The UFC makes its first trip to Long Island, New York this weekend to the home of former Champion, Chris Weidman as he takes on Kelvin Gastelum.
As always, I’ll be giving you my picks for the best of the card and 5Dimes will be providing the odds.
Rivera v Almeida:
Jimmie Rivera was one of the breakout stars at 135lbs, particularly in 2015/16. On paper, his debut was a tough start but he wrecked Marcus Brimage inside a round. He was a little lucky against Pedro Munhoz but dominant in decision wins over Iuri Alcantara and Urijah Faber. The latter was particularly impressive as he out-wrestled a Hall of Famer. Now sitting at #4 in the rankings a win over Almeida won’t raise him any higher, but it could see him placed in an eliminator for the winner of Garbrandt v Dillashaw.
Thomas Almeida was, until a year ago, one of the biggest hype trains in MMA, particularly at 135lbs. The man who went on to dethrone Dominick Cruz, Cody Garbrandt, saw to that in a furious opening round. It was the first loss for Almeida and proved his chin to be susceptible, something that an ageing Brad Pickett almost capitalised on a year earlier. Almeida is the type of fighter who can dish out rounds upon rounds of punishment, but not really take it when its accurate and coming at him. He won his comeback fight but the jury is still out on this one.
A year ago, and I’d have been all over Almeida to use his eviscerating striking to end this fight early but the blueprint has been set on how to beat him. Although predominantly a wrestler, Rivera can bang with the best of them and a small play on him winning inside the distance isn’t an outrageous folly.
Recommendation: Rivera wins inside distance – 2 units at +221 (11/5) @ 5Dimes
Weidman v Gastelum:
On 6th July 2013, just four years ago, Chris Weidman conquered a legend of MMA and was hailed, not only as the new champion, but the future of the sport. Three successful defences turned into three consecutive defeats and the future is in very real danger of becoming the past. In dispatching Anderson Silva, twice, Weidman announced his arrival in the UFC and wins over Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort cemented it. Against Luke Rockhold it all went wrong when a wheel kick from nowhere left him unbalanced and absorbing a torrent of strikes from the challenger. That fight ended in the very next round, a fate which was mirrored against Yoel Romero and, controversially to say the least, against Gegard Mousasi. Weidman has moved from 13-0 to 13-3, with his recent record reading 0-3. It’s not pretty reading if you are the former champion.
A short while before Weidman shocked the world, Kelvin Gastelum was doing some upsetting of his own when he beat heavy favourite Uriah Hall en route to winning TUF: 17. In that series all the highlights focused on Hall, allowing Gastelum to prepare for his fight his way. An impressive run at 170lbs was ended by Tyron Woodley in a split decision, it was the second time in three fights that Gastelum missed weight and a move to 185lbs was announced. After a single fight, and win, at 185lbs he returned to 170lbs. True to form, it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the scales and again was forced back up to 185lbs; seemingly for good this time. It is a division that has allowed him to retain his power, despite being very small for the division, but Gastelum proved himself to be his own worst enemy as his recent win over Vitor Belfort was overturned due to a failed post fight drug test.
Recent performances suggest that Gastelum looks a lock here, coupled with an alarming drop in performance from Weidman. It is a much closer fight than it looks though. Gastelum holds a purple belt in BJJ, but he uses his Jiu Jitsu far more than Weidman (black belt) who seems to focus more on his wrestling background; again, something that they share. I can’t pull the trigger on Gastelum though, be it a poor weight cut (remembering that Johny Hendricks had the same issues and is just as undisciplined at middleweight) or finding another way of shooting himself in the foot. Weidman has a huge size advantage in this one and he is in his home town. If he can’t win this, then he should consider retiring as this is the point of no return.
Recommendation: Chris Weidman – 2 units at +150 (6/4) @ 5Dimes