UFC Las Vegas 34 on Saturday offers fight enthusiasts a 14-fight slate packed with underrated matchups between athletes ranging from 135 pounds (women's bantamweight) to 265 pounds (men’s heavyweight) with everything sprinkled in between.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the last UFC event, when we handicapped Michael Chiesa to enter the cage and offer us his best performance. Instead, Chiesa folded and was submitted in the first round by Vicente Luque. I strive to uncover fighters prepared to offer their absolute best effort, and while I’ve had success many times with that approach, sometimes it takes the form of a terrible performance. Both Chiesa and I need to come back stronger, more focused and better prepared.
Insight the Octagon 2021: 19-14 + 7.68 units
JARED CANNONIER -160 VS. KELVIN GASTELUM + 140
Middleweight (185 pounds) Main Event
Gastelum, the ninth-ranked middleweight and an Arizona native, is the prototypical “Don’t judge the book by the cover” fighter. Physically, he appears more plumber than power puncher, so it’s important NOT to measure Gastelum’s game by how he looks. He’s a wrestling-based southpaw with formidable boxing skills and a black belt in 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.
One of Gastelum’s biggest challenges in this fight is to prove to himself and the MMA world that despite losing four of his last five bouts, the former middleweight challenger still has the skills and desire to compete with the division’s elite. Gastelum will enter the octagon desperate for a win, which makes him extremely dangerous.
Another hurdle he must overcome is how he approaches this bout. Gastelum is undersized as a middleweight as he is unable to make the welterweight 170-pound limit. In fact, on occasion he has even struggled to make the 185-pound middleweight limit. This reflects on his conditioning and ethic behind the scenes and during camp.
If Gastelum is to employ his wrestling in this fight, he’ll need to arrive fit because wrestling takes a tremendous toll on one’s cardio. Honestly, I question whether Gastelum has three rounds of wrestling in him let alone five, based on past performances and current form.
What Gastelum will want to encourage in the smaller cage at the APEX is a fight that takes place in the pocket as his best path to victory is to engage any willing opponent for a throwdown. This is when he is his most dangerous.
Cannonier, who trains at the MMALab in Phoenix, is ranked third in the division. He started his career as a heavyweight, shifted to light heavyweight and now has found a home at middleweight. He has fared quite well in this weight class and enters this bout off a championship loss to title holder Robert Whittaker, in which he broke his arm early and lost a unanimous decision.
Cannonier’s explosiveness, power and striking are precision based and destructive at middleweight, and he’ll hold advantages in athleticism and footwork, which is the key to this bout. What most overlook is Cannonier’s underrated BJJ/wrestling/ground game, something he’s been grinding on tirelessly in the gym in preparation for this bout. I don’t believe Gastelum will be able to take Cannonier down and keep him down, which will allow most of this fight to take place standing.
Cannonier has been cracked by much larger men than Gastelum, and while Gastelum’s strikes pack power, it’s nothing the larger, longer, switch-stance Cannonier has not seen. Cannonier will choose to remain at distance while not engaging Gastelum “in the pocket” as he is aware that’s his opponent’s sole path to victory.
Gastelum may try to gain advantage over Cannonier by getting this bout to the mat. But it’s my judgment that he’ll not have success, and the energy he uses will sap his cardio, leaving him potentially exposed in the later rounds.
Gastelum will need to strike with Cannonier, and in order to accomplish that, he’ll have to overcome disadvantages in height, length, size, speed and movement.
In a striking battle, Gastelum will be most dangerous early and from inside position. Should he experiment with takedown attempts, he’ll learn quickly that he is facing a fighter with the mental discipline to commit to and execute a plan, and that plan involves keeping this fight upright and at distance.
Cannonier opened -200 for this bout.
Cannonier -160 leg one open parlay to be filled on a later card.
Total for this fight: 4.5 rounds Under -115
MARK O. MADSEN -160 VS. CLAY GUIDA + 140
Lightweight (155 pounds) co-Main Event
Two wrestling-based fighters about to square off in a UFC co-Main Event? Odd, certainly, and most novice fight fans will run to the refrigerator when these two begin to clasp onto one another and grope, grovel and strain for 15 full minutes.
Guida, 39, has a huge advantage in experience, and his cardio and energy remain somewhat intact, but his striking is unrefined and in this bout he’s the much smaller combatant, which is important in any wrestling competition.
Madsen is an Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling. He is inexperienced, going 2-0 in the UFC, and he’ll be giving away some striking ability to Guida, which is difficult to comprehend. That said, Madsen switched camps to train at Phoenix’s Fight Ready, a gym specializing in providing striking acumen to wrestling-based fighters so he’ll be prepared to strike only long enough to get to his forte — grappling.
Madsen will control Guida with his size, especially when this fight falls to the floor … .and it will. In Madsen’s previous UFC bouts, he has shown the ability to tire later in fights, but I expect great improvement out of him in fight pace as he is a fresh, improving fighter despite his 36 years.
Can the cagey, game Guida keep this fight standing early when his striking may help him ward off the unrelenting Madsen or will Madsen be able to clasp on to Guida, toss him to the dirt for a grapple and control the veteran from top position for 15 minutes?
Madsen opened -125, lean Madsen pending weigh-ins
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over 220
WILLIAM KNIGHT -200 VS. FABIO CHERANT + 180
Light heavyweight (205 pounds)
Knight is a sawed-off shotgun who prefers to walk opponents down, then stand and trade in toe-to-toe fashion. At 5-foot-10, he’s short, compact and has profuse striking power in each hand. Knight’s purpose is to touch his opponent on the chin, put him to sleep, then collect a check.
Cherant took his debut fight on short notice against a downright assassin in Alonzo Menifield. While he was submitted in the first round, he did show that he was tough and willing. Cherant is seven years younger than Knight, has a three-inch height advantage, a three-inch reach advantage and is a southpaw. Cherant has the striking and power to be able to compete with Knight more competitively than the current line indicates.
Cherant + 180
This line is compressing, so take it now.
Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -145