UFC 274 was mired in a paradox of epic proportion. Champion Charles Oliveira missed weight by a half-pound, which forced him to vacate the lightweight title before his defense. With that epic miss, the only way Oliveira could earn a chance to compete for his championship belt would be in his next fight, provided that he beat Justin Gaethje on Saturday night.
Oliveira’s dominance over Gaethje solidified his place among all-time lightweight talent. He displayed a keen determination for clearing his name after the distracting turn of events on the scale Friday morning. This could not have been an easy task.
So Oliveira is now universally recognized as the lightweight champion even though he must now earn it in an upcoming bout to “officially” lay claim to the belt. We’ll be watching this and all other UFC developments in the weeks ahead.
Last week, Insight the Octagon tallied a 2-0 + 2.15-units result on Oliveira’s win and Randy Brown’s solid performance over Khaos Williams as an underdog priced at + 115.
Insight the Octagon profitability in 2022: 8-5 + 3.25 units
Aleksandar Rakic (-185) vs. Jan Blachowicz (+ 160)
Light heavyweight (205 pounds) | Main Event
No. 3-ranked Rakic returns to the octagon for the first time since March of 2021, when he earned a one-sided decision victory over Thiago Santos. Rakic, the favorite in this fight against Blachowicz, has a brown belt in BJJ and he’s a championship kickboxer.
Rakic, 30, is nine years younger than Blachowicz, he has a two-inch height advantage, plus a slight edge in reach. Rakic’s method is to engage opponents immediately with his striking. He delivers bludgeoning leg kicks, spinning elbows and flying knees while employing forceful forward aggression. Rakic also has wrestling ability, though we have seen little of that from him.
Blachowicz, the former champion, is an accomplished striker with a black belt in BJJ. He’s a structured man for the division who has power in each limb, is dangerous on the ground, in the clinch or at distance. Before losing his last bout, and his title, he’d won five in a row and enters this fight with the focus of a champion looking to take back what he lost.
Over his past 11 bouts, Blachowicz has rattled off a 9-2 tally including a super fight victory over middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in March of 2021. Blachowicz was listed as an underdog in all but two of those bouts. He followed up that stellar performance with a mundane display in his last outing, a loss to 41-year-old Glover Teixeira. Recent inconsistency is partly why we’re seeing Blachowicz listed as an underdog in this bout to a man younger and much less experienced in the UFC.
Blachowicz has been overlooked by the betting market as a practice and in this bout, despite owning an advantage in experience and level of competition faced, he’ll be an underdog yet again. However, Rakic will be the larger, faster, more explosive fighter focused on climbing the ladder to success while Blachowicz is trying to retain his foothold at the top of the division.
I can’t help thinking that the younger lion has every chance to win this bout provided he keeps it standing and can thwart Blachowicz’s takedown attempts.
Total in this fight: 3.5 rounds Over -120
Ion Cutelaba (-215) vs. Ryan Spann (+ 185)
Light heavyweight (205 pounds) | Co-Main Event
Cutelaba is a Moldavian madman.
He’s a forward-charging aggressor who at times appears to be out of control and maniacal in his approach. This fighting style can alter the outcome of fights sometimes before they even begin. They can disrupt Cutelaba’s effectiveness should he get too carried away (see Magomed Ankalaev). Cutelaba is versed in sambo, judo, Greco-Roman wrestling and kickboxing.
Spann, four inches taller than Cutelaba, owns substantial arm and leg reach advantages. He’ll need to keep Cutelaba at a distance and on the feet because Spann will be outmuscled if this bout hits the mat.
Spann’s physical tools provide an initial advantage, but Cutelaba has more UFC experience and he’s more well-rounded. Cutelaba’s most substantial asset in this bout may be his aggression because Spann does not react well to being bullied, pressed or manhandled.
Total for this fight: 1.5 rounds Under -145
Davey Grant (-300) vs. Louis Smolka (+ 250)
Bantamweight (135 pounds)
Smolka’s done well to be competitive in this his second UFC stint. The Hawaiian has a background in karate and judo, so he is somewhat immobile while standing and much prefers to compete on the mat. He is 2-3 in his last five bouts and draws one tough striker in this matchup.
Grant is one grizzled UFC veteran. At 36, the Brit has lost his last two bouts, but a closer review shows he is actually fighting the best of his career at this point. Those setbacks to elite talents Adrian Yanez and Marlon Vera heap shine on Grant. The experience and confidence gained from those experiences will benefit him in this one.
The TUF 18 graduate is aggressive, has a solid BJJ background, packs profuse power in his striking and has a granite beard.
I look for Grant to open up with a diligent body attack, then eventually move up to the chin. Smolka will have a difficult time surviving Grant’s body attack and will attempt to smother the Englishman and move in for some grappling. That’s when Grant will be most dangerous with his striking as Smolka is tall, long and a relatively immobile target when pressing.
Play: Grant -290 as Leg 2 of the open-ended parlay with Jessica Andrade -170 (+ 1.14)
Total in this fight: 2.5 rounds -170 (though few books have posted a total)
All final releases can be heard on “Gamblou's 'Bout Business MMA Podcast” each Friday afternoon when there is a UFC card.