Best bets for UFC Fight Night: Costa vs. Vettori

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The UFC Vegas 41 card Saturday will present 12 scheduled bouts with athletes from 10 countries highlighted by a battle of top-ranked middleweights in the main event. Last week Norma Dumont (+ 115) beat Aspen Ladd in a fairly one-sided featherweight snooze-fest to pad this season’s profitability.

Insight the Octagon 2021: 27-18, + 12.72u.

Let’s keep the momentum going as we now focus on the aggressive combatants who will headline this week’s event.

Paulo Costa (+125) vs. Marvin Vettori (-140)

Middleweight (185 pounds), main event

This fight will be a war. Not only are these two of the most forward-charging, power-striking athletes in the division, but they’ll be waging their battle in the smaller 25-foot cage featured at the Apex Center in Las Vegas.

The 25-foot octagon is 30.5 percent smaller than the 30-foot cage at 518 square feet vs. 745 square feet. My numbers show that finish rates in the smaller cage are higher across all weight classes but especially with 185-pound fighters or larger.

Finish rates for 30-foot cages for middleweights or larger are 52 percent, but they run 57 percent in the 25-foot cage. Put these two bombastic strikers against each other while closing the confines of space — and destruction follows.

The second-ranked Costa (13-1) must earn back some respect after his performance in his last outing, an epic championship failure. Being finished by champion Israel Adesanya was one thing, but the manner in which he was beaten and then the excuses used to explain his performance projected poorly on Costa.

The Brazilian is a chiseled specimen with a bodybuilder’s physique. He is incredibly explosive. He possesses fight-ending power in both hands and legs, and he complements an aggressive, pressing attack with a granite jaw.

Costa is one-dimensional as a mixed martial artist in that he chooses to attack opponents by bludgeoning them with knees, elbows, hooks and crosses. His single point of focus is to seek and destroy. A black belt in BJJ, Costa can roll. He rarely uses that skill, though that could well change in this fight against a more wrestling-versed opponent.

Costa lands 8.5 strikes per minute, which is impressive, especially understanding the depth of power generated in each strike. But his defense is lacking. Opponents have touched him on an average of 6.8 strikes per minute. Costa is more than willing to stand and trade because he thinks he can eat his opponents’ best shots while they are unable to withstand his.

In Costa’s 13 wins, he has had to go three full rounds only once, against Yoel Romero. If that Costa shows up Saturday, we’ll have an octagon party because Costa came with mental toughness, focus and drive, whereas the one we saw last outing was tepid and mentally fragile. Several unknowns surround Costa.

The fifth-ranked Vettori had won five straight bouts leading into his championship tussle in June against Adesanya, where he was dominated for a full 25 minutes.

So these two top-five middleweights fight one another after both having disappointing showings against Adesanya.

Besides his championship bout against Adesanya, none of Vettori’s opponents except Jack Hermansson should be mistaken for elite talent. Vettori’s awkward footwork, striking ineffectiveness and lack of strike evasion were exposed against Adesanya. He did attempt to take down the champion but was simply unable to cut off the cage effectively or corner the champion for engagement.

Vettori is appropriately nicknamed “Angry Marvin” as he brings a brooding, aggressive, brawling, stand-up style into his fights. With his footwork, Vettori could be forced to rely on wrestling in this bout, as it’s his most advantageous way to attack this opponent.

Vettori’s wrestling and grappling seem to be the key to this fight. I cannot envision Vettori, with his limited striking game, will choose to engage Costa where Costa has the advantage. Should Vettori get this fight to the mat, we’ll be able to see what form of black belt in BJJ Costa really is.

Vettori’s intense emotional angst, his aggression and his willingness to engage may put him in advantageous situations against most fighters in the division, but that style could play right into the favor of Costa based on how I envision this fight.

Will Costa arrive prepared to mentally and physically display a better version of himself in this bout than his last? If so, Vettori’s clench-fisted anger is made for his power striking.

Will Vettori get stung a couple of times with shins to the chin before he realizes he needs to drag his opponent to the floor to gain an advantage?

Where this bout takes place will tell us much about which athlete is in control.

Total for this fight: 4.5 rounds, pick-’em.

I am a bit surprised this total is so high.

Francisco Trinaldo (-130) vs. Dwight Grant (+ 110)

Welterweight (170 pounds)

Trinaldo, 43, began his pro career in 2006 and had to move up from his usual lightweight (155-pound) division to welterweight two fights ago. While that’s rarely a positive sign, he’s a smart, beguiling combatant who has been in with a great diversity of mixed martial artists over his career. He might not move like he once did, but his experience is one of his best weapons. Since the move up to 170, Trinaldo is 1-1 and looking to remain relevant in a young man’s game.

Grant, 37, is no youngster himself, but he is a legitimate welterweight. In fact, Grant is also 4 inches taller and has reach edges of 6 inches with the arms and 4 inches with the legs. If Grant can keep this bout on the feet and at his strength, he has a great chance to batter the old Brazilian bull as he enters to engage.

Trinaldo’s chances to remain relevant or even in the UFC depend on his ability to outgrapple Grant. Whether he can find his way inside the pocket will determine his success.

This bout opened as a pick-’em, and some love has shown for Trinaldo. I’m not buying that.

Grant + 110

Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds, Over -160.

Lean to the Over but will await props to try to gain more advantage.

 

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