Best bets for UFC 292: Sterling vs. O'Malley
UFC 292 takes place this week from Boston, MA. The thirteen-bout fight card is rife with competitive matchups, and it features two, five-round world championship title bouts.
Last week, favorites realized a 9-4 result, making favorites on the year 194-99-14 or 63%. which is about average for a typical UFC year. Last year’s 67.5% favorite result appears to be just an outlier.
Aljamain Sterling -260 vs. Sean O'Malley +210
Bantamweight Championship (135 pounds) Main Event
Finocchiaro: There are layers to this bout, but whittled down to its most common denominator, what we have here in Sterling is an elite all-world grappler/wrestler who is an effective striker. He’s massive for the division, and with his size comes incredible strength supplemented by cardio that is seemingly unending.
Sterling is one of the most lethal bantamweight fighters in UFC history. He has been in with the absolute elite of the division and has cleaned them out. He’s extremely intelligent, focused, and he arrives swelling with confidence based on who he has defeated and who he is facing Saturday.
In second-ranked O’Malley, we have a long, tall athlete who effectively controls space/distance by utilizing his athleticism and fluidity of movement. O’Malley will be the younger, longer, quicker athlete in the cage Saturday.
Once this fight begins, O’Malley’s unique fighting style will be on display. He’ll flow and parry to create striking angles. He will use unorthodox timing to try to stun, surprise and bewilder the incoming Sterling with straight strikes and kicks.
O’Malley is a more singularly versed mixed martial artist despite the fact that he’s trained extensively on his takedown defense and ability to get back to his feet.
O’Malley acknowledges openly that his priority in this bout is to absolutely NOT allow Sterling to clasp onto him, press him against the fence, and, by all means, O’Malley is aware that he must not allow Sterling to drag this fight to the canvas.
If and when he does find himself there, he must be able to return to his feet, or this will be a short night.
For Sterling, he will want to take this fight right to O’Malley, and in a measured, steady, aggressive fashion, muscle him backward and force him to exert his energy defending and evading as opposed to flowing and striking.
The Sterling camp believes that as the fight wears on, O’Malley, who has never been five full rounds and in fact has had cardio issues late in three-round bouts, will begin to wane and as he does, Sterling will begin to press more.
Sterling’s focus is to systematically usurp the energy from O’Malley then in the late third or championship rounds when the kid is gassed and gored, find a way to take his back and then choke him into unconsciousness.
O’Malley’s camp realizes (rightfully so) that Sterling cuts massive amounts of weight to make 135 pounds. Further, in conjunction with the UFC, they cooked up the idea that this fight should take place immediately on the heels of Sterling’s dominant title defense against Henry Cejudo in June!
Sterling and camp feel pressured into the very quick turnaround here and have stated that the result of this will be that he’ll take it out on O’Malley who Sterling states is in this position only because of his “Dana privilege.”
Privileged or not, these two tussle Saturday and without question, the weigh-ins are of ultra-importance in this one so I’ll hold off until later this week to make any position on this bout.
Total in this fight: 4.5 Rds. Under -165
Points: Sterling -5.5 -130
Kuhn: The UFC would love to see Sean O'Malley win a title, and while he surprised many in his last performance against Petr Yan, this is yet another step up in competition. Meanwhile, Sterling has faced (and beaten) four straight former champions, and suddenly finds himself against a rising star with far less experience.
O'Malley's statistics on the feet look amazing. He has some of the most precise long-range punches of anyone in the UFC and manages to push the pace early in fights, scoring five knockdowns to date. But Sterling is no stranger to dangerous strikers, and for the first time, he'll offer long-range striking that can compete with O'Malley's range.
The ground game is not nearly as close. Sterling is an elite wrestler, with a full range of submissions. O'Malley's limited ground experience to date just hasn’t been impressive, nor has his cardio been tested beyond the third round.
Pick: Aljamain Sterling to win (-260).
Zhang Weili -310 vs. Amanda Lemos +250
Woman's Strawweight Championship (115 pounds)
Finocchiaro: Champion Zhang won the title back in her last fight against then-champion Carla Esparza. In this, her second stint as champion, it’s my belief that it will take something quite impressive to defeat her.
Zhang may be the most complete, fully equipped mixed martial artist in the organization. She’s an intelligent workaholic who lives in the gym. She’s strong as an ox, fast as lightning and tough as a six-dollar steak.
In Brazilian Lemos, we have an effective power striker who is forward-pressing, aggressive and offensive. Eleven of her thirteen wins have been via the finish because she’s able to keep fights standing. Her takedown defense is formidable based on the incredible power in her torso and legs. This allows Lemos to keep fights on the feet where her ferocity, might and power translate into a finishing advantage.
When this fight starts, it will be fascinating to watch how Zhang decides to usurp some of the zip from Lemos. Does she do that by counterstriking? Does she try to wrestle her up?
Either way, it’s my judgment that Lemos has about six and a half to seven minutes of fight-ending threat in her, and it’s in these first minutes that Zhang must be wary and respectful.
For Zhang, she needs to ensure that she takes this bout into the second round and beyond for even Zhang with her granite jaw has been slept and a fresh firing Lemos can put anyone in the division’s lights out with one elbow, kick or fist.
Zhang’s ability to use her fight intelligence and employ her full fight arsenal supplemented by her extreme athleticism must be used together, forcing Lemos to effort early in this fight so that Zhang can go offensive on the Brazilian finisher later as she begins to slow.
Provided Zhang does not run into something early, I handicap this bout to be styled much to her favor, and I look for Zhang to eventually finish the brazen Brazilian brute.
Pick: Zhang via finish -120 (DraftKings)
Total in this fight 3.5 Rds. Under -175 after opening -140
Points: Zhang -5.5 -195
Kuhn: Were it not for two losing performances to Rose Namajunas, Zhang would be the undisputed juggernaut of the division, amassing four wins over former champs, including three finishes. And running nearly three-to-one as the favorite, she might be tempting to throw into parlays.
But in comes Lemos, with the highest knockdown rate in the division, combined with exceptional accuracy. On the feet, Zhang’s high pace of striking could open the door to devastating counters from Lemos. Zhang might want to change levels instead, but the 82% takedown defense of Lemos could force more standup than Zhang is comfortable with.
Zhang’s still the deserving favorite based on career, but at these prices, there’s value in Lemos given her advantages on the feet.
Pick: Dog or pass. Look for Lemos above +220. Potential flier on Lemos by TKO at +500.
Marlon Vera -190 vs Pedro Munhoz +140
Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Kuhn: Sometimes you get a matchup between two guys you’ve been backing a long time, so it’s perhaps surprising that I’m willing to bet the chalk. But Marlon Vera definitely has important advantages that will make this an uphill battle for Pedro Munhoz.
Unexpectedly, Vera is actually much younger than Munhoz, and Vera will also look like a bigger man in the cage, boasting a 5.5-inch reach advantage. Vera’s technical striking is just a bit better than that of Munhoz, and combined with the range advantage should mean that Vera can lead the dance.
Munhoz might have better ground control metrics, but historically he doesn’t attempt many takedowns, and his success rate is well below average. So even if he does decide to change levels, Vera will be hard to get down and also offers a seasoned submission game. There are enough factors piled up to favor Vera at a reasonable price.
Pick: Vera to win at -190. Lean the Over 2.5 rounds.
You can get Lou Finocchiaro’s final UFC 292 releases via the GambLou ‘Bout Buisness podcast which drops Friday morning across all podcast platforms.
Thank you for reading and enjoy the fights!