdasaryan — who himself stepped in for Shayilan Nuerdanbieke — on a week’s notice.
Amil is a very fortunate man. Instead of fighting a power hitter like Baghdasaryan or Nuerdanbieke — who would have inflicted severe trauma — he gets an undersized (and very limited) Bantamweight. Garcia starts slow, which should give Amil plenty of time to build a lead with his hyper-aggressive style, and has neither the power nor the wrestling to exploit Amil’s awful defense.
“Hurricane” is too limited to make any sort of title run, but what he’s got is more than enough to carry him past Garcia. In the end, he banks at least two rounds on raw aggression.
Prediction: Amil via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Daniel Marcos vs. Aoriqileng
Daniel Marcos (15-0) followed his one-sided Contender Series victory with a beatdown of fellow series alum, Saimon Oliveira, in his UFC debut. He entered his subsequent bout with Davey Grant as the favorite, but wound up escaping with a split decision after three listless rounds.
He’s scored eight knockouts as a professional.
Aoriqileng (25-10) came desperately close to victory in his first two UFC bouts, but fell short after succumbing to third-round rallies. His subsequent move to 135 pounds quickly bore fruit, producing three wins in his next four fights.
Like Marcos, all of his professional finishes have come via knockout.
As someone who’s very fond of watching Aoriqileng Terminator-walk through incoming fire to melt opponents with volume, I don’t see great things in his future. It’s one thing to smash no-hopers like Cameron Else and Jay Perrin, but he’s consistently underperformed against above-average opponents. Though Marcos lacks the wrestling skills to exploit Aoriqileng’s biggest weakness, “The Mongolian Murder’s” knockout loss to Aiemann Zahabi suggests that he can’t take “Soncora’s” punches.
This really just boils down to whether Marcos can keep his foot on the gas and avoid a repeat of the Grant debacle. He’s in trouble if he gives Aoriqileng that sort of freedom to operate. I’ll be an optimist and say he dials in this time, flooring Aoriqileng before the latter can get a head of steam going.
Prediction: Marcos via first round technical knockout
Four more UFC Vegas 86 “Prelims” bouts remain to preview and predict, including the debut of blue-chip Lightweight prospect, Bolaji Oki. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 86 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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