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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday carries on with its third Fight Island event in a week, a rematch for the vacant flyweight title tying the bow on festivities. In addition on where to lean on the main event, we have more primo suggestions on how best to come out ahead at UFC Fight Night 172. Let’s end this week on a high note with Prime Picks.
Deiveson Figueiredo (-210)
There are plenty of intangibles that would make it reasonable to consider an upset pick for Joseph Benavidez (+175) in this 125-pound title tilt. Before their first bout, Figueiredo missed weight and was no longer eligible for the title, and naturally, the leadup to the rematch has largely been about the weight issue. To add to the potential weight concern, the week before the event, “Daico” tested positive for COVID-19 and thought the fight was going to be called off. Wallid Ismail, his inimitable manager, insisted that his fighter take another test, believing it was a false positive as the virus already ran its course once. With less than a week to go before fighting for a championship, a cleared Figueiredo passed his next test and flew across the world to vie for the vacant title. Standing across from him is a man he smashed months before, albeit not without controversy.
It cannot be ignored that the clash of heads in the second round of that championship affair may have changed the course of the fight. Benavidez had won the wild first round on all three Sherdog scorecards, but a few sledgehammer right hands gave him pause while he tried to set up his kicks. When they cracked heads about 1:45 into Round 2, a stunned Benavidez backpedaled as his skin tore open and blood began to flood his vision. Seven seconds later, “Dais de Guerra”—Figueiredo holds the rare distinction with two nicknames—detonated a bomb of a right hand that put Benavidez down for good. While the cranial collision unquestionably contributed to the stoppage, Figueiredo targeted it like Clarence Boddicker with Alex Murphy on his knees.
In the leadup to their first meeting five months ago, we thought it fair to take the leap on a minor favorite in Benavidez. His speed looked to play a factor in a win for the championship bridesmaid, while his takedown game would mix up his offense and keep Figueiredo guessing. On the other hand, Figueiredo’s best chance to win back then is the same as it is now: “Some of his best work has come when he throws caution to the wind, stringing together dangerous combinations that consist of elbows, kicks and whatever else he feels like throwing at the time.” That threat has been magnified to a massive degree after the first stoppage, and it should be one with which Benavidez is imminently familiar.
The visual of that strike is impossible to shake and makes it difficult to recommend an upset for Benavidez, even with the mitigating circumstances that led to the knockout. However, the San Antonio native has shown plenty of pop in his punches, even finishing the lone man to beat Figueiredo, Jussier Formiga, on two separate occasions with strikes. The one-shot, game-changing power resides in the hands of the Brazilian, who put that on display when he flattened Benavidez in February. Benavidez had his moments, and he did win the first round. This headliner should answer the question of whether the bout would have played out differently absent the clash of heads. We believe Figueiredo will once again find his timing for his malicious right hand and hurt Benavidez in their rematch. If they play punch-for-punch as they did in their last bout, this one will be similarly exciting and emphatic.
Jack Hermansson (-110)
The middleweight co-headliner between Hermansson and Kelvin Gastelum is a coinflip, with both men clocking in at -110 odds. Although the line may be close, we do not see this fighting playing out nearly as closely between Gastelum and “The Joker.” Gastelum’s best chance at victory may be by knockout, not from grinding out his taller, longer opponent. Gastelum can put out fighters’ lights in a hurry, but Hermansson generally holds up unless offense is particularly overwhelming.
An unexpected loss to the mercurial Cezar Ferreira aside—“Mutante” has also beaten top light heavyweight contenders Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith in the past—Hermansson’s most significant UFC obstacle has been dealing with power punchers that force him to fight going backwards. Both Jared Cannonier and the aforementioned Santos put him down without prejudice, and each loss halted an impressive run from the Swede. In this crucial 185-pound contest to jump back into the Top 5, as long as “The Joker” avoids becoming careless and getting tagged by a looping hook he does not see coming, he can stay long and rangy to keep Gastelum at bay for three rounds.
Gastelum, for all of his accolades and skillful performances, is in a precarious situation. Dating back arguably to his win over Nicholas Musoke in 2014, his victories have come over fighters in the twilight of their careers. This does not discredit his wins; for example, Michael Bisping had just lost his title, and Ronaldo Souza was hovering around the Top 5 at the time. The numbers do line up, though. Souza was the ripe age of 38; Bisping was 38 and retired after the loss; Gastelum’s victory over a nearly 40-year-old Vitor Belfort was overturned; and Tim Kennedy was a youthful 37 and also retired after losing. Along the way, Gastelum’s defeat to Chris Weidman continues to age poorly, as the “All-American” loses by knockout after violent knockout.
Continuing this course, although Johny Hendricks came in at merely 32 during their UFC 200 bout, “Bigg Rigg” lost three of his next four after the decision to Gastelum before hanging up his MMA gloves and disappointed many with an ill-fated appearance in bareknuckle competition. Nate Marquardt checked in at 36 years of age and called it a career—for now—after losing four of his next six. Jake Ellenberger measured up as the youngest of these adversaries, just 29 years old but fast approaching 50 in fight years. “The Juggernaut” only won two more fights while dropping five, including four vicious knockouts. Against Hermansson, Gastelum will encounter a 32-year-old Swede with plenty of tread left on the tires.
This is not all a lost cause for Gastelum. His performance against current champion Israel Adesanya is a fair assessment when it comes to crowding a longer striker who likes to fight at a distance. Able to drop the champion in the first round with a stunning right hook, “The Ultimate Fighter” winner’s power and ability to close the distance in a hurry cannot be overlooked. Where Hermansson can excel is getting away from those types of situations or even capitalizing on them when his opponent is advancing. “The Joker” very nearly became the first fighter to ever submit Souza with a nasty guillotine choke in the first round of their headliner, and this type of sudden offense can catch anyone off-guard.
We expect that Hermansson to get his hand raised and get his path to a middleweight title shot back on track by defeating Gastelum. It might be an oversimplification to say that Gastelum has a puncher’s chance at victory because of his craftiness, but his best course of victory is to hurt Hermansson in an exchange and capitalize on his success accordingly. Over the course of this fight, we see the Swede using his range with kicks that Gastelum cannot turn into takedown attempts. If Gastelum charges in to try to drag down the fight, Hermansson’s guillotine cannot be ignored. The line does not need a particular parlay to attach, but we think Hermansson will outwork Gastelum for three rounds to emerge with a win.
Ariane Lipski (-120)
The excellently nicknamed “Violence Queen” has not lived up to that moniker in her three-fight stretch inside the Octagon. Level of competition obviously a factor, the woman that demolished a string of tough outs in KSW, including recent UFC competitor Diana Belbita and UFC vet Sheila Gaff, has not made her splash yet cageside. Against Luana Carolina, Lipski might finally encounter an opponent willing to stand and brawl with her without breaking up the exchanges with a takedown attempt.
With half the experience of her opponent but a year older, Carolina made her mark on the third Brazilian episode of Dana White’s Contender Series. From there, a battering of the much-maligned Priscila Cachoeira ensued for 15 minutes. Carolina managed to do practically what she wanted to her countrywoman in 2019, with a steady diet of head kicks that caused damage time and again. Her willingness to take the fight to the ground and take advantage of a damaged fighter played to her advantage, but “Dread” largely did not engage in prolonged grappling exchanges unless she was searching for a finish.
Similar to her opponent, Lipski is riding high from a decision victory that was dominant but just far enough away from eliciting referee intervention. Lipski maybe have bludgeoned an outmatched opponent on short notice that was nowhere near making weight, but Carolina could prove to be a tougher test. Although Lipski claimed she was dead set on returning to her finishing ways, she could be in for a tougher-than-expected test in a relatively inexperienced adversary. Look for this frequently discussed experience to play a factor greatly in what could be a close and exciting matchup between these two promising flyweights. If Lipski manages to stuff any potential takedown attempt and keep the fight standing, on paper, she appears to hold a striking advantage. In the process, she will use this striking in the form of crisp combinations and jagged elbows to get her hand raised.
Sergey Spivak (-160)
It is unusual when we can examine a heavyweight matchup and determine the best course of victory is through grappling and not by lobbing grenades until one combatant falls over. The card opener will feature Spivak against an unbeaten newcomer from Brazil who has knocked out three-quarters of his opponents. Carlos Felipe’s Octagon debut was actually set to come three years prior, but the Brazilian failed a drug test for stanozolol before facing Christian Colombo and was shelved before ever setting foot in the world famous eight-sided cage. Although he has a second chance to make a first impression, standing across from him is a heavy-handed Moldovan who holds no reservations about grinding out the fight.
Spivak did not draw the most fortuitous of opponents in his own debut, as Walt Harris decked him in 50 seconds to slam the door shut on an undefeated run. From there, potential fans and bettors alike abandoned him as he faced the jovial Tai Tuivasa. The few who bet on Spivak to win that rumble cashed in, as he frustrated the Aussie with a never-ending supply of takedowns until Tuivasa succumbed to a choke just over halfway through the bout. In Spivak’s next outing, he ran into a man who would not go down, as the nullifying force of Marcin Tybura neutralized him for three exhausting rounds. We do not expect that the newcomer from Brazil will be able to stop the body lock takedowns when “The Polar Bear” gets his paws on him. Although the line for Spivak Wins Inside Distance is not currently available, we would recommend that prop bet to bolster your haul.