It’s time for one of the middleweight-iest cards in UFC history. Get pumped!
Four — count ‘em, four — middleweight fights are scheduled for Saturday’s UFC Vegas 86 card, including a headliner between longtime contender Jack Hermansson and the headline-grabbing Joe Pyfer. This is a classic litmus test fight. Is Hermansson too big a step up for Pyfer right now, or is Pyfer about to score a finish that will set the tone for his 2024 campaign?
In the co-main event, featherweight veterans Dan Ige and Andre Fili square off with Ige looking to hold on to his spot in the top 20 and Fili coming off of a rare highlight-reel knockout victory. Fili makes a quick turnaround for this fight and with nothing to lose, he could be the most dangerous man in the UFC APEX this weekend.
Also competing on the main card, Polish middleweight slugger Robert Bryczek makes his UFC debut against Ihor Potieria, octagon lifers Brad Tavares and Michael Johnson take on Gregory Rodrigues and Darrius Flowers, and grappling specialist Rodolfo Vieira takes on kickboxer Armen Petrosyan in what could be a grueling middleweight contest.
What: UFC Vegas 86
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
Jack Hermansson vs. Joe Pyfer
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Joe Pyfer hits really, really hard. Actually, he does pretty much everything with force, whether it’s throwing a tight combination or simply tackling his opponent from across the cage. And with respect to his boxing coaches, he’s not particularly interested in jabbing you up either. He’s going in with one goal in mind: to finish.
How effective this strategy will be against the experienced Jack Hermansson is a major question entering the main event. Hermansson has dealt with his fair share of heavy hitters and he’s tough to put down on the feet. He’s hittable though and that’s a bad thing to be when you’re fighting Pyfer. “The Joker” has to find a way to avoid those heavy hands of Pyfer while also applying his own brand of pressure to keep Pyfer off rhythm.
Hermansson’s slick ground game could also come into play here, but Pyfer has enough wrestling to counter that approach. Rest assured, this is going to be a standup battle, and though the always dangerous Hermansson will have his moments, it’s the superior punching power of Pyfer that gets him the W here.
Dan Ige vs. Andre Fili
Call me a sucker for a good comeback story, but I truly believe that things are turning around for ol’ Andre Fili. “Touchy” looked spectacular in his most recent outing against Lucas Almeida, showing off his trademark agility and movement before finding his first knockout in four-and-a-half years. If that Fili shows up against Dan Ige, we’re in for an amazing fight.
It’s become a cliché to call Ige a tough out at this point, but what else can you say about the man? He’s fought countless ranked opponents, has never been knocked out, and is rarely outclassed. My biggest concern for Ige is always whether he can find that extra gear to put the fear in the opposition and that holds true against Fili as well. If Ige can mix in his grappling to keep the wily Fili from exploring the studio space, as it were, then the Fili renaissance (the Filissance?) will be over before it’s begun.
I don’t think Fili can put Ige away inside the distance and I don’t know if Fili is actually due for an earnest run to the top 10 of the division. What I do know is that it’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun finding out.
Fili by decision.
Robert Bryczek vs. Ihor Potieria
Get excited for the debut of the hard-hitting Robert Bryczek. If you’re wondering why the UFC and its matchmakers went out of their way to keep the Polish standout on this card after his original opponent Albert Duraev had to withdraw, it’s because Bryczek has real potential to shake up the middleweight division.
The stage is certainly set for him to make a strong first impression as the circumstances are less than ideal for Ihor Potieria. Not only is Potieria — currently 1-3 in the UFC with that one win being a first-round TKO of an aged Shogun Rua that we’d all rather forget — stepping in to this one on a week’s notice, he’s also dropping down to 185 pounds for the first time in his career. Even assuming that Potieria and his team were already planning a change of divisions, this just doesn’t spell success to me. (Ed. note: Potieria missed weight by 1.5 pounds.)
Add in the fact that Potieria isn’t exactly known for his sturdy chin — all three of his UFC losses have come by way of strikes — and all signs point to a knockout win for Bryczek. Sometimes the most obvious conclusion is the correct one.
Brad Tavares vs. Gregory Rodrigues
Now we’re getting middleweighty!
I like Brad Tavares and Gregory Rodrigues as much as the next guy, but this has all the makings of a back-and-forth standup battle where neither fighter comes close to finishing the other. That’s really a testament to Tavares’ toughness, as Rodrigues has shown plenty of knockout pop in his UFC tenure.
In fact, Rodrigues has continued to demonstrate his striking so effectively that I’ve abandoned any hope that he’ll ever show off his highly vaunted Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Forget it. Ain’t gonna happen. Sign him up for a K-1 tournament at this point.
This is the most difficult main card fight for me to pick as my heart says Rodrigues, but Tavares has made a career out of simply outpacing dudes and drowning them with volume. Rodrigues is certainly susceptible to that.
Get ready to hop on the bus and take a trip to splitty city, with Rodrigues landing just enough decisive punches to sway the cards in his favor.
Michael Johnson vs. Darrius Flowers
Darrius Flowers is getting anything but an easy matchup in his move down to lightweight. It was a necessary move for “Beast Mode” though as his raw physical strength was only going to take him so far against opponents regularly outweighing him by 10-plus pounds. He goes from one experienced opponent in Jake Matthews to another in Michael Johnson, though I like his chances better here.
You never count out Johnson, who has wins over some of the best-ever to compete at 155 pounds and continues to find a way to scrape out the results he needs to stay on the UFC roster. The clock is ticking, however, and one has to ask if Father Time has finally caught up to the veteran as he makes his 29th (!) walk to the octagon.
Johnson turns 38 in June and I can’t help but think he’s due for a setback here. He has the skills to outwork Flowers for three rounds, the question is how long can he avoid getting cracked with a hard shot? I have Flowers finding Johnson’s chin and putting him down in Round 2.
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Armen Petrosyan
Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you: On paper, this is one of the worst style matchups of 2024.
If Rodolfo Vieira can’t bring this fight to the mat early, it’s going to get ugly. If Armen Petrosyan can’t find the finishing touch he had prior to joining the UFC, it’s going to get ugly. Realistically, there’s about two dozen different ways that this could turn into an ugly fight.
I won’t just regurgitate what I wrote when this fight was originally scheduled, so instead I’m using this space to advise viewers to manage their expectations. Vieira’s jiu-jitsu is a pleasure to watch and Petrosyan has strong technical striking, but they’re going to end up going together like oranges and milk. When this fight was canceled the first time, the matchmakers should have taken that as a sign to keep these two apart.
Originally, I picked Vieira to win by submission, but I can’t realistically see him finding a way to take Petrosyan down. What’s more likely is that we get three rounds of cautious kickboxing, with neither man asserting themselves for any significant stretch of the fight. Then it’s probably Petrosyan on points.
Someone in this fight prove me wrong. Please, please, prove me wrong.