UFC Vegas 68 is an early front-runner for the promotion’s strangest event of the year.
Originally set to take place in South Korea, Saturday’s card ended up back in the cozy confines of the UFC APEX after it was originally planned for Chan Sung Jung to have a triumphant homecoming. Unfortunately, an injury removed any chance of “The Korean Zombie” headlining what would have been UFC South Korea so the decision was made to just tack another lineup to the Vegas board, even though a glut of Asian fighters (including the Road to UFC tournament finalists) had already been booked for this date.
This is how we ended up with a main event that won’t start until three in the morning on the east coast.
Even weirder, that main event is recycled from UFC Vegas 65, a heavyweight clash between Derrick Lewis and Serghei Spivac that was postponed on fight day (Lewis told reporters this week that it was due to a bout of COVID-19). So if you were looking forward to that matchup, congratulations, you had but to wait a few months. Who says the MMA Gods never do anything for us?
Also on the main card, Da Un Jung looks to rebound from his first UFC loss when he fights Devin Clark in a light heavyweight bout, Marcin Tybura takes on Blagoy Ivanov in a clash of heavyweight veterans, featherweight fan favorite Doo Ho Choi fights for the first time since December 2019 as he faces Kyle Nelson, and 22-year-old Japanese welterweight Yusaku Kinoshita makes his UFC debut against Adam Fugitt.
What: UFC Vegas 68
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Derrick Lewis (7) vs. Serghei Spivac
Here’s what I wrote about this matchup back in November:
True, Derrick Lewis’ record has seen better days, but let’s consider the type of fighter you have to be to beat Lewis:
– if you also happen to be an accredited practitioner of swangin’ and bangin’ (Tai Tuivasa)
– if you’re a technically superior to striker (Gane, Junior dos Santos)
– if you’re Daniel Cormier (Daniel Cormier)
That’s the summation of Lewis’ past five losses. I can comfortably state that Spivac doesn’t fall into any of those categories (actually, he might be Daniel Cormier in disguise, can’t rule that one out).
What Spivac is is a good wrestler with great technical skills on the ground. He knows how to take the fight there, work for advantageous positions, and do damage. He should have interest in playing around on the feet, his only goal should be to take Lewis down as soon as possible and go to work.
But one thing Lewis excels at is getting up. He doesn’t care about your fancy level changes and double legs, he doesn’t care about your meager ground-and-pound, and he definitely doesn’t care about your jiu-jitsu. In his mind, escaping a precarious grappling situation is as simple as hauling his 260-pound-plus frame off of the canvas.
Unless Spivac has another path to victory I’m unaware of, he’s eventually going to run out of options, especially in five-round fight, and he’ll have to spend some time with Lewis on the feet. Once that happens, it’s lights out for Spivac.
What’s changed since then?
Lewis is certainly looking slimmer these days, though he weighed in at a healthy 265 pounds on Friday. If that’s somehow all muscle, then Spivac and the rest of the heavyweight division could be in serious trouble. It also remains to be seen if catching COVID-19 will have any long term negative effects on Lewis’ performances going forward, but let’s hope that’s not the case.
Having more time to prepare for Lewis could benefit Spivac, but I’m grasping at straws here to find a reason to change my pick. According to Draft Kings, Spivac is a healthy favorite here, which is surprising to me.
You know what? I am going to tweak my pick. Forget what I said about Spivac losing late in the fight. Lewis by first-round knockout.
Da Un Jung vs. Devin Clark
It’s a shame that Da Un Jung won’t be enjoying the support of a boisterous South Korean crowd as he heads into the highest card placement of his UFC career, because he was on a nice run before being stopped by Dustin Jacoby this past July. That loss snapped a 14-fight unbeaten stretch for Jung, including a 4-0-1 UFC mark.
One of Jung’s strengths is his adaptability, which is important against the well-rounded Devin Clark. Clark’s first priority will be to outwork Jung on the feet, a strategy that typically leaves him with little margin for error. It’s always felt like Clark, as technically sound as he is on the feet, has always been at a power deficit. He enters his 15th UFC fight with just one knockout win for the promotion.
Jung is another fighter that Clark can’t afford to trade bombs with. Expect this one to turn into a cat-and-mouse chase at times, with Clark circling and using as much cage space as he can to keep Jung guessing. For Jung, it’s all about finding Clark’s timing and connecting with hard shots at key moments.
This should be a close one. I have Jung taking it by late finish.
Marcin Tybura (T10) vs. Blagoy Ivanov
While the main event has the potential for some classic, dumb heavyweight fun, Marcin Tybura vs. Blagoy Ivanov could make for a truly dreadful grind.
Credit to both men for sticking around as long as they have, particularly Tybura who remains a foil for plenty of would-be up-and-coming contenders. Chill-inducing highlights might be few and far between in Tybura’s 16-fight UFC run, but he’s always finding ways to stifle his opponent’s offense and win. The same can’t be said of Ivanov, who has struggled to string together wins in recent years, despite remaining damn near impossible to finish.
Neither of those trends should change on Saturday as Ivanov takes Tybura’s best shots in a bout that will go the full 15 minutes. There will be plenty of clinching and stalling against the wall, with maybe the occasional wild haymaker thrown in. Maybe one or two connects to spark some excitement, but don’t bet on it.
Tybura by decision.
Doo Ho Choi vs. Kyle Nelson
Is “The Korean Superboy” rejuvenated or rusty?
On paper, Kyle Nelson should be easy pickings for Doo Ho Choi. You have to imagine that’s why this fight was originally cooked up, to give Choi an emotional win in his return fight in front a home crowd. Seeing his hand raised after almost 1,150 days on the shelf will still be meaningful, it just might not have the same impact in the relatively sparse UFC APEX.
I can’t help but be concerned not only with Choi’s long layoff, but the fact that he wasn’t exactly on a tear when he most recently fought in 2019. Choi is on a three-fight losing streak and while none of those losses are inexcusable (Charles Jourdain, Jeremy Stephens, and Cub Swanson, all tough outs), it’s fair to ask if those results have already given us an accurate gauge of Choi’s ceiling. Have his competitive fires been stoked while he’s been away or have those flames died out?
Nelson has had terrible luck in the octagon and if Choi shows up at his best, the Canadian could be in for a rough night at the office. He’s never afraid of a scrap and that might turn out to be to his detriment. I’m not convinced Nelson can win a firefight with Choi, but at the same time that might be his best chance of stealing a decision.
Let’s assume the matchmakers know what they’re doing here with how they’ve handled Choi’s comeback fight. Choi by first-round knockout.
Yusaku Kinoshita vs. Adam Fugitt
I get the hype around Yusaku Kinoshita, but don’t count out Adam Fugitt here.
If you’re looking for reasons to go with the underdog, size is an obvious place to look. Fugitt enters Saturday’s contest with a five-and-a-half-inch reach advantage, which might be underselling it. He has an upright Muay Thai hybrid style that makes him seem even taller and he attacks from odd angles. Add in an aggressive ground-and-pound style when he manages to gain top position and there’s a lot to like here.
If you’d rather play it safe and pick Kinoshita, his youth and power are good reasons to do so. I mentioned Fugitt’s upright style, which makes for some fun offensive options, but also leaves his chin wide open. The springy Kinoshita could pounce on that defensive deficiency and end this fight early.
Fugitt has shown me enough flashes that I feel OK going with my gut and picking an upset. That 12-year age gap does worry me though.