Saturday’s card from the Apex center in Las Vegas will mark what the UFC hopes will be the organization’s last event without fans.
UFC 260 lost its co-main event when featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19, so his title defense against Brian Ortega will be rescheduled. But even without that fight, this slate is rife with betting opportunities.
Last week’s release of Gregor Gillespie had to be canceled on the day of the event, again due to COVID-19. What’s unfortunate is that when this fight gets rescheduled, the oddsmakers will most likely rerelease Gillespie -260, which is where the fight was lined when it was pulled. This negates the market advantage we had at -220. Just another day at the office.
Gillespie’s parlay position was filled by Grant Dawson -190, who won his bout by an amazing KO with two seconds remaining.
Here’s a look at a few of the more compelling UFC 260 matchups.
Stipe Miocic + 105 vs. Francis Ngannou -125
heavyweight (265 pounds), championship
This is a rematch of a 2018 bout. At the time, Miocic was + 170 and the champion defending his belt against a monster who looked the part but who could not fight the part. We released Miocic and were rewarded as he won via unanimous decision.
Then Ngannou was able only to plod forward to clobber, club and drub opponents. In that bout Miocic took the steam out of the giant early, then slowly and systematically dominated him with five rounds of wrestling pressure, superior conditioning and constant movement.
So what has changed?
Miocic is a champion who in my view gets completely overlooked and underappreciated, just like the firefighter he is. Quiet humility can best describe Miocic, who is understated and looks a bit nerdy when he wears his eyeglasses but is a most complete and worthy champion. I measure Miocic’s improvement since these two last tussled as intangible because he enters this fight brimming with confidence and surging with momentum.
Miocic bested Daniel Cormier 2-1 in their trilogy. Cormier was widely recognized as an all-time great two-division champion until he ran into Miocic in their second bout.
Miocic enters this fight with an abundance of tools. His wrestling, striking, cardio and confidence compose the complete fighter. Further, the many overlooking him as champion seem to motivate him to excel.
Miocic’s improvement since their first bout is emotional, not physical. The fact remains that at 38, Miocic got great fight experience and confidence from those Cormier bouts, but they also had to take a toll on him physically.
With Ngannou, it’s a certainty that he has improved. He has competed in five fights since the Miocic loss, with a 4-1 tally. In two of those fights, elite wrestling talents were drawn into a striking barrage against Ngannou, who flushed each on the face and turned out their lights in the first round.
Ngannou has taken his training to a new and elite level by working with Las Vegas’ Xtreme Couture and coach Eric Nicksick. Ngannou’s issues with cardio and the unrelenting pressure of elite wrestling-based fighters have surely been addressed.
Let’s not forget how many millions Ngannou will get should he win — plus the praise and accolades Nicksick and Xtreme Couture would receive. No expense has been spared in preparing Ngannou for this fight. Also know that addressing and countering Miocic’s wrestling pressure has also been drilled into Ngannou for the last couple of years.
Whether these improvements make a difference remains to be seen because understanding wrestling concepts, especially takedown sprawl, is far different from executing them. Ngannou had no answer for the takedown in the first bout, but now he not only knows those attempts are coming, he has had years to address the strategy required to thwart them.
Ngannou, 34, is a special athlete, and I believe his improvement will be on display.
Miocic will use movement early to keep Ngannou hustling in attempts to set up his takedown and wear down the fierce striker. He must find a way to tire the power-striking behemoth early, which will allow him to gain inside position and engage Ngannou up close so he can force him to the canvas. Miocic has the confidence to know he can take down his opponent.
We know Miocic’s plan involves taking Ngannou to the floor and fighting him from top position. He’ll eventually have to shoot for the takedown to accomplish that, but he’ll need to execute takedowns on a tiring Ngannou and surely not a fresh one. Therein lies some risk.
Ngannou must remain patient in that small cage and cut down the octagon to find a way to touch Miocic on the teeth. Judicious, effective forward movement coupled with pressure striking are the best weapons Ngannou can employ to back up Miocic and keep him from shooting in for the takedown.
Ngannou remaining composed, cool and patient will ensure that he lands at least as many flush power shots to Miocic in this fight as in their first bout. Miocic, known to be a touch chinny, weathered some pure power shots in the first bout. Will he be able to do so again? What if those power strikes increase and arrive in a steady, measured approach for a full 25 minutes?
This fight comes down to whether Stipe can use his intellect, cardio, movement and striking to set up his wrestling. Ngannou must realize that victory will come down to whether he can keep this bout standing, back up Miocic and find a way for one of his bludgeoning strikes to mangle his opponent.
Ngannou opened -155, and money has trickled in on the champion.
Ngannou at current pricing or better offers tremendous opportunity and is an official release.
Total for this fight: 1.5 Over -125.
Vicente Luque -240 vs. Tyronn Woodley + 205
welterweight (170 pounds), co-main event
Luque, 10th in the welterweight rankings, faces the seventh-ranked Woodley yet is a -240 favorite. That tells us that rankings are for everyone besides fight handicappers.
Since October 2017, Luque has fought and dominated each of the nine top welterweights he has faced except Stevie Thompson, who is simply the top threat to Kamaru Usman’s welterweight championship.
Luque is a fierce fighter who is 12-2 in the UFC, with 11 wins via the finish. Luque is known as an effective power striker but also has a brown belt in BJJ and a black belt in luta livre esportiva, so he can shake, rattle and roll.
Luque is versed wherever the fight goes. Though he is a little reckless at times defensively, he faces a fighter who might not be able to make him pay for mistakes.
Woodley enters the octagon a fighter who is washed up. While he has faced an outstanding level of competition, the results, effectiveness and output have been such that this beating might push him into retirement.
Woodley is a shell of the fighter he was. His right hand has lost some power, and it’s his only weapon, making it easy for opponents to defend. In my view, Woodley is unable to compete at this level of MMA any longer, and this fight might prove that.
Consider in any parlay side.
Sean O’Malley -310 vs. Tomas Almeida + 260
bantamweight (135 pounds)
O’Malley has sizzle, zip, flash and tremendous popularity. Early in his career he showed glimpses of striking greatness, but immediate success and a higher level of opponent have quelled his momentum. He was stopped in his last outing by Marlon Vera, who attacked O’Malley’s legs, hurt them and won the fight.
O’Malley is a gifted striker. He trains at the MMA Lab in Arizona, where he gets the benefit of training with a loaded stable of highly ranked bantamweight fighters such as Casey Kenney, Mario Bautista and Kyler Phillips. While those willing to dismiss O’Malley will point to Vera and a relatively high level of immaturity, I’d advise a more measured approach, for in this bout O’Malley is set up to shine.
In Almeida, O’Malley gets a fighter who is physically made for him.
The shorter Almeida is not in there to grapple. He takes bouts to assault opponents with his brutal striking game. Almeida is a black belt in Muay Thai who is also decorated with a brown belt in BJJ, so he can compete at a high level anywhere the fight goes.
The issue for Almeida is that he has not evolved since he came into the organization, and he's exponentially slower than O’Malley.
Almeida will give up leg and arm reach. He is a naturally powerful southpaw who has been in the octagon against opponents who far outclass Vera, but his results have been dismal. Almeida's last win was in November 2016.
On the surface this fight seems potentially competitive, but looking beneath the surface I see O’Malley dominating Almeida on his way to a finish.