The Octagon heads to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the first time in promotional history this Saturday for UFC Fight Night 149. The card features a number of Russia’s top fighters and there are 12 bouts scheduled to take place. The sportsbooks are offering odds on all the bouts, and my top plays are listed below in the UFC Fight Night 149 edition of Prime Picks.
Ivan Shtyrkov (-175)
One of my favorite picks of the night is Ultimate Fighting Championship newcomer Shtyrkov to beat Devin Clark in light heavyweight action. Shtyrkov has been one of the top Russian light heavyweight prospects for a while, defeating the likes of Antonio Silva, Thiago Silva, Fabio Maldonado, Jeff Monson and Satoshi Ishii. He’s a physically strong fighter with a ton of knockout power and is in his physical prime at just 30. Although many of his fights in Russia took place at heavyweight, he’s fought at light heavyweight more recently and has looked great at this weight. There’s no doubt the UFC is setting him up to get a big win here over Clark, who has been very disappointing in the Octagon with just a 3-3 record. Clark has looked chinny inside the Octagon with two knockout losses and his wins have been underwhelming decisions. There’s nothing special about his game, and I don’t see him sticking around the promotion for much longer. Given Shtyrkov’s knockout power and Clark’s chin issues, I see the Russian getting a brutal knockout win here. The -175 odds on him look to be right for a bet.
Michal Oleksiejczuk (-210)
For a parlay piece, I like Oleksiejczuk to defeat Gadzhimurad Antigulov in a light heavyweight affair. “Lord” has looked tremendous in the UFC, defeating Khalil Rountree by decision and then knocking out Gian Villante with a vicious body punch. The win over Rountree was overturned due to the Polish fighter testing positive for a banned substance. After serving his one-year suspension he came back and looked better than ever with his KO win over a durable veteran in Villante. Oleksiejczuk is only 24 and he’s unbeaten in his last 11 bouts dating back to 2014. This makes him one of the top young light heavyweights on the roster. He’ll now face off against Antigulov, who recently had his 14-fight win streak snapped with a TKO loss to Ion Cutelaba. The Russian is a kill-or-be-killed fighter who has gone the distance only once in 25 pro bouts, with 19 victories of his own by stoppage. He has shown some flashy finishing ability at times, but the knockout loss to Cutelaba showed what his ceiling is, and it’s a gatekeeper. At 32, I don’t expect Antigulov to improve much, and although he will have the hometown crowd backing him for this fight, this is a favorable matchup for Oleksiejczuk. Considering all the damage Antigulov takes and how much knockout power “Lord” has, give me the Pole to get the win as a -210 favorite.
Antonina Shevchenko (-360)
For another parlay piece, give me Shevchenko to continue her undefeated winning ways with a victory over fellow flyweight Roxanne Modafferi. Like her sister Valentina, Antonina is an exceptional athlete and striker. She comes from a muay Thai background and we saw those skills on display in her UFC debut when she defeated Ji Yeon Kim using a combination of her striking prowess and attacks from the clinch. Though she’s 34, she looks to be in her physical prime and could soon make a run for the top 10 in the UFC’s newest division. Standing in front of her is the veteran Modafferi, who has had more success since making the move down to 125 a few years ago. “The Happy Warrior” is one of the most well-respected veterans of the women’s MMA scene, having been competing as a pro since 2003, but all those fights have come with a lot of damage incurred. At age 36, she doesn’t appear to have much left in the tank. It’s a credit to Modafferi that she’s managed to hang around for as long as she has, but this is a bad matchup for her. Shevchenko should be able to stuff Modafferi’s takedown attempts and on the feet, this should be a wipeout. The line seems high, but Shevchenko should win this fight and the -360 odds on her are fair.
Keita Nakamura (+100)
For an underdog pick, I favor Nakamura to defeat Sultan Aliev in this welterweight bout. What I like most about "K-Taro" is his experience. He’s been competing as a pro since 2003 and has racked up nearly 50 MMA contests. During this, he’s fought some of the best fighters in the sport all around the world. Despite having so many bouts, Nakamura is only 34, and he hasn’t taken much damage as he’s only been finished twice. This makes him one of the most durable fighters in the UFC. He has a tremendous ground game with 17 wins by submission. During his recent stint inside the Octagon, he has shown improved striking as well with a well-rounded game leading to wins over the likes of Alex Morono, Li JIngliang and Kyle Noke. Even in his last couple of losses he has gone the distance and made things tough for top opponents like Anthony Rocco Martin and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. Nakamura has long been one of the most underrated welterweights, and the fact he’s available at dog money against an inconsistent fighter like Aliev is telling. Though his foe has a nice record on paper that is littered of knockouts, he’s performed quite poorly in the UFC with just a 1-2 record including both of his losses coming by knockout. He hasn’t actually finished a fight since 2014, and averages less than one fight per year. Aliev may have the Russian crowd rooting for him, but this isn’t the first time "K-Taro" has entered enemy territory and won. At +100, give me Nakamura as an underdog.
Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for Sherdog.com as well as the lead staff writer for MMAOddsbreaker.com. Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all time is Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua and he wishes Pride never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.