The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 244 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will pull out most of the stops for UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The card poses some unique challenges for prospective bettors, as most of the lines are exceptionally close, with only three of the 12 fights currently posting a favorite above -155. With Halloween in the rearview mirror, we have decided to make this an extra-special version of Prime Picks, where we will give you “Tricks” or “Treats” that you can avoid and take. Don't be scared, homies.
Jorge Masvidal (-155)
Two fighters no one in 2018 would have expected to be mentioned in the same sentence as the word “title” are set to square off to headline this card, only they will be vying for the inaugural BMF belt and not an actual championship. In this UFC 244 headliner, we get a volume striker and submission specialist in Nate Diaz riding momentum from a decision win against former lightweight king Anthony Pettis against a technical boxer and high flyer in Masvidal. When this line opened, the two men were locked in a -110 pick-’em, but as the fight has grown closer, more bettors have put their money on “Gamebred.” It rarely bodes well for a fighter that openly talks about a bout being their last, and Diaz has claimed that this fight could be the final time he makes the walk.
This contest takes place at welterweight, and Diaz has not faced a natural 170-pound fighter since his meeting with Rory MacDonald at UFC 129 over eight years ago. Each of the last four fights have been against men who once competed at 145 pounds: Pettis, Michael Johnson and Conor McGregor (twice). Although he will hold one-inch height and two-inch reach advantages, the oft-discussed narrative that Diaz is “three times the size of his opponent” should not play a significant factor against a fellow former lightweight in Masvidal. When they finally stand toe to toe, neither will back down, and neither of them will stare down at the other.
Across 17 fights inside the Octagon, Masvidal has only strung together a performance in which he exceeded 100 significant strikes landed once. That was when he beat Ross Pearson at UFC 201 in 2016. His opponent has done so on four such occasions, including in three of his last four outings. While both men might be historically and anecdotally susceptible to the takedown, Masvidal sports a high defense rate of 77 percent. If this fight ends up going to the canvas, on its face, it would seem like Diaz would want to take it there, but he has been on the wrong end of several lopsided decisions in which he was put on his back numerous times. Having taken down his various opponents 18 times compared to Masvidal’s 16, both of those numbers are inflated after having one performance of five or more in a fight.
Instead, we should be treated to an entertaining boxing match between these two entertainers. Masvidal holds a noteworthy power advantage, but Diaz has a notorious chin that can take almost otherworldly levels of punishment. Although Masvidal has 11 more knockouts than his West Coast counterpart, some of Diaz’s best work has come from his striking, using it to pressure and hurt his opponent before getting the job done by submission. If Diaz gets in his groove, lures Masvidal into a brawl and lands more often than he gets hit, he could win this fight. We do not expect that to take place and instead see Masvidal hurting Diaz throughout the fight and possibly picking up an exciting decision win. As for a “trick” in this fight, watch out for Masvidal Wins by TKO/KO at +245. Diaz has taken a frightening amount of punishment over the years, and his only stoppage loss due to strikes came after Josh Thomson kicked him in the head multiple times.
Stephen Thompson (-120)
Thompson has had a rough stretch dating back almost three years, with his lone win coming over the man we predict will win in the headliner later that night. Although most would remember the Superman punch from Pettis that separated “Wonderboy” from his consciousness, Thompson was largely winning the fight and doing some serious damage before he had the lights turned out. While “I was winning until I got caught” is an argument some push to show that they have not fallen as far as the public believes, the L on the record is what everyone remembers. After suffering the first stoppage loss of his career, Will Thompson present himself differently in his return? Already a cautious striker who uses his long kicks to do most of his work, his potentially becoming a gunshy karate practitioner may not bode well against a hyper-aggressive opponent like Vicente Luque.
Luque has shown he welcomes an all-action brawl, engaging in one in each of his last three appearances this year. A potential “Fight of the Year” candidate against Bryan Barberena came first, as he absorbed incredible amounts of punishment before getting the stoppage with six seconds left on the clock. After that followed a fight against a debuting Derrick Krantz, who hurt Luque early on. However, Luque composed himself and won. His most recent appearance against Mike Perry saw them go punch for punch -- the Perry and Barberena fights actually saw him at a slight disadvantage in significant strike totals -- but a violent third round in which Luque rearranged Perry’s nose allowed him to take home a win. If Luque comes at Thompson like he did in any of those three appearances, he will give “Wonderboy” problems, provided the American is unable to keep a wide berth and his back off the fence. The far younger Luque -- he is 27 compared to Thompson’s 36 -- appears to be on his way up, while Thompson is trying to remain in the top echelon of the division. On the flipside, Luque is quite hittable, and Thompson can be a pinpoint accurate striker. Nevertheless, this is a dangerous fight for Thompson. Either man could end the fight with the right placement of a few shots, so the risk might not be worth the reward here.
Johnny Walker (-165)
Make no mistake, Walker can definitely come out of this with an exciting and thrilling win over a current Top 5-ranked light heavyweight. However, the style matchup presented against him is among the worst he could encounter, as flashy strikers have often found themselves stifled against a grappling-heavy fighter who will not give them any space to breathe. Corey Anderson is just the kind of fighter who could shut down Walker’s mercurial offense, if he consistently pursues takedowns until the Brazilian peters out. It takes a lot of energy to pull off spinning and flying strikes, doubly so if you are forced to constantly stuff takedowns.
Anderson already stands atop the light heavyweight leaderboard with the most takedowns landed in divisional history (52). Averaging a little over four per fight, Anderson is relentless with his pace, as he has gone three full rounds in almost 70 percent of his fights inside the Octagon. Walker, on the other hand, celebrates a staggering average fight time of 56 seconds after three trips to the UFC cage. Anderson has suffered knockouts losses in three of his four career defeats, so while the most appealing prop bet on Walker sees him winning by TKO/KO (-140), it is a risky proposition. Walker can indeed win, but this is a trap fight, so should he come out on top, he will be knocking on the proverbial door for a title shot.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (-150)
Andrei Arlovski turned 40 in February, and although he won by decision against an equally aging Ben Rothwell in July, “The Pit Bull” has recorded three wins since 2016 to go along with eight defeats and a no-contest. Squaring off against the former UFC heavyweight champ will be an undefeated rising star who, in addition to his flawless 8-0 mixed martial arts record, also competed in over 80 kickboxing bouts while recording north of 60 knockouts. When comparing the resumes of these two fighters, Rozenstruik has finished seven of his eight opponents before the final bell, while Arlovski has gone to the scorecards in each of his last eight. Level of competition weighs highly in favor of Arlovski, who has come face to face with most of the best heavyweights to ever grace a cage or ring.
The Belarusian looked sharper than he has in years when he battered Rothwell over the summer, landing more strikes (152) than in any other bout in his 30-fight UFC tenure. Arlovski can take home a win if he stays away from his Surinamese opponent and keeps his jab flowing while avoiding the power shots that are sure to come. “Bigi Boy” hits hard with both his hands and legs, and if he can crowd Arlovski and push him against the cage wall, he can unload with varied combinations and get the finish. Rothwell nearly came back towards the end of their fight and had his man hurt badly, but Arlovski survived till the last horn after both of them grew visibly exhausted. We expect Arlovski’s chin to be tested early and often, giving the advantage to younger man. However, do not be surprised if Arlovski shoots in for a takedown to test the kickboxer’s ground game.