Best bets for UFC 290: Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez
UFC 290 this week from the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas starts at 3 p.m. PT with early preliminary action followed by prelims at 4 p.m. PT. The main PPV slate featuring five bouts and two world championships starts at 6 p.m. PT.
Once again, this week, the bouts feature a heavy dose of international talent. Australian and Mexican athletes alone populate eleven of the twelve fights.
Last week, Grant Dawson +110 drubbed rival Damir Ismagulov in a very one-sided decision. 2023 Insight the octagon profitability 2023 stands 11-9 +3.15u because of that win.
Alexander Volkanovski (champion) -380 vs. Yair Rodriguez +290
Featherweight (145 pounds) Championship | Main Event
Finocchiaro: In February of this year, Rodriguez won the 145-pound interim title in an impressive second-round finish of top-five fighter Josh Emmett. That result for Yair only becomes more impressive after witnessing Ilya Topuria earn a one-sided decision win over Emmett just last week.
Rodriguez, a black belt in Taekwondo, is an explosive, destructive, flamboyant switch stance striker. He’s long, quick, precise and extremely creative on his feet and in distance.
In this bout, he’ll have six inches of height, five years of age and an inch of reach advantage all of which equate to tremendous advantage should Rodriguez be able to navigate this fight on the feet for the full twenty-five minutes. Rodriguez’s length is magnified because of the lethal way he inflicts damage with his kicks, and as is usual for him, the kicking game will be a foundational aspect to his attack.
In the champion Volkanovski, we get a uniquely constructed athlete who in his youth played championship team rugby at 205 pounds. He’s constructed like a fire hydrant and clearly has little issue competing with larger, taller foes.
Volkanovski redirected his will to compete from being an MVP in rugby to mixed martial arts in his early twenties. He did so by forging his early formed Greco-Roman wrestling base and his dedication to becoming a world-class mixed martial artist. This is evidenced by the black belt in BJJ he has earned from the renowned City Kickboxing gym and the results he’s realized these last five years plus.
Volkanovski is no stranger to switching stances to create angles, striking lanes and takedown opportunities. He’ll unleash his own arsenal of bludgeoning calf/thigh kicks on opponents set up by his deft movement and striking effectiveness.
As champion, Volkanovski has defended his title against elite challengers four times before experiencing a setback when he lost a split decision in February to arguably the top pound-for-pound athlete in UFC Lightweight champion Islam Makhachev at 155 pounds!
In this fight, Rodriguez will look to maintain distance to pepper Volkanovski with teep kicks, spinning heels, elbows and flying knees. He’ll also use footwork to set up his counterstriking against the unrelenting forward pressure Volkanovski is going to apply.
While Rodriguez has shown improvement in his wrestling/grappling/ground game, I don’t believe he’s capable of dealing with Volkanovski in the clinch, pressed against the fence, or on the mat, so the Rodriguez tactics for this fight seem clear—work in open space, utilize kicks to maintain distance and counter his forward pressing foe with strikes from every angle and appendage.
For his part, Volkanovski will work to back Rodriguez up, press him against the fence, then soften the body up while forcing the taller man to expend energy. He’ll eventually look to drag Yair to the floor. From top position, Volkanovski will work to drop a heavy dose of elbows, fists and submission attempts for advantage as it’s debatable just how capable Rodriguez will be off his back against this foe.
This fight looks to be highly competitive until the championship rounds where I believe Volkanovski’s pressure will eventually crack Rodriguez’s cardio and then his will.
Total in this fight: 4.5 rds. Over -120
Kuhn: Unification bouts are great because you know you’re getting a solid matchup. But in this case, the market isn’t giving Yair Rodriguez much of a chance against the true incumbent champ, Volkanovski. And the numbers agree.
Volkanovski has the more technical striking and more reliable wrestling. And given how closely he fought Lightweight champ Islam Makhachev in his last outing, you’d have to bank on something unusual happening for a Rodriguez upset. While Rodriguez is the wilier striker, Volkanovski has proven himself against excellent strikers in the past, able to pour on damage without taking much in return.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay a big price for Volkanovski, but at least you can use him as a parlay anchor.
Brandon Moreno (champion) -190 vs. Alexandre Pantoja +160
Flyweight (125 pounds) championship
Finocchiaro: This will be the third time these two have tussled. To date, Moreno has yet to earn a victory.
When these two first fought, it was 2016, and Pantoja, then 27, was a full-grown man, and Moreno, 22, was the last one in the TUF house. He was slight, young and green.
In the second bout held in 2018, Moreno had improved, but the result was still a unanimous decision win for the more mature and experienced fighter, Pantoja.
Since these two have last competed, each has dynamically improved, and while I’m prepared to give Pantoja credit for his wins over Manel Kape and Brandon Royval, the fact is that he has not stayed overly active and he’s giving up age and size to Moreno.
Pantoja is coming off a victory over journeyman Alex Perez, but that was a year ago. Pantoja is now 33 years old, competing at flyweight where cardio and fleet footedness are premium traits. He steps in against an elite mixed martial artist in Moreno who has evolved comprehensively since their last fight physically, mentally and tactically.
Moreno is four years younger, two inches taller and holds a three-inch reach advantage over Pantoja. What’s more important is that Moreno knows how to use his tools now. In this fight, his best weaponry will be his conditioning, his speed, his footwork and his focus.
Let’s not forget that Moreno is a savvy veteran of five-round main event and feature fights. This is Pantoja’s first.
Total in this fight: 3.5 Rounds Over -180
This is the first time in many years that I am struggling to uncover an underdog this early in the week. I’ll have something by week’s end, but in the meantime, here is a parlay I’ll offer for this week’s 1u release. (available at DraftKings).
Pick: Volkanovski by any KO-Sub-DQ +165/Moreno -190; +304
Kuhn: Seems a lifetime ago that Brandon Moreno lost to Pantoja, making this rematch historically compelling and fresh at the same time given how both fighters have evolved. On paper, Pantoja matches up fairly well on the feet, with better accuracy, pace and power. But given that over a third of Moreno’s Octagon time was against his toughest opponent, Figueiredo, his stats could be a little deflated if anything.
Regardless, I still think Moreno holds his own on the feet and then adds an advantage on the ground. Pantoja is a worthy adversary, but Moreno finds a way to get this done. Not a ton of value at -200, but a parlay with Volkanovski makes for a safe #AndStill play for the card.
Niko Price -275 vs. Robbie Lawler +220
Featherweight (145 pounds)
Kuhn: You won’t find me betting on fighters over 40 often, and not even the nostalgia of Ruthless Robbie Lawler will change my mind this week. Niko will have a huge volume advantage, pairing his abnormally busy pace of standup striking with Lawler’s historically hesitant counters. Niko will have to watch out for Lawler’s power, but he’s no stranger to trading leather with elite strikers. It’s chalky, but look for Price to get the win and Lawler to cut off his gloves after the fight.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy the fights!