This week the UFC returns to Las Vegas for its annual Independence Day Weekend card. Traditionally one of the best of the year alongside the Memorial Day and New Year’s cards it remains one of the most stacked. This year sees a slight variation on the normal theme as it is another double header with the TUF finale on Sunday. I’ll be taking a pass on the TUF finale, sadly, due to a lack of open betting lines at the time of writing and the card being generally uncompetitive.

The Auckland event paid dividends with Jared Rosholt but the other picks didn’t fare so well. With five fights on the main card this week I have three very strong opinions, all at decent prices, and two leans that I’ll be sharing with you. Let’s take a look at the main card and feel free to let me know below if you disagree.

Brimage v Doane:

Marcus Brimage makes his UFC return 15 months after he was soundly beaten by Conor McGregor in Sweden. That loss snapped a four fight streak for Brimage where he took hard fought decisions over Jimmy Hettes and Maximo Blanco, incidentally he was expected to lose both fights and opened as the betting underdog. Against McGregor he was supposed to be the wrestler that McGregor had no answer to. Instead the Irishman kept it standing and finished the fight a little over a minute into the opener.

Russell Doane makes his second appearance of the year and looks to take the opportunity to follow up his debut win against Brazilian Leandro Issa in Singapore. That win took Doane to 4-2 in his last six and 13-3 in his career. Most of those victories have been earned on the regional circuit but he remains undefeated in the UFC.

With very few meaningful bouts under their respective belts this is a fight that could go either way. I would give Doane the advantage in terms of staying fresh but Brimage retains a sizeable advantage purely due to the level of opponents faced. With multiple submissions in his arsenal and a win over submission specialist Issa I will be taking the Hawaiian, but narrowly. Brimage has dominated submission specialists before in Hettes but I can’t get that hiatus out of my head and a taking Doane to force the tap.

Recommendation: Method of Victory: Russell Doane by Submission – 21/4 (+525) @ 888Sport

Hall v Santos:

This is a fight that I have been struggling with. Throughout TUF the highlight reel spat out the same name week in week out, Uriah Hall. The guy looked like a monster and almost unbeatable, until that is, the crunch. The crunch came when Gastelum tied him up and took the title. The crunch also came when he dropped a split decision to John Howard. After the hype he found himself facing the cut within six months. Against Chris Leben he got a break, Leben was shot to pieces and a shadow of the fan favourite. Essentially Hall had been given a fight that he had to be a fool to lose and he didn’t.

For Thiago Santos his career has been a little rocky of late. Alternating wins and losses in his last four fights he was submitted by ‘Mutante’ but rebounded with an unexpected knockout of Ronny Markes. It makes him a relatively unknown proposition and one not to be taken lightly.

The question for me is whether Hall has turned a corner or are the UFC going to feed him a few cans to beef up his record. Santos should be no can but on his worst day he certainly has the potential to be. The bookies have Hall at odds of 1/4 which is just crazy and far too short. I’d be tempted to take Santos at 7/2 for value alone. Instead I’ll be taking a little action on this going the distance. Lines like this are a relative coin toss and ‘yes’ represents better value in this instance.

Recommendation: Will Fight Go the Distance: Yes – 10/11 (-110) @ Ladbrokes

Struve v Mitrione:

The UFC Heavyweight division is arguably the shallowest outside of Flyweight. Consequently when a former top 5 ranked fighter returns it should be lauded and he should be eased back in. There were doubts that Stefan Struve would ever be medically cleared to fight again after a heart condition sidelined him for just over a year. After going 4-0, including a crushing win over Stipe Miocic he was heavily tipped for a title tilt. In a bloody and brutal affair Mark Hunt put paid to that and set the seven feet tall Dutchman back at least two years.

For former TUF contestant Matt Mitrione it has been a tough few years. Dropping two in a row put him up against Phil De Fries in a fight that could have seen him cut from the UFC. He beat the Englishman in 19 seconds, saving his career along the way. Former housemate Brendan Schaub submitted him a short while after but redemption was to be found in a knockout of Shawn Jordan. Jordan was expected to win but a poor fight IQ turned him into a victim for Meathead.

Despite being out for a year I make Struve the heavy favourite. He has the edge in every single area from height and weight to reach and experience. He possesses a submission game that Mitrione will simply never have and I fear that this will be a complete mismatch. The only path for victory I see for Mitrione is ring rust for Struve and the possibility of being caught flush on the chin. If that happens then the fight ends very quickly in the first round. Outside of that occurrence, I see Struve locking on a choke or armbar and forcing the tap

Recommendation: Method of Victory: Stefan Struve by Submission – 8/5 (+160) @ Unibet

Rousey v Davis:

Fresh from filming on The Expendables 3, Ronda Rousey makes her second title defence of the year. The poster girl for Women’s MMA has experienced very little trouble in her career to date, despatching all but Miesha Tate in the first round. Her most recent defence against Sara McMann marked the first non-submission stoppage of her career.

Alexis Davis makes her second appearance of the year and her third since being signed from Invicta. A proponent of the art of submissions she is yet to demonstrate her skills at the highest level taking decisions along the way. The Cesar Gracie black belt is considered to be the fighter whose biggest weapons closest match those of her opponent although it can be argued that the levels are not evenly balanced.

Whenever Rousey fights I say the same, like the worst game of Cluedo in history, it’s Rousey with the arm bar in the first. Except this time. This time I am expecting Davis to negate the arm bar and avoid the submission, remaining vulnerable to strikes. Against McMann she proved that she has the striking to finish the fight on her feet and this will be her second KO/TKO in a row. The odds on this are absolutely bonkers and I’ll be filling my boots with them.

Recommendation: Method of Victory – Ronda Rousey by KO, TKO or Disqualification – 5/1 (+500) @ Skybet

Weidman v Machida:

What a year it has been for Chris Weidman. Exactly 12 months ago the young pretender did the unthinkable not only beating Anderson Silva but knocking him out along the way. Far forward six months and he did it again, albeit more impressively. It is a fight that will always be remembered for the leg break but if truth be told that injury was unnecessary; Weidman knocked out Silva for a split second in the opening round and it should have been over there and then. Due to fight Belfort in May we encountered the aftermath of the TRT ban and shoulder surgery pushed him back to Independence Day Weekend, where it all started.

It has also been an impressive year for his opponent, Lyoto Machida. Machida dropped a contentious decision to Phil Davis, in Brazil may I add, which prompted his drop to Middleweight. Stepping in at late notice for Bisping against long-time training partner Mark Munoz he made quick work in Manchester. In 2014 he took a convincing decision over Mousasi to put him firmly in the title picture. With Vitor Belfort’s woes there was only one man for Dana White to turn to.

This represents a very interesting match-up. Apart from Phil Davis there has been very few who can take Machida down and keep him there. As a result Chris may be forced to rely on his stand-up game. The World saw what happened when he is underestimated there and Machida is too smart for that. Weidman will be desperate to show his range of skills and I trust Machida to play a patient waiting game, unfortunately for him I’ll expect the Champion to demonstrate enough to take every round en route to a comfortable decision.

Recommendation: Method of Victory – Chris Weidman by Decision – 11/4 (+375) @ Skybet