One of the key differences between mixed martial arts and stick-and-ball sports is that there is no offseason. In that spirit, the UFC keeps on rolling with another fight card this Saturday with UFC Fight Night: Holm vs. Vieira. In the main event, former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm returns to action after an extended layoff. The layoff comes on the heels of illness and injury, as Holm dealt with hydronephrosis, followed by a knee injury that forced her out of a bout with Aspen Ladd in Oct. 2021. Ketlen Vieira will look to make it back-to-back wins over former champions, as she enters this fight after defeating Miesha Tate in her last outing. With an emphatic victory over Holm, Vieira will find herself on the short list for the next person to challenge for the bantamweight title, which Julianna Pena will attempt to defend against former champ Amanda Nunes after the conclusion of The Ultimate Fighter 30.
In the co-main event, welterweights will meet as Santiago Ponzinibbio clashes with Michel Pereira. Ponzinibbio enters the contest after dropping a split decision to Geoff Neal, a bout where both hard-hitting fighters employed a rather cautious game plan in order to avoid the fight-changing power of their opponent. On the other side of the cage, Michel Pereira will try to make it five straight wins and pick up the biggest win of his career.
The event will take place Saturday, May 21, inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nev. The preliminary card kicks off at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+, where the action will stay for the main card at 7 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
It has been almost two years since Holly Holm stepped into the Octagon; does she extend her win streak to three with a victory over Ketlen Vieira?
Sumian: The UFC has made it abundantly clear that they hold Holly Holm in high regard. The former UFC women’s bantamweight champion is generally one or two wins away from earning a title shot at any given time, due to her combat sports accomplishments and undeniable popularity. If she hopes to fight for a title in her 40’s, a win over Ketlen Vieira, who is coming off a dominant victory over Miesha Tate, is certainly necessary.
Holm is coming off back-to-back victories over top-ranked contenders Irene Aldana and Raquel Pennington. Three in a row would likely put her next in line for a title shot, especially if Pena successfully defends her title against Nunes in their highly anticipated rematch.
Vieira burst onto the UFC bantamweight scene by compiling a 4-0 record in her first four fights. Since then, she has traded wins and losses and compiled a 2-2 record. She is coming off the most high-profile victory of her career, which resulted in a dominant unanimous-decision victory over former UFC bantamweight champion Tate. A win over the second-ranked Holm would likely put her next in line to challenge for the women’s bantamweight strap.
This is without a doubt a title eliminator bout between two of the top-ranked women in the bantamweight division. Both combatants will utilize unique game plans that favor their strengths once they meet in the cage. If Vieira and her coaches are smart, their game plan should involve utilizing Vieira’s prolific judo and grappling to get Holm to the ground as soon as possible. Holm will look to do the exact opposite and use her kickboxing to continuously push Vieira, using her front and side kicks while circling around the cage. Both women are extremely tough to finish and are able to go the distance. Holm will enjoy a two-inch reach advantage, as well as a cardio advantage, but will be in worlds of trouble if Vieira is able to get her to the ground.
Expect this bout to go all five rounds and, in all likelihood, end in a split decision. Each woman will showcase her skills, as Holm wins a pair of rounds using her stand up, while Vieira secures a takedown here and there and is able to maintain top control. When all is said and done, Holm will get the nod and quietly wait in the background to see how the Pena-Nunes rematch plays out.
Petela: The outcome of this fight largely depends on what version of Holly Holm that we see. If she is in peak form, it will likely be a unanimous-decision victory for her as she darts in and out to pick apart Vieira from bell-to-bell. The big question is how close to peak condition Holm is in, as she enters this bout. Not only has it been over 18 months since she stepped foot in the cage, she is also 40 years old and has dealt with a plethora of injuries over recent years.
Fortunately for Holm, she isn’t facing a devastating striker as she takes on Ketlen Vieira. Unfortunately for Holm, she is taking on a huge submission threat. Not that Holm isn’t competent on the mat – she certainly has made many improvements over her career – but she is not on the level of Vieira. Ultimately, Holly Holm will be just half a step slower than we are used to seeing her and that is the only opening that Vieira will need to secure a body-lock takedown from the clinch as she grabs onto Holm as the former champion enters with an extended combination.
Once Vieira gets the fight in her world, the differences in skill level will be wildly apparent. She will pass through Holm’s guard easily, and threaten submissions, before forcing Holm to give up her back and eventually tapping to a rear-naked choke before the end of the opening round. This fight will be the end of the road for Holm as a title contender in the bantamweight division that she once reigned over.
Michel Pereira takes a big step-up in competition this weekend as he takes on Santiago Ponzinibbio; does the flashy striker stake his claim as a legitimate welterweight contender?
Petela: No. Michel Pereira is going to end up on the wrong end of Santiago Ponzinibbio’s highlight reel. There is something to be said about the evolution of Pereira’s fighting style. He has toned down some of his wild antics just a tad that has allowed him to have more success in the cage. He has won four straight since his disqualification loss to Diego Sanchez, and each time has shown that his cardio is much improved since his awful debut loss to Tristan Connelly, where he missed weight before gassing out and losing a unanimous decision to a fighter who took the fight on short notice and moved up a weight class.
This is a fight where Pereira will find himself substantially less skilled than his opponent. He will be getting touched up early and often by Ponzinibbio. Once Pereira has taken a good bit of damage, the game plan will go out the window, and he will find himself resorting to his roots as half dancer, half fighter. On a wild entry, Pereira will have a defensive lapse and eat a fight-ending right hand from his Argentinian foe that halts all his momentum in a flash.
Sumian: Agreed with my colleague. While Pereira is the embodiment of exciting and flashy – to a fault – Ponzinibbio is undoubtedly the more skilled, technical and experienced fighter. Those flashy kicks and jumps won’t work on a veteran like Ponzinibbio, who consistently competes against above-average competition. The Argentinian will win a decisive unanimous-decision victory and move on to better things in his next UFC appearance.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: This is Holly Holm’s last hoorah as a UFC bantamweight contender. If she suffers a clear loss to Vieira, it is hard to imagine the 40-year-old former champion getting another crack at the bantamweight belt. Holm needs two things to happen. She needs to win on Saturday and pray that Pena is able to beat Nunes again. If both of these things happen, there is no doubt in the world that Holm will be fighting for gold in the next 365 days.
Petela: Sam Hughes. Granted, she comes into this fight against Elise Reed on the heels of a victory over Istela Nunes, but, prior to that, she lost her first three UFC contests. If she struggles against Reed, it is quite possible that the UFC will see little reason to keep her in the promotion, as her record inside the organization falls to 1-4.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Frankly, this fight card doesn’t really get the blood pumping. There is a significant lack of star power, but this event is the quintessential definition of a run-of-the-mill card. There won’t be a bunch of flashy finishes or bouts with nonstop action, but one to keep an eye on is the featherweight fight between Chase Hooper and Felipe Colares. Hooper has shown that he is one heck of a submission grappler, but if he can’t get the fight into his world, he’s a fish out of water. He hasn’t fought in nearly a year, so this fight will tell if he has taken the time to make the requisite changes in his game to climb the ladder towards contendership.
Sumian: Eryk Anders and Jun Yong Park should provide fight fans with one of the more entertaining fights of the night. Both are established finishers and have been part of entertaining fights in the past. These two should deliver an entertaining back-and-forth brawl.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Jailton Almedia will finish the surging Parker Porter by submission. Porter is on a three-fight winning streak, but has been finished five times in his career. The Brazilian should get it done in impressive fashion and earn himself some bonus money.
Petela: Chidi Njokuani. It will be difficult for “Bang Bang” to improve upon his UFC debut, where he picked up a 16-second knockout win over Marc-Andre Barriault. While he won’t exactly replicate that dynamic finish, he will score another first-round knockout this weekend over Dusko Todorovic. This is just the beginning of a very successful UFC run for Njokuani, who is hitting his stride as a fighter just in time to coincide with joining the promotion.
Pair this card with…
Petela: New batteries in your remote. There are going to be long stretches where this card doesn’t provide the level of entertainment UFC fans are used to week-in and week-out. So make sure you have the remote handy, so you can flip back-and-forth to Top Rank boxing, which has a sneaky interesting fight card on Saturday that is headlined with a bout between Janibek Alimkhanuly and Danny Dignum for the vacant WBO interim middleweight world title.
Sumian: Recycling. Despite Julianna Pena shaking up the UFC women’s bantamweight division with her surprising victory over Amanda Nunes, the division is stale and uneventful. The same contenders are constantly being recycled over the years with no new notables that are capable of exciting fight fans. The victor of Holm and Vieira will become the new top contender for the winner of Pena and Nunes. This division is in desperate need of new blood.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Holly Holm vs. Ketlen Vieira
WW: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Michel Pereira
MW: Chidi Njokuani vs. Dusko Todorovic
HW: Jailton Almeida vs. Parker Porter
MW: Eryk Anders vs. Jun Yong Park
MW: Joseph Holmes vs. Alen Amedovski
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 ET)
Women’s StrawW: Polyana Viana vs. Tabatha Ricci
LW: Omar Antonio Morales Ferrer vs. Uros Medic
BW: Jonathan Martinez vs. Vince Morales
FW: Chase Hooper vs. Felipe Colares
Women’s StrawW: Elise Reed vs. Sam Hughes
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