After a two week break in event we reach the biggest week in the MMA calendar; International Fight Week.

UFC 189 has been much hyped and with good reason, even the loss of Jose Aldo from the card only winded the fans for a few days as PPV buys have continued unabated and fans began to salivate again. This is the first event in a series of four over the next eight days and we’ll be covering the best of them here. Let’s take a look at the odds provided by 5Dimes to get this week underway.

Pickett v Almeida:

With two losses in a row and four from his last six it really could be that Brad Pickett is drinking in the last chance saloon. At the age of 36 and with a fair bit of weight hopping over the last few years’ time has slowly started to catch up with the English fan favourite. Being matched with Almeida is a big surprise at this stage of his career, however being left off the Glasgow card only a week later is arguably a bigger one.

Thomas Almeida rides an 18 fight winning streak into this fight, the last two of which have come impressively in the UFC. At just 23 years old and fighting most of his career outside of the US it looks like the matchmakers are building him slowly. Until beating the snot out of Yves Jabouin he lacked any name recognition on his record, now he gets the chance to add a second consecutive veteran to that list.

This really does feel like a bad match for Pickett, sure he has that throw down style where he leaves it all in the octagon, but that is a young man’s game. His last six appearances have been laborious at best and he faces off against a man who has ploughed through 14 of his 18 victims. Almeida is the pick here, but at -950 carries no value, so I am taking him inside the distance for a slightly better return.

Recommendation: Almeida wins inside the distance -2 units at -175 (4/7) @ 5Dimes

Nelson v Thatch:

Gunnar Nelson has been riding a massive hype train since making his UFC debut in Nottingham, England. Four wins saw him take a step up in class against Rick Story in Dublin. Story was able to derail the train and take a split decision, contentious only because it was a clear win for him. Nelson took nine months off to regroup and makes his first appearance in the USA.

Brandon Thatch looks to regain some momentum at 170lbs after a loss to Benson Henderson in February. Thatch was originally slated to take on Stephen Thompson but an injury saw Henderson step in on two weeks’ notice. With many favouring the bigger fighter it was a surprise when Henderson emerged victorious.

This fight breaks down to two things. Number 1, Nelson is a notoriously slow starter and at some point it will cost him dearly. Number 2, Thatch has eviscerating striking and is likely to start at 100mph. If Nelson can avoid this starting slump and keep out of Thatch’s reach then he can wear him down and lock in a trademark submission. Breaking with tradition I am going to take a prop line and Nelson by submission appeals to me financially.

Recommendation: Nelson wins by submission – 1 unit at +240 (12/5) @ 5Dimes

Bermudez v Stephens:

Dennis Bermudez went from TUF loser to legitimate contender in less than four years. That is, until he ran into Ricardo Lamas. Lamas submitted him in the very first round to further emphasise the gap between the top 5 Featherweights and everybody below.

Jeremy Stephens has been something of a journeyman in the UFC, having plenty of fights but flattering to deceive in many of them. While his wins have been impressive enough to raise his stock, his losses have more than countered this. His last eight fights have been indicative of this; three losses, three wins and two losses, all in that order. Losses have come against classy fighters and contenders, his wins have been all lower tier.

While Stephens retains that one punch (or kick) knockout power it’s unlikely that he’ll actually get to use it. Bermudez has been one of the more impressive TUF alumni and I fancy him to start pushing again for another top-five opponent, with a relatively comfortable win in what should be a fun fight.

Recommendation: Dennis Bermudez – 2 units at -210 (1/2) @ 5Dimes

Lawler v McDonald:

Robbie Lawler makes the first defence of his Welterweight title seven months after winning it. This fight represents a rematch from a fight that Lawler won by split decision over McDonald in Las Vegas in November 2013. Both fighters have come a long way since that meeting, but the edge arguably goes to the man who fought for the belt twice, firstly narrowly losing a decision but gaining revenge a short while later.

The loss to Robbie Lawler was the first defeat in three years for the protégé of Georges St Pierre and only the second of his career. With 20 professional fights at the age of 25 it is already setting up to be a telling one. MacDonald has since claimed that he ‘phoned it in’ during their first meeting, which may be true as he certainly wasn’t the most engaged on the night, but taking the belt is very different to beating a challenger.

I am not averse to MacDonald winning this fight; it’s just that I’d rather not see it. He isn’t the most marketable fighter in the division, and not all that exciting, although his methods are very effective. Lawler is the more marketable and as the UFC knows, marketing sells PPVs; more would likely be interested in a third with Hendricks for Lawler than a first for MacDonald. The champion should always be the favourite in a fight, Lawler is the underdog and I am making a small play on him.

Recommendation: Robbie Lawler – 1 unit at +160 (8/5) @ 5Dimes

Mendes v McGregor:

Conor McGregor has kicked ass and taken names all the way to his title shot, and whether you think it was deserved or not, his day of reckoning is here. But for a rib injury to Jose Aldo this would have been the biggest PPV of this or any other year, possibly eclipsing UFC 100 along the way. Now is the time for unorthodox trash-talking Irishman to justify his own hype and canonise his position that he “isn’t here to take part, but to take over”.

Although losing twice to Aldo, Chad Mendes is still considered by the MMA media to be the second best Featherweight in the UFC. Consequently when rumours of Aldo’s injury began to surface the match makers went straight to Mendes to ensure there was a plan B, and that a title fight would go ahead as planned, even if just an Interim title. This is the third crack of the whip for Mendes, he is smart enough to realise that with a loss there won’t be too many more.

When the fight deviated from the original line up it lost its spark, and with it months of hype went down the drain. Kudos to the UFC for saving the main event and keeping Conor on the card, although I am not sure that this fight goes any better for him. Mendes is the best wrestler in the division and the best that Conor will ever have faced, and while Conor is incredibly hard to hit if he can be taken down then Mendes can keep him there for 25 long minutes. Conor thinks he will finish this in the first, I think he won’t as Mendes sets up the trilogy with Aldo.

Recommendation: Chad Mendes – 2 units at +160 (8/5) @ 5Dimes

Parlay of the week time, looking to maintain and go for three in a row. I am taking Cody Garbrandt at -600 (17/100), Matt Brown at -190 (8/15) and Yosdenis Cedeno at -200 (1/2) for a +170 (17/10) treble for 2 units.