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The Ultimate Fighting Championship posts up in the Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday with a sold-out crowd in attendance. Once worthy of rivaling some all-time great shows on paper, this card has taken its licks but still keeps ticking. In honor of Sherdog staff being live in the building covering UFC 262—the first event we have covered in person since before the coronavirus pandemic began—it felt prudent to have a throwback edition of Prime Picks.
A past betting odds series on Sherdog, with a nod to a friend, is the inspiration for this dive into the somewhat surprising odds at UFC 262. The promotion looks to move on from recently (formally) retired Khabib Nurmagomedov, putting its lightweight belt up for grabs and officially ending the reign of the man who may be the most dominant 155-pound champion in company history. No UFC lightweight king has ever defended his title more than three times, and it will be an uphill battle for the victorious heir apparent to hold on against the fascinating parity in the division.
This 12-fight offering provides very intriguing lines practically across the board, with only two fighters currently favored at better than -200 or above. On the other hand, eight see favorites at -150 or below, with a pair of pick-ems thrown in for good measure. The lines may fluctuate wildly as the event grows closer; for example, Beneil Dariush has blasted off to become one of the heavier favorites on this otherwise narrowly matchmade event. To paraphrase a line from the past, there is money to be made here, but it requires navigating some tricky style matchups, which in many cases could go either way. Look no further than the main event, which may be a coinflip before it is all said and done. With all that out of the way, let us learn from the past to guide our futures and make some money at UFC 262.
Straight Up CashMichael Chandler (+115)
This headliner between the UFC’s all-time leader in finishes (16) in Charles Oliveira—tied with Donald Cerrone—and Bellator MMA three-time champ and multiple recordholder Chandler is a dream matchup most did not imagine until it was put together. Realistically, the lightweight division—much like featherweight at the moment—could pair two fighters in the Top 10 and it would almost certainly produce fireworks. It may feel a little hollow that after Chandler smashed Dan Hooker, he called out names like Conor McGregor and Nurmagomedov, only for him to be matchmade against Oliveira. While Oliveira is far from a proven pay-per-view draw, this battle is no less exciting, and one where every single member in the 19,000-strong Houston audience will be on the edge of their seat until it is over.
It is a bit surprising that a veteran of 27 UFC bouts has only headlined a pair of events before now. His first almost could not have gone any worse, resulting in one of the strangest finishes we have seen when an apparent esophageal injury or re-irritation of a neck problem reared its ugly head against Max Holloway. He made the most of a second attempt on the marquee nearly five years later, tapping out Kevin Lee in the last event the organization held before pausing to reassess during the pandemic. A one-sided grappling clinic over Tony Ferguson placed “Do Bronx” in prime position to finally vie for the throne after joining the roster over a decade ago. To get there, he has leveled up everywhere, with his striking no longer a liability or simply a means to an end to drag the fight to the ground. If he wants to display his ever-improving hands, however, he will be in serious jeopardy right from the start.
In terms of sheer punching power and vaunted striking ability, Oliveira has not faced a striker of Chandler’s magnitude in years. Paul Felder laughed off submission attempts to elbow Oliveira’s face through the canvas, while Anthony Pettis worked him over to the body. On the current run for “Do Bronx,” the most dangerous striker he faced is without question Ferguson, whose power was never his strongest asset. Some fighters have the power to sting opponents with their strikes and gain their respect, while others have the kind of stopping power that stuns and puts them down. Chandler is firmly the latter, and every moment on the feet is a precarious one for Oliveira.
The book on how to beat Chandler is not entirely written, as the counter right hand Patricio Freire introduced to the side of Chandler’s head could have felled a bull moose. Otherwise, one could hope to chop his leg down and deaden the nerve at the calf a la Brent Primus. Both stoppages, which came in under three minutes on both occasions, are not blueprints by any means, and those are his two setbacks dating back to 2015. While Chandler dropped two to Will Brooks, and Oliveira tapped out Brooks in 150 seconds three years later, both men have evolved a great deal since then. A confident Chandler, who believes that Oliveira’s striking is not sufficient to threaten him, could be unwise. When it comes to sheer power and explosive ability, and the kind that can be maintained for five rounds—Oliveira has never fought beyond the 15-minute mark as a pro—Chandler has the edge that cannot be ignored. As “Iron Mike” is a betting underdog that appears to be growing in the plus territory, getting in on the extremely live dog is about as good as you can hope for in this headliner. One way or another, this should not last long.
Straight Up PassBeneil Dariush (-175)
The line for Dariush has shifted dramatically it opened, and even though it has held relatively steady at anywhere from -160 to -175, it is trending in the direction of Dariush becoming an even more substantial favorite. On the other side, it has been ages since Tony Ferguson has not clocked in as the betting favorite. Against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night 98, also known as the “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3” Finale, Ferguson served as a +120 underdog, back in late 2016. At the time, Barack Obama was the U.S. President, Conor McGregor was a week away from becoming the first two-division champ in UFC history and this humble author was writing for a different outlet than Sherdog.
The “pass” nature of this option comes into play for this fight due to the lines as they are offered at this moment. It is not so much a prediction that Dariush will not get his hand raised nor is it an indictment of the confidence or lack thereof regarding Tony Ferguson. It is rather that at these odds, there are better options on the table. It is not just because Ferguson’s only two UFC bouts where he came in the underdog, he destroyed his foes in the aforementioned dos Anjos and Ramsey Nijem before winning the Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” It is not even due to Dariush’s history of falling short at the most inopportune time against foes like Michael Chiesa or the undermentioned Edson Barboza. Were the odds closer, and Dariush instead in the neighborhood of -120 to -140, there might have been some value.
Ferguson, for all of his wrestling background, has landed exactly as many takedowns inside the Octagon as he has submitted opponents, with six takedowns and six successful submissions. The takedowns did not necessarily lead to the submissions, but they have forced scrambles where Ferguson either reversed position or ensnared his opponents with his long arms. Nearly everything Ferguson does in the cage is as if he read “Dune” like it was “The Art of War,” in that he had plans within plans for every motion. Traps can get set up from a long chain of strikes that lead into close proximity, where his fabled “snap-jitsu” can get put to work.
Much of the gameplan of “El Cucuy” hinges on his cardio and ability to do the things he sets his mind to, from his unorthodox footwork to bizarrely effective striking salvos. Father Time is undefeated in this sport, but subsequent setbacks to former interim champ Justin Gaethje and current title challenger Oliveira are not worth sounding the alarm yet. It is difficult to tell as of yet whether the strategy of Oliveira can be duplicated by Dariush, spamming takedowns while holding the defensive chops to not fall prey to any of Ferguson’s trickery. Even if the best-case scenario for Dariush comes to fruition, where he embraces the grind for 15 minutes while taking as little damage as possible, it is not worth getting in this high.
A Prop-ular BetOliveira-Chandler Goes Under 2.5 Rounds (-155)
Even if the above pick does not bear fruit and Chandler’s championship dreams come crashing down, this tasty prop option practically jumps off the sheet. Both contenders are proven finishers against elite levels of competition, with just eight decision wins across 52 career victories—a terrifying combined finish rate around 85 percent—and they can do so in a wide variety of ways. It should go without saying that the least likely outcome is that Chandler taps out Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard Oliveira (+1100 and not worth a flier), even if the old adage of “punch a black belt in the face and he becomes a brown belt” holds true after Chandler gets off some shots. One way or another, this lightweight championship affair will not go beyond the 2:30 mark of Round 3.
As already mentioned, Chandler’s punching power is a sight to behold in the division, and his places on the Bellator leaderboards will stand for years to come. An oft-asked question about the level of competition between promotions is a fair one, as a knockout of Sidney Outlaw or David Rickels may not hold as much weight as their UFC counterparts. Still, Chandler remained the big fish in a smaller pond largely thanks to his killer instinct, which he still holds in spades even as he passes the 35-year mark on this planet. Chandler should also hold another important tool in his back pocket: his wrestling, as “Iron Mike” celebrates NCAA Division I All-American status as a wrestler. While Oliveira could take Ferguson down with astounding ease, he will run into a brick wall in Chandler when trying to pursue takedowns.
In just one of his last 14 bouts dating back to 2014 has Oliveira hit this over of competing for at least 12:30. That came after one-way traffic in a smart but safe performance against a deadly adversary in Ferguson. Like his stellar 90 percent finish rate, “Do Bronx” has seen just one bout go the distance in defeat, which came against a man once impossible to stop in Frankie Edgar. The Brazilian could very easily show that there are levels to this game when it comes to grappling, and even if he cannot secure a more orthodox maneuver like a double leg, he has a sneaky efficient way of getting the fight where he wants it. Both lightweights have the firepower to get the job done inside the distance, and at -155, the fight concluding before its midpoint should be money in the bank.
An Unprop-ular BetEdson Barboza Wins by TKO/KO (+385)
Up to his last fight with Josh Emmett, the jury was still out on Shane Burgos’ ceiling. Tight, crisp boxing fell away to a willingness to engage in brawls, and as he and his foe threw caution to the wind, they let the chips fall where they may. A thriller with Calvin Kattar did not go his way after he went all-offense to his detriment, and he has tightened up some of those holes. Emmett still was able to draw out a firefight, but the battle was so tremendous that neither man’s stock fell after the dust cleared from a whirlwind of the pages of “Andy Capp” comics. More importantly, it speaks volumes about Burgos’ ability to take damage, and the only concern some might have is that absorbing nearly 100 significant head shots and coming back from two knockdowns will have repercussions for his next fights. Against Barboza, a fighter who does not exclusively headhunt or always follow Thanos’ instructions from “Avengers: Infinity War” to go for the head, Burgos may come up against a wood chipper for three rounds but maintains the fortitude to come out intact.
Two fights into his move to featherweight, it is still tough to tell exactly how far Barboza’s power can translate down to this division. The weight cut depletes the man known as “Junior” to a frightening degree, with the Brazilian emaciated and seemingly trying to emulate Christian Bale’s character from “The Machinist” to get there. Still, he clocked Dan Ige in the first round with a right hand to put “50K” down, and the same right hand dropped Makwan Amirkhani twice in their meeting in October. “Hurricane” will need to mind his Ps and Qs when wading into the fire, but his hands are notably sharper than the two and should keep Barboza from setting up these lethal strikes. Without traversing too far down the MMAth rabbit hole, Burgos was able to achieve what Barboza could not: put Amirkhani away, as Burgos battered the breadbasket with a brutal barrage of bombs to the body. Burgos’ boxing, both offensively and defensively, will be the difference maker in this contest, and Barboza scoring the knockout is not the best way to try to call your shot a la Babe Ruth.
An Accumulation ContemplationBurgos (-140)
Ronaldo Souza (-110)
Gina Mazany (-210)
Total Odds: +383
Following the logic about why Barboza by knockout—his preferred method of victory, historically—is not a good play, this matchup should fare well for Burgos as long as he does not play the ferocious kickboxer’s game. Even though Barboza is considered by some to be on a three-fight win streak—razor-close fights with Ige and Felder aside—this may be the rude awakening where Barboza tries to crack into the top 10 only to find himself on the wrong end of youth and speed. Burgos, a pressure fighter who will come at you to put his hands on your face, has developed a great deal since Calvin Kattar mollywhopped him in Boston in 2018. No longer is Burgos the kind of fighter to throw naked leg kicks and get clipped with easy counters, and his chin can no longer be questioned after Emmett threw everything and the kitchen sink at him last year. After years of time in the Octagon, Barboza’s strengths and weaknesses are out in the open, but the clock is ticking on the Brazilian that has taken a great deal of damage over the years. Burgos, with a good gameplan and pressure for all three rounds, can take Barboza out of his element and box him up to win this fight as a slight favorite.
Many are calling “Jacare” a spent force at 185 pounds after eye-opening defeats to Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson that bookended an ill-advised trip to light heavyweight against future champ Jan Blachowicz. In some ways, Souza is taking on what could be a version of himself ten years younger, with far less punching power but the same desire to drag the fight to the mat and rip a limb off. Unless the bottom has completely fallen out, Souza will have the wherewithal—and more importantly, punching power—to outlast and take out his fellow countryman. This step up in competition is too much, too soon for the budding Andre Muniz, who should find himself outgunned across the board even against a relatively depleted “Jacare.” A pick-em for this fight is too good to pass up, and it will boost the accumulator significantly.
Rounding out this three-fight parlay and structural trip down memory lane is a women’s flyweight clash between Mazany and Priscila Cachoeira, with the latter making the most of a lucky fourth fight after a rough losing streak by cold-cocking Shana Dobson with a hellacious uppercut in early 2020. Since Cachoeira last competed, her opponent Mazany has made major changes to her career after a humbling defeat to Julia Avila by dropping down to flyweight. It is difficult to tell just how meaningful a shellacking from “Danger” over the sub-.500 Rachael Ostovich means in the greater scheme of this division, but this is a very winnable fight for the Xtreme Couture fighter. Mazany, who prefers to use strength and wrestling, will have this advantage over her Brazilian foe, as the latter wants to stand and trade with her. Mazany as a favorite around 2-to-1 is a solid, safe way to close out this accumulator and take home the prize.