The UFC returns to Denver this weekend with a potential title shot to face the 135lbs women’s champion Amanda Nunes on the line. There are also a few interesting match ups that could have lasting effects on multiple weight divisions. Despite having no championship belts on the line, I think fans could see at least 3 stoppages on the main portion of the card. I will breakdown the fights on this card that I find the most interesting, along with some fight predictions to hopefully help your bank accounts. Let’s get to the fights:
Notable Main Card on Fox Fights:
Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (10th) vs Andrei Arlovski (7th) (Heavyweight 240-250lbs)
Preview: This fight is tailor made for fans who love knockouts or finishes. Andrei Arlovski has lost three straight fights in brutal fashion but somehow remains the 7th ranked overall heavyweight. If Arlovski is hoping to break his losing streak, the UFC did him no favors by pairing him against Francis “The Predator” Ngannou. Ngannou is a dynamic heavyweight prospect who has shown an ability to win fights on the ground and standing. He has not lost a fight since joining the UFC and comes into the fight on a 4 fight win streak. It may seem odd to call a 30-year-old man a “rising prospect”, but the Heavyweight division is the one weight class where fights take longer to develop into contenders. Ngannou will also maintain a huge six-inch reach advantage over Arlovski despite both fighters being the same height. On paper, it appears like Ngannou will possess every possible physical advantage in the fight. Arlovski’s only real advantage is his big fight experience against the best the sport has to offer, when compared against Ngannou’s resume which is relatively thin at this point in his career. Ngannou has looked impressive but his best win would not crack the top 7 of Arlovski’s career best wins, which should not get dismissed as insignificant. Many prospects have looked great fighting lesser competition only to receive a harsh dose of reality when stepping in against a legit top 10 fighter like Arlovski. Arlovski likely knows his best chance to beat Ngannou is to stun him early and test his chin with his powerful strikes that can put anyone to sleep in the heavyweight division.
Odds: Arlovski (+336) vs Ngannou (-406)
Prediction: It’s tough to make a case for Arlovski if you just look at the physical attributes of both fighters. Ngannou looks like a younger better version of Arlovski, who is full of confidence as he enters this fight looking to make a name for himself in the heavyweight division. However, one the last things to go for a fighter is their power, and Arlovski has the power to hurt Ngannou. Arlovksi is also an underrated grappler which could catch Ngannou off guard if he thinks he can overpower Arlovski in the clinch. It’s highly likely Ngannou dispatches Arlovski to continue his climb up the heavyweight ranks, but there is something about this matchup that worries me for him. Every fight in the top 10 at heavyweight is dangerous, and Ngannou’s resume is not legit enough in my opinion to make him an almost 4 to 1 favorite against a game old warrior like Arlovski. Arlovski has knockouted the iron chinned Roy Nelson, man beast Travis Browne, and tough guy Ben Rothwell. He’s also badly hurt Fedor Emelianenko and nearly stopped Allstair Overeem, so the power is still there for Arlovski. I’m taking Arlovski a strict value play where I get an old hard hitting dog who has the power to hurt even the legends in his division. I also like Under 1.5 rounds as a bonus play as a backup if Ngannou gets the win. I do not think this fight makes it past the 1st round.
(Arlovksi via Knockout +336) / Bonus Play: (Under 1.5 -115)
Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (12th) vs Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (5th) (Welterweight 170lbs)
Preview: Donald Cerrone has been on a tear since rejoining the welterweight division. He’s won four straight fights, and is looking to make a case for a title shot at the winner of the Tyron Woodley & Stephen Thompson championship rematch. After returning to the 170lbs division, Cerrone has turned back into the dynamic striker and grappler fans fell in love with. He is currently performing at the highest level of his legendary career. The opponent standing in the way of his possible title shot is a very dangerous Jorge Masvidal who would like nothing more than to derail Cerrone’s climb to a title shot and return himself to the top 10 of the division. Masvidal is tailor made for Cerrone’s style as he keeps coming forward with unrelenting pressure. This should allow Cerrone to move effectively and counter-strike Masvidal from distance. However, Cerrone has been susceptible throughout his career to guys who have power and manage to clip him. Masvidal definitely has the power to hurt Cerrone if he can catch him clean. Cerrone does not have the best defense when it comes to striking. Part of this has to do with him trusting his own striking more than his opponents, willing taking a shot to give one. However, another aspect of this is he will take unnecessary damage at times looking to set-up a combination or take down. Masvidal must attempt to utilize this flaw in Cerrone’s game and hurt him early to keep him from establishing a rhythm. Both men are similar in height, reach, and age making for a potentially really fun back and forth fight. Cerrone should have an advantage on his feet if he can establish a pace he likes, but it may take him a round to deal with Masvidal’s pressure to establish it. He cannot afford to throw away a round if this fight goes to the judges. Masvidal’s heart and cardio could make him scary if this fight is close heading into the final minute of round 3 in a close fight.
Odds: Masvidal (+139) vs Cerrone (-159)
Prediction: I think the first round could determine the outcome of the fight depending upon how well Masvidal is able to hit Cerrone. If Masvidal can hurt Cerrone or keep him from establishing a rhythm in the first as well as win the round I think Cerrone could be in some trouble. However, I really like how Cerrone looks at 170lbs right now. He is pacing himself well, and utilizing his excellent Muay-Thai skills to hurt his opponents when the time arrives. There could end up being a few scary moments for Cerrone in this fight vs Masvidal but in the end I think he wins a competitive but clear Unanimous Decision.
(Cerrone -159 via Unanimous Decision)
Main Event (Women’s Bantamweight 135lbs)
Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Pena (2nd) vs Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (1st) (Bantamweight Fight 135lbs)
Preview: The women’s bantamweight division now permanently freed from the reign of the former champion Ronda Rousey had on it, has hopefully ushered in an era where the division rankings mean something again. Julianna Pena is fighting for a title shot she believes she’s already earned. Her opponent Valentina Shevchenko is also looking to score a title shot and rematch to avenge her only UFC loss against the current champion Amanda Nunes. Both women are immensely talented, and coming off the biggest wins of their career but both also have many questions about how good they actually are due to their relative inexperience within the UFC. Shevchenko is an excellent Muay-Thai fighter who stunned the UFC when she willingly went toe to toe with Holly Holm, and out struck her the entire fight on her way to victory. She’s shown that wrestlers and grinders can give her problems. Sarah Kaufman gave her all she could handle in her first UFC fight, and current champ Amanda Nunes overpowered her when they met. Julianna Pena’s style appears to fit perfectly to mimic the style that gives Shevchenko problems. Pena has more of a throwback style, almost like a female Matt Hughes. She focuses heavily on wrestling and jiu-jitsu to grind out her opponents. Pena’s striking has gradually improved but against Shevchenko she will have to take this fight to the mat if she wants to have any chance of success. Shevchenko will have to focus on her take down defense to keep this fight standing for as long as she can. The biggest question for me heading into this fight is who is stronger when these two grapple or get into the clinch. Shevchenko’s Muay-Thai expertise should bode well for her if they clinch, but Pena has shown an ability to out muscle her opponents in most of her wins. If Shevchenko can at least play Pena to a draw in strength and grappling, it will likely give her a great opportunity to make Pena pay with her striking. Both women know a title shot is on the line if they can find a way to impose their game plan on her opponent. Another factor in this fight, is the bout being scheduled for 5 rounds. Pena has never been in a 5 round fight before, while Schevchenko is coming off her first 5 round bout in her win over Holly Holm.
Odds: Pena (+125) vs Shevchenko (-143)
Prediction: Pena may not have a really impressive style but it has been extremely effective at getting wins in the UFC. Schevchenko has a more fan friendly style but she has not looked great against fighters with Pena’s style. I think Pena’s grinder style could definitely take its toll on Schevchenko’s cardio if she is successful in taking her to the mat in the early rounds of the fight. Pena has steadily improved since joining the UFC, and I’ve backed her successfully in all of her previous fights. I can see Schevchenko giving her problems if she is unable to secure early take downs. However, until I see Schevchenko successfully handle an aggressive wrestler like Pena, I’ll take the value I see in a young fighter continuing to get better in Pena at +odds.
(Pena +125 via Unanimous Decision)
Prediction Record since 2016 to Date (29-22-0) (+$7.50)
-Record & predictions based on Win vs Loss predictions only. Unless specified otherwise I use increments of $100 (for + odds predictions) & $110 (for – odds bets) as hypothetical wagers for each prediction.
-Predictions & Records are for entertainment value only
*Stats via www.UFC.com