This week the main event from UFC’s Fight Island is a bantamweight bout, but it’s in the ultra-competitive men’s division championed by Russian Petr Yan. Now that we’re abroad again, the flavor of these fights turns international, the matchups become more diverse in fighting specialty and, as we saw from the first set of cards from Fight Island, future stars can be made in 15 minutes or less.
This card will have 13 scheduled bouts featuring fighters from 14 countries.
Cory Sandhagen -128 vs. Marlon Moraes + 108, bantamweight (135 pounds), main event
Moraes is the No. 1-ranked bantamweight contender, though he is not a top-4 combatant in this division, in my handicapping. A black belt in Muay Thai and BJJ, Moraes complements his well-rounded fighting arsenal with quickness, explosion and precision striking. Devastating are the results of Moraes’ strikes and spinning kicks, especially early in fights.
Moraes has fought the top of the division, and his results against ranked fighters have produced consistent results. He is highly effective early, as opponents find it difficult to withstand his aggressive offensive onslaught. But later in fights, he fades badly.
The key to overcoming Moraes is to withstand that early barrage and force him to fight a full three rounds. In Saturday’s case, it’s going to be five rounds. In Moraes’ previous five-round bout, he was painting Henry Cejudo’s fence early until he ran out of steam. Cejudo finished him late in the third round.
As Moraes expends energy on his diverse striking attack, his cardio tends to fade, and so does his fight IQ. He will have to prove he can effectively manage 25 minutes of high-paced championship fighting before I begin to buy into him as a legitimate contender. His switch to ATT in Florida further proves to me that at 32, Moraes is searching. And searching at this stage of his career is a red flag.
Sandhagen enters this fight off adversity, suffering a knockout at the hands of Aljamain Sterling in his last fight. Sterling was KO’d by Moraes a few years back, which is the only reason Moraes is ranked a notch above Sterling.
Sandhagen has some physical advantages. He’ll be younger by four years, taller by 5 inches and longer with 3-inch reach advantages with his arms and legs. Sandhagen’s background is kickboxing-based, and he has a brown belt in BJJ. Training at Team Elevation in Colorado is a premium for Sandhagen, as it will allow him to overcome to some degree his disadvantage in professional fight experience.
Sandhagen is a cerebral fighter who uses his size and length to maintain spacing, which allows him to levy punishment at distance, where he is most effective. Sandhagen has power, but his best work is accomplished via the accumulation of strikes and kicks. Defensively, Sandhagen will be tested by Moraes early as Moraes works to earn his way inside the pocket.
How successful is Moraes pressing for inside presence? Can Sandhagen utilize fluid movement and counterstriking to batter the incoming Moraes?
Sandhagen’s level-headedness, youth, counterstriking and size will allow him to overcome the frantic first round or two from Moraes, then eventually swing the fight into his favor as we enter the championship rounds.
We’ll utilize Sandhagen as the second leg of the open parlay working with Israel Adesanya -170
Adesanya -170/Sandhagen-128 + 172
Total in this bout is 3.5 Under -130
Edson Barboza -265 vs. Makwan Amirkhani + 225, featherweight (145 pounds), co-main event
Barboza moved down from lightweight to fight Dan Ige at featherweight in May. While there were doubts about Barboza’s ability to be effective at that weight, his result spoke for itself. Barboza looked fantastic, and though he did not receive the decision he probably earned, he quelled thoughts that he would be unable to make the 145-pound limit.
At 34, Barboza still has championship mettle, and he holds vast advantages over his opponent in experience, level of competition faced, height and reach. Highly decorated in BJJ, Muay Thai and taekwondo, Barboza stands in a most advantageous situation provided he makes weight.
Amirkhani took this bout on short notice, and the notion that he can give Barboza any real challenge seems remote. Amirkhani is a Finnish Greco-Roman wrestler. He’ll not want to engage with Barboza standing, as he’ll be outclassed fighting on the feet. Therefore, I anticipate Amirkhani’s plan will be to immediately try to work his way inside and grind the larger Barboza to the mat for a wrestling brawl.
The problem is that it takes heart, guts and grit, and I am not certain Amirkhani has those traits. We’ll have to watch and determine if Amirkhani can prove he belongs in the top tier of the featherweight division against a fighter who sports championship pedigree in two divisions.
Barboza opened -195
Total in this bout is 2.5 Under -130
Nothing may happen in this fight until Barboza makes weight. Because he made weight once does not ensure he will do it this time half a world away in Abu Dhabi.
Ben Rothwell -185 vs. Marcin Tybura + 160, heavyweight (265 pounds)
Rothwell, 38, is the more complete fighter with experience and competition advantages. He’s about the same size as his Polish opponent, and while their skills may line up as relatively equal on the feet, it’s on the mat where Rothwell will hold an edge. The question is whether he’ll tax himself by trying to take his opponent there.
Tybura is a black belt in BJJ but utilizes his striking more in fights. Tybura, 2-2 since 2019, has fought only the division's lower-level talent, and Rothwell is a step up in class. I see Rothwell walking down Tybura, pressing him backward and forcing him to fight from bell to bell. Rothwell thrives in ugly, groping, sloppy brawls.
Total in this bout is 2.5 Over -150
Tom Breese -260 vs. KB Bhullar + 220, middleweight (185 pounds)
I broke down this fight for last week’s card, but it is on this week’s slate. Breese sports an 11-2 record over a 10-year career, which tells the difficult story of this English mixed martial artist who has been so inactive for a decade. At 6-foot-3, Breese is a big man for the division with a sculpted physique. A black belt in BJJ, Breese can stand and bang with the best fighters in the world.
When Breese is on his game, he is a true contender as I handicap this division. But he has one glaring issue. Breese has struggled mentally and emotionally and has had more than one fight canceled because of it.
As a fight handicapper, I work to uncover fighters who are prepared to offer their absolute best on fight night. With Breese, I can never count on getting that kind of effort, which makes it dangerous to take a position on him.
Bhullar has been striving, training and grinding to make it to the UFC since he began fighting professionally in 2012. He does not have the chiseled body or the level of experience of Breese, but one thing bettors can count on with this debuting Canadian fighter is that he’s coming to make a name for himself.
If Breese is at his best, Bhullar will have a difficult time getting his hand raised. But if Breese is in any way distracted, that will leave the door open for Bhullar to win.
The extra week provides Bhullar with more time to prepare and Breese more time to think …
This bout opened Breese -185 before it was moved to this week. My approach is to monitor this bout as we move later into the week, but I’ll attack the Bhullar line if I see it slip down. Otherwise patience is advised until weigh-ins.
The total on this bout is Over 2.5 -140
Bhullar + 220
(or better, pending weigh-ins)
Insight the Octagon’s releases split on the women’s bantamweights last week, winning a unit on Germain de Randamie -110 (she closed -140) but dropping one unit on Irene Aldana + 105, who was soundly outclassed by Holly Holm.
Insight the Octagon profitability 2020: 32-20 + 18.0u
Thus far in 2020 favorites stand 216-109-11 64.2%
Special future wager
For UFC 254 on Oct. 24, Bovada just opened Jared Cannonier -115 vs. Robert Whittaker -115
Cannonier -115 best bet