Song Yadong is straight-up scary when he has his mitts up and just starts stalking his target. Rather than utilize his plus-athleticism to initiate a high-volume attack, he picks his spots, loads up those power punches, and lands big shots at timely moments. He’s a huge test for Ricky Simon, who has bounced back superbly following back-to-back losses to Rob Font and Urijah Faber.
Quinlan might be one of the strongest guys at 170 pounds, with muscles that aren’t just for show as he has cracked some chins in his brief career. He likes to stay compact and tight, so defense will be important as he closes the gap to strike with Waters. Once he gets an advantage, he’ll have to be extra careful as Waters has a knack for snatching victory from defeat when his opponents least expect it.
Caio Borralho takes pride in being an all-rounder, but he’ll want to test Oleksiejczuk’s takedown defense here. Oleksiejczuk has smart submission defense, so Borralho may have to settle for control as he works to tire Oleksiejczuk out. Every second this fight spends on the feet is dangerous for Borralho.
Vieira certainly has some raw power in his hands, so there’s also the outside chance that this becomes a fun slopfest on the feet, which would suit Brundage just fine. I think Vieira takes him down though and shows off his jiu-jitsu wizardry for an early submission.
Song Yadong vs. Ricky Simon
Another important weapon for Simon are his leg kicks. While Song prepares to counter, Simon should chew up that lead leg until Song has to up the aggression, which could lead to mistakes. These are two elite bantamweights and victory might be decided by who makes the least errors.
Martin Buday def. Jake Collier
Hailey Cowan def. Jamey-Lyn Horth
Cody Durden def. Charles Johnson
Caio Borralho vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Journey Newson def. Marcus McGhee
For anyone unfamiliar with Fernando Padilla, it’s going to be quite a sight when he’s standing across his fellow beanpole featherweight Julian Erosa on fight night. Padilla and Erosa are both listed at 6-foot-1, something you’ll notice right away when you see this gaggle of limbs tangle.
It’s a strategy that’s worked well for Cortes-Acosta so far. He’s put a heavy emphasis on beating heavyweights to the punch and while he seems to be lacking that one-shot finishing power you like to see in a contender, he’s been able to drown some of his foes with volume. I think he finds his first UFC finish here.
Following the unfortunate cancellation of the originally scheduled headliner between Arman Tsarukyan and Renato Moicano, Song and Simon — currently No. 12 and No. 14 respectively in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — were bumped from this past weekend’s UFC Vegas 71 main event to Saturday’s UFC Vegas 72 main event. It’s an opportunity for the promising bantamweight contenders to establish where they stand in the pecking order, even if neither is guaranteed anything close to a title shot anytime soon given the cluster of established names at the top of the division.
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Cody Brundage
Song has shown a few cracks in his defenses, which is why I’m leaning towards Simon by decision, but this is a fight where a few well-timed strikes from Song could swing the rounds in his favor.
In other main card action, Caio Borralho finds himself in another co-main event when he takes on Michal Oleksiejczuk in a middleweight bout, grappling ace Rodolfo Vieira fights Cody Brundage, featherweight veteran Julian Erosa welcomes Fury FC champion Fernando Padilla to the octagon, heavyweights Marcos Rogerio de Lima and Waldo Cortes-Acosta collide, and Josh Quinlan takes on short-notice welterweight replacement Trey Waters.
Stephanie Egger def. Irina Alekseeva
Julian Erosa vs. Fernando Padilla
When: Saturday, April 29. The five-fight preliminary card begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and ESPN2, followed by a six-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and ESPN2.
The middleweight version of Michal Oleksiejczuk has been enjoyable to watch as he seems to have retained much of his light heavyweight power while adding some serious speed. His striking was never in question and there’s few 185ers who should want to stay on the feet with him.
Song Yadong and Ricky Simon weren’t supposed to be in a main event this month, but you better believe that they’re ready for the opportunity.
Marcos Rogerio de Lima is at his best when he’s letting his hands go, so let’s hope we see the more freewheeling “Pezão” when he steps into the cage with Waldo Cortes-Acosta. He won’t have much of a choice as Cortes-Acosta is likely to take “a walk and throw first, think later” approach to this contest.
Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. Waldo Cortes-Acosta
What: UFC Vegas 72
Waters is a massive welterweight, standing 6-foot-5 and utilizing every inch of that frame to load up long-distance attacks. His emphasis is on quick strikes and accuracy, which makes him a dangerous puzzle to solve, especially if Quinlan hasn’t had proper time to scout him. Where Waters typically faces trouble is dealing with pressure and that’s something Quinlan should bring early.
I’ve probably underrated Simon’s athleticism as I see Song as having the edge there, but Simon is quick. He utilizes his speed well too, using plenty of feints and jukes to keep his opponents guessing. I’d like to see Simon make liberal use of his wrestling and not bank on winning a brawl with Song.
That’s contingent on de Lima meeting Cortes-Acosta’s pace, which I’m optimistic will happen as he looks to add another fast finish to his highlight reel. Cortes-Acosta has the agility to avoid early trouble and fire back for a knockout in Round 2.
Josh Quinlan vs. Trey Waters
There’s definitely something special about Padilla, a 26-year-old prospect who fights with plenty of flair and a mean streak to boot. But in these situations I lean towards experience, so Erosa’s long list of notable opponents gives him the advantage. If Padilla can get past Erosa in his UFC debut, I will be thoroughly impressed.
The matchmakers did a good job finding a new opponent for Josh Quinlan, signing Trey Waters fresh off of an LFA title win just two weeks ago. What we have now is a welterweight pairing that presents a clash of styles and size.
For now, there are too many holes in Waters’ game for me to confidently pick him here, so look for Quinlan to rock him and finish with either ground-and-pound or a rear-naked choke.
If you’re Cody Brundage, you’ve been doing nothing but drilling sprawl-and-brawl since this matchup was announced. He doesn’t have bad submission defense at all, but he cannot risk fighting on the ground with Rodolfo Vieira. Simply put, Vieira might be the most dangerous submission artist in the middleweight division.
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
The talented Brazilian has been finding ways to win against tough competition, but I think he may hit a wall here against Oleksiejczuk if the grappling doesn’t pan out.
Song recently had a chance to crack the top 10 when he faced Cory Sandhagen this past September. The bloody battle didn’t go Song’s way, but if he can stop the streaking Simon, the matchmakers will line him up against another marquee name sooner rather than later. For Simon, this is his chance to prove that his past five wins aren’t just a run of great form, but proof that he can one day compete for a world title.
Wherever this fight goes, it will be intriguing, with both fighters employing unorthodox movement in the standup and both knowing how to use their long limbs when the fight goes to the ground. Somewhere in this chaos there will be a finish, so give me Erosa catching Padilla with a surprising strike in close that puts Padilla down and stops from going to the scorecards for the first time.
The blueprint is there for a Brundage upset. We’ve seen Vieira gas out and we’ve seen him frustrated by a combination of strong striking and firm takedown defense. As important as it is to keep this on the feet, it’s just as important for Vieira to put Brundage on his back if he hopes to have any chance of a finish.
Oleksiejczuk by knockout as long as he can stifle Borralho’s jiu-jitsu game.