UFC best bets: Ankalaev vs. Santos

March 11, 2022 07:28 PM

This week the UFC returns to the Apex for 14 scheduled bouts that feature combatants from China to Nigeria and from Cameroon to the Congo. Six bouts feature fighters who will weigh at least 170 pounds but arrive at the event at a much higher weight. Large-statured, athletic, focused fighters in a small cage are sure to excite fans because small spaces encourage confrontation.

Last week Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell overwhelmed Edson Barboza in a result that was surprising both in how dominant Mitchell was as well as how Barboza was unable to fend off Mitchell’s forward pressure.

This week the athletes are well-matched, but there are several profit opportunities in this slate.

Let’s take a look at a few.

Thiago Santos (+ 360) vs. Magomed Ankalaev (-465)

Light heavyweight (205 pounds)

Ankalaev, ranked sixth in the division, is 7-1 in the UFC, having been submitted in the final seconds of his debut fight by a very underrated fighter in Paul Craig.

Ankalaev, like many dominant Russian fighters, is a master of sport in combat Sambo, but he’s not quite on the level of most of the lethal Russian fighters.

Ankalaev has won his last seven bouts, but the level of competition has not been elite, nor has he looked dominant in either of his last two bouts when he stepped up in class within the division.

Ankalaev has not had one submission finish, which is notable because Santos’ kryptonite is his lack of grappling prowess.

Santos, 38, looks like he’s sculpted out of granite. His kicks and strikes are delivered with explosion and have a bludgeoning effect. The Brazilian specializes in Capoeira, Muay Thai and BJJ, but his forte is to engage opponents on the feet, force them backward and batter them into unconsciousness with blunt force strikes delivered with elbows, hands, knees and feet.

Santos is the No. 5-ranked light heavyweight based on a solid body of work that had him destroying four top-ranked opponents on his way to a title fight against Jon Jones in July 2019, which he lost. During that fight, Santos sustained a torn left LCL, PCL, MCL, meniscus and cracked tibia along with a partially torn right ACL.

He returned after a long absence only to be beaten by current No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira, then Aleksandar Rakic.

So Santos enters this bout having lost his last four bouts, the last of which was the most damning indicator that his power, forcefulness and finishing ability have left him as he was unable to even threaten the glass-jawed Johnny Walker in his last outing.

Santos must step up his urgency and force his way inside the pocket against Ankalaev, force him into a corner of the fence, where the younger, taller Russian’s reach will be squelched.

From there, Santos must open fire. He needs to pounce early to beat this opponent.

Ankalaev, on the other hand, needs to be impressive because a lackluster decision victory will do little for his bid for a shot at the champion, Teixeira.

Total in this fight: 3.5 rounds pick-’em

Kamuela Kirk (-130) vs. Damon Jackson (+ 110)

Featherweight (145 pounds)

Kirk, 27, is a marvelous athlete, but this is only his second UFC bout. And though he earned a victory in his debut, his opponent is not regarded as a top-20 featherweight. 

Kirk, six years younger than Jackson, also has a four-inch reach advantage. Kirk is versed in BJJ, and most of his victories have come via submission, albeit against subpar fighters.

Jackson has more experience than Kirk, he’s larger and has competed against a much higher level of mixed martial artist.

Where these two men differ is in the level of commitment, toughness and determination each displays in the octagon. Jackson brings unrelenting pressure, is as tough as a three-dollar steak and is single-mindedly focused. I question whether Kirk fits that description.

Kirk will look effective early, but once this bout gets dirty, grimy, ugly and into the second round when both men are grinding, Jackson will rise to the occasion.

Play: Jackson + 110. Don’t delay as this line is moving quickly.

Total in this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -170

Worthy of consideration based on the total: Jackson via decision + 200.

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