The UFC’s most ambitious project ever, “UFC Fight Island” comes to fruition on Saturday night with the first of four events in 14 days on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
The first card, UFC 251, is the most stacked of the lot, and features three world title fights that look set to deliver fireworks aplenty this weekend. But where’s the best value in a trio of matchups that look pretty close on paper?
Let’s take a look and pick out the best routes to value on fight night…
UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has looked outstanding throughout his UFC career. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has never lost in the octagon and captured the UFC title last year, before beating Colby Covington – and breaking the trash-talking American’s jaw in the process – at UFC 245 last December.
He was set to face Brazilian Gilbert Burns, but after Burns tested positive for COVID-19, the UFC called up the man everyone wanted to face Usman in the first place. Jorge Masvidal is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet right now and after a 2019 that saw him starch Darren Till, knock out Ben Askren in 5 seconds for the fastest KO in UFC history, then finish Nate Diaz to win the BMF (yep, the “Baddest Mother F****r”) title.
Masvidal has only been called up on six days’ notice, but he’s been living with his coach in Florida, so he won’t be coming in out of shape. He’s a 16-year veteran who has been working with elite wrestlers throughout his career, training at one of the best teams in the world at American Top Team. Make no mistake, if he accepted this fight on less than a week’s notice, he’s ready.
And if he’s ready, he’s the value pick to get the win here. Usman is solid, has great wrestling and doesn’t mind standing and banging with his opponents. But he’s not a knockout artist by any stretch. Masvidal, however, most certainly is. You stand with him, you’re going to get hurt.
Diaz has made a career of standing and trading with the best in the business, but Masvidal busted him up and forced a doctor stoppage when they fought. Don’t be surprised if “Gamebred” makes his power count again here.
If it was a three-round fight, I’d perhaps lean more to Usman, who could use his wrestling to take an early round or two to grab a decision. But Masvidal will be dangerous in every minute of the fight and, if he doesn’t catch him early, “Gamebred” may well be able to find Usman’s chin through the middle rounds and score a headline-making KO.
VALUE PICK: MASVIDAL TO WIN BY KO/TKO
Whenever you see a rematch between two fighters, the key thing to consider is what has changed since the first fight, and has it swung the momentum towards the guy who lost the first?
In the case of Volkanovski and Holloway, you have to say it all points to another Volkanovski win.
The Australian looked outstanding as he outworked, outstruck and outfought Holloway in their first meeting. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic making life much harder for fighters to get quality training in, it’s hard to see how Holloway could have made the adjustments needed to match the newly-crowned champion the second time around.
Volkanovski has talked a lot this week about wanting to upgrade his performance from the last time out and earn a stoppage win over Holloway this weekend, but while there’s value in backing a Volkanovski KO/TKO win, it’s probably not the most likely outcome here.
What seems like the smarter play is to take the even money on Volkanovski getting the victory on the scorecards. It’s not the biggest value bet of our group, but it’s one that should come through for us as the Aussie looks to cement his status as the new man to beat at 145 pounds.
VALUE PICK: VOLKANOVSKI TO WIN BY POINTS
The third title fight of the night will see a rising star taking on a bonafide legend as Russia’s Petr Yan takes on Jose Aldo for the vacant UFC bantamweight strap.
Aldo has been there, seen it and done it inside the octagon, and had a 10-year unbeaten run as a featherweight that included a lengthy reign as the UFC featherweight champion a few years back.
But now he’s campaigning at bantamweight where, despite having LOST his only fight at 135 pounds, he has been handed a shot at the title this weekend.
Unfortunately for Aldo, he’s going to have to face the best bantamweight on the planet right now. Petr Yan is fast, scrappy, powerful and has all the tools in his arsenal to defeat the best of the best at 135 pounds. A lot of people are backing him to get the win by stoppage, but I think the price available for a Yan victory on the scorecards looks like much better value. Aldo is likely to start slow, and improve through the middle rounds, while Yan should take an early lead, then have to find another gear into the championship rounds to secure the win.
I think that’s exactly what he’ll do, with “No Mercy” leaving “UFC Fight Island” with some extra baggage on the flight back to Russia.
VALUE PICK: YAN TO WIN BY POINTS
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