Best bets for UFC Vegas 27

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UFC 262 was a spectacular slate on which underdogs outnumbered favorites 6-5. To date in the UFC, favorites stand 93-54-5, or 64.4%, which is similar to previous years.

Charles Oliveira had to go to deep water in the first round before he earned the lightweight title in the second as a slight -125 favorite over Michael Chandler. Middleweight Andre Muniz, who closed + 115, beat Ronaldo Souza to add two net units of profit.

2021 Insight the Octagon: 12-8; + 5.15 units

This week the UFC is back at the Apex Center in Las Vegas for UFC Vegas 27.

Rob Font -120 vs. Cody Garbrandt + 100 

bantamweight (135 pounds), main event

This main event may lack marquee appeal to many MMA fans, but the matchup will more than overcome with action what the fighters may lack in name recognition as both are aggressive strikers.

Garbrandt is the fourth-ranked fighter in the division, and his assets are deft athleticism complemented by unusual quickness, speed and agility. Garbrandt also has power.  

He was a successful Division II wrestler in college and trains at a gym that features almost exclusively wrestling-based fighters. Yet he rarely employs any form of wrestling, preferring to use his physical gifts to try to batter opponents unconscious with strikes.

Garbrandt is impeded by his penchant for recklessness, the damage he has sustained in recent bouts and his absolute balsa-wood beak. With such a solid wrestling base, I wonder if it is pride or lack of awareness that explains why he does not rely at least to some extent on his wrestling.

Could this be the fight when Garbrandt actually uses his wrestling skill in conjunction with his striking to compete against a guy who is salivating to stand with him and then touch him on the front teeth?  

Font is a systematic, forward-pressing striker who possesses power in each hand. Font is slightly taller and holds a 6-inch arm-reach advantage over Garbrandt. In fights that remain standing, fighters with at least 2 inches of reach advantage win 60% of the time. That number rises slightly as the reach advantage grows.

Font, a Muay Thai striker with a brown belt in BJJ, does not have Garbrandt’s athleticism. But he does have slick boxing skills, a power jab, effective striking and kicking and excellent strike defense. He enters this fight with tremendous momentum, having won his last three bouts over ranked bantamweight competition.

In this fight, it’s my judgment Garbrandt must find a way to mix in some wrestling early, then try to utilize movement with in-and-out striking to try to tire the stalking Font. Garbrandt has been a headliner in five-round bouts before, while Font has not. This seems the logical approach, though any wager on Garbrandt runs the risk that as soon as he tastes a little leather, he shuts down mentally and reverts to toe-to-toe warfare.

Because he so rarely uses his wrestling, it seems only a matter of time after the opening bell that Font catches Garbrandt while they’re standing. The question then becomes: How long will Garbrandt be able to refrain from engaging Font in the center of the cage?

Lean to Font -120

Total in this fight: 2.5 Under -125

Yan Xiaonan -110 vs. Carla Esparza -110 

women’s strawweight (115 pounds), co-main event

Esparza is the fourth-ranked fighter in the division. She’s somewhat undersized and is a singularly dimensioned grappler, although she has shown more aptitude with her offensive and defensive striking in her last several fights.

If forced to compete against any of the top-ranked women in her division solely in a stand-up fight, Esparza would be at a substantial disadvantage. Her offense completely revolves around clasping onto opponents, then dragging them to the mat.  

In this fight, Esparza will have one purpose — to take the larger, stronger Xiaonan to the floor, gain top position and test her ability to wrestle and absorb Esparza’s ground and pound.

Xaionan arrives from China as the No. 3-ranked strawweight. Though she will not have a reach advantage, she is 4 inches taller and larger. She is versed in Chinese Sanda, which is a striking specialty, and is decorated in BJJ. This tells me her ground game is potentially suspect.

In previous fights, we’ve not seen any opponents take Xiaonan to the floor, so wrestling and takedown defense become foundational aspects to this fight. How will she deal with the unrelenting forward pressure of a bona fide wrestling talent, and how will Esparza earn inside position on an effective striker?

Xiaonan is 6-0 in the UFC, and her last three opponents far exceed in talent and capacity the fighters Esparza has faced.

Xiaonan opened -170, and money has come in on Esparza, which I find surprising as Xiaonan has physical edges and employs volume striking and kicking complete with power and precision.

This is a tough spot for Esparza.

Xiaonan -120

Total in this fight: 2.5 Over -365

Jack Hermansson -155 vs. Edmen Shahbazyan + 135

middleweight (185 pounds)

Fascinating fight. Hermansson, 21-6 professionally, is ranked seventh and at 32 is arguably at the prime of his MMA career.

His striking is a bit choppy and unrefined, but he’s large for the division, with strong wrestling and a reputable submission attack.

Hermansson is entering this fight off a loss to Marvin Vettori, yet a closer look shows that Vettori stepped into that bout on extremely short notice after Hermansson had been preparing for two other most competent, dangerous, tall, long strikers. Vettori happens to be a shorter, more well-rounded attacker, so I do give Hermansson a partial pass for that loss, which may work now in his favor.

Hermansson surely feels pressure and desperation to get back into the win column and regain the solid footing of a top-five ranking in the division, which could be his with a victory. This is a huge fight for Hermansson’s career.

Shahbazyan is ranked 10th and is a forward-pressing striker who at 23 is athletic, explosive and dangerous in any stand-up confrontation. He had all the hype until last August, when he ran into Derrick Brunson and was awarded his PhD in MMA by using a heavy wrestling attack.

In that bout, Shahbazyan was exposed on the ground and displayed a lack of conditioning early. He had absolutely no defense for Brunson’s pressure wrestling. The blueprint for how to defeat this young, inexperienced but dangerous striker was established then for the whole division to see.

It’s interesting that the UFC would now toss this kid, who’s still a little green, into a match with a world-class wrestler immediately after such a loss. Wrestling chops take years to acquire, so I view this as a difficult fight for Shahbazyan.  

Hermansson’s single point of focus once the fight begins will be to engage on the feet only long enough to drag his young opponent to the floor and then envelope him like a python and eventually choke the breath out of him.

But if Shahbazyan can use his athleticism and keep this fight standing, he’ll be the one with the advantage. He must press Hermansson backward and bully, brawl and batter him, for Hermansson does not like to be physically manhandled.

Does Shahbazyan have the tools to be effective in this bout against a fighter at least as capable as the one who just dominated him?

Hermansson -155 

He opened -185, so use patience to allow for more price advantage. He’ll be Leg 1 of a two-fighter parlay, with the second leg to be filled later.

Total in this fight: 1.5 -135

1.5 rounds is very low, so the oddsmakers are expecting Hermansson to submit Shahbazyan early or they think Shahbazyan will finish Hermansson, which would be via strikes early.

Lean Over 1.5 rounds -135

 

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