Yet again the UFC breaks down borders by entering into new territories. This time they head to Zagreb, Croatia for their debut event in the country.
The card is undeniably weak, and betting opportunities limited, but there are a couple of standout bets from the top 3 fights on the card. I’ll be giving you my opinions and 5Dimes will help me out with the odds.
Ngannou v Blaydes:
Francis Ngannou is an intriguing prospect, arguably the most interesting fighter on the card. Sitting on a record of 6-1 he made his debut for the UFC at the tail end of the year finishing an undistinguished opponent en route. At 6’4” this French Heavyweight is reminiscent of a younger Cheick Kongo, he isn’t particularly young but at 29 he has the years ahead of him to make a run at the title in a division littered with ageing fighters.
Newcomer Curtis Blaydes makes his UFC debut on late notice. Blaydes, who replaced Bojan Mihajlovic, is a former college wrestling standout and most recently competed at regional level in Resurrection Fighting Alliance. At this stage it is too early to determine whether he is something special, or just another prospect exposed too soon. The bookmaker’s faith and early favouritism is something I am yet to be convinced over.
If Blaydes has any edge then it is on the ground, and not just because of his wrestling background. French fighters are notoriously good strikers and kickboxers but the ban on MMA means they have almost zero ground game. If Ngannou is able to overcome this then he has a chance, but if he is put on his back early then it could be a long night. One thing was obvious from watching some tape of Blaydes and that is that the calibre of fighter he has faced so far is way below the level that Ngannou could reach and for that reason I’m taking the big Frenchman.
Recommendation: Francis Ngannou – 2 units at +125 (5/4) @ 5Dimes
Lewis v Gonzaga:
Stepping in as a late replacement for Ruslan Magomedov is ‘The Black Beast’ Derrick Lewis. Lewis has carved a niche as the UFC’s go to man when looking for a Heavyweight matchup, and from the perspective of a fighter who gets involved in finishes, he delivers. Participating in 13 consecutive bouts with a finish, Lewis hasn’t seen a judge’s scorecard in five years. If he could translate the record into performances then he might just improve enough to trouble the top ten.
A while back Gabriel Gonzaga retired from MMA, then he came back for another run and I’m genuinely unsure why. Until beating Konstantin Erokhin in December he hadn’t won in the UFC since October 2013, collecting three back to back losses along the way. He probably should have stayed retired. Perhaps I’m being slightly disrespectful as his defeats record is a veritable who’s who in Heavyweight MMA; Werdum, Couture, dos Santos, Carwin, Browne, Cro Cop and Miocic. His win over Erokhin was hardly impressive and I have little expectation for the damage he can inflict on Lewis this weekend.
This is a strange one to call and the outcome is entirely dependent on where the fight ends. Gonzaga has a massive edge in his BJJ and would love to take this to the ground and lock in the submission. However, Lewis has the sort of hands that turn Gonzaga into a bobble head and an overhand right could see the Brazilian seeing stars for weeks to come. Going to side with brute force and look for Lewis to finish this inside the distance.
Recommendation: Lewis wins inside distance – 2 units at -102 (1/1) @ 5Dimes
Rothwell v dos Santos:
Cast your mind back to the tail end of 2011. Ben Rothwell had just lost a decision to Mark Hunt, while his opponent secured the ultimate in gold, the UFC Heavyweight title. Since that loss Ben Rothwell has tasted defeat just once; against Gabriel Gonzaga and has collected four wins on the bounce since. He has been booked against Stipe Miocic only for injury to nix that matchup and Miocic has gone on to claim a title shot. Rothwell has finished two former Heavyweight champions in that streak and will stare down the barrel of a potential title shot in his next two fights with a win.
Junior dos Santos beat Cain Velasquez in late 2011 to take his title. He defended it only once as the title went back to AKA after two uncomfortable beatings at the hands of Cain Velasquez. While Rothwell’s star has ascended, JDS has experienced the worst run of his career going 3-3 with the brace of losses to Velasquez and an upset loss to Overeem at the end of last year. It was such an abject performance by dos Santos that his future in the sport is now under serious scrutiny.
The bookies have this as a coin toss and so do I. If JDS is able to find his range and land cleanly then the 2008-2012 version of himself wins comfortably. However, if the 2012-2015 version shows up then it’s anybody’s guess. For Rothwell things are a little more straightforward; he is in the form of his life and his patented ‘Gogo Choke’ has seen him end two tough fights quickly, the latter of which was against a BJJ legend in Josh Barnett. I don’t know who wins, and to be honest I’m not sure I have that much invested in it. A bet is a bet, though, and I’ll be making a play on this lasting more than seven and a half minutes.
Recommendation: Over 1.5 Rounds – 3 units at -145 (7/10) @ 5Dimes