The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 248 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will attempt to enrich our lives with a title doubleheader featuring the middleweight and women’s strawweight divisions. While the two champions—Israel Adesanya and Weili Zhang—have definite paths to victory, we delve into four of the five main card battles that have some value in the UFC 248 edition of Prime Picks.
Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero Doesn’t Go to Decision (-140)
Picking this fight is difficult, not because we do not expect Adesanya to get his hand raised but because there will be an inherent danger for as long as it lasts. The champion as a -280 favorite may be a little too high to pursue, and of all the prop bets assigned to his victory, Adesanya wins by KO/TKO at +170 is the most appealing. Romero’s ferocity and his ability to end a fight in an instant—often in the later rounds—means there is an obvious risk in choosing the sizeable favorite outright.
Since his promotional debut, Adesanya has looked sensational. Although he fought to a split decision against Marvin Vettori in 2018, the toughest test for “The Last Stylebender” came against Kelvin Gastelum. In that bout, both men pushed each other to the limit in their Sherdog.com 2019 “Fight of the Year”-winning battle. Adesanya graduated to the undisputed championship level when he took on and obliterated Robert Whittaker in October. A significant surprise that many prognosticators did not see coming, he did so by figuring out the timing of his opponent in less than a round and dropping the former champ at the tail end of the first. From there, it was only a matter of time until Adesanya claimed the throne, and he has not looked back.
Romero holds the unfortunate distinction of dropping not one but two bouts leading up to a title shot— an honor he shares with the likes of David “Tank” Abbott, Randy Couture and Frankie Edgar. Those defeats to eventual Whittaker and Paulo Henrique Costa were closely contested affairs that saw Romero hurt both men at least once in each fight. Romero’s durability has practically never been questioned, outside of a light heavyweight tussle with vaunted knockout artist Rafael Cavalcante. Back when that fight took place, Romero was still referred to as “the wrestler” by seasoned observers. He has since evolved into a man who does not shy away from a brawl. However, these recent hellacious battles have seen the 42-year-old Romero absorb a combined 246 significant strikes, and eventually, something has to give.
Although not quite the terrifying physical force Costa has proven to be, Adesanya has tools that can make him the first 185-pound fighter to take out “Soldier of God.” Deciphering Whittaker’s timing was a major step for Adesanya to come out as the undisputed middleweight king, and following Romero’s movement will be essential. The 2000 Olympic silver medalist still has the ability to lash out in a split-second and do serious damage. Remember, he clipped Costa in the early going and stayed dangerous for the full 15-minute encounter.
As long as Adesanya does not fall into a trap or make a major mistake, this should be his fight to win. However, the danger Romero poses makes it a much more reasonable proposition to go with the notion that this fight does not make it 25 minutes. Should this fight bust our pick in the main event and go the distance, Over 3.5 Rounds is currently -130, while the opposite sits at +110. We do not believe it will last this long, and it may not even reach the championship rounds at all. All but one of Romero’s UFC stoppages have come in the third frame, so an option we do not recommend but one that could be worth a flyer is Romero Wins in Round 3. Those odds sit at +1450, which would give a daring bettor a nearly 15-fold return on investment. Instead, the notion of this fight not going the distance is perhaps one of the safest bets in what is sure to be a thriller.
Weili Zhang (-170)
Can Zhang capitalize on the time it takes for Joanna Jedrzejczyk to get adjusted in the bout? Will Zhang be able to keep up the pace if she cannot dispatch her challenger early on in their championship tilt? What will happen when Zhang eats strikes from someone who is not afraid to get hit back? The questions of this strawweight championship affair are intriguing, but given the nature of these two fighters, we believe that the current champion has what it takes to defend her belt for the first time against the former 115-pound queen.
Win or lose, Jedrzejczyk can rack up 100-plus significant strikes on her opponent almost at will, having done so seven times inside the Octagon to date. In her last bout against Michelle Waterson, the former champ landed upwards of 80 leg kicks alone, and her cardio is virtually a non-factor. In multiple championship matches in her career, she has won because her pace did not wane in the later rounds and in fact could increase as the rounds progressed. With her constant stream of strikes, one factor remains prevalent to her success: She fights as a bully, forcing her adversaries to back up, lest they get punched in the face repeatedly.
Zhang also fights hyper-aggressively. Although she has never reached the century mark in significant strikes, she has not needed to do so across a maximum of three rounds. Most recently, she demolished Jessica Andrade in under a minute, delivering a veritable bouquet of knees, punches and elbows to wrest the title from the Brazilian’s grip. While her UFC tenure has largely been dominant, there are still some questions that linger unanswered, and this matchup should answer some.
This bout may boil down to the first fighter to land a strong enough strike to send a message. As both women are proud pressure fighters, the one who takes the first back step could be at a major disadvantage early. Should the Polish fighter give up the first round, it could spell her undoing, with 11 of Zhang’s finishes coming in the opening stanza. What Zhang may lack with speed, she makes up for in power, and this power will likely serve as the difference maker.
While we are not so bold to predict that Zhang will finish her opponent—Jedrzejczyk’s chin has held up against every fighter not named Rose Namajunas—it is certainly an option worth considering. Zhang Wins Inside Distance is a decent +140, while Zhang Wins by Decision is a much more considerable +315. We would side with the more favored odds of the two, and of the two women, Zhang is more likely to pick up a stoppage. Simply pursuing the champ defending by TKO/KO as +175 is a bit too direct, as even though Jedrzejczyk has never before been submitted, the old adage of a black belt reverting to a brown belt after getting hit in the face could ring true.
Jingliang Li Wins by TKO/KO (+155)
Neil Magny once held the record for the most UFC bouts in a calendar year, and after a failed test with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and his subsequent fight for vindication, he returns from an unprecedented 15-month layoff. Standing in his way will be the surging Li, who earned the biggest win of his career his last time out by battering the high-flying Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. Perhaps surprisingly, Magny has not competed since December 2018, and Li has stepped in the cage just once.
Despite this relative inactivity from both men, Li has suffered only one defeat in his last eight outings. That loss came when Jake Matthews floored him and ultimately won the fight due to his superior ground game. Magny will be the first fighter since then to really test the ground game of “The Leech,” who made his own name through suffocating pressure and uncomfortable clinch control. Magny sports a nine-inch reach advantage, so it would behoove Li to not allow this fight to stay at range for long, unless he maintains a strategy similar to when Mark Hunt faced Stefan Struve or when Magny faced Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Almost every time Magny has suffered a defeat inside the Octagon, it has been by stoppage. More often than not, it comes by tapout, and although Li is skilled in this aspect of his game, he has never performed a submission attempt inside the cage. We do not believe this is the bout where Li bucks tradition to go for one. Instead, he will outwork the taller man at close range while landing his favored right hand. We see Li getting the finish, and it will almost certainly be by knockout. If you prefer to take a safer option, a straight line on Li is -175, while the alternative route of Li Wins by Decision stands at +300.
Max Griffin (+120)
Both Griffin and Alex Oliveira are in dire need of a win, each prevailing in only one of their last four appearances and two of their last six. A reckless and powerful striker, Oliveira has largely been figured out of late: His opponent needs to avoid the flying or spinning strikes while staying patient. With the Brazilian knowing he likely needs a victory to keep his roster spot, he will almost certainly throw everything he has at Griffin right out of the gate. Each of his last five victories has come by stoppage, including three clean knockouts. Capable of his own power takedown game, Oliveira could surprise Griffin if he tries to plant him on his back. The biggest issue, however, is that no matter the position, Oliveira relies almost exclusively on power over technique, which is not sustainable for him across three rounds.
Griffin is the kind of fighter who can avoid getting into a brawl, absorbing knockout blows and getting stopped. His lone finish loss came when Colby Covington rag-dolled him for three rounds before getting the ground-and-pound stoppage. If he wants a solid path to victory, he should revive the game plan that saw him defeat Mike Perry in 2018. In their bout, “Max Pain” evaded Perry’s power shots, stayed at his preferred range and utilized crisp technical boxing. Should he stay on the outside, work the jab, follow them with right hands and mix in takedowns when Oliveira inevitably overcommits on a strike, he can emerge victorious to spring the upset.