Two top Heavyweights look to bounce back from defeat this Saturday (June 4, 2022) when Alexander Volkov meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik atop UFC Vegas 56 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ESPN+-streamed card will also see Dan Ige look to halt the rise of unbeaten Movsar Evloev, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Mike Trizano welcome fellow banger Lucas Almeida to the Octagon, and Poliana Botelho take on Karine Silva at Flyweight.
UFC Vegas 56 features eight “Prelims” undercard bouts to get through before all that, though. So, let’s get started …
135 lbs.: Johnny Munoz Jr. vs. Tony Gravely
The UFC debut for Johnny Munoz Jr. (11-1) pitted him against Nate Maness, who survived “Kid Kvenbo’s” grappling onslaught to hand him his first-ever defeat. Jamey Simmons wasn’t so lucky, succumbing to Munoz’s rear-naked choke midway through the second round.
All nine of his stoppage wins have come within two rounds.
A one-sided rout of Ray Rodriguez on Contender Series capped off a seven-fight win streak for Tony Gravely (22-7), punching his ticket to the Octagon proper. He’s since gone 3-2, including a decision over fellow Contender Series alum Saimon Oliveira in his most recent effort.
He stands four inches shorter than Munoz and gives up two inches of reach.
This is another fight where Gravely will have to walk a tightrope. He’s by far the better boxer and wrestler of the two, but Munoz’s submission game is lethal enough that he only needs one opening to ruin Gravely’s day.
After watching the Oliveira fight, though, I think Gravely can manage. His cardio held up nicely after failing him in the past and he managed to completely neutralize a very dangerous ground game, which bodes well for his chances here. Between his experience and his aforementioned technical advantages, he’s got the tools to control the stand up and sneak in the occasional takedown en route to victory.
Prediction: Gravely via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Jeff Molina vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Jeff Molina (10-2) kicked off his UFC career in dramatic fashion, as he successfully out-warred Aoriqileng to claim “Fight of the Night” at UFC 261. He was even more successful against Daniel da Silva, whom he knocked out early in the second to secure his ninth consecutive win.
“El Jefe” has secured five submissions and three knockouts during his five years as a professional.
Reeling from consecutive losses to Raulian Paiva and Amir Albazi, Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-6) finally entered UFC’s win column with a vicious guillotine finish of Jerome Rivera. The win earned him a crack at Manel Kape, who wound up handing Zhumagulov his first stoppage loss since 2015.
“Zhako” gives up two inches of height and 2.5 inches of reach to Molina.
You really have to feel for Zhumagulov. That’s because he deserved the win against Paiva and the other losses came against some of the best prospects the division has to offer. Maybe that’s swaying my thinking, but I actually really like his chances here. Molina’s on the wrong end of a speed discrepancy, is the lesser wrestler on paper, and has struggled with aggressive opponents in the past. Zhumagulov has a lot more depth to his striking than Aoriqileng and has the gas tank to maintain his offense late, so I can definitely see him finding greater success against Molina.
The two big areas of concern are the younger Molina’s improvement and Zhumagulov’s confidence, which may be a bit shaky after getting leveled by Kape. Still, Zhumagulov’s output and relentless forward motion should let him punish Molina’s slow start and hold his own once Molina finds his footing.
Prediction: Zhumagulov via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Andreas Michailidis
Rinat Fakhretdinov (20-2) rode a 13-fight win streak into Lookin’ for a Fight, where he got the chance to face TUF and UFC veteran Eric Spicely in front of Dana White. It’s fair to say “Gladiator” made the most of it, sparking out Spicely cold with a right hand just 55 seconds into the first round.
This marks his first appearance in more than 16 months.
Andreas Michailidis (13-5) put his unsuccessful Octagon debut behind him with a unanimous decision win over K.B. Bhullar. Then came kickboxing legend Alex Pereira, who floored “The Spartan” with a vicious flying knee after spending much of the first round on his back.
His 11 finishes include six (technical) knockouts.
I don’t see Fakhredtinov having a particularly lengthy stint in the Octagon. Despite what the Spicely knockout would have you believe, he’s an incredibly passive grappler who built his record almost exclusively on bottom-of-the-barrel opposition. Luckily for him, Michailidis has most of the same issues, but less stopping power and cardio to compensate.
The only way Michailidis wins this is if the cut to 170 pounds turns him into a completely new fighter, and seeing as he’s already 33 and fighting out of a relatively poor camp, that’s not happening. In short, Fakhretdinov scores regular takedowns and grinds his way to 30-27s across the board.
Prediction: Fakhretdinov via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Erin Blanchfield vs. J.J. Aldrich
Erin Blanchfield (8-1) lived up to her nickname by mauling Contender Series veteran, Sarah Alpar, in her Octagon debut. The next bout for “Cold Blooded” pitted her against fellow prospect, Miranda Maverick, who similarly struggled to handle Blanchfield’s grappling.
She boasts two knockout wins and one submission as a professional.
TUF 23 veteran, J.J. Aldrich, started her UFC career 4-3 before embarking on her current three-fight win streak. The most recent of those wins came over castmate Gillian Robertson, whom Aldrich out-classed on her way to a wide unanimous decision.
She stands one inch taller than Blanchfield and will enjoy a 1.5-inch reach advantage.
I’ve been guilty of underestimating Aldrich in the past. She’s improved considerably throughout her UFC tenure and deserves to be recognized as a genuine threat at 125 pounds.
But man, Blanchfield is something special. Her combination of volume striking, quality wrestling and a lethal top game have turned her into a contender after just two UFC fights. Though Aldrich managed to keep it standing against a very capable takedown artist in Robertson, Blanchfield is both more aggressive than Robertson and much more capable on the feet, meaning she’ll have more success setting up her shots. In the end, expect another strong performance as she holds her own in the standup before dragging Aldrich to the mat and mauling her en route to a wide decision.
Prediction: Blanchfield via unanimous decision
Four more UFC Vegas 56 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a quality Lightweight battle pitting Joe Solecki against Alex da Silva. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 56 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN+) at 4 p.m. ET.
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