With the UFC back in the UFC APEX hosting another main event featuring ranked middleweights, a lot is on the line at UFC Vegas 85.
Top 15 representatives Roman Dolidze and Nassourdine Imavov headline the second Fight Night card of the year with budding fan favorites Renato Moicano and Drew Dober holding the co-main event spot.
The rest of the event features two promotional debuts and two other undefeated prospects as well as British star Molly McCann making her strawweight debut against Diana Belbita. As one of the six ranked fighters at UFC Vegas 85, Natalia Silva is the biggest favorite of the night against veteran Viviane Araujo.
Though not receiving as much attention on the card, Themba Gorimbo makes his first walk to the octagon on Feb. 3 since going viral for receiving a house from Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in 2023. Gorimbo is one of the biggest favorites on the card against knockout artist Pete Rodriguez.
Below are the odds and our predictions for each fight of UFC Vegas 85.
Odds according to DraftKings Sportsbook and subject to change.
Thomas Petersen (-166) vs. Jamal Pogues (+140)
Entering the fight at 8-1 and the former LFA heavyweight champion, Petersen is the more accomplished fighter with a higher finishing upside, thus making him the favorite. Pogues, despite being set up to get a finish on Dana White's Contender Series in 2022, has not won by finish since 2019. Neither fighter produces much volume with wrestling-based approaches, but Pogues has not shown enough in his striking to this point to neutralize the grappling of Petersen.
Prediction: Petersen by decision
Landon Quiñones (+114) vs. MarQuel Mederos (-135)
Despite entering his last fight as a heavy underdog, Quiñones impressed in his UFC debut against Nasrat Haqparast. However, the matchup in his second octagon appearance is just as tough with Mederos having one of the most impressive performances on the most recent season of Dana White's Contender Series. Training at one of the best striking gyms in Factory X, Mederos' versatility in exchanges on the feet will cause Quiñones problems.
Prediction: Mederos by decision
Luana Carolina (+110) vs. Julija Stoliarenko (-130)
After effortlessly submitting Molly McCann in her flyweight debut, Stoliarenko has seen the line shift to her side during fight week. While her 2-4 UFC record appears bleak on paper, Stoliarenko has only lost to ranked contenders in the octagon and faces a big step back in the matchup with Carolina. The striking exchanges may be even with both women preferring to use their length, but the grappling edge significantly favors Stoliarenko, who is a Roger Gracie black belt and former BJJ competitor. Carolina, meanwhile, is only a BJJ blue belt.
Prediction: Stoliarenko by submission in round one
Jeong Yeong Lee (-148) vs. Blake Bilder (+124)
As one of the most intriguing matchups of the prelims, the hype appears to be behind Lee as the former Road to UFC winner. A dynamic and high-level striker, Lee's last win was actually somewhat controversial as he struggled with the wrestling and pressure of Yi Zha. Bilder will not likely enforce the same gameplan, but Lee has not faced anyone who uses as much movement and footwork as Bilder as a striker. Don't be surprised to see Lee frustrated in exchanges and if the fight hits the canvas, it will be Bilder's world.
Prediction: Bilder by decision
Themba Gorimbo (-298) vs. Pete Rodriguez (+240)
After the year he had in 2023, it seems hard to believe this will be Gorimbo's first fight since the international fame he received for the motivational story he created with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Subsequently, Gorimbo enters UFC Vegas 85 as a massive favorite. While he will be the better grappler, Gorimbo will have to survive the wild boxing of Rodriguez, who has never fought for longer than three minutes as a professional. Gorimbo should not be this large of a favorite but should he survive round one, it will be his fight to lose.
Prediction: Gorimbo by submission in round two
Azat Maksum (-205) vs. Charles Johnson (+170)
It is a fair argument to make that Maksum's last opponent, Tyson Nam, was a stiffer test for him than this matchup with Johnson. Johnson is no slouch but is coming in on short notice off of a three-fight losing streak. At 17-0, Maksum has looked like a legitimate prospect thus far, giving this fight the appearance of a set-up. However, Johnson has never been finished and that is likely to remain true.
Prediction: Maksum by decision
Molly McCann (-278) vs. Diana Belbita (+225)
In a rematch of a fight from 2019, McCann and Belbita will run it back at strawweight in the former's divisional debut. McCann dominated the first fight, and though Belbita gas gained a cult following on social media throughout her UFC tenure, the rematch should be more of the same. McCann will still be the bigger fighter with more power, forcing Belbita to have to rely on her volume. It is unlikely that McCann will attempt 14 takedowns again, but her boxing and defensive mechanics are enough to get the job done once more.
Prediction: McCann by decision
Gilbert Urbina (-205) vs. Charles Radtke (+170)
Both of these welterweights had impressive last performances against questionable competition, making the matchup difficult to predict. While Radtke had a memorable debut, he was still out-landed by Blood Diamond, using a wrestling-based game plan to earn a decision victory. Urbina is a much better striker than Blood Diamond with his length and precision but has yet to defend a takedown in the UFC. Regardless, Radtke is not a pressure wrestler, and the striking should be enough to outweigh the grappling.
Prediction: Urbina by decision
Aliaskhab Khizriev (-166) vs. Makhmud Muradov (+140)
It is always easy to get excited about an undefeated Russian wrestler but a lot of factors in the matchup favor Muradov as an underdog. All of the physical intangibles favor Muradov, who at 6'2" will tower over the 5'9" Khizriev. Muradov is the far better striker as well, as Khizriev struggled in boxing exchanges with Denis Tiuliulin in his debut as a -1200 favorite. If he takes the same shots against Muradov, the night will be over quickly. Muradov has been out-wrestled before, but his overall takedown defense has stood up for the most part at 77% in the UFC.
Prediction: Muradov by knockout in round two
Viviane Araujo (+270) vs. Natalia Silva (-340)
After picking apart Andrea Lee at UFC 292, this is the perfect step up for Silva. Araujo will make no secret her desire to secure takedowns, but Silva's 92% takedown defense has shown to be practically bulletproof to this point. At 37, Araujo is nearing the end of her career and no longer has the athleticism to keep up with Silva's style featuring constant movement and feints.
Prediction: Silva by decision
Randy Brown (-250) vs. Muslim Salikhov (+205)
Salikhov has had one of the best careers in combat sports history but the best is now in the past for the 39-year-old striker. At 6'2", Brown will be the much larger fighter with an eight-inch reach advantage over the 5'9" Salikhov. Salikhov has never fared well against bigger fighters and barring a wild spinning kick landing, Brown will cruise.
Prediction: Brown by submission in round two
Renato Moicano (-180) vs. Drew Dober (+150)
As cliche as it is, whoever implements their game plan first will likely win this fight. Both guys can finish the fight at any given moment with their respective strengths but the biggest advantage in the matchup favors Moicano's grappling. Dober is very physical — and Moicano struggled with the similar physicality of Rafael Fiziev — but has shown a lack of submission defense once the fight hits the mat with four of his last six losses coming by submission. Moicano can still get clipped, especially with Dober's underrated stand-up game, but his improvements in striking should showcase once more as the 'Money Moicano' show rolls on.
Prediction: Moicano by submission in round three
Roman Dolidze (+135) vs. Nassourdine Imavov (-165)
Both Dolidze and Imavov desperately need wins to stay relevant in the immediate title picture, putting high stakes on the main event. Neither man has won a fight since 2022, with Dolidze falling to Marvin Vettori in his lone 2023 appearance and Imavov going 0-1 with one no-contest in the past year. The betting line suggests that bettors are leaning towards Imavov, but Dolidze has shined as an underdog in the UFC, boasting a 3-1 record under such circumstances.
As a former submission grappler, Dolidze has a solid argument as the best pure grappler in the division with one of the best reversal games in all of MMA and an endless array of submission attacks. Imavov is best when he can mix in all of his skills but given Dolidze's grappling, may want to utilize his striking edge more often than not. As a pure striker, Imavov is less dynamic, and this matchup is one of the few that he will not have a size advantage over his opponent.
At 35, Dolidze needs this win more than Imavov, who has more time in the stacked division as a 28-year-old. The finishing upside is all on Dolidze's side and despite his advanced age, the wear-and-tear is not as much of a concern with 2024 just being his eighth year as a professional MMA fighter.
Odds refresh periodically and are subject to change