The UFC held forty-three major events in 2022, forty -two to forty-five productions per year seems to be the standard but what’s not been standard has been the steep increase in favorites that landed in the win column in ‘22.
Favorites realized a 308-143-12 result for 66.5% last season in the UFC. In ’21 and years prior, they cashed at roughly 63%. So, while the increase last year is acknowledged, I’ll hope it to be an exception as opposed to any form of new norm.
Last year, profitability for Insight the Octagon digital releases was: 28-19 11.77u ( 1.14 average release). Not a bad result when figuring the spike in favorites. Just from digital UFC profit alone, one may pay for their VSiN Digital subscription and have cash remaining to invest; it’s been that way each year we have run this column!
2023 kicks off this Saturday at the APEX in Las Vegas for UFC LV 67 before packing up for UFC 283, where two Brazilians will vie for two different championship belts on January 21 from Jeunesse Arena, Rio De Janeiro.
Saturday’s event at the UFC APEX is scheduled for twelve fights in the smaller 25’ Octagon. Of the twelve bouts, only three feature athletes weighing above 170 lbs. I’ll highlight a couple of those battles in this column.
Sean Strickland 100 vs. Nassourdine Imavov -120
Light Heavyweight (205 lbs) main event
Until Monday night, the main event of this slate featured Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nassourdine Imavov.
Gastelum took a shin to the teeth last week and will miss the fight, leaving local Las Vegas Middleweight (185 lbs) Sean Strickland in a position to help the organization by stepping in for a short-notice main event. It also allows him to try to remove the poor taste in his mouth from losing both of his high visibility bouts over these last seven months.
This fight will be held at 205 lbs allowing Strickland, who competes at 185 lbs, to easily make weight for the fight. Strickland just competed in a main event four weeks ago, a five-round split decision loss to Jared Cannonier. As an aside, Strickland lives and trains in Las Vegas, so this is an easy opportunity for him to grab based on his constant conditioning and proximity to the APEX.
Imavov is regarded by many, including myself, as a potential threat to the top tier of this middleweight division. That said, this short-notice change of opponent/weight class is hugely disruptive for him.
Imavov held obtuse physical advantages over the originally scheduled Gastelum, but now his height and age advantages are somewhat squelched. Gastelum has been inactive and has dropped four of his last five, while new opponent Strickland is coming off fights against now-champion Alex Pereira and Cannonier.
Imavov, 26, will be a few inches taller, and he’ll be the quicker man in the octagon on Saturday. But he’ll be in with the seventh-ranked middleweight in Strickland who may not be affected in any way shape or form after competing in that five-round decision last month.
This was about to be a coming out party for the twelfth-ranked Frenchman, but now he must contend with a foul-mouthed aggressor like Strickland who holds a vast experience advantage, having competed against far superior athletes in the division. Strickland is not the stepping stone Gastelum was, so Imavov will have his work cut out for him.
Once this bout begins, it’s how Imavov handles the forward pressure volume striking from Strickland that will determine his fate. In past fights and against lesser competition, Imavov has struggled with his late-fight cardio/conditioning.
Imavov may choose to go right after the aggressor and catch him cold and early. As this bout wears on, it’s Strickland who will be more comfortable competing. He has been here before, and he’s proven he can compete with the elite.
This is a huge test for Imavov, and it’s a fine opportunity for Strickland. In the end, Strickland’s experience, grit, and focus may be too much for a still-developing Russian fighter training out of France who thought he was getting an advantageous opportunity. In fact, Imavov is walking into a much more dangerous situation.
Total for this fight: 4.5 Rds. Over -130
Props will offer rich opportunities. Tune into @VSiN’s First Strike Friday for a more complete analysis.
Puna Soriano -150 vs. Roman Kopylov 130
Middleweight (185 lbs)
Here are two journeymen middleweights whose fight in my estimation is situated just outside the main events because these two cats are strikers. More than likely, each will forge forward in order to hurl power kicks, strikes, elbows and knees upon the other.
Kopylov, a Russian southpaw, enters off a win, albeit over a fighter no longer in the organization. He’ll be the slightly taller athlete in the cage and hold a two-inch reach edge with his arms, which does provide some advantage considering these two will fight standing.
Soriano enters off an impressive win after a couple of tough losses and is the fighter with a more well-rounded game. He has a solid wrestling base, though he chooses not to utilize it in fights. Besides being the more versed, experienced fighter, it’s Soriano who may be the more fluent striker in that he utilizes defensive tactics where his opponent has yet to display any of that aptitude.
These two fighters are on the cusp of the cutting board. They are basic forward-pressing power strikers and enter the cage highly desperate to win. This matchup has all the qualifications for earning bonus money.
Soriano’s power and well-rounded ability coupled with the fact that he lives in Las Vegas while his opponent had to travel into the city for this event from Russia force me to regard Soriano as being in a great position to shine Saturday.
Soriano opened -180
Lean Soriano but the line is moving my way…. patience
Total in this fight: 2.5 Rds. Under -135
Dan Ige -120 vs. Damon Jackson 100
Featherweight (145 lbs) Co-main event
Jackson is a long, tall drink of water who fights using that extreme length to position himself advantageously into submission prowess. A blue belt in BJJ, Jackson wants to get ahold of opponents and then use his length to envelop them to choke them out. Of Jackson’s 22 victories, 15 have been via submission. Jackson’s won his last four fights topped by an amazing first-round beatdown of Pat Sabatini in his last outing.
Las Vegas local Dan Ige has competed against the absolute elite in the featherweight division. Ige is a deft striker who holds a purple belt in BJJ and a brown belt in Judo. Ige has lost four of his last five but against the absolute elite of the division in pretty competitive fights, so one must dig a little deeper to understand the depth of Ige’s fight ability/potential.
Ige’s results over his last five fights, coupled with the dynamic Sabatini win for Jackson in his last outing, have influenced the marketplace on this event.
While this fight is currently lined close to pick-em, Ige could easily be priced higher in this fight; in fact, I am surprised he is not.
Total in this fight: 2.5 Rds. Over -185
More thoughts on this bout later in the week.
Thank you for reading and listen in to my ‘Bout Business Podcast Friday for all my final releases for UFC LV67!