Having more than one title fight on a UFC card is reserved for special pay-per-view events, but the fact that we have two rematches for titles on one card at UFC 263 is simply a weird coincidence.
And yet here we are, with the middleweight and flyweight titles on the line between fighters who have already fought each other to close decisions. And while the public will be focused mainly on these two fights, better value may be found further down the card.
Featherweights: Movsar Evloev -240 vs. Hakeem Dawodu + 200
They say styles make fights, and in MMA there’s nothing quite like the simplicity of a striker-grappler matchup. Movsar Evloev will play the grappler here, attempting takedowns frequently and stringing together attempts until he can get his opponent down. Hakeem Dawodu, who has yet to land a takedown in his UFC career, will certainly have to adjust his striking game to be prepared for the wrestling threat.
Dawodu has shown solid takedown defense, but playing defense is no way to win rounds. Further, Evloev’s striking game isn’t bad, it’s just not his specialty. The combination of his dominant clinch-and-ground game with a competent distance game means Dawodu will have to get aggressive with his standup to mount a threat. But if Dawodu tries to push forward with a sustained attack, he could find himself on his back.
Moneyline play on Evloev, and split some of the play on the Over/Fight Goes the Distance and Evloev by Decision prop.
Light-heavyweights: Jamahal Hill -280 vs. Paul Craig + 240
An even more extreme striker-grappler pairing will occur in the main-card opener at light-heavyweight, but this time offering greater upset and finishing potential.
Striker Jamahal Hill is a clear favorite over Scottish submission specialist Paul Craig. Hill has finished half his wins by strikes, and his stats show clear advantages in power, accuracy, pace and even defense. But striking, so far, is all Hill seems to have. He has never attempted a takedown, and he has defended only three of nine takedowns from opponents.
That contrasts sharply with Craig, who has been maniacal with his grappling attack. And once on the ground, Craig’s frequent submission attempts could capitalize on Hill’s relative inexperience, as Hill has fewer than half the pro fights Craig does.
The wild card will be what happens in open water at the beginning of each round. Should Craig’s early takedowns get stuffed, or if position is reset, he’ll be in danger against Hill’s distance striking. That offers finishing potential from both fighters, more than in a typical light-heavyweight matchup.
Moneyline play on Craig, and Craig by submission. Hedge the other side by using Fight Does Not Go the Distance for parlays.
The key question for both title fights is whether the challenger has made the necessary adjustments to change the outcome in the second meeting. In both cases, we have incumbent champs who are about 2-1 favorites. And in both cases, I see the matchup as slightly closer than the odds imply. It looks like dog or pass on both fronts. But as I mentioned up front, there are often better plays to make elsewhere on the card.