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What was once a near impossibility has now become the norm, as for the second week in a row, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will stage a show in which no fighters are ranked in the divisions in which they are scheduled to compete. Unlike the successful showing on Oct. 16, there are slim pickings to be found, even for a 14-bout card. The main event does provide value—it may or may not stick together, depending on the situation on the scales—as does a light heavyweight tilt destined to end with one man face down on the canvas. These two selections cobble together this abbreviated UFC Fight Night 196 version of Prime Picks.
Should you want a little more action this weekend, look no further than the simulcast Bellator 269 event in Russia, which will come with its own truncated Prime Picks.
Marvin Vettori (-180)
The line for “The Italian Stallion” has climbed dramatically during fight week, from around -120 to what it is now—and for good reason. From the mouth of babes and a giant 211-pound Brazilian behemoth, word came that Paulo Costa was nowhere near making the middleweight limit, nor did he intend on trying. When a fighter is this heavy on fight week with days to go on the cut, there are a few logical reasons why. Illness and injury are the first two usual suspects, and Costa explained his issues with contracting COVID-19, not once but twice. Unless Costa is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, he is likely to be severely compromised to the point that a bet on Vettori at anything under 2-to-1 odds is a solid idea.
Vettori presents a frustrating style matchup against a big man that wants to throw bombs until someone falls over. An iron-chinned Italian with grappling chops, submission skills and the ability to slow a fight down and make it extremely dirty, he is the kind of opponent who will give Costa fits. While Vettori will not likely clock in nearly as heavy as Costa come fight night, he can still exert his body weight in a way that will tire out the massive mauler out of Brazil. Punching his way into clinch situations, keeping “Borrachinha” honest and threatening to rip Costa’s legs out beneath him will work to his advantage.
If you are looking at his UFC tenure—just five wins in three years before taking on Israel Adesanya—Costa’s resume may not hold up nearly as well as it did back then. His first three opponents moved on from the UFC shortly after he smashed them, while Uriah Hall remains the only man to remain on the roster after falling to his blows. Yoel Romero, a man some thought won their meeting, has since departed for greener pastures. As he does to most adversaries, Adesanya showed there are some clear holes in Costa’s game, namely what happens when the Brazilian cannot dictate the pace of the match. Vettori is not the kind of opponent who gets knocked around the cage from strikes, and he tends to do the bullying instead of getting bullied much of the time.
Since he joined the UFC five years ago and through his 11 bouts, including two with Adesanya, Vettori has never had his chin checked in a fashion that would disrupt his game. Costa, who prefers to be in the driver’s seat lobbing bombs, may find himself frustrated when he cannot simply walk through his Italian adversary like others in the past. The questions on Costa’s condition, both leading up to the bout and in his ability to keep his stamina going for upwards of 25 minutes, make him an unwise pick. “Borrachinha” and his team have negotiated the match from middleweight up to 205 pounds. However, it could still all be for naught should the Nevada State Athletic Commission put the kibosh on the show if Costa is not on target or struggling medically. Should that happen, heavy favorite Grant Dawson would take the marquee spot opposite Ricky Glenn. In that scenario, Dawson Wins Inside Distance at +155, more than likely by submission (+320), would be worth a flier.
Nicolae Negumereanu Wins Inside Distance (-105)
In this light heavyweight tilt, fists will fly until one falls down. This matchmaking practically guarantees action, even if it might not make complete sense for Negumereanu to move from topping Aleksa Camur to taking on a man in Isaac Villanueva who is 1-3 inside the Octagon. While Negumereanu’s promotional debut—a slog of a 15-minute defeat in which he was held down for over 10 minutes—did not go his way, it was not the end of the Romanian’s run. Smashing limited competition on the main stage only to fall short to the first borderline-UFC talent does not look great, but he has the chance to make it two in a row in what should be a showcase; and he can finish the job any way he likes. With even money for “Nick” getting the stoppage, no further path need be sought, whether in a prop for knockout (+210) or submission (+345).
Villanueva has largely shown himself to be a first-round knockout or bust-type of Texas-based banger, with his finishes only due to strikes and each within the six-minute mark. If not for catching the plummeting Vinicius Moreira at the right moment and clocking him, “Hurricane Ike” may have already departed the roster for other shores. Still, the 37-year-old does hold power in his fists to blow up this line, and the unlikely alternative of Villanueva Wins by TKO/KO is +285 for those who do not believe in the Romanian. There are more skills at Negumereanu’s disposal. If he finds himself getting rocked, he can hunt for a takedown and search for a limb or exposed neck. This low-stakes, high-action 205-pound tilt should be entertaining for as long as it lasts, and a smart parlay to match with the fighter you expect to win is that this fight does not go to a decision at -285.