Saturday’s UFC card from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, is the fourth Fight Island event before the organization is scheduled to return to the APEX center in Las Vegas in August. But it could be unlikely that the UFC makes it back to Nevada by then. I’ll remain on the lookout for updated information and dates regarding any cards outside of Yas Island.
Last week profitability took a .49-unit step back based on the Deiveson Figueiredo KO/TKO/DQ release.
Readers who listened to VSiN’s “Follow the Money” program Friday heard me preach that “ITD” (inside the distance) was my recommendation on how to bet Figueiredo outside of the parlay released. It was my error not to specify the ITD in my story, and for that reason we lose a ham sandwich but forge forward into this week’s event.
Insight the Octagon 2020: 20-10 + 12.65 units
On Saturday, 15 fights are scheduled featuring mixed martial artists from 15 countries. Each fighter has arrived in Abu Dhabi ready to advance his or her career. Plenty of diversity will be featured, as fights range from women’s strawweight (115 pounds) to men’s heavyweight (265 pounds).
Besides the three top fights on the main card, many UFC fans might find these combatants obscure, yet these young athletes will try to take advantage of having the sports world’s focus. Despite a lack of name recognition, fascinating stylistic matchups are likely between talented fighters from all over the globe.
Let’s break down a few of the more competitive matchups.
Robert Whittaker -110 vs. Darren Till -110, middleweight (185 pounds), main event
Each man began his career at the lower welterweight division before moving up to middleweight.
Till’s first UFC bout at middleweight was in November, when he defeated Kelvin Gastelum. Before that Till was under the illusion that he was a welterweight, but after repeatedly missing the 170-pound weight limit, he had to begin fighting men his own size and weight in the middleweight division.
I view Till’s reluctance to fight men his own size as a tell. I regard him as a bully trying to compete with smaller men. When he made 170 pounds, he trucked opponents with his aggressiveness and physicality until he ran into Jorge Masvidal, who exposed Till’s most flagrant weakness, his balsa wood beak.
I believe Till carries an insecurity about him. The southpaw is a deliberate, stoic and relatively upright Muay Thai/boxing-based striker. He possesses power, though at middleweight his strikes need to be accumulative. Till is a bit plodding and is not fluid of foot, and his strike defense has flaws. Till needs to be the bully and back opponents up, though he might find executing that plan a far tougher task in a division with men every bit the Brit’s size, strength and capability.
Whittaker is the former middleweight champion. He employs unrelenting forward pressure to unleash a barrage of power strikes and kicks. He’s at his best pressing the fight and initiating exchanges.
Whittaker is the more well-rounded combatant, with black belts in hapkido and karate and a brown belt in BJJ. Whittaker’s striking is power-based. He also possesses grappling skills, making him a more well-versed mixed martial artist than his one-dimensional opponent. If this fight gets to the floor, Whittaker would hold the advantage.
After two apocalyptic five-round wars with Yoel Romero, Whittaker, who won both epic battles, was emotionally and physically sapped. Even so, he ambled into another championship defense against Israel Adesanya, where he was finished by a razor-sharp fighter. Whittaker’s performance that evening was the poorest of his career.
Till might struggle mentally with whether he truly belongs in the middleweight division with bigger competitors over whom he is unable to tower. Whittaker’s unknown revolves around his emotionless, lackluster performance against Adesanya in October.
Can Till overcome his anxiety and deliver an impressive performance?
Has Whittaker’s time away refreshed, replenished and refocused the Australian, or is he in there for one more payout?
These questions will be answered Saturday night. This bout opened Whittaker -150 and is now closer to a pick-’em.
Whittaker’s body of work, his eight fights against ultra-elite UFC middleweights and his time away make me believe that he arrives in peak form. I believe Whittaker will bully the British bully.
The total is lined 4.5 Under -125.
Alexander Gustafsson -340 vs. Fabricio Werdum + 280, heavyweight (265 pounds)
Werdum last fought May 9 in Florida against Russian Aleksei Oleinik. He looked slow, lethargic and brittle. He was beaten via split decision in what might have been the worst performance in Werdum’s illustrious career.
At 43, Werdum is surely on the downside of his career. Still, I believe he has a better performance coming than he displayed in his last effort.
On the other side of the cage is Gustafsson, a former light-heavyweight title contender dipping his toe into the heavyweight division after contemplating retirement. His retirement question arose because he has been finished in his last two light-heavyweight bouts. He has not had his arm raised since 2017 and now moves up in weight to compete against an experienced though ancient ex-heavyweight champion.
Gustafsson is tall and long, and his size potentially translates well to the heavyweight division. I expect Gustafsson to use those physical advantages by making this a stand-up battle while keeping Werdum at the end of his strikes and devastating kicks. Gustafsson must remain measured with his leg strikes, for Werdum is a master at grabbing leg kicks and converting them into single-leg takedowns.
Werdum must earn inside position, which will negate Gustafsson’s striking as well as put Werdum — a BJJ, Muay Thai and judo black belt — in position to clasp the Swedish striker and press him into the fence and then onto the floor, where Werdum will hold the advantage.
This fight opened Gustafsson -280, and he is getting plenty of attention. I’m interested to see how much he weighs Friday. I’m also interested to determine how each man competes after struggling recently.
Francisco Trinaldo -170 vs. Jai Herbert + 150, lightweight (155 pounds)
If 2020 has proven anything to me, it’s that fighting careers have shelf lives. We’ve witnessed numerous occasions in which the younger, more focused athlete striving to make a name for himself overtakes the more experienced, cagier fighter trying to remain relevant.
We might have another case of that in this bout.
Trinaldo is a Brazilian legend with world-class kickboxing and BJJ aptitude. He has been a professional mixed martial artist for 14 years and holds a record of 25-7. Experience, guile and a striking game that is more accumulation than power are his advantages.
Herbert is making his UFC debut. The Englishman comes from the Cage Warriors fighting circuit, where he has won five straight bouts, so his experience is based on regional competition — but competent regional talent. While he’ll be giving away cage experience to Trinaldo, he’s also nine years younger.
Herbert is 3 inches taller than Trinaldo and will hold a slight reach advantage, but his greatest asset will be his speed, quickness, explosion and desire to put Trinaldo’s pelt on his mantel. In a fight scheduled for three rounds against a foe in Trinaldo who fights to decisions, I believe Herbert is live in this spot based on youthful speed and desire.
Of course, I’ll wait until weigh-ins to make an official announcement.