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The Ultimate Fighting Championship will cross its fingers between now and Saturday and hope an event already shaken by cancellations does not fall apart. Unlike with recent shows, odds are far more lopsided, with just a few bouts featuring favorites at -150 or below. With so many major favorites on the table, the task of navigating these betting seas in this edition of Prime Picks becomes treacherous. UFC Fight Night 186 comes together with some still-decent options, including an upset in the headliner, the emphatic rise of light heavyweight talent and a rematch that should involve the judges.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (+225)
At the highest level of the game, experience matters, as long as a fighter has the ability to take advantage of that knowledge and wherewithal when it matters most. Although the expectation that Junior dos Santos could capitalize on that when he faced Ciryl Gane was ultimate unsuccessful, the former champion looked little like his old self in either of his past two matchups. Even if the final strike may have been marginally questionable, Gane battered dos Santos to lead to a seemingly inevitable stoppage. Easily the biggest win of his career, it did follow Rozenstruik’s clobbering of dos Santos a few months earlier.
When it comes to top-level experience, Rozenstruik not only has more, but at 32 appears to still be around his physical prime. Even if he has a bit under double the MMA experience as is opponent, some 85 kickboxing matches, including over 60 wins by knockout, give him a serious edge. Beyond his ability to adapt under adversity—ask Alistair Overeem—Rozenstruik’s power is game-changing, even compared to most other heavyweights. It is no surprise that his record is littered with one-hitter quitter performances, and even his uppercut of dos Santos by itself may have been enough to call it a day. Beyond his one-punch knockout power comes his proficiency with his legs, and just a few of his leg kicks can cause serious damage.
The standard edge a well-rounded fighter has over a more striking-centric opponent is that they can pursue the takedown to throw the striker off-balance. Although it came in his UFC debut, Junior Albini put Rozenstruik on his back to take the first round. Overeem was able to keep Rozenstruik grounded for minutes at a time in the early parts of their match as well. Gane, who has only needed to display his grappling acumen at the highest level once, easily tossed Don'Tale Mayes to the ground multiple times in their match. The Suriname native may not be as willing a participant on the ground, but it would not be surprising if Gane tries to do so early and often to take “Bigi Boy” out of his element.
Every round has to begin standing up, and even if the unlikely happens where Gane pursues the takedown every round, he is in imminent danger until he manages to get it there. The Frenchman measures three inches longer in the arms without standing any taller, but he does fight long and effectively utilize his jab. If Rozenstruik does stay on the outside and get piece up with a jab, he will also be in prime range to let his kicks go, thus presenting another form of danger. While much of the hype is behind Gane, Rozenstruik firmly holds the tools to score a mighty upset and hand Gane his first professional loss. Power should make all the difference in this heavyweight contest.
Magomed Ankalaev Wins by TKO/KO (-105)
Since his shocking literal last-second submission loss to Paul Craig, Ankalaev has been a man possessed inside the Octagon. It can be argued that other than when he succumbed to that submission in the waning seconds of the Craig match, Ankalaev has won practically every minute of his six UFC appearances. In some instances, we would argue that a line of a fighter winning inside the distance is better than a narrower play of winning by knockout or submission, but Ankalaev has shown to only have one speed. The Dagestani smasher would vastly prefer to bludgeon his opponent any way he possibly can, and has taken multiple 10-8 rounds where he nearly secured stoppages in past fights.
Nikita Krylov’s chin has rarely been in question, with his lone career loss due to strikes coming from the massive Soa Palelei when “The Miner” formerly competed at heavyweight. It might seem overly simplistic to deem the Ukrainian a “glass cannon” type of fighter, with an all-offense approach that works against him occasionally but has largely served him well. Although the man once known as “Al Capone” has gone to the scorecards in his last two appearances against Glover Teixeira and then Johnny Walker, the first with Teixeira marked the first time in his career where he had fought into the 12th minute. His wildly aggressive approach has led to many brutal victories, but it has backfired. In this fight with Ankalaev, do not be surprised if the two engage in a slugfest that finds him at a severe disadvantage.
While both light heavyweights are active, accurate strikers, there is a major advantage for Ankalaev. Krylov can be hit; his opponent, not nearly as much. From a simple statistical standpoint, opponents land at a 27% higher rate on Krylov than they do Ankalaev. A spoiler for the underdog is to take the fight to where he may prefer, hitting takedowns when an overzealous Ankalaev swings with everything and the kitchen sink. Unlikely that Ankalaev falls victim to another submission, or that he can even be kept on his back for an extended period, this should play out like two bulls crashing together. The last one standing should be Ankalaev. Should you disagree, the simplest alternative is Krylov at a whopping +290.
Jimmie Rivera-Pedro Munhoz Goes to Decision (-260)
It is rarely preferred for our Prime Picks pieces to suggest odds at one line above -250, simply because the value is not always there. In a risk-reward analysis of some of these bets, one has to put in too much to get anything noteworthy back, while they can lose a great deal if the upset happens – look no further than Derrick Lewis at +335 scoring the upset over the heavily favored Curtis Blaydes, or Gilbert Burns very nearly blowing up a seemingly rock-solid option of Kamaru Usman at -275. In some cases, as long as the favorite line is not ludicrous, a bet on an expected outcome is worthwhile. In this bantamweight tussle, Rivera and Munhoz’s rematch has all the makings of one that once again goes the distance.
Whether looking at past history as an example—Rivera has left 74% of his career bouts in the hands of the judges, including eight of his last nine—or how two fighters match up, the pace may be torrid and both could approach the 100-significant-strike threshold as the time ticks off the clock. Their first meeting in 2015 was a wild one, which saw not a single takedown score amidst 10 combined attempts from the two, while both did work on the feet. Munhoz mixed up his striking arsenal by targeting any available part of Rivera’s body, which included a steady and effective diet of leg kicks. Unlike practically any other UFC bout for Rivera, on the other hand, he did not, and instead decided to headhunt for the 15-minute engagement.
Both bantamweights prefer speed over power, chaining combinations together while not afraid to take one to land one. This can more be said for Munhoz than his opponent, as he recently displayed by going 25 ferocious minutes with Frankie Edgar. Whether you agree that “The Young Punisher” deserved the decision or not, his cardio and pace kept up and even improved as rounds progressed against a fighter known for dragging his opponents into deep waters and drowning them. Of the two fighters involved in this main card tilt, Munhoz appears on paper the more likely one to break up this play, with a killer instinct that can be punctuated by a lethal guillotine choke. If you feel this pairing does end before the final bell, Munhoz Wins Inside Distance sits at a comfortable +355.