UFC Vegas 52 predictions

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Jessica Andrade has done it all.

She’s been a champion at strawweight, a No. 1 contender at flyweight (she is currently No. 2 at 125 pounds in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings), one of the most active and successful women in MMA history, and now possibly the highest level of gatekeeper depending on how Saturday’s UFC Vegas 52 main event goes. Andrade meets Amanda Lemos in the UFC APEX headliner and if she can stop Lemos’ five-fight win streak, we could see “Bate Estaca” in another title fight soon and maybe even a trilogy bout with Rose Namajunas.

The good news for Lemos — currently No. 9 at 115 pounds — is that she’s arguably closer to a championship opportunity than her opponent, given that she would be a fresh challenger compared to the always entertaining but familiar Andrade. Since losing her UFC debut, Lemos has been on a tear with three first-round finishes in her past five fights. Her most recent outing saw her eke out a controversial decision win over veteran Angela Hill, a result that quieted some of the hype around Lemos. An impressive performance against Andrade will go a long way towards reminding everyone what the fuss was about.

In other main card action, legendary lightweight Clay Guida fights the streaking Claudio Puelles, young flyweights Maycee Barber and Montana De La Rosa face off, undefeated heavyweight Alexandr Romanov fights last-minute replacement Chase Sherman, and Lando Vannata meets Charles Jourdain in a featherweight opener that has Fight of the Night written all over it.

What: UFC Vegas 52

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, April 23. The seven-fight preliminary card begins on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by a five-fight main card on ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.

Amanda Lemos vs. Jessica Andrade

Amanda Lemos better have learned from her first stiff test in the UFC because if she hasn’t this is going to be a bad night for her.

There’s no shame in not being able to run through Angela Hill, but it was the first time in Lemos’ win streak that her weaknesses were prevalent: she has holes in her defense, she’s susceptible to pressure and volume, and she might be too reliant on power punching. That latter factor isn’t much of an issues since it’s helped her win plenty of fights; however, the other two points need to be addressed and if she tries to go power for power against Jessica Andrade, that’s not a good idea either.

There’s a reason that Andrade is second only Amanda Nunes when it comes to the most finishes by a woman in UFC history: she’s an absolute tank who is underrated when it comes to skills on the feet and on the mat. Add in her big fight experience and you can see why the diminutive Andrade is a problem for Lemos.

Reach will help Lemos a lot. If she’s patient, she can emulate some of the success that Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas have had in the past, though I wouldn’t put her striking at their level just yet. She does have more pop in her punches than either of those champions, I just really don’t like the idea of her trading punches with Andrade. At some point I think she will though and that’s when she gets dropped. Even if Lemos survives that, once the fight starts to go downhill for her, it will keep going in that direction.

Andrade by convincing decision.

Pick: Andrade

Clay Guida vs. Claudio Puelles

Age ain’t nothing but a number. But almost 60 pro fights and 19 years in the game are pretty significant numbers!

When Clay Guida made his pro debut in 2003, Claudio Puelles was seven years old. “The Carpenter” has wrestling shoes older than Puelles. By the time Puelles made his octagon debut, Guida was 23 fights into his UFC career. Guida has been around a lot longer than Puelles is what I’m saying.

There’s a big enough gap in athleticism here that I feel comfortable picking Puelles. Guida’s famed gas tank is as deep as ever and he’s a threat to drown any opponent if they’re not judicious with their energy expenditure, but Puelles should get up on the scorecards early by setting the tone with takedowns and ground work. Even the normally unflappable Guida is going to find himself frustrated dealing with the aggressive Puelles.

Plenty of fun scrambles are likely to ensue and Puelles’ composure will also be tested. This is his first chance to make a statement against a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and I expect the 26-year-old to be at his best as he approaches his prime. As long as his cardio is on point, Puelles will find a submission in the second round.

Pick: Puelles

Maycee Barber vs. Montana De La Rosa

Maycee Barber continues to be one of the flyweight division’s most polarizing talents as she clearly has the athleticism and work ethic to be a contender, there are just questions surrounding her ability to put those gifts to proper use when the bell rings. Her past three performances have been uninspiring and now she has to deal with a fellow 20-something in Montana De La Rosa.

I like what I’ve seen from Barber at times as far as knowing how to get a fight where she wants it to go, she just doesn’t always know what to do with it when she gets there, if that makes sense. For example, if she wants to fight from range, then she has actually figure out how to score from distance; if she wants to be a pressure fighter, then she needs to be more accurate with her strikes. Plenty of fans have jumped off the bandwagon, but there’s still a ton of potential there for Barber, who doesn’t turn 24 for another month.

De La Rosa is still a growing prospect herself despite her wealth of UFC experience. She’s often overlooked, probably because she’s more the soft-spoken type, but she’s a legitimate threat to finish anyone on the ground and she’s made significant improvements in her striking. This is just smart matchmaking as both fighters should learn a lot from what I expect to be a 15-minute fight and neither should be too hurt by a loss.

As much as I respect De La Rosa’s versatility, Barber should keep this one on the feet and consistently land the harder shots. She definitely can’t be as indecisive as she was in her fight against Miranda Maverick. De La Rosa is going to take the fight to her, whether Barber is ready or not.

It’s going to be a fun one and a close one, but Barber sneaks by on the scorecards again.

Pick: Barber

Alexandr Romanov vs. Chase Sherman

Before we talk about Alexandr Romanov vs. Chase Sherman, we have to talk about my favorite kind of matchup: the mutant matchup.

No, that’s not a statement about either fighter’s physical attributes, but rather it describes the phenomenon of when an originally scheduled fight becomes another fight entirely after both participants drop out. So this heavyweight spot once belonged to Tanner Boser and Rodrigo Nascimento, but Nascimento withdrew and was replaced by Romanov, and later Boser withdrew and was replaced by Sherman. So we have two guys fighting on short-notice for no real reason. I love it!

Anyway, I don’t expect this one to last long. Romanov is one of the brightest prospects in the division and Sherman is a survivor who was just released from the UFC only for the promotion to find that it needed his services once more. All the power in the world to Sherman, who has everything to gain and nothing to lose, but he’s going to lose.

Romanov clinches, gets this to the ground, and submits Sherman in the first.

Pick: Romanov

Lando Vannata vs. Charles Jourdain

If you’ve read this far, you might notice that I’m feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about this main card (the prelims, not so much). You can tell the matchmakers put real consideration into making sensible matchups here (Romanov vs. Sherman excluded, that one is just a happy accident) and nowhere is that more evident than in throwing Lando Vannata and Charles Jourdain into the octagon together.

Sure, both guys have struggled with stringing together wins and yeah, neither is fighting for a title anytime soon, but you know what I say to that? Title, shmitle (that sounded a lot better in my head).

Sometimes you just want to pick out two exciting fighters from anywhere in the 170- to 125-pound range and have them throw hellfire at each other for 15 minutes. That’s what’s going to happen when Vannata and Jourdain fight. Both guys are technically gifted fighters with diverse arsenals, but when it comes time to throw down, neither will shy away from it.

Jourdain has the slight edge in my eyes. He’s quicker, which will make the difference here, though I see Vannata’s submission skills possibly playing a role as well. This fight could go all over the place and I imagine the pre-fight predictions are just as scattered.

Here’s a neat fact: Whoever wins on Saturday will have their first UFC win streak. I think Jordain gets it done after a wicked three-round scrap.

Pick: Jourdain

Preliminaries

Jordan Wright def. Marc-Andre Barriault

Sergey Khandozhko def. Dwight Grant

Tyson Pedro def. Ike Villanueva

Cameron Else def. Aoriqileng

Evan Elder def. Preston Parsons

Marcin Prachnio def. Philipe Lins

Dean Barry def. Mike Jackson

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