Sign up for ESPN+, and you can then stream the UFC live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday carries on with a jam-packed UFC Fight Night card headlined by a high-stakes heavyweight rumble. Should all 15 fights stay on the card, it will tie a UFC record for the most on one show. Even with all the bouts at UFC Fight Night 185, there is still only one betting favorite above -300, and he can be found in the main event. In this edition of Prime Picks, join us as we wade into the heavy-hitting headliner, a fight that should be dynamite for as long as it lasts, an old pro who should still have something left in the tank and a flamethrower who is looking for a stellar sophomore outing.
Curtis Blaydes-Derrick Lewis Goes Over 1.5 Rounds (-185)
A prohibitive -430 favorite where even scoring the knockout nets him -145 odds, Blaydes is a bad stylistic matchup for practically every opponent in the division not named Francis Ngannou. This includes Lewis, a heavyweight bomb thrower with deceptive cardio and impossible fight-ending power. Although the smartest money would be for Blaydes to get his hand raised, the value simply is not there, as he has vaulted to this substantial of a favorite over the last week. With Lewis holding that kind of one-hitter-quitter power, even as the rounds progress and he gasps for air, the better bet is on how long this matchup lasts.
Two years ago, this would have been an intriguing stylistic matchup of a relatively one-dimensional wrestler against a home-run hitter. Now, with how much Blaydes has developed at only 29 years of age, his own striking presents problems for his opponents. “Razor” did not even need to land a single takedown to completely take former champion Junior dos Santos—a man who had knocked out Lewis a mere 10 months before—out of his game and wreck him on the feet. While his striking has progressed rapidly, Blaydes may be the greatest pure wrestler in the history of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Even before his 14-takedown performance against Alexander Volkov, the Elevation Fight Team standout already had blown past Cain Velasquez’s heavyweight takedown record. This is where he should have a major leg up on his opponent, all while pursuing control time that will tick precious seconds off the clock.
To paraphrase a colleague, when Lewis gets put on his back, he can bench press his opponent off of him in one explosive effort. “The Black Beast” almost exclusively relies on power and is always searching for the knockout. With the most knockout victories in UFC heavyweight history (11), there is no question that he will look to replicate Ngannou’s feat with his heavy hands. Always adding wrinkles to his game, the Houstonian has taken to sprinkling in flying knees and shockingly quick head kicks to mix up things. Make no mistake, Lewis is a headhunter that does not rely on volume or even many combinations. He has only landed more than 50 significant strikes on two occasions in his entire UFC tenure, which falls in line with his affinity for the walk-off knockout.
These two heavyweights have landed exactly one submission in their combined careers, so jiu-jitsu is firmly off the table in this matchup. This leads to the obvious trap of trying to pick a winner, which will most likely come by knockout. As mentioned above, Blaydes is -145 to end the bout in such a manner, while the comeback on Lewis to add to his heavyweight knockout record is a solid +475. Selecting that this matchup exceeds the 2:30 mark of Round 2 is a safer option than picking one of the two to win, because of the danger both men pose. Although only one man has done so successfully, Blaydes can get caught standing up, and Lewis is the kind of guy who could replicate that success. Whether “The Black Beast” notches a miraculous stoppage—the “over” has hit in nine of the last 12 for Lewis—or Blaydes firmly embraces the grind with devastating ground-and-pound, this match should push past the second round of their five-round encounter.
Charles Rosa Wins Inside the Distance (+120)
Two featherweights with impressive submission skills come together in this bout on the main card, as Rosa takes on a hard-charging grappler in Darrick Minner. An 85 percent finish rate for “Boston Strong” is actually a total that went down after joining the UFC roster, with half of his wins coming on the scorecards and the others by submission. As the competition has increased, Rosa has tempered his game to avoid simply attempting a risky maneuver early into the bout in a bid to catch an inexperienced opponent unaware. Minner, a pure live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword grappler, has seen a majority of his bouts end by submission, win or lose. Even though the most likely outcome may indeed be Rosa Wins By Submission at +150, there is still inherent value taking a safer option of his finishing the fight overall.
Under 1.5 rounds is a savvy option to couple with the winner of this bout, as odds sit at +120 that this fight will not reach the midpoint of Round 2. All but one of Rosa’s career stoppages have come inside this margin, while two of Minner’s 10 stoppage defeats went beyond that 2:30 of Round 2 threshold. This alternative option would allow for Minner to spring the upset and snatch his own submission. Rosa is a serious threat off of his back, with perhaps his savviest performance coming when he hit an armbar and forced Manny Bermudez to say tap, becoming the first man to stop “The Bermudez Triangle.” A specific play of Rosa Wins Inside the Distance and Under 1.5 Rounds is a +384 option that should pay off in spades.
Even though Rosa has only picked up a trio of wins by knockout early in his career, the option is still there for Minner to come out like he was shot out of a cannon, only to wind up in a precarious position and get pounded out. The difference of +120 and +150 might seem significant as far as lines go, but Minner has been stopped with strikes a few times in his career. The Nebraskan is a dangerous grappler in his own right, but his glass-cannon nature can put him in harm’s way all too often, and even more so against a submission threat like Rosa. Thirty of Minner’s 36 career bouts have ended by submission, so conventional wisdom expects that Rosa should be able to pick up the sub. However, Rosa Wins Inside the Distance allows for the potential of a strike stoppage.
Alexey Oleynik (+160)
Does the 43-year-old known as “The Boa Constrictor” still have the wherewithal to dispatch a man 12 years his junior, despite a fading gas tank and a faltering chin? In this main card scrap with Chris Daukaus, a Philadelphia-based burly brawler, Oleynik will know within 60 seconds whether this match is his to win or lose. Unlike many previous bouts, Oleynik will not give up somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 pounds to his opponent. His approach will not likely change and should see him winging looping hooks as he closes the distance to latch onto his opponent and drag him down, sometimes on top of him. While this kind of strategy would not work against an overwhelming majority of fighters—that seems doubly true at heavyweight—the magician who is Oleynik can play it to his advantage.
Inside the Octagon, Daukaus has yet to be tested in any noteworthy grappling exchange. Compared to Parker Porter and Rodrigo Nascimento Ferreira, Oleynik is an enormous step up in competition, even if he is aging hard and fast. While the end result saw Oleynik suffer an early second-round knockout to Lewis a few months ago, anyone other than “The Black Beast” would have likely tapped to one of the Russian’s several submission attempts, ranging from a scarf hold headlock and a keylock to his dreaded Ezekiel choke. The Philadelphian’s best chance at victory is to fearlessly march down his adversary and slam him in the face with his fists. Oleynik will almost certainly look to tie him up, so if Daukaus can catch Oleynik ambling towards him with the same elbows that wobbled Ferreira’s legs, he can blow up this underdog play.
As long as “The Boa Constrictor” fights to his strengths—namely, his still-effective grappling skills—he should come out relatively unscathed. Win or lose, this fight likely will not get far beyond the first round, and it almost certainly would not hit the over (-155). This heavyweight tilt is likely a two-outcome endeavor: Either Oleynik snatches the submission or gets his clock cleaned by a wide-swinging Daukaus. Should you believe that Oleynik’s best days are behind him and that his approach will work against him in this main card thriller, Daukaus Wins by TKO/KO is a clean -135.
Phil Hawes (-120)
With his stoppage losses to future Professional Fighters League tournament winner Louis Taylor and the recently victorious Julian Marquez looking better in hindsight, Hawes has gone on a run since his knockout defeat against Marquez in 2017. While his trip to the Octagon was delayed briefly in order to get more experience and gather himself, a stop in Bellator MMA and two more in the Brave Combat Federation put him back in the UFC’s crosshairs. A lumberjack-esque felling of 6-foot-6 striker Khadzhimurat Bestaev on Dana White's Contender Series in 2020 led to Hawes’ prompt signing, and “Megatron” blew the doors off just over six weeks later by smashing Jacob Malkoun in 18 seconds. His finishes all in the first round, Hawes is primed to keep his momentum going at the expense of Frenchman Nassourdine Imavov.
The MMA Factory rep, who was born in Dagestan, has also come a long way, with a victory in fledgling European promotion Ares Fighting Championship’s first event giving him the springboard he needed to make it to the UFC. His UFC debut was far less spectacular than Hawes laying waste to Malkoun, as he grinded out Jordan Williams to eke out a tiring decision. The match with Williams did prove that Imavov can dig deep and win the last round when he is totally spent, and this is something that could give him the edge should he get out of the opening stanza here.
Hawes will likely come out of his corner as if his hair was on fire, unleashing fireballs of right hands until they land on the chin. Imavov will need to be on his toes should Hawes come out with even a fraction of the aggression he showed in his promotional debut, and there is nothing short of a bad weight cut or injury that would indicate it should be any different. “Megatron” is not impervious to being tagged on the way in, and he has never needed to go far into the second round in any of his 11 career bouts. As such, his gas tank is still well and truly untested. Barring early success where Imavov can tie up Hawes against the fence and slow down the fight, the Sanford MMA fighter should have the firepower to keep his finish rate at 100 percent. If the simple moneyline bet is not daring enough, Hawes Wins Inside the Distance at +115 is the best option at plus money.