It seems like weekly UFC slates have joined death and taxes as life’s certainties. This week the Apex Center in Las Vegas hosts a final domestic Fight Night before the organization ships to Abu Dhabi to resume the Fight Island productions. At the Apex, fighters compete in a smaller 25-foot octagon, which enhances confrontation.
This week I’ll be mostly focused on bouts held at welterweight (170 pounds) or heavier. Larger fighters will have much less room to evade confrontation.
Next week’s main event from Fight Island, which uses the larger 30-foot cage, is the highly anticipated bout between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya of New Zealand and his No. 1 challenger, Brazil’s Paulo Costa. To say Adesanya’s chances are greatly enhanced based on that extra real estate in the larger cage is an understatement. Among other factors I’ll share next week, cage size led me to take Adesanya -135 at the opening bell. Adesanya is currently -155 to Costa + 135.
On this week’s card, five of the top six bouts involve fighters who are experienced, refined in their skills and highly regarded in their divisions. In each case these combatants are facing equally aspiring, ambitious opponents. The main events will be compelling.
Colby Covington -345 vs. Tyron Woodley + 285, welterweight (170 pounds), main event
The fifth-ranked Woodley is now 38 and has looked every bit his age in his last two bouts, though the losses were against the two top-ranked fighters. Woodley has always been somewhat premeditated in his manner, supplementing a once-devastating wrestling game with profuse punching power. That was then, however, because now Woodley struggles to get off in fights. He has been unwilling to expend the precious cardio required to wrestle for control. As a result, his performances appear lackluster because he is a relatively inactive striker who has been unable to fire.
Woodley has been training with old friend and Covington hater Jorge Masvidal, and he’s talking like he has discovered all the answers. But my belief is that this main event is his one last payday before he becomes a simple stepping-stone for the division’s upwardly mobile elite.
Second-ranked welterweight contender Covington is a top-3 standout in the division. Covington employed a bombastic and constantly vulgar verbal attack on all of humanity in propelling himself to the top of the division, but before this fight, he has been interestingly absent from the mic. That’s a positive tell that I believe displays focus.
Covington has a world-class wrestling pedigree, which alone makes him a contender. Now add to his wrestling prowess a rapidly improving and effective striking game laced with unrelenting forward pressure and the willingness to compete in frenetic fashion for 25 minutes and you have an absolute welterweight contender.
Woodley has one chance, and that is to catch Covington with the one asset that has not betrayed the old pugilist, his power. Woodley’s guile, experience and pride must force him to immediately take the fight to Covington. That is risky because it will leave him wilting in the later rounds, but it is the path he must take to win.
Covington’s plan is the same as in all his fights — utilize unrelenting forward pressure coupled with high-volume, precision striking to work his way inside, then wrangle his opponents against the fence and onto the floor. His ability to never tire plus youth, speed and a more complete fight arsenal should be too much for Woodley.
Woodley’s last two fights have gone five rounds against the division's top two fighters. But rather than believe that prepares him to take this fight deep, I believe his abilities are washed up and Covington will get his older opponent out before the end of the fifth round, most likely via submission.
I regard Covington as a true -350 in this bout.
Covington (ITD) Inside the Distance + 275 .5u
Niko Price -155 vs. Donald Cerrone + 135, welterweight (170 pounds), co-main event
How about 14th-ranked lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone? He’s a 14-year professional mixed martial artist who holds a 36-15 record. Cerrone has fought the who’s who in two divisions of the UFC but has lost his last four fights, two each in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
Men who have bested Cerrone in those recent fights are elite world-class fighters Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor, so there is no shame. Cerrone’s last loss against Anthony Pettis is the bout in which Cerrone’s reaction time, speed and skill really seemed to have betrayed him. Cerrone’s highly active lifestyle outside the octagon, which is as dangerous as his life in it, might have caught up to the perennial gamer.
Cerrone’s opponent, Price, is six years younger. He’ll hold reach advantages and he’s every bit as crazy as Cerrone, which makes this fight compelling. Where the Cowboy is cool and collected in approaching opponents, Price is wild and unorthodox.
Storming forward and bullying him with a bludgeoning body attack has always been the blueprint on how to beat Cerrone. Price has all the tools to make this his plan of attack. However, once Price gets into a firefight, his wild, unpredictable nature can often get him into trouble against fighters able to remain level-headed as they can take advantage of the many openings Price offers. Can the Cowboy match Price’s early pressure, or will he wilt under it?
I’m not sure Cerrone can make it through this one.
Khamzat Chimaev -480 vs. Gerald Meerschaert + 370, middleweight (185 pounds)
You may recall Chimaev from earlier Fight Island productions. He came into his debut fight and submitted a journeyman named John Phillips at 185 pounds.
In his next bout two weeks later at 170 pounds, he fought a lightweight (155-pounder) moving up in weight and taking the bout on just days’ notice. Chimaev destroyed the undersized Rhys McKee in one round, and the hype was hatched.
Now Chimaev and his undefeated eight-fight professional career land in Vegas ready to fight a legitimate middleweight in Meerschaert, who has a 31-13 professional record. Meerschaert is also a natural middleweight, whereas Chimaev has competed in multiple divisions.
Inexperienced but ultra-talented fighters getting tossed into the fire too quickly is something we’ve seen before in the UFC, and the next mark may be Chimaev.
This is a PhD in MMA fighting if I have ever seen one. Not only is Chimaev stepping well up in class of opponent, he’s fighting a man who has competed in the UFC for years against other legitimate middleweights. Further, where Chimaev is most skilled is where the larger Meerschaert is also most apt.
Contributing to Meerschaert’s focus is that Chimaev has already accepted a fight against Demian Maia on Fight Island in a couple of weeks. So Meerschaert is aiming to spoil the party for the young Swede.
Chimaev lined as a favorite of up to -200 seems reasonable, but to make him -480 is not correctly assessing Meerschaert.
Meerschaert + 370 .5u
Johnny Walker -130 vs. Ryan Spann + 110, light-heavyweight (205 pounds)
Not only is this the most exciting fight on this card, it may be the most exciting fight of the quarter. Both men are 29, and both are players in the light-heavyweight division.
The 11th-ranked Walker is a Brazilian striker who arrived with flash and flair. But after a couple of beatdowns by more experienced, refined fighters, Walker went back into the gym to improve his fighting by complementing it with wrestling and grappling, which does not come overnight.
Walker, a brown belt in BJJ, is primarily a striker — an explosive, powerful one. When Walker can keep opponents at distance and on the end of his spinning back fists and lethal leg strikes, he is hard to handle.
Recent opponents who have solved Walker have discovered that taking the fight straight to him by pressuring him backward befuddles him and impedes his ability to be offensive, his main weapon.
Spann is a mixed martial artist fighting out of Team Fortis in Texas. The simplest way to describe Spann is to say he is a pure Texas badass — tough, powerful and unrelenting with his striking pressure.
Walker has been in with slightly better opposition than has Spann. But Spann is ill intentioned to his core, and his deep-seated aggression makes him dangerous no matter the opponent. Spann’s attacks are initiated by pressuring opponents, then engaging in a kicking and striking war.
Spann will have to manage Walker’s athleticism and deft movement before he can earn his way inside to begin chopping down the athletic Walker with power strikes. Spann’s ability to work his way to inside position provides the intrigue for this fight.
Walker will need to utilize his athleticism to maintain distance so he can strike effectively and remain outside of Spann’s slugging. Spann will work to close distance and initiate the throwdown on Walker, which over time will kill his legs and provide Spann the opportunity to destroy.
The 25-foot cage absolutely comes into play here.
Best Bet: Spann + 110
Last week we realized 2-0 with one release (Matt Schnell) canceled due to COVID-19. One of our wins was Ed Herman + 220, who really should not have won his fight. I mention this only because we have been on the wrong end of a handful of bouts, either by opponents missing weight or poor judging, and my response has been to record the results and move ahead. We get one back in Herman + 220, and I won’t apologize for a minute.
Insight the Octagon 2020: 29-16 + 18.1 units