Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns later tonight (Sat., May 14, 2022) to stage UFC Vegas 54 from inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. Headlining the event will be a Light Heavyweight bout between former division champion, Jan Blachowicz, taking on top contender, Aleksandar Rakic. In the co-main event, Ion Cutelaba battles Ryan Spann, also in the 205-pound division.
Jan Blachowicz’s Cinderella run came to an abrupt end after he ran into the resurgent Glover Teixeira at UFC 267, losing to “Hands of Stone” via second-round submission (see it again here). In the process, Blachowicz coughed up his Light Heavyweight strap. Now, the Polish bomber will attempt to get back into a title fight by eliminating top-ranked contender, Aleksandar Rakic. Since making his UFC debut in 2017, Rakic has really made his presence felt, going 6-1 with his lone loss coming at the hands of a former title contender, Volkan Oezdemir, via a razor-thin split-decision. Ranked No. 3 at the moment, “Rocket” could very well earn himself a shot at the strap with a win over Blachowicz.
Both men love to stand-and-bang and have the knockout power to sleep anyone standing in front of them. Of course, Blachowicz may have the power advantage but Rakic is accomplished with his hands and mixes his kicks in much better than his foe. The grappling advantage also goes to Blachowicz, who has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, though he’s only managed to secure two submission wins during his UFC run, while Rakic has two his entire MMA career. All that said, Rakic is a bit more fluent with his striking and has better foot movement, which he will need to utilize if he wants to avoid the Polish bombs that will be coming his way all night. It’s a great fight between two top 205-pounders who are eagerly hoping to fight for the strap with a win.
Truth be told, for a “Fight Night” event there isn’t much to complain about. The Blachowicz vs Rakic fight could very well co-headline a PPV event and the matchmakers did well in surrounding it with a lot of intriguing fights on both the main card and the undercard. It’s a breath of fresh air to have an ESPN+-streamed event that isn’t watered down.
Original Card vs Actual Card:
A fight between Miesha Tate and Lauren Murphy was moved from this event to UFC 276, while a fight between Daniel Pineda and Jamall Emmers was scrapped from the card for unknown reasons.
No injuries were reported for this event.
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
Viviane Araujo had her momentum slowed a bit after she lost to Katlyn Chookagian a year ago, and now she is back ready to pick some of it up as she battles Andrea Lee, winner of two straight. With Araujo ranked No. 8 and Lee at No. 9, the winner could very well make a great case to crack the Top 5.
Angela Hill is as game as they come, willing to take on anyone at any time, regardless if it’s short notice. All of that aside, she hasn’t picked up many wins over the last few years, managing just a 1-4 record including two-straight loses. Attempting to get back on track will be no easy task when she takes on Virna Jandiroba who is also coming off a loss at the hands of Amanda Ribas and is just 1-2 over her last three fights. Still, Jandiroba is a tough out despite her recent woes.
Nate Diaz protege Nick Maximov will kick things off when he battles Andre Petroski in Middleweight action. Maximov won his first two fights with the promotion with wins over Cody Brundage and Punahele Soriano, and will now attempt to go for three straight and up his undefeated win streak to 9-0. Standing in his way is a man who is also perfect inside the Octagon at 2-0. It’s a big test for Maximov to prove he has what it takes to hang with the likes of Khamzat Chimaev.
We will discuss the rest of the undercard action in the section that follows.
Undefeated (8-0) British brawler Jake Hadley will make his highly-anticipated UFC debut when he battles Allan Nascimento in men’s Flyweight action. Hadley earned his spot on the UFC roster with an impressive win on the Contender Series in Oct. 2021, and now the former Cage Warriors 125-pound champion will look to parlay his early success on the big stage. As for Nascimento, he is in search of his first UFC win after coming up short in his own debut at UFC 267, losing to Tagir Ulanbekov via split-decision.
Another Contender Series alum, Manuel Torres, will bring his three-fight win streak into the Octagon with him as he takes on Frank Camacho. Torres has 11 finishes in 12 wins, so he gets after it and he gets the job done, He is as aggressive as they come, which will make him a fan favorite from the jump. As for Camacho, he has had a rough go in his UFC career, losing two straight, four of his last five, and five of seven overall.
Carlos Candelario and fellow UFC rookie, Tatsuro Taira — who has yet to taste defeat in his professional MMA career (10-0) — will finally make their debuts after their bout scheduled for UFC Vegas 53 was postponed and moved here. Taira, the former Shooto champion, is one of the best signings UFC has scored in awhile, further bolstering the Flyweight division by adding an undefeated champion who has eight finishes in 10 wins, six in the opening frame. Candelario, meanwhile, came up short in his fight on the Contender Series, but still managed to score an invite to the promotion after starting off his career at 8-0.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Once considered a legit title contender coming out of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Michael Johnson didn’t quite live up to expectations. He did pick up a few impressive wins along the way, defeating the likes of Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier, but he never quite built up the momentum he needed to get to a title shot. Since 2016, things have gone downhill in a hurry for “The Menace.” Currently riding a four-fight losing streak, Johnson is a paltry 2-7 over the last six years, leaving him in a must-win situation coming into his undercard fight against Alan Patrick, who is 0-2-1 in his last three fights.
Interest Level: 7.5/10
All in all it’s a great lineup headlined but what is more than likely a title eliminator fight between Blachowicz and Rakic. In the co-main event, two other 205-pounders will attempt to gain some ground in the division as Ion Cutelaba battles Ryan Spann.
After starting off his UFC career with four straight wins, Spann has hit a bit of a wall by going just 1-2 with losses to top contenders Anthony Smith and Johnny Walker. “Superman” has nasty knockout power, which is what he will need to stay in the game against someone like Cutelaba, who is nicknamed “The Hulk” for a reason. Cutelaba is one of the more intense fighters in the division, and he backs it up inside the cage, too. He’s faced off against current division king, Glover Teixeira, losing via rear-naked choke, and top Middleweight contender, Jared Cannonier. That shows that he is battle-tested and his fight against Spann should be a barn-burner.
In the Bantamweight division, Davey Grant and Louis Smolka will throw down in what should be an entertaining scrap between two fighters hungry for a win. Grant seems to be most in need of a victory after dropping his last two at the hands of Marlon Vera and Adrian Yanez. That said, Grant did defeat Vera in 2016, though he’s only managed a 4-5 record during his time with the promotion. As for Smolka, he is 2-3 over his last five fights and is coming off a a tough knockout loss at the hands of Vince Morales. In fact, his last three defeats have all come by way of stoppage in the very first round, so he is susceptible to being stopped.
In one of the more intriguing fights of the night, Amanda Ribas will go back to Flyweight to take on No. 1 ranked, Katlyn Chookagian. Ribas is 5-1 inside the Octagon, picking up huge wins over Mackenzie Dern, Paige VanZant and Virna Jandiroba. She is a quiet killer with a bubbly attitude that has the potential to reach the top. In Chookagian, she will face another stiff test. Indeed, Chookagian came up short in her bid to dethrone Valentina Shevchenko, though she is well on her way to earning another shot if she can collect her fourth straight win.
Enjoy the fights!
UFC Vegas 54 Main Event On ESPN2/ESPN+:
205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
UFC Vegas 54 Main Card Prelims On ESPN2/ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
205 lbs.: Ion Cutelaba vs. Ryan Spann
135 lbs.: Davey Grant vs. Louis Smolka
125 lbs.: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas
155 lbs.: Frank Camacho vs. Manuel Torres
125 lbs.: Jake Hadley vs. Allan Nascimento
UFC Vegas 54 Prelims Card On ESPN2/ESPN+ (7:30 p.m. ET):
125 lbs.: Viviane Araujo vs. Andrea Lee
155 lbs.: Michael Johnson vs. Alan Patrick
115 lbs.: Angela Hill vs. Virna Jandiroba
125 lbs.: Carlos Candelario vs. Tatsuro Taira
185 lbs.: Nick Maximov vs. Andre Petroski
*Fight card, bout order and number of fights remain subject to change due to COVID-19.*
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 54 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN2/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.
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