Heavyweight battle takes spotlight in another UFC card

By Lou Finocchiaro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

May 15, 2020 10:22 PM

UFC Fight Night 176, the third card since May 9, features an important heavyweight bout that will propel the winner upward in a division thin on talent and depth while the loser will be forced to work his way up in the rankings.

Wednesday’s Insight the Octagon releases were 3-1 1.25 units. In 2020, we stand 12-2 10.6 units. Readers who have followed these releases at $50 per wager would have paid for the “Point Spread Weekly” subscription by now — the best weekly wagering newsletter anywhere.

Here’s a fight-by-fight glimpse into each fight for UFC 176 on Saturday.

Walt Harris -160 vs. Alistair Overeem 140, Heavyweight (265 pounds), Main Event

Overeem is a decorated 39-year-old mixed martial artist. His wealth of experience and his superior kickboxing/Muay Thai background have enabled him to be a dangerous force in the light heavyweight and heavyweight division of every organization in MMA since he turned professional in 1999.

Overeem’s Achilles however is a fragile chin. In his last fight, he dominated Jair Rozenstruik for 14:56 of a 15-minute bout when Jair jolted him and ended the affair via KO. What we know from that fight is that Overeem is still athletic enough and has the conditioning (Elevation Fight Team in Denver) to execute a plan that requires precision striking and deft movement to keep opponents at range where he can inflict damage with his fists and his lethal kicks.

Harris is three years younger than Overeem. Harris'  professional career until 2017 was inconsistent at best. Since then, he has a 3-0-1 mark against dubious competition and is stepping way up in quality of opponent and giving away much by way of experience.

The premium when one considers Harris is his athleticism, explosion and power. Harris is fighting for the first time since his stepdaughter’s kidnapping and murder in December. 

Harris opened -160 and, as we have seen in these last few fight slates, the favorites are getting bet late.I expect Harris to gain more money as we near fight time.

This is an Overeem + 120 or better play, my choice will be to use Overeem via Submission + 950 for fractions of a unit.

Claudia Gadelha -190 vs. Angela Hill 165, Women’s Strawweight (115 pounds)

Gadelha, the sixth-ranked women's strawweight, is a Brazilian fighter with a complete fight arsenal and the mentality of a rabid pitbull. Her striking is adequate enough to allow her to fight her way inside then clinch/clasp opponents and transition to the floor where she is dominant.

Gadelha, who has been inactive since July, averages 3.4 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time and almost a submission per 15 minutes. With the disadvantages in arm and leg reach that Gadelha will experience in this fight, I believe it’s in her best interest to force Hill to the mat, where her advantage is greatest as she does average a submission per 15 minutes of fight time.

This will be the seventh fight for Hill since 2019, which adds to her allure as an underdog. She has won four of her last five since a submission loss to Randa Markos late in 2018. But she has not competed against any opponent near Gadelha’s level of ground acumen.

Hill’s a busy striker averaging just under six strikes per minute while strike defense is Gadelha’s greatest area of improvement. (She absorbs an average of 4.4 strikes per minute.) Hill must keep this fight standing and use movement to keep Gadelha at distance in order to both employ her striking and keep the unrelenting Gadelha away from her. Hill will need to rely on her 73% takedown defense to thwart the many takedown attempts by the brazen Brazilian.

I like Hill’s chances

Edson Barboza -120 vs. Dan Ige 110, Featherweight (145 pounds)

Barboza, 34, is an explosive striker who is fluent in Muay Thai, BJJ and Taekwondo. 

Since December 2013, the elite level of opponent faced by Barboza is unmatched by any fighter in any division of the UFC. He is 8-7 in that span — 1-4 in his last five bouts with losses to Nurmagomedov, Lee, Gaethje and Felder. (His one victory was over Dan Hooker). That is evidence of the elite world-class level of competition he has faced. The collective result of those fights is also evidence of the amount of world-class damage he has had to endure throughout those battles, all at lightweight (155 pounds).

For this fight, Barboza will drop to featherweight. He will be the taller man by four inches and his lethal precision striking will be enhanced by his four-inch reach advantage. Barboza trains in Florida, so he’ll have the benefit of dropping to his new weight in familiar confines.

Meanwhile Barboza’s overlooked opponent is a natural featherweight in Dan Ige. Ige knows that this outstanding opportunity comes with high risk, the risk of allowing Barboza to drop into the weight class and steal the momentum he has earned after having won his last five UFC fights.

Ige’s stepping up in class in exponential fashion against Barboza if we’re handicapping this fight on paper. That said, his last two wins were against impressive featherweight competition, he’s the younger man by six years, and will be the fresher fighter. He’ll need to be to execute his plan, which involves striking initially then eventually taking Barboza to the ground for a beating.

Like a professional, Barboza made 145 Friday just as this wager mandated.

Ige + 110

Krzysztof Jotko -160 vs. Eryk Anders 140, Middleweight (185 pounds)

Two left-handed strikers are matched, but that is where the similarity ends.  

Jotko, the Polish fighter, is somewhat typical of the European strikers in that he’s relatively upright in stance, somewhat deliberate and has experienced great difficulty with fighters who are aggressors. That’s why he was dropped by the organization and forced to earn his way back. Still, he offers little in the way of power or submission threat with 65% of his wins via decision. That said, he’s coming in off shoulder surgery and feels 100% with no excuses in this bout. Jotko feels he’s more the polished fighter than Anders who he regards as just a “tough guy.”

Anders is a former Alabama linebacker who is learning to corral his aggression and is willing to blitz opponents as second nature. Anders needs further development in precision execution and fluid evasive defense.

Jotko has had a longer career and is the more seasoned fighter, but Anders has been in the Octagon with elite fighters such as Thiago Santos and Lyoto Machida, so nothing Jotko offers will be unfamiliar to Anders.

Jotko must box to keep Anders at the end of his kicks/strikes and accumulate points over time. Anders' success is due to the fact that he has finished opponents in 75% of his wins.

Pass

Song Yadong -190 vs. Marlon Vera 165, featherweight (145 pounds)  

Here’s an evenly matched fight between two fighters on the ascent.

Vera, ranked 15th in the UFC Bantamweight rankings, earns merit for effective striking and a superior grappling/ground game as 86% of his wins have come via finish, 57% via submission. The 27-year-old Ecuadorian will ship to Florida from his camp in California for this bout. These men usually fight at 135 pounds, but have agreed to a 145-pound limit, so the travel/weight issues become less of an issue.

Yadong, the 14th-ranked Bantamweight, is one of the many up-and-coming talents from mainland China. At just 22, he already has a 4-0-1 mark in the UFC and he’s coming off a draw against Cody Stamman (after he was docked a point in Round 1).

Rolling into Vera from Stamman shows that Yadong and camp have top-10 aspirations. It’s likely the winner of this bout will face a top-rated bantamweight next. Yadong will display an edge in athleticism, explosion and power as he finishes 40% of his opponents via KO/TKO so this one sets up to be a dandy.

Physically, these two match up closely, though Vera has arms and legs reach advantages of two inches, which is key to him trying to keep Yadong from forcing his way inside.

Yadong opened -170 and has been bet to -190. As we’ve seen in the last two cards, the UFC gamblers show up late, they show up with an aversion to underdogs and they like to use those favorites in parlays. So be patient with this and the other mangy mutts I’m dishing for Saturday as their prices may well continue to gain value.

Vera + 165

PRELIMINARY CARD

Miguel Baeza -200 vs. Matt Brown 170, Welterweight (170 pounds)

Baeza (8-0) is a rising prospect and faces his second test in the UFC.  Brown will enter his 41st professional fight, so there’s a vast experience advantage for Brown (24-16), who has a finish rate of 91% in his victories.

For a change, Brown won’t be the taller fighter in the Octagon. Baeza is two inches taller and shares a 75-inch reach. Baeza is 27, Brown 39.

Brown has fought once since 2017, a KO over a completely washed-up Ben Saunders last December.

We saw Wednesday in the Kelleher win as well the Arlovski upset that young, inexperienced fighters may be having issues dealing with the delays, postponements and other distractions caused by this pandemic. While that may be the case, it’s my judgment that the youth, size, explosion and speed kills. Baeza opened -170.

Lean Under 1.5 + 120

Anthony Hernandez -110 vs Kevin Holland -110, Middleweight (185 pounds)

Holland was thrown into the fire in his UFC debut against second-ranked light-heavyweight contender Thiago Santos, a fight hardly winnable for him at the time. Yet he took the bout and made it to decision with one of the most devastating strikers in the division ABOVE the division Holland competes in.

Since then, Holland has gone three of four with his last outing being a submission loss to Brendan Allen, a result that surprised many as Holland closed a -195 favorite. 

Holland is three inches taller than Hernandez and has a six-inch arm reach advantage. Take note: In his fight against Allen, Holland had similar physical advantages.

Hernandez has submitted opponents in 57% of his wins. Hernandez is certain to have studied Holland’s last fight against Allen and drawn inspiration from it as Hernandez submitted Allen in LFA in a December 2018 bout.

Holland must strive to keep this fight standing, use movement and striking to maintain space for his advantage while Hernandez must not allow Holland enough room to even breathe. Styles make fights.

Pass

Darren Elkins -120 vs. Nate Landwehr 100, Featherweight (145 pounds)

Physically, these two men are almost mirror images. Landwehr is 31, so he’ll be five years younger and an inch taller. At 1-1 in the UGC, Landwehr is still without any depth of experience while Elkins is a veteran of 32 fights spanning 12 years. Elkins has lost his last three bouts against fighters more decorated than anyone Landwehr has fought.

How much Elkins has left is the question. His name recognition, the respect he commands within the MMA community and his epic toughness will all point fans his way come Saturday. Elkins opened 105 for this bout and has been bet into a favorite’s position. I believe that the flow of cash on him will continue and that any interested parties in Landwehr should be looking to move on him in the minutes leading up to this bout.

Landwehr or nothing here gang

Courtney Casey -160 vs. Maria Romero-Borella 140, Women’s Flyweight (125 pounds)

Casey always fights to the level of her competition — no matter the ranking or skill level of the opponent. She also has been involved in decision results in each of her fights since 2016. Her last fight was a one-sided decision loss in February 2019 and, for this one, she is up a class at flyweight after having spent the whole of her career at 115 pounds. Casey also has switched gyms, so it will be interesting to see her performance after these changes. It’s not easy for fighters who move up a weight class to carry all of their cardio with them. Another issue is that Casey may be one of the finest gym fighters in today’s game, but when the lights turn on….she just can’t fire.

Borella and Casey are of similar height, though Borella will have a 2-inch arm reach advantage and 3 inches with legs.

Borella’s a more conservative striker than Casey, landing 2.6 strikes per minute to Casey’s 4.8, but striking is not Borella’s forte. The Italian’s 71% strike defense is of the best in the division. If she can frustrate Casey and catch her charging in to engage, then Casey plays right into Borella’s strength as she averages 1.5 takedowns per minute in her fights.

The larger Borella recognizes that her opportunity is in forcing Casey (53% takedown defense) to the carpet for a crawl.

Borella + 130; Borella via decision is + 250 also worthy of consideration

Don’Tale Mayes -115 vs. Rodrigo Nascimento -105 Heavyweight (265 pounds)

Nascimento, a 6-3 Brazilian, debuts from the contender series. The BJJ specialist’s last fight was in July. He has decent size, good burst and power, but a striking competition may not be in his best interest against Mayes. Nascimento is giving up height and reach in this battle with an all-out power striker, so it's mandatory he find a way to drag the larger striker down to the mat where Nascimento will have tremendous advantage.

Lean Nascimento -105

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