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UFC 256: Dos Santos v Gane
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Remember what we said last week about the heavyweight roster having to wait and see what happens with Stipe Miocic, Francis Ngannou, and Jon Jones? Unfortunately, that’s still the case this week and the reality facing UFC Vegas 20 headliners Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane.

For the first time in ages, the heavyweight division feels like it has a fresh set of contenders and potentially future champions (just look at last Saturday’s winners Chris Daukaus, Tom Aspinall, and Serghei Spivac). But there’s a logjam at the top that needs to be resolved and until it does, the UFC’s heaviest weight class is going to continue moving at a glacial pace.

Derrick Lewis’ knockout of Curtis Blaydes didn’t clear up the situation much and there’s no way to tell how much closer Rozenstruik or Gane get to a title shot with a win. The good thing for the fans is none of that matters because we get to watch two of the UFC’s most intriguing heavyweight contenders throw down in what could be a more tactical battle than expected.

In the co-main event, rising light heavyweight contender Magomed Ankalaev brings a 6-1 UFC record into his matchup with his toughest opponent yet, veteran finisher Nikita Krylov. Ankalaev is poised to claim a top-10 spot, but Krylov has faced the better competition in the UFC so far and has experience on his side.

Elsewhere on the main card, Montana De La Rosa meets Mayra Bueno Silva in a duel of flyweight submission specialists, bantamweight contenders Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera clash for a second time, always-busy strawweight Angela Hill looks to get her 2021 campaign off on the right foot when she rematches Ashley Yoder, and featherweight veteran Alex Caceres looks to hold off the unpredictable Kevin Croom.

What: UFC Vegas 20

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, Feb. 27. The four-fight preliminary card begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+, with the six-fight main card starting at 8 p.m. ET also on ESPN+.

Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Ciryl Gane

In terms of striking, Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane are definitely more of the tactical persuasion than the brawl-for-all type so (gulp!) there is some Lewis-Ngannou potential here. I don’t mean to put that evil on this matchup, I just want to warn people that this might not provide the kind of instant satisfaction you hope to see in a heavyweight headliner.

Neither Rozenstruik nor Gane are the type to just blitz, relying more on the aggression of their opponents to create openings for counters. When those openings reveal themselves though, watch out. Rozenstruik is an accurate striker with deceptive hand speed, while Gane is one of the most athletic heavyweights in the world. Either man could easily end the fight with a single blow.

It’s the athleticism of Gane that has me picking him to not just win this fight, but to be a future champion. “Bon Gamin” just moves with a fluidity you don’t see north of 185 pounds and he has great instincts that make up for his lack of in-cage experience. He’ll have to be at his most evasive to deal with Rozenstruik’s kickboxing expertise.

This fight might take a while to ramp up, but I still expect to see a big KO, and it’s Gane who will deliver it in the second or third round.

Pick: Gane

Nikita Krylov vs. Magomed Ankalaev

How do you gauge the threat level of Nikita Krylov? The book on him is well-read at this point. He’s the ultimate glass cannon, having gone to a decision twice in 33 fights, though they were both in his two most recent outings. We could be seeing a wiser, more methodical “Miner.”

Still, the poor wrestling defense of Johnny Walker that Krylov exploited in March will not be present in his matchup with Magomed Ankalaev. Ankalaev is a powerful grappler and it’s more likely that he puts Krylov on his back than the other way around. I favor him on the feet as well, both for his technical ability and potential to end the fight early.

You can never count out Krylov, of course. He has a nose for chokes and if Ankalaev is careless on the feet, it could just as easily be Krylov who puts Ankalaev down for the count with kick or knee upside the head. This is a classic “don’t blink” matchup.

I like Ankalev to control the action early and land a finishing blow sometime before the third round.

Pick: Ankalaev

Montana De La Rosa vs. Mayra Bueno Silva

This one will come down to who is the better grappler and that’s Mayra Bueno Silva.

Montana De La Rosa keeps making advances in the standup and her ground game is strong, she’s just not on the level of Silva when it comes to jiu-jitsu. There’s the option of sprawling-and-brawling as well for De La Rosa as she brings a solid wrestling background to her fights, but I’m not even sure that’s the right path to take. Silva has an effective muay Thai attack and she could take advantage of De La Rosa’s striking defense deficiencies.

Outside of De La Rosa grounding Silva for three rounds, I don’t see where De La Rosa beats her. “Sheetara” by submission or decision.

Pick: Silva

Pedro Munhoz vs. Jimmie Rivera

Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera are better fighters than they were when they fought over five years ago, so we can’t assume that the bout will unfold in the same way. That said, it was Rivera who won on points the first time around and his style is tailor-made for defusing dangerous fighters like Munhoz.

We know what a killer Munhoz can be when he gets going. He’s blessed with a vise-like guillotine choke (which Rivera managed to evade in their first fight) and the kind of punching power that makes him a threat to finish anyone at 135 pounds. That’s in contrast to Rivera’s skill set, which revolves more around frustrating his opponents and winning on points.

Somehow, I predict that Munhoz gets the job done this time. I’m factoring in the smaller cage at UFC APEX, which will give Rivera just a little less wiggle room to work with. If Munhoz doesn’t have to work as hard to close the distance and do damage, he gets the edge this time.

Pick: Munhoz

Angela Hill vs. Ashley Yoder

Unlike Munhoz vs. Rivera, I’m expecting Angela Hill vs. Ashley Yoder to go much like the first meeting. As fun as Yoder’s aggressive grappling can be to watch, she’s not strong enough in that area to impose her will on Hill. And even with better standup than before, it’s still Hill’s game to lose on the feet.

It’s hard not to look at this as a stay busy fight for Hill, who along with Yoder signed a UFC Vegas 20 fight agreement barely a week ago. Hill wants to get back in the win column after a pair of tough split decision losses, Yoder wants to avenge the loss from their first meeting and steal a spot in the top-15. The motivation is there for both fighters, but Hill’s experience with a higher caliber of opponents carries her to a win here.

If Hill can hang with the likes of Michelle Waterson and Claudia Gadelha, then a sharp performance should be more than enough to deal with Yoder.

Pick: Hill

Alex Caceres vs. Kevin Croom

Kevin Croom is going to surprise everyone again.

“Crash” f.k.a. “The Hard Hitting Hillbilly” played the spoiler in his first UFC fight against Roosevelt Roberts, sniping him with an overhand punch before snagging a guillotine choke for the win. That was no fluke. Croom accumulated plenty of pro experience prior to his UFC debut and that matters when you’re paired up with a fighter who has seen it all like Alex Caceres.

Twenty-four fights into his UFC career, Caceres finds himself on a rare winning streak. He’s always been mature beyond his years and that has manifested itself in a tangible way in his recent performances as he’s outclassed his past three opponents, whose combined octagon experience pales in comparison to that of Caceres.

My worry for Caceres is that he can’t match the ferocity of Croom, a proven finisher that is going to make things uncomfortable for Caceres and fast. On paper, Caceres has all the tools needed to keep Croom from getting his offense off, but there’s an urgency that Croom fights with that I think makes the difference here.

Look for Croom to implement a wrestling-heavy game plan here and eventually tap out Caceres.

Pick: Croom


Alexander Hernandez def. Thiago Moises

Alexis Davis def. Sabina Mazo

Ronnie Lawrence def. Vince Cachero

Dustin Jacoby def. Maxim Grishin

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