UFC 244 in New York features a main event with a twist. Despite the event being a big pay-per-view extravaganza, and despite the fact that it’s being held at the mecca of combat sports, Madison Square Garden, there isn’t a world title to be seen.
But there IS a belt up for grabs: The “Baddest Motherf****r” belt. Or the “BMF” belt, for short.
Contesting the one-off belt, which has been specially created for the event and will be presented by none other than The Rock, will be Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. The two fan-favourite fighters will go toe-to-toe over five rounds for the “BMF” title and UFC superstardom.
Diaz has been here, seen it and done it all before. He stunned Conor McGregor in Las Vegas and had a monumental rematch with the Dubliner, but while Masvidal has had a year to remember, he hasn’t had a fight anywhere near as big as this.
Despite that, I think Masvidal (4/7) might be the smart pick here. Diaz is a little more of a known quantity. His fighting style is more predictable, and he will have no qualms about standing and throwing leather, or taking the fight to the mat.
But while Masvidal is arguably Diaz’s equal on the feet, his range of striking is much more diverse. Just ask Ben Askren, who he finished with a flying knee at UFC 239 to register the fastest knockout in UFC history after just FIVE seconds.
Masvidal has a penchant for the unexpected, but has the base skillset to go toe-to-toe with Diaz in a five-round slobberknocker. The most likely outcome is the fight going all five rounds, and the 21/10 on Masvidal by decision looks like an attractive price.
The momentum seems to be with “Gamebred” and this win could take him on to even bigger and better things in 2020.
TILL TO CASH IN AS MIDDLEWEIGHT UNDERDOG
After back-to-back defeats in the welterweight division, Darren Till has taken the wise decision to move up to middleweight, where his taller frame can fill out a little more and he can fight at a more natural weight. But his first test doesn’t get much tougher.
Kelvin Gastelum is a former interim title challenger who pushed the new world champ Israel Adesanya to the limit before the Nigerian-Kiwi went on to capture the title. But there were rumblings of a tricky weight cut as he came in at the last knockings and hit weight with just a matter of seconds to spare. There was also a question mark over his official weight of 184 pounds after he appeared to lean on his coach a little while on the scale.
Was he going to miss, or was it just an innocent case of a coach standing a little too close? You can watch the footage and be the judge of that. But with both men good to go for fight night, the question is over who holds the edge.
Gastelum is settled at the weight class, but Till has the range and striking advantages on the feet. If he uses that range, he can outstrike Gastelum and pick him apart over three rounds. But he’ll need to walk through some fire to do it. Gastelum has a granite chin and sledgehammers for fists. The chances are it’ll go all three rounds in another bloody war, and the 4/1 on Till to claim the underdog win on the scorecards looks excellent value.
DON’T BLINK! JOHNNY WALKER IS HERE!
Mohawk-toting Brazilian wild man Johnny Walker is one of the most exciting, and spectacular, men to enter the UFC’s light heavyweight division in years.
The fun-loving fighter, who returns to action after dislocating his shoulder while doing “The Worm’ in the octagon in celebration of his last win (yes, really!) faces fellow contender Corey Anderson with a title shot against Jon “Bones” Jones potentially up for grabs.
With current top contender Dominick Reyes coming off an impressive finish of former UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman, Walker knows that victory alone won’t be good enough at The Garden. So expect more spectacular moves from the unpredictable Brazilian.
Anderson is an excellent wrestler, but he has shown himself to be susceptible to power strikers before. Walker is big enough, powerful enough – and crazy enough – to throw caution to the wind in a bid to finish Anderson before he gets taken down, and the 7/4 on Walker getting the job done in the first round looks like decent value for a man who has finished each of his UFC opponents in the opening stanza, all by knockout.
MR. FINLAND TO STUN THE HOMETOWN FAVOURITE
Shane Burgos is about to have his dream fight as he steps into the octagon at Madison Square Garden. But the native New Yorker could be about to see that dream turn into a nightmare by the softly-spoken, but ludicrously talented, Makwan Amirkhani.
Amirkhani has found his home with the famed SBG Ireland gym in Dublin, where coaching mastermind John Kavanagh will have honed the Finnish star’s gameplan to perfection ahead of the matchup.
I chatted with Amirkhani in Dublin a month ago, and he told me he was ready to steal the show. And with his excellent wrestling game and submission attack, I’m expecting “Mr. Finland” to drag Burgos to the mat before eventually submitting him.
Burgos is a legitimate threat, but Amirkhani’s suffocating ground game should prevail, and the 17/2 on a submission victory for the Finn is the ideal pick for our slate this weekend.
*All odds correct at time of posting