Sign up for ESPN+, and you can then stream the UFC live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday offers potential pay-per-purchasers an interesting event buoyed by two flyweight title fights featuring two predominant favorites. A majority of the bouts see a favored fighter coming in at -250 or above, but there are still ways to navigate these treacherous waters with some prop action and a few decent underdogs. Join us as we try to take home some cash in the UFC 255 edition of Prime Picks, which will almost certainly feature the biggest UFC betting favorite of 2020.
Deiveson Figueiredo Wins Inside Distance (-215)
The Brazilian has been a terrifying force since joining the UFC in 2017. In just nine bouts, “Daico” set the record for the most knockdowns in divisional history with eight, most recently notching two when he clobbered Joseph Benavidez in July. Flyweight is not typically a division with knockdown power, and only four men throughout UFC flyweight history have registered more than five of them to date. His two drubbings of Benavidez sent a message to the rest of the division that he appears to be the man to beat in this post-Demetrious Johnson landscape. A pick that Figueiredo would score a finish is by no means disrespectful towards Alex Perez or any other opponent who signs on the dotted line against him; it is a sign of respect for what Figueiredo has accomplished thus far.
Figueiredo was originally booked against former bantamweight kingpin Cody Garbrandt, with the latter looking to skip the line and make his 125-pound debut for a title. A biceps injury allowed Perez to slot in, but by no means is he an unworthy contender. Winning streaks for fighters going after a title seem to be rarer these days, and look no further than the co-main event, where the challenger has won a single bout before getting a crack at the belt. Perez may not have beaten the very top of the division to earn his place, but seven wins in eight fights with five finishes along the way is an impressive way to get there. Most recently, Perez scored the biggest win of his career by chopping down the tree that was Jussier Formiga. Against Figueiredo, he should not look to keep this fight standing for long, unless he can stay at kicking range without throwing naked leg kicks that allow him to get countered by a deadly overhand right.
If Figueiredo has displayed a weakness, it is that he does not like to play defense. Pressuring him against the cage or putting him on his back severely decreases his work rate, not simply because he becomes grounded but also due to his caution to not get taken down again. Time and time again, the very threat of a takedown can take the sting out of even the mightiest punchers. Look no further than Francis Ngannou when he fought Stipe Miocic. Formiga managed to ground Figueiredo and keep him there, thanks to wrestling-based takedowns like single- and double-legs. Perez’s tenure as an amateur wrestler—he was a one time All-American at the junior college level—can help him significantly in his bid to shut down the heavy-handed champ.
Perez’s lone appearance on a UFC main card came against Jordan Espinosa, and a quick takedown for the Dana White's Contender Series signee eventually led to an easy arm-triangle choke at the midpoint of the first round. Although half of the wins for the former Tachi Palace Fights champ have come by decision, Perez has done the unusual by ramping up his finish rate when moving to the big leagues.
This fight should be a thriller for as long as it lasts. Figueiredo is strong and dangerous enough that he would not likely succumb to an early submission unless he gets hurt, and Perez does have power in his strikes. Given Figueiredo’s overwhelmingly aggressive style that has made most opponents wither, blister, burn and peel before him, Perez will have to gain his respect early with hard shots or a quick takedown. Given the histories of these two men, especially in recent memory, betting the under of 1.5 rounds (+158) may also be a savvy choice. If that is a bit too restrictive but you still think this fight will not make it to the 10-minute mark, Fight Won’t Start Round 3 is a palatable -125. Figueiredo can get the job done with strikes or by tapout, and Perez has been knocked out and submitted in the past. Selecting whether Figueiredo gets a knockout or a tapout is a little too daunting of a choice, but choosing him to prevail before the final bell is the best bet should you expect the champion to get his hand raised.
Valentina Shevchenko-Jennifer Maia Goes Over 2.5 Rounds (-135)
At this rate, Shevchenko will far and away be the biggest UFC betting favorite of the year, with lines looming anywhere from -1300 to -1800. As Shevchenko continues to rack up dominant wins, she will likely close as an even more substantial favorite against most flyweights not named Jessica Andrade. A -1100 favorite against Jessica Eye and Liz Carmouche in the past, Shevchenko is hard to place money on even though she is such a dominant force. A specific method of victory for the champ to win by knockout (-115) or submission (+500) or even just by stoppage (-175) as opposed to on the scorecards (+215) is a difficult proposition given Maia’s recent durability when lined up with Shevchenko’s ruthlessness at times. Therefore, the best course of action is the line expecting that this bout will last at least 12:31.
Despite being known as a devastating kickboxer and having two knockouts in her last three wins, “Bullet” sports more tapouts than knockouts on her ledger. This may be largely due to the beginning of her career, when she smashed her way through the competition by finishing everyone in sight for the first few years. What may be forgotten amidst those stoppage wins is that the Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian fighter has competed 25 full minutes in four of her last eight outings. In Maia, Shevchenko faces an opponent who has the wherewithal to make it to the final bell even if she is thoroughly outclassed. With the Eye knockout coming at 26 seconds into the second round, it is the only fight in Shevchenko’s UFC career to beat the under of this card.
Maia relies often on her size and strength advantages to bully her opponents around, but she has missed weight on more than one occasion. Should she miss weight for this contest—and there are concerns that this weight cut is a particularly difficult one—she would throw away the biggest possible opportunity of her career. Like Shevchenko, Maia has beaten the current under of 2.5 rounds just one time in her entire 11-fight UFC and Invicta Fighting Championships career, doing so when she tapped Joanne Calderwood to get this title shot. Maia may still be larger than her opponent, but this is hardly something with which Shevchenko will be concerned. Remember, “Bullet” has gone to battle with Amanda Nunes more than once. Unless Maia walks into a head kick early in the fight or records what would likely be one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, this fight has the makings of one that will go at least into the championship rounds.
Tim Means (+130)
Mike Perry started his career at 9-0 with nine knockouts. This included two wins in the UFC, but a wall in Alan Jouban held tight and handed him a decision loss. Perry was able to notch a pair of quick, nasty knockouts after this, but since 2017, “Platinum Mike” has not stopped an opponent. In his most recent performance, Perry came into the bout with a confusing corner situation and ended up utilizing his wrestling and submission defense to outwork Mickey Gall. Means’ style could easily play into Perry’s power-punching game, as his forward momentum leads to him taking shots on the way in to tear his opponent apart with knee and elbows.
The two welterweight brawlers celebrate finish rates hovering around 80 percent, but Means is a more active striker who absorbs far fewer strikes than Perry. Both can fall their way into a slugfest, and while it might be a testament to Gall’s skill improvement or Perry’s deterioration, the grappler kept up with the striker on the feet. Perry relies too heavily on his chin—his head movement leaves something to be desired—and it does not seem likely that he has improved after distancing himself from any gym worth its salt. The question may very well be about who has more left in the tank, which might seem strange given that Means is 36 and Perry is just 29.
Without delving into the particulars of why this fight should not be taking place this soon or why Perry is booked altogether, the intangibles surrounding this matchup cannot be completely ignored. Perry may have gotten lucky by drawing an opponent of Gall’s caliber when he was without any legitimate corner and did not need advice to readjust his style or to spot openings. Means is a savvy veteran with a granite chin. In fact, his lone stoppage loss due to strikes came from a shocking counter right hand from Niko Price when Means had him hurt badly. Unless Means walks into something foolishly, he can play the smart game, pick apart Perry on the outside and lance him with long right hands from a solid four-inch reach advantage. “Platinum Mike” has not showed signs of being completely invested as a fighter in the last year or two, and even though Perry can coast on the skills that brought him to the dance, Means should be a sharper opponent who can outwork him and win in the end.
Ariane Lipski (+135)
In a pure kickboxing match, Antonina Shevchenko would almost certainly have the upper hand. The elder sister of the aforementioned Valentina Shevchenko, “Pantera” has relied more on her striking game and passed on the grappling for most of her MMA tenure. Her victory over Lucie Pudilova marked the first time she had ever recorded a submission, although she did so over a fighter who is no longer with the promotion after a four-fight skid. Lipski displayed her own fair share of trouble when making her way to the Octagon following her remarkable KSW run, but her last two wins have put her fierce striking on display.
It will be in Lipski’s best interest to turn this from a kickboxing match to one contested under mixed martial arts rules, pressuring Shevchenko and using the cage to her advantage. Lipski is a strong force and proved as much when Isabela de Padua tried to take her down. “The Violence Queen” plowed her opponent as if she had come in with a significant weight advantage and nandrolone coursing through her veins. Lipski’s brutal kneebar elicited a screech from Luana Carolina and stuck with fans for a time, as she embodied her nickname by displaying the kind of power that could shred a knee like Vince Vaughn in “Brawl in Cell Block 99.” Lipski will almost certainly have a strength advantage against most flyweights, and she should use it against a woman who would prefer to stay on the outside with peppering kicks and reaching jabs.
This fight will hinge on where it takes place, with each sporting a noticeable advantage depending on its location. Grapplers often have the ability to take the fight where they want it, and of the two, Lipski has shown to be the superior grappler. Her ferocity once she gets the fight to the ground should not be overlooked, especially when Shevchenko surrenders takedowns all too willingly. Although the scorecards were amiss, Roxanne Modafferi practically did whatever she wanted to Shevchenko in their fight. Lipski can emulate this success and build upon it by bludgeoning Shevchenko from the top. The Kyrgyzstan fighter has yet to be finished as a pro, so a line that Lipski Wins Inside Distance at +390 may be a little presumptuous. As it stands now, “The Violence Queen” is a good underdog play in what should be a favorable style matchup as long as she follows a clear path to victory.