We march forward with another UFC fight slate from the APEX in Las Vegas. This LV35 production features a main event clash of top featherweight contenders. The co-main event as well as the main event of the prelims are final bouts for the organization’s TUF series. I’ll have no opinion on those athletes until after they’ve competed Saturday.
In last week’s fight card Jared Cannonier executed close to a perfect plan against Kelvin Gastelum, whom few middleweights would have beaten that night. Cannonier’s focus, footwork and dedication to maintaining distance all synced up perfectly to earn a dominant decision win. Cannonier opened -200 for this fight and a tsunami of steam pressed Cannonier’s price down to -130 at close.
As Warren Buffett famously said: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
Mark O. Madsen also won his fight via decision, though the way he won surprised as he battled Clay Guida on the feet for the duration. Madsen is a decorated Olympian, but he’s a fade moving forward. Lastly, my big bomb underdog Fabio Cherant did just that … he got destroyed racing to engage a vicious power striker in William Knight, so we split releases with Cannonier waiting to be utilized.
Insight the Octagon 2021: 20-15 + 7.68 units (Cannonier -160 leg 1 parlay remains open)
GIGA CHIKADZE -110 VS. EDSON BARBOZA -110
Featherweight (145 pounds) Main Event
Chikadze, the 10th-ranked featherweight, enters off a devastating finish of former top 10-ranked Cub Swanson. Before that victory, Chikadze had beaten rank-and-file featherweight talent in impressive fashion. The Georgian arrives at this opportunity on a 6-0 UFC run, so he’s rife with momentum and confidence.
Chikadze, a third-degree black belt in Goja-Ryu Karate, employs a wide stance presenting opponents with unorthodox, lethal hand-foot striking quickness that’s launched from all angles. He is best at distance and wants to measure opponents on their way in so he may apply his effective counter striking.
Barboza, the ninth-ranked featherweight, is also a striking-based fighter. The Brazilian is decorated with black belts in Taekwondo and Muay Thai with a brown belt in BJJ. Barboza spent years competing against the ultra-elite lightweight fighters before dropping down to featherweight, where he achieved a 2-1 record (and his debut loss to Dan Ige easily could’ve gone the other way).
Physical metrics between these two are quite even, though Barboza spent years in the cage fighting men who weighed up to 175 pounds. They are even similar in striking approach, though Barboza is a fighter who can and will press forward to make a fight. That certainly will be his plan Saturday.
The difference in this fight is found in the depth of experience and guile of Barboza. It would take a paragraph to list the world-class competitors he has faced in furious battle between two divisions of the UFC while his opponent may boast only of a dominant win over 37-year-old Swanson, who is on the last legs of a storied career.
When Barboza struggles, his opponents walk him down and force him into large expenditures of energy, which taxes the Brazilian and can expose the warrior mentally and physically later in fights. Chikadze has not really forced this form of pressure on opponents, so if he allows Barboza to work comfortably in space, Barboza’s precision striking and bludgeoning leg kicks will take a toll on Chikadze, who may stand to earn his Ph.D. in MMA.
Barboza -110 (pending weigh-ins)
Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds. Under -120
KEVIN LEE -150 VS. DANIEL RODRIGUEZ + 130
Welterweight (170 pounds)
This is a fascinating betting matchup.
Lee is the 10th-ranked lightweight who missed weight in his last lightweight bout against now champion Charles Oliviera. Lee has had to battle weight cuts because he is perfectly suited to a 160-pound weight class. Too large to consistently make 155, he’s now fighting as a welterweight, where he’ll be somewhat undersized and competing against men who make 170 at weigh-ins then arrive at the bout at a rehydrated 188 pounds or better.
Lee’s fighting arsenal is complete with a sturdy wrestling base, he’s athletic, quick and is most dangerous early in his fights based on his lightweight resume. At welterweight, I expect Lee to be free to focus on his opponent and not the cut, which is huge for his chances Saturday.
Lee was originally set to face Sean Brady, a wrestling-based fighter with heavy hands. He’s more Lee’s stature and with a similar style of fighting. Brady, however, had to pull out of the fight, so, on short notice, in comes Daniel Rodriguez, who is a dangerous stalking striker with power in every appendage. Yes, much different body type and fighting style than Brady.
Rodriguez, 34 and a southpaw, is four inches taller than Lee and though he’ll be giving away a slight reach advantage, his overall size will be most noticeable in the cage. He’s currently unranked but jumped at this opportunity because Lee is a ranked lightweight and Rodriguez would get a great boost in the division if he can emerge victorious.
Lee needs to open up quickly as Rodriguez often starts slowly. Lee’s past fights have all displayed something close to dominance early, but once he realizes his opponent is game and ready to grind for a full 15 minutes, he finds a way to fade. Check the record.
Rodriguez needs to keep this bout on the feet at any cost and force Lee into a striking bout. Eventually this approach will lead to him walking the smaller man down, backing him up and using pressure striking, knees and elbows to accumulate damage.
While I can see Lee being quick and effective early, the larger, more legitimate welterweight Rodriguez will force this fight into the second round. From that point, I believe Rodriguez’s pressure will trouble Lee and force him into telegraphed charges and striking that Rodriguez will be able to time then counter.
At welterweight, Rodriguez is a poor stylistic matchup for Lee on a full camp, but the short notice nature of this bout compounds Lee’s risk as well Rodriguez’s advantages.
Rodriguez + 130 strike now
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds. Over -120