The UFC returns to Las Vegas for two weeks of Apex productions before heading to Newark, NJ for UFC 288 in May.
Last week Ion Cutelaba, a fighter I gave little respect to, finished a fighter in Tanner Boser to whom I gave too much respect. Cutelaba earned a great win and Insight the Octagon dropped a unit to return to just above profitable for the year.
This week, we have Heavyweight athletes in a small 24’ cage. The Apex octagon is 44% smaller and 20% less wide than the standard 30’ cage sizes used in almost all PPV events, so the expectation and the numbers indicate that finishes should be more prevalent.
Favorites this year stand 88-42-9 or 63.3%.
Curtis Blaydes -170 vs. Sergei Pavlovich +145
Heavyweight (265 pounds) main event
Third-ranked Russian Sergei Pavlovich has blasted his way into the division’s elite by earning 14 of his 16 victories via finish. A winner of five straight UFC finishes since his debut loss via finish to Alistair Overeem, the thirty-one-year-old left-hander is athletic, explosive and ascending the ranks quickly based on his explosive and violent finishing ability.
Versed in Greco-Roman wrestling and combat Sambo from his days in the military, Pavlovich offers a unique combination of explosive power striking and complete wrestling. Though we have yet to see him utilize that expertise up until now, it’s my judgment that he’ll be forced to use it Saturday, and we’ll find out just what caliber wrestler Mr. Pavlovich is.
Pavlovich is a powerful man but equally as important is his rate of output, for he lands 8.07 significant strikes per minute while only accepting 4.10 in return. Clearly, the Pavlovich strategy in this one will be to confront the larger wrestler and then bust him in that balsa wood beak with the anticipation that if he clips Blaydes, then Blaydes will fall.
In Curtis Blaydes, Pavlovich gets a heavyweight fighter ranked one notch below him, but it’s my contention that Blaydes, based on his fighting experience and unrelenting wrestling acumen, is a legitimate contender for Jon Jones’ heavyweight title.
Blaydes has been in with a far more elite caliber of world-class heavyweight opponent, and he represents a substantial step up in class for the rapidly ascending Russian power striker.
Blaydes comes into this most important fight with world-class wrestling himself. He uses great takedown prowess, improved striking and cardio as advantages over any heavyweight competition on the planet save for champion Jones.
It seems prudent that his strategy against Pavlovich will include forcing this dynamite keg to struggle, defend and compete at a high energy level for the first round of the bout, thus usurping energy from the monster.
Blaydes must take Pavlovich where he has not been and that’s into the second round and more.
Pavlovich’s 66% takedown defense will be tested in this fight. Blaydes is sure to take a page from the Overeem bout where he saw how fundamentally efficient it was to take Pavlovich to the mat.
So, in this fight, it seems he who is able to control distance will hold the advantage. Pavlovich surely wants a standing fight where his height and substantial reach advantage will work in his favor, while Blaydes will need to smother the power striker by mauling him, groping him, pressing him into the cage, then ultimately, to the floor for a roll.
Where this fight takes place goes a long way in determining who will get their hand raised.
Blaydes is a favorite in this spot. He holds the advantage in every important dynamic, with the possible exception of his striking and the Achilles heel, a balsa wood beak.
Blaydes opened -200 for this bout, a number I believe is a fair representation of each man’s MMA skill, understanding that we will know so much more about Pavlovich after this fight.
Total in this Fight: 1.5 Rds. Under -135
This under seems to be indicating the potential for a short bout so advantage Pavlovich?
However, fighting acumen, wrestling ability, size and experience all indicate to me that Blaydes single point of focus in this fight should be to stress the Russian into the second round to test his ability to compete at a high level and against world-class talent past three or four minutes.
Brad Tavares -160 vs. Bruno Silva +140
Middleweight (185 pounds)
Brad Tavares is a thirty-five-year-old journeyman fighter who is tough as a three-dollar steak, has solid wrestling, formidable striking and deep experience against a wealth of high-caliber opponents. But Tavares is an athlete who’s been affected by the attrition that a fifteen-year MMA career can impart on any person.
Battling fight camps, capable opponents, major injuries and father time are all opponents for aging fighters, and Tavares not only competes against these to make it into the cage, but now he faces a young, explosive striker that is going to try to batter him with strikes.
Bruno Silva arrived in the UFC and KO’d his first three opponents. He then looked amazingly competitive in a decision loss to former champion Alex Pereira then in his last, he laid an egg against Gerald Meerschaert.
Silva looks to bounce from that last embarrassing loss, and it appears to me that the organization has placed him in a decent position against an opponent that makes sense for him. Tavares will come forward in order to engage, and Silva needs a willing opponent in order to showcase his fight-ending striking.
Each of these men receives the same number of significant strikes as they hurl so with Silva’s aggression and Tavares’ gameness, look for this bout to be one of the most violent of the night.
Pick: Silva +140
Total in this fight: 2.5 Rds. Under -125
The GambLou ‘Bout Business Podcast drops mid-day Friday with all my final UFC LV 72 releases. Get it on all podcast platforms.
Enjoy the fights and thank you for reading