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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will put on a banger of a card at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Seven of the 12 matchups at UFC on ESPN 11 feature one favorite around -150 or lower, with a solid number near even odds. This is the perfect time to make some stacks in the latest edition of Prime Picks.
Curtis Blaydes Wins Inside Distance (-175)
It is rare when a highly ranked heavyweight match sees odds this high for one over the other. Blaydes is currently tracking above -400 against rangy Russian striker Alexander Volkov. For the most part, Volkov has cruised through his opposition inside the Octagon, barring about 15 seconds when he took his foot off the gas pedal and ate a murderous right hand from Derrick Lewis. On the other side of the cage, Blaydes has beaten every man he has ever faced not named Francis Ngannou, and many times, it has been brutal. Along with a few other fighters, including Amanda Nunes and Paul Felder, Blaydes shares the record for the most finishes by elbows in UFC history with three. Should Blaydes implement the game plan to wrench “Drago” down and hack him to pieces with elbows, he should not only get his hand raised but score a finish over another Top 10 opponent.
This headliner will pit the man who holds the record for the most takedowns in UFC heavyweight history (Blaydes) against the heavyweight with the division’s highest takedown defense rate at 82.8 percent (Volkov). While multiple UFC opponents have grounded Volkov in the past, none have done so with an appreciable effect for long enough. The greatest success an opponent displayed with their ground game the last few years was Fabricio Werdum, who hit three takedowns across many more attempts to fluster the ex-Bellator MMA champ in the first two rounds. Once Volkov started stuffing them and Werdum fatigued, the tide changed for the Russian.
In Blaydes, Volkov will face a relentless chain wrestler who can hit a blast double-leg with the best of them. What has improved significantly for junior college All-American is that his striking is no longer simply a means to an end to close the distance and put him into wrestling range. Although he tried and failed for takedowns several times, it was a series of strong right hands that put down Junior dos Santos in January. While his striking is still being refined, the 29-year-old Elevation Fight Team standout has the power to back it up. Blaydes, who may have begun his career as a one-dimensional wrestler, continuously adds more tools to make him more dangerous. As long as he can close the distance reliably and not stay on the outside at the end of stork-like jabs and low kicks, this fight should be his to win.
Sometimes it is not the takedown that plays a difference in a fight, but rather the looming threat that one could be coming at any time. While Volkov may be able to stuff one, two or three coming at him, the fourth may be right around the corner. Forcing Volkov, who likes to lead the dance while utilizing a reach advantage—both men sport 80-inch reaches in this case—he typically holds to fight off his back foot or against the fence can put him at a strong disadvantage. The match could turn into a grind, where Blaydes continuously presses Volkov against the fence while searching for a way to uproot the lanky Russian. Even so, the cardio for Blaydes should be enough to drag down his opponent and slice him up with his ferocious ground-and-pound. Should you disagree and think that Volkov can emerge victorious, his line of +335 could be worth a flier if you believe his gas tank can hold up.
Shane Burgos (-135)
This fight could turn pear-shaped in an instant if Josh Emmett lands one of his devastating right hands. Burgos, who likes to charge headlong into action, could find himself staring at the lights if he gets careless. On paper, this match looks like a thrilling encounter no matter how it turns out, and it is a dangerous test for the mild favorite. The winner will put himself towards the top of the heap that is the featherweight logjam, and we expect that Burgos’ technical boxing will wear down his bomb-throwing rival.
The knockout loss to Calvin Kattar in 2018 did not change Burgos’ style one iota, as the pressure boxer from New York has continued to push the pace on opponents since then. In fact, it has arguably increased his output even in the face of oncoming takedowns, as each of his last two bouts have seen Burgos put over 100 significant strikes on his adversaries. This kind of output is hard to match, and that goes doubly so for a fighter who tends to rely–sometimes to his detriment–on one-hitter quitters.
“Hurricane” will need to be careful not to find himself in a brawl, going punch-for-punch with a heavier- handed striker like Emmett. Relying on long, straight punches while getting out of the way of sizzling hooks from either hand, Burgos needs to use every inch of his five-inch advantage in the arms. As multiple opponents have found, letting your guard down against Emmett can spell your undoing, and he has shown himself to be dangerous for three full rounds. Although Emmett could decide to spoil this striker’s delight by revisiting his wrestling prowess and putting the Tiger Schulmann prospect in a bad spot, these two will likely slug it out for as long as this fight lasts. If you feel that Emmett can land that big power shot for which he will undoubtedly be looking, the suitable prop bet of Emmett Wins by TKO/KO is a solid +265.
Belal Muhammad-Lyman Good Goes to Decision (-160)
If we have learned one thing in Muhammad’s UFC tenure—other than to remember his name—it is that his durability is almost unquestionable. The only fighter to finish Muhammad to date was Vicente Luque, who did so after an early slugfest by blasting the Roufusport product with a killer left hook. Otherwise, we have seen power strikers like Geoff Neal and Tim Means hit him with everything but the kitchen sink, to no avail. Although Good’s three wins inside the Octagon have come by knockout, Muhammad’s chin does not look like it will be cracked by this Team Tiger Schulmann fighter.
Six of the last seven bouts for Muhammad have ended in the hands of the judges, with the lone fight in that span ending by stoppage came when he choked out the outmatched Takashi Sato at UFC 242. The win was his first by tapout, and in the process, the Chicago native snapped a long streak of 15-minute affairs. Although much can be said about Muhammad’s chin, his wrestling chops will put Good’s solid 75 percent takedown defense rate to the test. While Muhammad may not get the former Bellator champ down often, he will try, and in doing so, he will slow down the fight and tick time off the clock without putting himself in jeopardy.
It will be interesting to see how Good performs after recovering from the coronavirus. Good was notably the first fighter in a major organization to admit that not only did he catch the virus but that he was heavily symptomatic. The virus typically attacks the lungs, so the cardio and recovery ability of the New Yorker may be called into question by the doggedly persistent Muhammad. While Good could begin to tire, Muhammad acts as more of a runaway truck, gathering speed as the bout progresses. Although we feel that Muhammad will get his hand raised in the end (-130), the safer option, one that sees the fight going to the scorecards, allows for the possibility of Good taking the first two rounds and riding out the third.
Cortney Casey-Gillian Robertson Doesn’t Go to Decision (-115)
While some MMA media statisticians have noted that female fights tend to hit the “over,” meaning that the fights last longer than 1.5 or 2.5 rounds, per their lines, we believe this is a fight where one woman can get a finish and may do it within two rounds (+120).
Although Casey has gone the distance in six of her last seven outings, Robertson’s game plan is offense-first, sometimes to the Canadian’s detriment. Casey has proven to be durable, never losing a fight via strikes, all while marking up opponents like Cristina Stanciu and Tomo Maesawa in the past. Her lone stoppage loss came in her first career defeat, when Pearl Gonzalez armbarred her with 17 seconds left in the match. Robertson embodies a kill-or-be-killed mentality, as evidenced by each of her last seven bouts ending before reaching the third round.
This prop bet allows for the possibility of either woman to get the stoppage, whether it be Casey rebuffing the advancing red-haired Robertson or “The Savage” taking a limb or neck home with her. As Robertson is even willing to pull guard to get the fight where she wants it, Casey could take advantage of it and land some damaging ground-and-pound to get her opponent out of there quickly. On the other hand, Robertson could throw her legs up to snatch an armbar or scramble to take Casey’s back and end the night early. No matter who gets her hand raised, we do not expect this fight to end in the hands of the judges.