After a light January, the UFC gets back to action with UFC Vegas 85 on home turf inside the Apex. Sitting atop the card is a clash of middleweights looking to make some noise in 2024 as Roman Dolidze squares off against Nassourdine Imavov.
Dolidze comes into this fight after being out of action since early 2023 when he lost a closely contested decision against Marvin Vettori. Despite coming up a bit short, Dolidze put his name on the map as someone who is ready to compete against the best the middleweight division has to offer. His opponent, Nassourdine Imavov, has been in the cage against some of the best in the world as he previously fought former undisputed champion Sean Strickland. Imavov has had some mixed results recently, going 3-2 with a no contest over his last six fights but has shown in each bout that he has the skills to match up against anyone in the weight class. The winner of this fight will have undoubtedly officially arrived as a legitimate contender at 185 lbs.
In the co-headliner, a pair of entertaining lightweights will face off against one another with Renato Moicano vs. Drew Dober. Moicano has won three of his last four fights and the lone loss came in a short notice catchweight contest against former division champion Rafael Dos Anjos. After defeating Brad Riddell in the first round of their fight, Moicano got on the microphone and called for big fights and that is exactly what he has against Dober. Dober is riding high as well, winning four of his last five and most recently stopping Ricky Glenn inside of a round. Each of Dober’s four most recent victories have come via knockout.
UFC Fight Night: Dolidze vs. Imavov takes place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Roman Dolidze and Nassourdine Imavov are both coming into this fight without a victory since 2022; which contender is able to recapture some momentum early in 2024?
Kuhl: I don’t think that many people would expect guys like No. 8 Roman Dolidze and No. 11 Nassourdine Imavov to be headlining a show at this point in their respective careers. Both came into the UFC with impressive records about three and a half years ago, and Dolidze is 6-2 in the Octagon, while Imavov is only 4-2-1. However, peeling the onion, their records are still pretty decent.
Dolidze’s last loss was to currently fifth-ranked Marvin Vettori, his first UFC loss was to Trevin Giles back in Mar. 2021, and both of those fights went the distance. But, he entered the Vettori fights after knocking out Kyle Daukaus, Phil Hawes and Jack Hermansson in consecutive fights. The Georgian athlete has a background in competitive grappling, and he has three submissions and seven knockouts in his pro career. He is willing to take the fight anywhere, and while he has a slightly higher takedown average than Imavov, his takedown defense is not great.
Imavov’s last fight was a no contest with Chris Curtis after an accidental clash of heads put Curtis out of the fight. Prior to that, he fought Sean Strickland on short notice at 205 pounds, and Strickland, who would go on to become the UFC middleweight champion, won by unanimous decision. His only other Octagon defeat was to the aforementioned Hawes by majority decision, but he followed that up with back-to-back knockouts of Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shabazyan. The Dagestani-Frenchman, who trains out of Paris’s MMA Factory, is very well-rounded, and Dolidze is likely going to be a slightly elusive opponent than Strickland or Curtis.
I mean, this fight is a total toss-up to me, so I’m leaning toward Dolidze’s grappling to get the job done. I think he will stand and trade for as long as he needs to, but I can see him getting this one to the mat and doing his damage there. I see this being a closely contested match, until Dolidze softens Imavov up enough to sneak in a submission in the latter half of the fight.
Petela: What scares me in this fight is the cardio of Nassourdine Imavov. He was gassing hard down the stretch in his fight against Joaquin Buckley. Imavov was leaps and bounds better than Buckley for the first ten minutes but the American took it to him in the third round and had the fight been a five-round contest I don’t think Imavov would have made it the distance. That will be his downfall in this fight against Dolidze.
Admittedly, Imavov has been preparing for a five-round fight so he should be better prepared to go twenty-five minutes but with the pressure and pace he keeps there is only so long a fighter can push that ferociously. With another high pressure fighter standing opposite of him, Imavov’s gas tank is going to be an issue. Dolidze will want to get the fight to the mat and even if he is not immediately successful his insistence on closing the distance will force Imavov to fight off his back foot, which is much more draining than moving forward as anyone who has ever tried to run backwards can attest. By the main event rounds it will be all Dolidze and he gets a fourth round TKO win by ground and pound against an absolutely exhausted Imavov.
Renato Moicano has been calling for a big money fight since his win over Brad Riddell in Nov. 2022; can he get by Drew Dober and insert himself into the picture as an elite lightweight?
Petela: The fight that impressed me the most from Renato Moicano was actually his loss to Rafael dos Anjos. That short notice performance was otherworldly in terms of toughness and not once in the fight did he stop trying to win. There were plenty of moments where Moicano could have resigned himself to losing a decision and just survived but he kept his foot on the gas throughout the entire fight.
I’ve stolen Jimmy Smith’s line before and I will gladly do it again and say that toughness without technique makes a beating more entertaining. In the RDA fight that was sort of the case, with Moicano stepping in on short notice he didn’t have a training camp to prepare for the bout. This weekend, he will be able to combine preparation and skill with his innate grit and put on a dazzling performance. He will bring the fight to Drew Dober and keep him on the back foot for the entirety of the fight, until a crisp combination in the third round crumbles Dober and gives Moicano another moment for a big sound bite in his post-fight interview.
Kuhl: While in my thoughts on the main event match-up being two guys lower in the rankings than we typically see in a headliner, the co-main event between No. 13 Renato Moicano and No. 15 Drew Dober is the real main event. The main reason why is that the lightweight division is much deeper than the middleweight division.
My colleague is spot on with his assessment of Moicano, and the Brazilian on a full camp is a scary proposition. However, even with black belts in BJJ and Muay Thai, his biggest issue is that he’s never had a knockout win, and Drew Dober has 14 pro knockouts and a background in actually competing in Muay Thai. Dober has it all, and is a much more well-rounded athlete, He has 14 knockout wins in his career, including four in his last five fights, and he’s got decent takedown defense. Moicano has literally only stopped opponents by rear-naked choke in his entire pro career. That is something that can be coached to defend.
Dober is a smart striker, trains with elite grapplers and grappling coaches, and he will manage distance well. Moicano will try to close distance, but Dober has a thicker build and is powerful in the clinch. If he doesn’t catch Moicano coming in for a takedown with a knockout, I see him taking the Brazilian the distance. Dober by unanimous decision.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Jamal Pogues. He had to go through the Contender Series twice, and after the second of two decision wins, he finally got in. He won his promotional debut over Jsh Parisian, again by decision, a year ago, but then he lost to Mick Parkin last July in Parkin’s UFC debut. Pogues hasn’t stopped anyone in nearly five years, and the five guys he finished up to that point had a combined record of 1-3 as professionals. Needless to say, if he loses his next fight to Thomas Peterson, he will be 1-2 in the Octagon, and could go back to the developmental circuit.
Petela: Molly McCann. She has lost two straight and has not looked particularly good in either of those bouts. She got outclassed by Erin Blanchfield and Julija Stoliarenko and didn’t make it out of the first round. The shine is coming off of her and her stable mate Paddy Pimblett who despite not having lost inside the UFC is slowly being exposed as an average UFC level fighter at best. Three straight losses, especially if she gets finished, will probably make this the end of the road for “Meatball” in the organization.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Do you remember the last fight Molly McCann got into that was boring? Me either. Win or lose she tends to do it in spectacular fashion and that will be the case again this weekend. I happen to think the Molly McCann experiment is drawing to a close but even in defeat this weekend she will put herself in dangerous situations and end up being finished brutally by Diana Belbita.
Kuhl: Factory X mainstay Marquel Mederos is finally making his long-awaited UFC debut after a successful Contender Series bid last October, when he scored a first-round knockout of Issa Isakov. His opponent Landon Quiñones entered the UFC after The Ultimate Fighter 31 last Spring, but he lost a unanimous decision to Nasrat Haqparast in his promotional debut. Mederos is on a six-fight winning streak, Quiñones was on a five-fight winning streak before his last loss, and both men are looking to stake a claim in the UFC. These guys will put on a show.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: The co-main event between Renato Moicano and Drew Dober is going to be a banger, and I could see both of these guys going home with some extra dough for putting on Fight of the Night.
Petela: Makhmud Muradov. He has a showdown with undefeated prospect Aliaskhab Khizriev who has submitted his last three opponents. Muradov likes to knock his opponents unconscious instead of choking them like Khizriev and I think he lands the big punch in this one and removes Khizriev from the list of fighters with a 0 in the loss column.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Diet Mountain Dew. First of all, as the kids say, it slaps! Second of all it’s just like this card, you aren’t expecting much because of the diet name but then after your first sip you realize you greatly underestimated its quality. This fight night is short on big names, that’s for certain, but it is going to deliver some great quality fights that surprise fans across the viewing world.
Kuhl: Head-to-toe, this whole card could be a sleeper match-up, so I don’t think you’ll need much caffeine to stay engaged. Let’s go with some on-hand appetizers to snack on throughout the night, because you will not want to go very far, as there will be some exciting finishes.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Roman Dolidze vs. Nassourdine Imavov
LW: Renato Moicano vs. Drew Dober
WW: Randy Brown vs. Muslim Salikhov
Women’s FlyW: Viviane Araujo vs. Natalia Silva
MW: Aliaskhab Khizriev vs. Makhmud Muradov
WW: Gilbert Urbina vs. Charles Radtke
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
Women’s StrawW: Molly McCann vs. Diana Belbita
FlyW: Charles Johnson vs. Azat Maksum
WW: Themba Gorimbo vs. Pete Rodriguez
FW: Blake Bilder vs. Jeong Yeong Lee
Women’s FlyW: Julija Stoliarenko vs. Luana Carolina
LW: Marquel Mederos vs. Landon Quinones
HW: Thomas Peterson vs. Jamal Pogues
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