Pitting head-to-head well-matched opponents has been a bedrock of the UFC’s success over the years, and the UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby has served up an absolute banger of a main event for the great fighting city of Philadelphia this weekend.
Edson Barboza’s resume is well known. The Brazilian Muay Thai striker has some of the most devastating kicks in the UFC, and he has put away a plethora of opponents with his spectacular strikes down the years.
He’ll take on Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje, a man whose ability to dish out heavy-handed punishment – even while shipping a truckload of damage himself – has made him one of the most exciting fighters on the UFC roster today.
Gaethje’s background is in the sport of wrestling, where he was an NCAA Division 1 All-American as a collegiate athlete. But you wouldn’t know it from his fighting record. Twenty-one fights, 19 wins and 16 knockouts.
Barboza’s striking is clean, crisp and spectacular, but Gaethje is undoubtedly the tougher athlete, hits harder with his hands, and has leg kicks that are almost the match of his opponent.
But rather than comparing the offensive skills of the two athletes, the deciding factor in this fight could well be the sheer toughness of the two athletes.
And if you’re lining up the UFC’s lightweight contenders in order of sheer toughness, you simply have to put Gaethje at the front of the line.
On paper, the featherweight clash between Josh Emmett and Michael Johnson looks like a battle between power and technique.
Emmett has legitimate one-shot KO power at 145lbs, while Johnson’s hand speed and solid wrestling has made him a tricky test for many of his opponents.
Usually in these situations it makes sense to side with the man with the slicker technique, but Emmett’s stock would appear to be stronger of the two.
But Emmett’s most recent victory came against a longtime top contender – Ricardo Lamas – who he knocked out cleanly inside a round.
And with both men priced at 5/6 to win on Saturday night, it’s that punch power that makes Emmett the better bet.
Michelle ‘The Karate Hottie’ Waterson may be the betting underdog ahead of her strawweight fight with Polish former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz, but her skills make her an attractive odds-against pick.
Kowalkiewicz has an excellent gas tank and the ability to throw punches from the first bell to the last, but her record shows the Achilles Heel in her game – she doesn’t finish fights.
Waterson, however, does. And her more well-rounded skillset, with underrated grappling backing up her flashy striking, may well give her the edge on fight night.
Kowalkiewicz’s route to victory would appear to be on the scorecards, but Waterson’s route could take a number of methods. KO, submission or a points decision.
With a more varied skillset and more ways to win, the 6/5 looks a solid bet.