Saturday’s UFC 262 will be held at a packed Toyota Center in Houston. The fight card features a diverse set of athletes from every corner of the globe who arrive expertly trained in mixed martial arts. In interviews this week, many of the competitors voiced excitement to once again be fighting in front of fans.
Twelve bouts are scheduled with early preliminary action beginning at 3:30 p.m. PT.
Last week Marina Rodriguez controlled Michelle Waterson from bell to bell in a fight in which Rodriguez had the advantage based on her size and the fact that they competed at 125 pounds. Geoff Neal, my parlay position, fared much worse, however, as he looked lethargic, sluggish and listless in his bout.
We have since discovered that Neal had to drop 37 pounds in order to make weight, material information that would’ve changed my handicapping of that fight. Neal even hid his health information from his team/camp, which is not only foolish, it’s dangerous.
Insight the Octagon 2021: 10-7, + 3.15 units off last week’s 1-1 result.
CHARLES OLIVEIRA -125 VS. MICHAEL CHANDLER + 105
Lightweight (155 pounds) Championship
What’s most interesting about this fight is that it’s the third-ranked Oliveira facing fourth-ranked Chandler as opposed to No. 1-ranked Dustin Poirier facing second-ranked Justin Gaethje.
Poirier chose to overlook a title bout with Gaethje in order to make the Conor McGregor trilogy payday, which helps clarify why Oliveira is in the fight, but how Chandler got in ahead of Gaethje seems unjust.
Chandler arrives fresh off his drubbing of Dan Hooker in his UFC debut. What has not been publicized much is the strict quarantine Hooker had to endure before and after the fight. Further, his decision not to pressure Chandler assured his doom as Chandler is one tough fighter to beat if allowed to pressure and back opponents up.
Chandler’s basis is world-class Division I college wrestling, so he’s an unrelenting forward-pressure fighter who over the course of his 27 professional fights has learned how to complement his wrestling with power striking as we witnessed against Hooker.
Chandler, previously a Bellator fighter, has only faced Hooker in the UFC. As magnificent as Chandler looked in that bout, I believe there’s a healthy dose of recency flavoring this betting line based on that result. That said, Chandler’s pressure wrestling, his explosive athleticism and his natural striking power make him a serious threat, especially early in this bout.
Oliveira is younger by four years. He’s two inches taller than Chandler and will sport arm and leg reach advantages of three inches each. Oliveira’s fight foundation is his third-degree black belt in BJJ. Like Chandler, Oliveira is most dangerous when pressing opponents backward and inflicting damage upon them.
Oliveira not only can compete with Chandler on the mat, he can compete with anyone at 155 pounds there. Oliveira’s striking has improved dramatically over his career as well as his ability to slip strikes and defend. The high level of world-class opponents he has faced forces me to believe this fight will be one of the top competitions this year in the UFC.
Oliveira opened -150, and Chandler action has dropped the price to Oliveira -125, which offers opportunity as I regard him as more of a favorite than the opening line did.
Oliveira must navigate the first five minutes of the Chandler firestorm as Chandler has finished opponents 17 times in his career, and of those 13 were in the first round.
Provided Oliveira can compete into the second round and beyond, I believe his confidence will grow as will his ability to walk Chandler backward. In the later rounds Chandler’s effectiveness explosion and effectiveness will wane, and Oliveira’s offensive diversity coupled with his physical size and length will begin to take over.
One last note: Oliveira has lived in Houston since his arrival into the U.S. so support from the local crowd will be vigorous.
Total in this fight: 2.5 rounds Under -155
Lean Over + 135
BENEIL DARIUSH -170 VS. TONY FERGUSON + 150
Lightweight (155 pounds) Co-Main Event
Just a year ago Ferguson, now 37, was ranked No. 1, undefeated in his last 12 bouts and awaiting a showdown with champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, his drubbing at the hands of Gaethje changed the course of his career dramatically.
As I’d predicted then, Gaethje laid the hammer on Ferguson and beat him in comprehensive fashion until the referee stopped the fight in the fifth round, but not before Gaethje had beaten the hell — and the last remaining fertile years — out of Ferguson.
Ferguson then took a fight against Oliveira last December and was beaten soundly in a five-round decision. We’ve witnessed older fighters (welterweight Tyron Woodley, for one) fall off the cliff at the end of a career, and with a loss Saturday, we may regard Ferguson in a similar light.
Ferguson will show up to this bout desperate to regain his lost momentum. Factors in his favor include a slight height advantage with a four-inch reach advantage, so it’s logical that he’ll work to keep this fight standing for he was exposed on the ground in his last fight and in this one faces a fighter of similar ground capability in Dariush.
Ferguson lands a whopping 5.5 significant strikes per minute, but he often chooses to exchange too willingly as evidenced by the fact that he receives four significant strikes per minute in return. Ferguson’s fate will lie in his ability to keep this fight a striking battle.
Dariush has won four of his last six bouts via finish, and he’s done that against top competition in the division. Dariush owns a black belt in Muay Thai and BJJ, so he is dangerous anywhere a fight goes and can finish opponents via submission or strikes. Of his 20 wins, 13 have been via finish.
This fight may come down to Dariush’s ability to execute the Oliveira plan and drag Ferguson to the floor for a flogging, so a key factor will be Dariush’s pedestrian takedown effectiveness (32%) against Ferguson’s takedown defense (70%).
In the end, Dariush’s youth and momentum will work in his favor, yet I have a difficult time believing that he’ll be able to manage Ferguson to the floor, and for that reason I’ll pass on this co-main event for now.
Total in this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -170
RONALDO JACARE’ SOUZA -120 VS. ANDRE MUNIZ + 100
Middleweight (185 pounds)
Souza was one of the most efficient submission specialists of his era, but he’s now 41 and a shell of his former self.
Whether it be Woodley, Donald Cerrone, Daniel Cormier, Stipe Miocic, or in this case Souza, examples of fighters failing to understand when their game is gone riddles the landscape and always has.
There are very few Rocky Marcianos or Nurmagomedovs out there, which is a crying shame, as I believe Souza is going to get waxed in this matchup.
Souza is still capable on the mat, but standing he is a plodding, deliberate, telegraphing striker who is unable to evade strike nor throw with any quickness, velocity or pop.
In this fight Souza must sell out to engage fellow Brazilian Muniz inside the pocket and in close quarters to clasp, clinch and drag him to the floor if he is to have any chance at competing in this bout. From the floor, it’s possible Souza can use intelligence and guile to even the playing field.
Muniz is 10 years younger, and he’s a southpaw who’s an inch taller than Souza. He’ll own a 6-inch reach advantage with arms, 2-inch advantage with his legs and he's 2-0 in the UFC and 6-0 in his last six fights.
Muniz will want to manage distance and keep the one-dimensional Souza on the outside where kicks, strikes and elbows are most effective. Should Souza manage to get this fight to the floor, the larger, younger, BJJ black belt Muniz should be able to compete with the grizzled veteran long enough to get the fight back standing, where Muniz’s physicality will be on display.
Needless to say, a Souza pelt on his mantle would be a dynamic accomplishment for Muniz, and he’s motivated to advance his career with a win of any form over a legend in Jacare’ Souza on Saturday night.
Muniz + 100
Total for this fight: 2.5 rounds Over -110