Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, is upon us quickly, but first a couple of comments regarding last weekend’s UFC 251:
— Clearly, the safety and sterility of the island complex has been managed precisely, with no detail overlooked.
— The UFC’s tremendous timing must be mentioned. To have left the U.S. when it did and avoid the COVID-19 surge happening in the western part of the country was truly fortunate.
— The UFC believes it now has locations and the ability to continue to hold recurring events until the virus situation is under control.
— The bouts for UFC 251 were competitive and exciting. One fighter missed weight to gain advantage, and in this case, the extra weight Raulian Paiva did not cut could well have been the difference in his razor-close flyweight victory over Zhalgas Zhumagulov.
Now for the judging:
I try to remain quiet and away from social media when the judges completely blow it. I wish I could say it is a rarity, but unfortunately it occurs often enough that it has become a consideration in my handicapping of UFC fights, albeit a nominal one.
The root of the issue lies with the sanctioning body where the UFC event is held. In most if not all instances, the sanctioning commission — state boxing commissions in the U.S. — where the fighting is being contested assigns the judges.
These local and national commissions are burdened by boxing’s historical ineptitude, laced with good old boys who know little of judging boxing, let alone mixed martial arts.
In the case of Zhumagulov, how do you not feel for the kid? He did all that was asked of him and showed up to fight on weight. His opponent blatantly missed weight at 3 pounds over the limit, then used that advantage in the bout coupled with a flagrant low blow in the third round only to be awarded a decision most thought he’d lost.
I’d say Max Holloway also has a substantial beef, although chances are you’ll hear little from him. I scored Holloway a 48-47 winner over Alexander Volkanovski, just as any rational man would have. It’s unfortunate that the UFC has to deal with this “commission” set up for judging. Believe me, the organization would change it if it could, but it has more immediate issues than trying to correct a system that for more than a century has been ravaged by greed, graft and avarice.
Now on to Wednesday’s Fight Night.
Calvin Kattar -300 vs. Dan Ige + 250, featherweight (145 pounds), main event
The top five make featherweight as competitive as any division in the UFC, and Wednesday night the winner of this main event will lay legitimate claim to be included in that most select group.
Sixth-ranked Calvin Kattar is a high-output boxing/Muay Thai striker with a blue belt in BJJ. He’s exceptionally large and structured for the division and used to fight in the 155-pound lightweight division. He’ll have 4 inches of height and slight arm and leg reach edges over his 10th-ranked opponent, Dan Ige.
Kattar lands 5.29 strikes per minute while allowing 6.46, which indicates he’s more than willing to rely on his power striking and be involved in exchanges at the expense of leaving himself open to damage from opponents.
Kattar is 5-2 since arriving in the UFC. He won his last fight impressively after being decisioned by top featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov in a fight I believe he certainly would have won had it lasted five rounds.
Kattar’s size, power, footwork and conditioning will be put to the test against an opponent the market thinks has little chance of success. But Ige may offer challenges Kattar has not faced in his UFC run.
Ige is a 5-foot-7 Hawaiian hand grenade who has been an underdog in his last four victories. To say he relishes that role is accurate, and he has a path to victory in this fight.
Ige must draw on his cardio to utilize speed, quickness, constant movement, strike evasion and all 30 feet of the Octagon if he is to defeat the larger, more physical Kattar. This is the first scheduled five-round bout for both men, and while many are quick to credit Kattar as coming on in the later rounds of the Magomedsharipov fight, the fact remains that neither has been introduced to the championship rounds.
Kattar opened -280, which in my estimation accounts for a double dose of recency bias based on each man’s last performance. Kattar finished Jeremy Stephens in impressive finish fashion May 16, for which he is getting credit, while Ige sneaked out of town like a thief in the night May 9 with a decision over Edson Barboza. Many UFC fans thought Ige had lost that bout, and that perception is following him into this bout. The line is now Kattar -300.
Barboza fought top-five and championship-caliber lightweights before dropping to featherweight and being decisioned by Ige. Like Kattar, Barboza is a massive featherweight at 5-foot-11 and in many ways was the ideal opponent to prepare Ige for a fight with Kattar.
I’ll go one step further and claim Barboza is more dangerous than Kattar because Kattar is substantially less of a threat to use the bludgeoning leg attack Barboza employs. Ige’s showing against Barboza has more than prepared him for Kattar.
Most compelling is that Ige was a + 120 underdog to Barboza and comes in + 250 against a man of similar ability, according to my handicapping, though maybe not yours.
After witnessing Ige against Barboza, I have to think the current pricing of + 250 (and rising) is obtuse, and I can’t let it go. I handicap Kattar -185, maybe -215.
The total for this bout: Over 2.5 rounds -145/Under 2.5 rounds + 125
Dan Ige + 250 (half-unit). But I will wait until fight day to move because this line might increase before the opening bell.
Over 2.5 -145 (one unit). I believe this wager ties to Ige putting in a very positive performance.
Jimmie Rivera -135 vs. Cody Stamann + 115, featherweight (145 pounds)
Two fire hydrants will mix it up. Stamann is the more pedigreed wrestler, and Rivera is the more apt and dangerous striker.
Stamann just competed against Brian Kelleher in an emotionally charged bout June 6, just days after learning that his younger brother and largest fan had died. Stamann takes this fight five weeks later, and I can’t help but believe he could be emotionally lacking.
As for Rivera, we’re presumably getting a fresh fighter who is coming off a neck procedure a year ago. Rivera will sport a 4-inch reach advantage and 2-inch leg edge. Sure, he’s 1-4 his last five, but he beat John Dodson, and there’s no shame in losing to the division’s elite like Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan and Marlon Moraes.
The elite level in each of the fighters Rivera has faced forces me to believe he’s in one fine spot and -135 is a reasonable consideration.
Jack Shore -625 vs. Aaron Phillips + 490, featherweight (145 pounds)
Shore is 25 and extremely hyped as a submission specialist. Phillips was in the UFC in 2014 and went 0-2. He has been groping along the regional scene grinding to get back. But Phillips is no + 490 dog, people.
I’ll have a nominal .25u wager on Phillips as I think we could catch a couple of bombs after last week’s chalk parade. I am not afraid.
Last week “Insight the Octagon” won + 1.14u on the Dustin Poirier/Petr Yan parlay (those who did not obtain Poirier were given Alexander Volkanovski to pair with Yan on Gill Alexander’s “A Numbers Game”).
The Zhumagulov release might have been the best research I have done this year, and while we made the correct handicap, we couldn’t overcome the last hurdle to winning in this game of UFC fighting, the judging. So we lose .50u and take home a net profit of + .64u.
Insight the Octagon profitability 2020: 18-7 + 12.64 units.