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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Don’t let the matchmaking machinations of Dana White fool you, there’s still plenty at stake at Saturday’s event.

Yes, the next light heavyweight title bout does appear to be set as current champion Jan Blachowicz is expected to meet middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in a superfight that is now being negotiated. That news leaves Thiago Santos and Glover Teixeira in the cold as it once appeared that their UFC Vegas 13 main event clash was certain to determine the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds.

Now the best the two veterans can hope for is to keep their spot, with Teixeira riding an impressive four-fight win streak and Santos returning from injury for the first time since July of last year when he came one judges’ scorecard away from defeating Jon Jones. Perhaps a dominant performance or a highlight-reel finish will push one of them back into pole position, especially if the Blachowicz-Adesanya matchup fails to materialize for whatever reason, but at the very least we should be in for an entertaining scrap between the Brazilian stars.

Speaking of holding on to a spot, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski makes his 33rd octagon appearance when he meets Tanner Boser in the evening’s co-main event. Boser would have been 13 years old when Arlovski won a UFC title, and now he can add the veteran’s name to his list as he looks to make a run to the top-10. A few months shy of his 42nd birthday, Arlovski has to prove once more that the next generation of heavyweights isn’t going to use him as a stepping stone.

In other main card action, bantamweight Raoni Barcelos looks to go 5-0 in the UFC when he takes on Khalid Taha, Ian Heinisch and Brendan Allen meet in a middleweight bout that guarantees action, and one-time strawweight title contender Claudia Gadelha looks to hand Yan Xiaonan her first UFC loss.

What: UFC Vegas 13

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, Nov. 7. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+, with the five-fight main card starting at 10 p.m. on ESPN+ and ESPN2.

Thiago Santos vs. Glover Teixeira

Glover Teixeira has had issues with speedy, athletic opponents in the past, which is why Thiago Santos is a logical pick here. Even facing stronger, heavier competition at 205 pounds, there are few fighters that can deal with Santos’ standup for 25 minutes. That includes Jon Jones, who was pushed to the limit by Santos in a close kickboxing duel.

There are a few factors that have me leaning towards Teixeira though. One, he’s the better all-around fighter, with a strong jiu-jitsu game to compliment his potent knockout power. Unlike Jones, he’s more likely to use all of his tools to combat “Marreta.” Teixeira is way past the point in his career where he feels compelled to prove something. He just wants to win.

Secondly, the athleticism gap between the two has to be reduced somewhat by the injuries that Santos is coming back from. He tore pretty much everything in his left leg and partially tore a ligament in his right leg in the Jones fight and while you can assume he’s done everything in his power to rehab and return to full strength, he has limits. Santos is human and he’s almost 37. He might get out to a fast start, but if it comes down to tactics and skill set, Teixeira has him beat.

So don’t get knocked out in the first round would be my advice for Teixeira. High-level coaching, I know. The opening will be there to take Santos to the ground as the fight progresses and from there, Teixeira will wear him down en route to a submission victory.

Pick: Teixeira

Andrei Arlovski vs. Tanner Boser

Andrei Arlovski has a way of dragging opponents into mucky fights, so his matchup with the mobile and shifty Boser will make for a style clash. Weighing in at just a shade over 232 pounds on Friday, Boser seems like a candidate to potentially drop to light heavyweight given his speed and tactics.

For now, he should be happy to dance with the biggest boys, especially an aged one like Arlovski. As skilled and tough as Arlovski still is, he lost the ability to consistently pull the trigger a long time ago. There’s a chance that he frustrates and outpoints Boser. It’s even more likely that Boser makes the most of a feeling-out process and figures out how to penetrate Arlovski’s defenses.

Arlovski hasn’t beaten an athlete like Boser in a while. I don’t see that changing this weekend. Boser can attack from some unorthodox angles and eventually he’s going to catch Arlovski and put him down.

Pick: Boser

Raoni Barcelos vs. Khalid Taha

Raoni Barcelos isn’t doing himself any favors with this comeback booking. The Brazilian standout is understandably eager to get back into action after the coronavirus pandemic caused an event to be canceled wherein he was supposed to fight Cody Stamann, and as it is he’s had to wait almost a whole year to extend his eight-fight winning streak.

In Khalid Taha, he’s facing a dangerous slugger with good size at 135 pounds. He has a slight arm reach advantage over Barcelos despite Barcelos measuring two inches taller than him. Those minor details could be important as most of this fight should be a standup affair. Barcelos is an agile and springy kickboxer, but Taha has speed to compliment his raw power as well. He’s always hunting for a finish and Barcelos will have to be at the top of his game to outwork Taha. That’s a tall order after such a long layoff.

The x-factor here is Barcelos’ grappling, which on paper should be superior to Taha’s. Barcelos prefers kickboxing though, so it remains to be seen how much he decides to mix it up. Taha is a live dog, for sure, but I’ll go with Barcelos to fight a smart fight and win on points.

Pick: Barcelos

Ian Heinisch vs. Brendan Allen

What a middleweight matchup between two potential top-10 contenders with high motors and aggressive attitudes. The old adage of “be first” will be key here.

There’s a reason that this is a pick ‘em on most betting sites as it’s not easy to separate these two when you consider what they bring to the table. Heinisch has the advantage in wrestling, but Allen is better in jiu-jitsu. Heinisch looks to have more power behind his punches, but Allen is a high-volume striker who will make the most out of his five-inch reach advantage. I love the explosiveness of Heinisch, but I also love Allen’s ability to win ugly.

America, I cannot lie. I have no feel for this one whatsoever. My gut says Heinisch doesn’t have quite enough offensive juice to put Allen away early and it’s the younger Allen who comes on strong in the later rounds.

Allen by decision in what should be a great fight.

Pick: Allen

Claudia Gadelha vs. Yan Xiaonan

Why this fight is not the co-main event is a mystery. Claudia Gadelha and Yan Xiaonan are both worthy of challenging strawweight champion Zhang Weili in the future with another win and it’s a shame that they’re not being showcased more.

There’s nothing fancy about what Yan wants to do. She strikes at a fast pace, looking to constantly pressure, and she’s going to want to keep this action on the feet for the entire fight. Her ground game hasn’t truly been tested at the UFC level and against a Brazilian jiu-jitsu beast like Gadelha, I’m not convinced she can hang with her on the mat for any prolonged period of time.

Gadelha has some pop in her hands, but she won’t want to trade with Yan for three rounds. Her gas tank has betrayed her on occasion and the way that Yan scraps, it will drain fast. Gadelha has shown plenty of maturity as her career has progressed. We’ll see just how much when she deals with an opponent like Yan who is going to be right in her face from the first minute.

There’s such a nasty side to Yan, I have to favor here here. I think she controls the distance enough to make Gadelha have to work for her takedowns and then pulls away on the cards in rounds two and three.

Pick: Yan


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