All-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) knockout king, Derrick Lewis, looks to avoid the longest losing streak of his Octagon career this Saturday (Nov. 19, 2022) when he and fast-rising Serghei Spivac lock horns inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. One division down, Ion Cutelaba attempts to right the ship against Kennedy Nzechukwu, while unbeaten big man Waldo Cortes-Acosta makes his second appearance in three weeks opposite Chase Sherman.
UFC Vegas 65 features seven “Prelims” undercard bouts to get through before all that, though. No time to waste …
135 lbs.: Ricky Turcios vs. Kevin Natividad
Relentless aggression carried Ricky Turcios (11-3) all the way through The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 29 house, resulting in a Finale victory over teammate, Brady Hiestand. He entered his UFC debut as a significant favorite over Aiemann Zahabi, only to turn in one of the most bizarrely uninspiring performances en route to a decision loss.
He boasts a three-inch height advantage and a two-inch reach advantage.
Kevin Natividad (9-2) rode a five-fight win streak into his UFC debut, which saw him suffer a glove-grab-assisted knockout loss to Miles Johns. His next fight was even quicker, as Danaa Batgerel put him away just 50 seconds into the first round.
He fights for the first time in nearly 19 months.
Zahabi showed off a fairly simple blueprint for beating Turcios: stay mobile, pick away at him, and exploit the fact that he doesn’t have a jab or any other means to reliably close the distance. Unfortunately for Natividad, I’m not sure he’s built to execute that plan. He’s made his living as an aggressive power-puncher, which plays right into Turcios’ chaos-loving hands.
For all his faults, Turcios’ durability and cardio make him well-equipped to come out on top in the sort of slugfests Natividad prefers. Plus, while Natividad is a capable grappler, Turcios is remarkably difficult to hold down. Turcios outlasts Natividad to an entertaining decision win.
Prediction: Turcios via unanimous decision
115 lbs.: Vanessa Demopoulos vs. Maria Oliveira
Unfazed by a UFC debut loss to J.J. Aldrich — her third defeat in four fights — Vanessa Demopoulos (8-4) survived an early knockdown to submit Silvana Gomez Juarez midway through the first round. Next came Jinh Yu Frey, whom Demopoulos narrowly out-worked to claim a split decision victory.
She stands four inches shorter than Maria Oliveira (13-5) and gives up seven inches of reach.
Three years after falling to Marina Rodriguez on Contender Series, Oliveira started her UFC career with a defeat at the hands of Tabatha Ricci. Her sophomore effort pitted her against Gloria De Paula, whom “Spider Girl” battled to a controversial split decision win.
She’s knocked out seven opponents as a professional.
Skilled as she is on the mat, Demopoulos isn’t hugely difficult to work around. She’s a very poor wrestler and extremely straightforward with her striking, which consists largely of her remarkably sharp right hand. Luckily for her, she’ll have no shortage of opportunities to generate scrambles against Oliveira, a limited slugger who just loves rushing in straight lines. With Oliveira’s fondness for flying knees and tendency to march forward with no regard for protecting her hips, it seems inevitable that Demopooulos will eventually get it to the mat.
Oliveira could just bludgeon her into oblivion, of course, especially if Demopoulos is as reticent to wrestle as she was in past efforts. That nice double-leg Demopoulos landed against Frey gives me some hope, though, and durability has never been an issue for her. She’ll catch Oliveira at some point.
Prediction: Demopoulos via second round submission
135 lbs.: Fernie Garcia vs. Brady Hiestand
Fernie Garcia (10-2) quite literally punched his UFC ticket with a brutal knockout of Joshua Weems on Contender Series that extended his win streak to five. He wasn’t quite so effective against Journey Newson, who handed Garcia his first loss in three years via unanimous decision.
He’ll enjoy a four-inch reach advantage.
Brady Hiestand (5-2) worked his way into TUF 29 finals by toppling veterans Josh Rettinghouse and Vince Murdock. He squared off with teammate Ricky Turcios in both men’s Octagon debuts, ultimately emerging on the wrong end of a split decision defeat.
This marks his first appearance in almost 14 months.
Garcia’s struggles with Newson don’t paint a pretty picture of his chances here. He seemed progressively more befuddled by Newson’s rudimentary striking offense and had few answers for his wrestling. Hiestand is a quality takedown artist in his own right, and even if you give Garcia’s combination punching the edge on the feet, wrestling is a hell of an equalizer.
The biggest concern here is Hiestand’s cardio, which has betrayed him in the past, but I’m optimistic that he learned something from the Turcios fight. It’s not a massive deal if he didn’t, either, since Garcia lacks the power for a late rally. Hiestand overwhelms him on the mat for his first Octagon victory.
Prediction: Hiestand via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Natalia Silva vs. Tereza Bleda
Natalia Silva (13-5-1) signed with UFC as the Jungle Fight champion, only to spend the next 2.5 years on the sidelines. She made up for lost time in her June 2022 debut, a clinical dissection of Contender Series grad Jasmine Jasudavicius in Austin.
Her 10 professional stoppage wins include seven by submission.
The 20-year-old Tereza Bleda (6-0) was perfect (6-0) as an amateur before cutting a swath through the Oktagon promotion in her native Czech Republic. Her efforts earned her a Contender Series berth, which she made the most of by dominating Nayara Maia to secure a UFC contract.
She’ll have five inches of height and six inches of reach on Silva.
Bleda is an enormously promising young woman who’s improving at a startling rate, but she’s getting thrown right into the fire here. Silva seems custom-built to exploit the flat-footedness, shaky defense, and vulnerability to kicks that make up Bleda’s key weaknesses. As suffocating as Bleda’s grappling can be, she needs to overcome Silva’s superior footwork and rapid-fire strikes to use it, and I’m not convinced she’s developed enough to pull it off.
To be clear, Bleda’s high-speed evolution could easily have patched enough holes in her game to give her the win here. After seeing Silva take apart a similar sort of fighter in Jasudavicius, however, it seems much likelier that Silva takes her apart with kicks and rapid-fire punching flurries for either a wide decision or late stoppage.
Prediction: Silva via unanimous decision
Three more UFC Vegas 65 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a potential donnybrook between Zhalgas Zhumagulov and Charles Johnson. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 65 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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