Fight night is edging closer in Jacksonville, Florida, and the UFC 249 card is bringing fireworks back to our screens, with a lineup of spectacular matchups that look set to produce some incredible action. For all the abuse he’s getting, good man Dana White for making it happen. It’s certainly making our weekend better.
Let’s run through the main card and seek out the best value bets for this weekend’s biggest fights.
TONY FERGUSON VS. JUSTIN GAETHJE
Two of the most violent men in the UFC will go head to head in the main event with the UFC interim lightweight title up for grabs. It’s a fight that could really go either way, but in a fight where both men seem to thrive by putting themselves in harm’s way, a finish would seem to be inevitable.
Gaethje prides himself on being able to walk through anything his opponents can throw at him, then break them down with his own force of will, and striking power. But in Ferguson, he may have met his match.
Ferguson doesn’t just beat people, he busts them up – badly.
“El Cucuy” has a knack of using his elbows to facially disfigure his opponents over the course of a fight, and his matches often turn into bloody wars.
But while his elbows may attract the most attention, it’s Ferguson’s submission game that might give him the best route to a stoppage victory here. He has eight submission finishes to his name, including tap outs of Edson Barboza, Lando Vannata and Kevin Lee, and I don’t think it’s out of the question that we see another this weekend.
Ferguson loves to lock up the D’Arce choke from the clinch, then drag his man to the mat for the finish, and in a fight where they’re going to be fighting in a phone box, that technique may well open up for him multiple times through the fight.
A Ferguson win by submission is attractively-priced at 11/4 and offers some solid value for the main event clash.
VALUE PICK: FERGUSON BY SUBMISSION @ 11/4
HENRY CEJUDO VS. DOMINICK CRUZ
Can the defending UFC bantamweight champion turn back the challenge of the greatest UFC bantamweight champ of all time? That’s the task ahead of Olympic gold medalist and former UFC champ-champ Henry Cejudo on Saturday night.
He’s facing two-time former champ Dominick Cruz, whose awkward fighting style has proved to be like the UFC’s equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube for opposing fighters over the years.
But Cejudo is an elite athlete who is coming into his prime. He’s in form, he’s getting better and showing evolution with every fight and he carries the sort of punch power that can turn a fight his way whenever he needs it.
Cruz is technically outstanding, but he’s unlikely to finish Cejudo, and he’s also coming back from a three-and-a-half-year layoff following his latest injury nightmare.
On his day, Cruz can beat anyone. But Cejudo has the smarts to make sure he stays on top of things here.
He’s the better wrestler, the better striker and has been more active of late. It might go the distance, but 6/4 on a Cejudo win on the cards is good enough to consider a value pick.
VALUE PICK: HENRY CEJUDO BY POINTS @ 6/4
FRANCIS NGANNOU VS. JAIRZINHO ROZENSTRUIK
The heavyweight showdown between knockout artists Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik seems like a guarantee of fireworks – and a knockout finish, but unless you’re picking Rozenstruik to knock out “The Predator” (a tempting 4/1 shot), there’s no real value in backing Ngannou to finish the fight with his fists.
However, there is one route to victory that virtually nobody is talking about. Ngannou has shown in the past that, if the situation presents itself, he’s quite happy to finish someone via submission. And although drilling submissions may be trickier than working striking during these socially-distanced times, Ngannou has it in his locker to surprise Rozenstruik by taking the big kickboxer down and owning him on the mat.
The chances are we’ll see two big, strong, powerful men slugging it out, but if you want a value pick that could deliver a sizable payout, the 9/1 on a Ngannou win by submission might be worth a look.
VALUE PICK: FRANCIS NGANNOU BY SUBMISSION @ 9/1
CALVIN KATTAR VS. JEREMY STEPHENS
Two of the toughest 145-pounders in the world go head to head on the main card, as rising contender Calvin Kattar takes on seasoned veteran Jeremy Stephens in another fight that looks set to thrill. Well, it was supposed to be 145 pounds but Stephens marginally missed the cut at a whopping 4.5 pounds over. Good job Jeremy.
Stephens is a heavy-handed savage who seems to have gotten better with age, and the additional weight should give him even more power but in Kattar he’s facing a man who looks ready to step up and fight for the title.
Kattar lost to Russian contender Zabit Magomedsharipov last time out, but that fight – which was originally supposed to be a five-rounder – ended up contested over three rounds, and the pair went to the scorecards with Magomedsharipov’s gas tank empty and Kattar starting to come into his own.
It showed that Kattar is not just ready to step up, but he’s also capable of hanging with one of the trickiest fighters in the world. Stephens is much more straightforward to work out, though he will need to be wary of “Lil’ Heathen’s” devastating power.
Kattar has a fight IQ to match his skillset, though, and I think the smart bet here is to take him to claim the win on the scorecards after an exciting battle.
VALUE PICK: CALVIN KATTAR BY POINTS @ 5/4
GREG HARDY VS. YORGAN DE CASTRO
The main card opener will feature two power-punching heavyweights who fight with the same aim – to render their opponent unconscious as swiftly as possible. Both Greg Hardy and Yorgan De Castro have the power to do just that, but it’s Hardy who offers perhaps the better long-term value here.
De Castro will be VERY dangerous early on, but I suspect Hardy’s cardio and longevity in this fight will see him ride out an early storm before using his evolving wrestling game to mix things up and take “The Mad Titan” off his feet.
It might not produce a finish, but I do think if Hardy mixes up his game, he’ll be able to run out a decision victor. 13/5 is a nice price for that outcome.
VALUE PICK: GREG HARDY BY POINTS @ 13/5
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