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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will end the year in South Korea with a fight card that will air in the wee hours for stateside audiences. To keep with the primetime nature of these articles, we will include a fight from Bellator 235 on Friday to liven up things, although most of the bouts on the Bellator MMA doubleheader this weekend are too lopsided to recommend. Let us win some won in the UFC Fight Night 165 edition of Prime Picks.
Josh Barnett (-245)
Despite Barnett stepping away from the sport for over three years due to issues with the United States Anti-Doping Agency for which he was later cleared of malfeasance, the 42-year-old veteran is a substantial favorite over former middleweight Ronny Markes. When Barnett last competed, Markes made the unusual transition from middleweight to light heavyweight and then skipped the next division to reach super heavyweight. Both “The Warmaster” and his adversary have competed in the super heavyweight division in their careers, and both have stopped their significantly larger opponents in the process.
Although not a member of active competition in quite some time, Barnett has been far from inactive as an athlete. In his time off, he created Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport—a promotion that blurs the lines between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts by combining parts of both to showcase spectacular performances. Returning once again to the sport where he earned his chops, Barnett will be making his promotional debut with Bellator and in doing so become one of the few to compete for the UFC, Bellator, Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce in his lengthy career. Provided the man formerly known as the “The Baby-Faced Assassin” has not lost a step in his absence, this should be his fight for the taking.
A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under his Nova Uniao head coach Andre Pederneiras, Markes has the ability to stop a fight on the feet or on the ground. While picking up wins over the likes of Cully Butterfield and the inimitable Tony Lopez since departing the UFC on a two-fight skid, other than a victory over former World Series of Fighting champion Smealinho Rama, the level of competition for Markes has been less than stellar. Barnett will almost certainly be the best fighter—one worthy of returning to Top 15 status with a few wins—Markes has faced in years. As a professional combatant, Markes last recorded a win on any major stage by tapping former Bellator bantamweight king Joe Warren in a grappling contest in August. Barnett will pose a far greater challenge than Warren and will likely come out with his hand raised.
Chan Sung Jung (-160)
If there were a prop bet that allowed for bettors to pick which bout earned “Fight of the Night,” we would likely advise you to place your money on the headlining contest between Jung and Frankie Edgar. Not only do post-fight bonuses go at a substantially higher rate to main events in general, but this bout has all the makings of something thrilling for as long as it lasts. A short-notice replacement for the injured Brian Ortega, Edgar has the opportunity to remain in the Top 5 at 145 pounds before dropping to bantamweight as a dual-division threat. This split focus, the short preparation time for a fighter as dangerous as “The Korean Zombie” and fighting on his opponent’s home soil all make this a treacherous matchup for the former lightweight champion.
Other than a decision defeat to short-time UFC fighter Masanori Kanehara and an extremely controversial split decision loss to Leonard Garcia in 2010, those who have beaten Jung have either had to separate him from his consciousness or capitalize on an injury to do so. Edgar frequently wins fights by putting a pace on his opponent, whether with dogged determination of takedown attempts or a rapid-fire striking attack that sees him land more than he absorbs. On the other hand, he tends to lose fights when opponents beat him to the punch or do not allow him to bully them.
Jung is not the kind of fighter who likes to take a step backwards, perhaps proving this more than most when, in a fight he was winning, he continued to attack Yair Rodriguez until a one-in-a-million elbow leveled him with one second remaining in the fifth round. Not accounting for mandatory military service that forced him away from the sport for over three years, injury and an uneven fight schedule have only given fans one appearance from Jung in each of the last three years—until now. His 2019 campaign will be the first year since 2011 om which “The Korean Zombie” has appeared more than once, and that year saw him score two of his more iconic wins with a twister over former nemesis Garcia and a blistering seven-second knockout of Mark Hominick. An active Jung against an opponent struggling to find his way, both in weight and in career prospects, could see him coming out with a win that punches his ticket for another title shot in a crowded featherweight division. Should Jung come out aggressively and not let up, he can prevail as the moderate favorite in front of a partisan crowd and earn what may be the biggest win of his career.
Volkan Oezdemir (+125)
Few light heavyweights this side of Thiago Santos burst onto the 205-pound scene like Oezdemir did in 2017, demonstrating a shocking amount of power in small spaces by flatlining Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in short order. He ran into a wrecking crew to follow in then-champion Daniel Cormier, former title challenger Anthony Smith and upcoming challenger Dominick Reyes, with the latter ending via contentious split verdict. “No Time” managed to successfully rebound by dispatching Ilir Latifi in the second round after taking everything the now-heavyweight Swede had to offer. This bout is between two high-level strikers who can end a fight in an instant, and picking either fighter or any result other than Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision (-195) may be a risky proposition.
Aleksandar Rakic has looked nothing short of impressive in his last three UFC bouts, as he steamrolled Justin Ledet, smashed Devin Clark in the opening frame and then obliterated Manuwa with a head kick in less than 45 seconds. A power striker with the ability to land with both legs, Rakic has proven that he can do work in the first minute just as well as he can in the final minute. If Oezdemir manages to succeed, it will be because he pushes the pace and stays close in a bid to nullify the Austrian’s reach advantage, all while doing damage in the clinch with a varied attack of elbows, knees and other strikes. A relatively close fight on the books, Rakic opened at -145, and after some line movement, he still sits as the moderate favorite. This fight has the potential to be extremely violent and possibly quick, and one man could finish it with a single strike. That man could very well be Oezdemir.
Ciryl Gane vs. Tanner Boser Goes Over 1.5 Rounds (+100)
Gane has recorded three of his five career victories—all five have come by stoppage—in the first round, including his promotional debut against Raphael Pessoa. The Frenchman demolished Don'Tale Mayes in October, taking what was likely a 10-8 opening round that his American counterpart barely survived. While “Bon Gamin” prefers a finish and pursues it with almost reckless intent, he will be squaring off with a Canadian who prefers to fight tactically and stay on the outside to work his leg kicks.
Boser has one stoppage loss in his career: Tim Hague starched him in six seconds in 2015. Since a June 2015 first-round knockout victory over Jared Henderson, Boser has reached the midpoint of every fight going forward, including a knockout win in Round 2 at exactly 2:30 in a rematch with Hague. Spanning 15 fights, including 11 that went the distance, “The Bulldozer” has not been put away nor has he finished an opponent quicker than the halfway mark of a fight. While Gane is a massive heavyweight who is can end a fight by strikes or submission—he may get it later in the fight—we expect that these two will reach the round and a half mark. If you disagree and feel the fight will end quickly, Under 1.5 Rounds was at -105 late in fight week.