UFC 268 lived up to expectations, as champions Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas reigned supreme by winning via decision. The slate featured seven finishes among the 14 fights, and as has been the case the last couple of months, favorites marched to an 11-3 result.
I released Colby Covington last week at a hefty + 260, knowing he would arrive with great focus and top effort to defeat the champion. What we discovered is that Usman might be one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time, let alone within the division, one in which Georges St-Pierre formerly carried that moniker.
This week we return to the Apex in Las Vegas and the smaller cage. This Fight Night does not have the name recognition as last week, but it does offer investors some great gaming opportunities.
Max Holloway (-600) vs. Yair Rodriguez (+ 450)
Featherweight (145 pounds), main event
Before his two title-bout losses to current champion Alexander Volkanovski, Holloway ruled the featherweight division. In fact, many view his bouts with Volkanovski as a split, for the second was razor-close. In my judgment, a decision in either man’s favor would not have been out of line.
Holloway is still only 29, and his focus to retake the belt he regards as his still burns in him, driving him to succeed. Holloway will have a couple of inches of reach over his opponent, plus he’ll own massive advantages in experience and the level of competition he has faced.
Holloway, separated from all the other talent in the division besides Volkanovski, employs pressure, pace and volume striking to overwhelm opponents.
That the third-ranked Rodriguez is even listed in the top 10 of this division is Exhibit A in why rankings mean so little. Rodriguez, a fighter of Mexican descent, was once prized by the UFC as it looked to expand south of the border. But while Rodriguez has the looks, personality and smile of a superstar, he has the fight game of just above a journeyman.
Rodriguez uses flamboyant kicks, strikes and spinning elbows to wow the competition outside the top 10 in the division, but I think he is in well over his head here. While his price seems attractive, I see little way other than an early flash KO that he has any shot of succeeding.
Rodriguez has been away from fighting since his win over Jeremy Stephens in November 2019, which was actually his best effort. Since then he has had a few cancellations, so any improvement Rodriguez has installed for this fight might not be understood until these men are in the heat of battle.
Rodriguez must find a way to back up Holloway if he is to have any chance, but that will be most difficult as no one has been able to execute that besides Volkanovski.
It’s my belief that Holloway’s footwork, distance control, forward pressure, pace and volume striking will force Rodriguez into backing up, which will signify the beginning of a whole lot of strike absorption.
Holloway opened -520 in this bout.
Total for this fight: 3.5 rounds; Over -150. It opened -110.
I’ll await the release of the props for this fight.
Cynthia Calvillo (-110) vs. Andrea Lee (-110)
Women’s flyweight (125 pounds)
I mentioned recently how champion Valentina Shevchenko stood over the women’s flyweight division, with Jessica Andrade next.
After those two the division is muddled, as all the competitors fight similarly, are similarly equipped and — when faced with the opportunity to face Shevchenko or Andrade — are dominated.
In this fight we have two women who are grouped in the aforementioned quagmire but who have the talent and determination to potentially stand at the top of that group.
The 12th-ranked Lee arrives off a win over Shevchenko’s sister Antonina. She’s a brash, aggressive brawler who wants to stand and throw down. Before her last win she lost three straight to competition over whom most believed she was superior.
Lee arrives at this bout a touch desperate and really needing a win to make any form of run out of the pack and into contention.
Calvillo enters off a one-sided beatdown by Andrade. That loss set Calvillo’s focus specifically on how much further she must improve to be regarded in any form of company with the top two in the division.
Calvillo is mean, she’s tough and, while she’s not the striker Lee is, she is an accomplished wrestler. Her wrestling and grappling coupled with her mean mentality will in my judgment provide her the advantage in this fight.
Calvillo is ready to bounce off that drubbing by Andrade.
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds; Over -290.