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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, swings for the fences with an event topped by what should be an all-action headliner. Like its predecessor, there are a few close fights, with several lines well above -200. This is a no-risk-no-reward fight card, but UFC Fight Night 180 still features several ways to come out on top, as outlined in this edition of Prime Picks.
Chan Sung Jung Wins Inside Distance (+100)
Some fighters may not believe in the notion of ring rust, but nearly two years away from the cage after a humbling loss is a long, long time. Brian Ortega last competed in December 2018, when an accumulation of damage on his face after 20 minutes with Max Holloway ended their title fight. Part of the layoff came due to a knee injury, as Ortega tore his ACL at the end of 2019. By then, a year had already passed since his loss, with no other disclosed injuries to blame. Coming back after all this time, coupled with the loss of chief corner Rener Gracie due to a positive test for COVID-19, does not bode well for “T-City.” While Ortega is trying to get his proverbial sea legs under him, he will have to encounter a ferocious fast-starter in Jung. We expect that Jung will not only get the best of his opponent but that he will finish the fight.
Ortega has long relied on his durability to win fights, taking the punishment and surviving bad situations to get the best of a fatiguing opponent further on in the match. The California native strung together four consecutive wins in the third round from 2015 to 2017. Despite not currently winning any of those bouts on the Sherdog scorecards, Ortega managed to pull out four stoppages—including two with less than 60 seconds left on the clock—with style points. Thiago Tavares was tied with Ortega going into the third; Diego Brandao was up two rounds; Clay Guida had won at least one of two rounds; and the same went for Renato Carneiro. Against “The Korean Zombie,” Ortega might not have the luxury to rest on his durability laurels to pull off a late win.
Jung has charged through the opposition of late, with each of his last three wins since his return from mandatory military service in 2017 ending in the first round. Those three victories did not come against run-of-the-mill featherweights, either. The historically durable 145ers he smashed were Carneiro, Dennis Bermudez and Frankie Edgar, and in the process, he recorded just the second knockout against each fighter. It cannot be ignored that Ortega also stopped two of those three men, but his performances did not compare to the blitzkrieg attack with which Jung put out both Carneiro and Edgar. Against the lone opponent he could not finish, Jung ended up on the losing end of one of the most spectacular knockouts in UFC history against Yair Rodriguez, and it was in a fight where he was up on the scorecards.
Even though Ortega holds 10 finishes on his ledger, only four came in the opening round and only one came against top-flight competition. The Black House rep often prefers to fight tooth-and-nail with his opponents until they tire or he can find an advantageous position, like jumping guard into a guillotine choke. Before Ortega tapped out Cub Swanson, he lost the first round, as well. The difference between the aforementioned names that gave Ortega trouble—Brandao, Carneiro and Swanson—and Jung is that “The Korean Zombie” and his 87 percent finish rate have a killer instinct like few others in the sport.
Jung’s striking has developed substantially over the years, and when coupled with his talented grappling chops, he is a threat everywhere that Ortega wants to go. Ortega on paper would likely prefer to make this a ground affair, but he does not have the means to take it there from a takedown perspective. Unless “The Korean Zombie” takes the fight down—which seems highly unlikely—this match has all the makings of a high-intensity striking battle for as long as it lasts. Before the final bell rings, Jung should be able to muster a stoppage. Keeping it as Jung winning inside the distance allows for the unlikely opportunity that he manages to become the first fighter to tap Ortega without losing much value. As a reminder, at the time of their classic encounter, Dustin Poirier had never been submitted, but Jung snatched a late brabo choke to seal the deal in a thriller.
Jessica Andrade (-150)
“Bate Estaca,” which means “pile driver” in English, is a ronin in the women’s divisions. Starting off at 135 pounds, the diminutive 5-foot-1 fighter with a 62-inch reach was frequently at a serious disadvantage against longer, stronger fighters. Opponents like Raquel Pennington and Liz Carmouche managed to push her around, leading her to drop 20 pounds to strawweight, as the flyweight division did not exist at the time. The weight cut was a harsh one, but the Brazilian did enter most of her bouts with a significant power advantage. Nasty finishes of Jessica Penne and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, along with her iconic slam knockout of Rose Namajunas, attested to that reality. After a pair of noteworthy losses at strawweight, Andrade now moves to 125 pounds. This is the division where she should finally find her home.
Taking on Andrade in the Brazilian’s flyweight debut is recent title challenger Katlyn Chookagian, who has her hands full after beating the reigning champion’s sister, Antonina Shevchenko. A crafty kickboxer with the ability to push the pace and go for a hard 15 minutes, Chookagian has actually done so in every one of her UFC bouts besides the drubbing she received at the hands of Valentina Shevchenko. Chookagian is a tactical fighter with a solid fight IQ, although she can fight to her opponent’s strengths and squeak out decisions. One of the more well-rounded fighters the division has to offer, she can get stuck in a first-gear rhythm and not pick up the pace when she needs to win a round.
Although a prop bet that Andrade gets the job done a certain way might be enticing—i.e., her finishing Chookagian (+260) or beating her on the scorecards (+170)—the Parana Vale Tudo fighter is not heavy enough of a favorite to require such a selection. Her power will be the difference maker in this bout, even though she gives up a significant amount in height and reach. As Andrade is wont to do, she can take down an opponent with the best of them. Nine different times throughout her UFC tenure, Andrade has hit multiple takedowns in a fight. It would not be outside the realm of possibilities that the former strawweight champ crashes in to take away the range and take the fight to the floor, where reach is no longer a factor. Should you believe instead that Chookagian has the kickboxing ability to keep Andrade at range while keeping herself off the fence and the canvas, look no further than Chookagian Wins by Decision at +185.
Thomas Almeida (-135)
Although ring rust could rear its ugly head against Almeida, much like we predict it will play a factor against Ortega, Almeida is facing a far less deadly opponent than “The Korean Zombie.” Jonathan Martinez has authored a pair of startling knee knockouts in his time with the UFC, but both came later into those respective bouts. On the other hand, Almeida and his 95 percent finish rate are ready to snap his first career losing streak after a layoff of nearly three years. Even though Martinez may yet be a promising prospect, expect a statement performance from “Thominhas.”
A career bantamweight, Almeida now faces Martinez at featherweight thanks to the Brazilian’s previous opponent, Alejandro Perez, testing positive for COVID-19. It is possible that the loosening of discipline involved with not having to cut down to 135 pounds leads to a lesser level of conditioning for Almeida—he admitted to Sherdog that he was allowed to have ice cream during fight week—but he might also find himself rejuvenated by not having to go through a hard weight cut. Another consideration is that his lauded power does not translate up a weight class. When paired with his opponent’s durability, that could cause some problems. Martinez is quick and more than willing to engage in high-flying antics, so this could be fun for its potentially brief duration.
The line with Almeida as a minor favorite presents enough value that it is still palatable without any sort of propular action. Other than the Jimmie Rivera fight where Almeida was the underdog, this is the closest set of betting odds in one of his fights during his time in the UFC and briefly with the Legacy Fighting Championship. We would lean towards Almeida Wins Inside Distance at +160 if one wishes to go into the plus side for this bout. Tim Gorman remains the only fighter to survive and lose against Almeida, and it is entirely possible that Martinez could be the second. We do not believe that will be the case.
Claudio Henrique da Silva (+135)
Like other thrilling Brazilians—Johnny Eduardo—who burst on to the scene, only to disappear for long stretches, Henrique da Silva may be a story of “what could have been.” Already 38 but with relatively few fight miles on his odometer after just 15 MMA bouts, the Ricardo Vieira-trained black belt has gotten most of his work done on the ground with his opponents. Although James Krause is arguably on a seven-fight winning streak after a controversial decision loss on a day’s notice up a weight class, this stylistic matchup may make life difficult for the World Extreme Cagefighting vet.
In an effort to hone his craft, Krause willingly subjected himself to another season of “The Ultimate Fighter” despite going into it on a two-fight UFC winning streak. After shoring up his skill sets and polishing his striking game, Krause is a dangerous fighter no matter where the fight goes. Many, including the bettors, expected that Warlley Alves would handle Krause, but the Glory MMA coach did quite the opposite, turning the tables and scoring a knockout. A similar strategy could play out against a savvy jiu-jitsu practitioner, as Krause never let Alves settle and kept the Brazilian fighting off of his back foot. This approach would work wonders for Krause, even though he took the fight on less than two weeks’ notice.
On the other side of the bracket, “Hannibal” has never been beaten, as his pro debut ended by disqualification due to illegal elbows. It remains to see if Henrique da Silva will have his “crossing of the Alps” moment by defeating his most consequential opponent in over five years, or if this will be his Battle of Zama. Although Henrique da Silva topped Leon Edwards, the win came in 2014. Edwards has gone on to do miraculous things that would merit a title shot in any normal scenario. Henrique da Silva’s takedown game and pressure can stifle even the heartiest of opponents, as he chains one into the next while pursuing submissions all the while. Krause is far from the fighter he was when he tapped to a Donald Cerrone choke in 2009, so he may not surrender by submission. In this tough stylistic matchup, however, Silva appears to have a clear path to victory to spring an upset.