Edwards: UFC 299 Primer with Picks

Edwards: UFC 299 Primer with Picks

The Octagon returns to Kaseya Center in Miami on Saturday night for UFC 299, a monster 14-fight card that’s nearly as stacked as next month’s UFC 300 show in Las Vegas.

The Early Prelims start at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN+, while the Prelims get going at 8:00 p.m. ET. on ESPN. There are five fights on the main card that starts at 10:00 p.m. ET. on ESPN+ and is only available via pay-per-view order.

In the main event, ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley will defend his bantamweight title for the first time against sixth-ranked Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera. As of Wednesday, most books had O’Malley (17-1-0-1 MMA, 9-1-0-1 UFC) installed as a favorite in the -275 (BetMGM) to -300 (Caesars) range.

By this morning, O’Malley was in the -250 to 275 neighborhood, with Vera at +220 odds (BettMGM) on the comeback.

The total was 4.5 rounds shaded to the ‘over’ at a -152 price (+120 for the ‘under’ at FanDuel). For bettors looking to back O’Malley without risking such an expensive price, the 29-year-old product of The MMA Lab in Phoenix is available for a +230 return on the prop for him to win by TKO/KO.

O’Malley has won five straight fights with one no-contest in his last six scraps. The only blemish on his career resume came at UFC 252 in Las Vegas on Aug. 16 of 2020 when Vera defeated O’Malley via first-round TKO (elbows and punches) with 23 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

Vera (23-8-1-0 MMA, 15-7 UFC) won as a +240 underdog thanks to his steady work with leg kicks that left O’Malley injured and led to the closing sequence. Look for the 31-year-old Ecuadorian to employ a similar game plan in the rematch.

O’Malley is a taller bantamweight, standing 5-foot-11, but his skinny legs can be vulnerable to kicks. Vera believes he has better cardio, and we’ll point out that O’Malley’s only gone the three-round distance in four of his 19 career fights. If Saturday’s headliner makes it to the championship rounds, it’ll be the first time O’Malley has seen a fourth round.

On the other hand, Vera has competed in a main event three times in his last four bouts, with all three of those contests going at least four rounds. He won a unanimous decision over Rob Font, lost a split decision to Cory Sandhagen and beat Dominick Cruz via fourth-round KO (head kick).

Since defeating O’Malley, Vera has compiled a 5-2 record with his other loss coming by UD against Jose Aldo. He’s picked up other wins over Frankie Edgar, Davey Grant and Pedro Munhoz.

Vera has 10 career wins by submission, eight via KO and five by decision. He’s never been finished, taking all eight of his career defeats from the judges’ scorecards.

O’Malley has produced 12 career KOs. He has four wins via decision and one by submission. O’Malley’s no-contest came in Round 2 of his UFC 276 scrap when an accidental eye poke left Munhoz unable to continue.

Merab Dvalishvili is serving as the backup fighter for the headliner. Like O’Malley and Vera, Dvalishvili hit his 135-pound mark at Friday’s weigh-ins. Therefore, if either fighter has an issue or falls ill today to force them out of the bout, Dvalishvili will step in.

We will point out that Vera needed to get the towel out (taking all of his clothes off) before stepping on the scale and appeared relieved when his 135-pound weight was announced.

Does that mean he had a tough cut? Possibly. But here’s how he looked at the ceremonial weigh-ins for the final faceoff 7-8 hours later, so you can decide for yourself.

PREDICTION: As for the side, I’m tempted to throw some small change on the prop for O’Malley to win by KO for a +230 payout. Maybe I’ll do so at the last-minute tonight depending on how my betting results go beforehand? However, I certainly would NOT recommend laying the expensive price with a straight bet on the champion. For now, I’ll just offer that I like O’Malley to defend his strap and will include him in a parlay that I’ll further explain below. But as for the total, I’ve got one-half unit on the prop for ‘NO’ on will Round 4 start?That’s for a +187 payout.

As of early Saturday, most books had 12th-ranked lightweight contender Benoit ‘God of War’ St. Denis (13-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) installed as a -200 (BetMGM) to -230 (BetRivers) favorite for tonight’s five-round co-main event against third-ranked Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier. BetRivers had the total at 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -121, ‘over’ -110)

The 35-year-old Poirier (29-8-0-1 MMA, 21-8-0-1 UFC) has never lost back-to-back fights in his storied career, and he’s in bounce-back mode here after losing to Justin Gaethje via second-round KO (head kick) in the UFC 291 co-main event last July.

St. Denis is younger man at the age of 28. The Frenchman served in the military prior to his MMA career as a member of the 1st Marine Infantry Paratroopers Regiment, a unit within the French Army Special Forces.

In his Octagon debut, St. Denis competed at welterweight and lost a unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26) to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, but he displayed incredible toughness by continuing to come forward for three rounds despite getting battered.

Following the loss, St. Denis decided to move down to lightweight and the results have been spectacular. He’s ripped off five consecutive wins, including three second-round finishes and two in the first stanza.

However, St. Denis’s two best wins are over Thiago Moises and Matt Frevola, and neither of those men are currently ranked in the Top 15 of the lightweight loop.

Poirier has shared the Octagon with a slew of the sport’s all-time greats. He owns six wins over former UFC undisputed champions in Eddie Alvarez, Conor McGregor (twice by finish inside of two rounds), Max Holloway (twice) and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis.

The native of Lafayette, LA., also has a win over Gaethje, the former interim lightweight champion, in their first meeting. Poirier also owns quality scalps over the likes of fifth-ranked Michael Chandler, 10th-ranked Dan Hooker, 14th-ranked Bobby Green and Jim Miller, who is the promotion’s all-time leader in career wins.

PREDICTION: Obviously, this is a huge step up in competition for BSD, and I’m not implying this is going to be easy for Poirier in any way whatsoever. In fact, I think it’s going to be a war similar to Poirier’s battle that he won over Hooker via decision in a five-round main event. But when the water gets deeper and the bullets are flying, that’s when Poirier is at his best. Think of how many back-and-forth barnburners that Poirier has ended up winning. Examples include his wins over Gaethje, Pettis, Alvarez, Holloway, Hooker and Chandler. And hey, we’re getting paid handsomely with these underdog odds and, if we lose, we aren’t paying any juice. Give me 1.5 units on Poirier at +185 odds (DraftKings at 2:45 p.m. Eastern) to win 2.78 units. 

In a welterweight showdown, former Belator star Michael ‘Venom’ Page is set to make his promotional debut against 13th-ranked Kevin Holland. As of early this afternoon, most books had Holland (25-10-0-1 MMA, 12-7-0-1 UFC) listed as a favorite in the -125 to -135 range.

Page (21-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) was the underdog in the +105 to +114 (DraftKings) neighborhood. ‘MVP’ went 16-2 during his 18-fight run in Bellator from 2014-23, but he never won the welterweight title.

In May of 2019 during the semifinals of the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix, Page took the first loss of his career when he was KO’d by Douglas Lima 35 seconds into the second round. He bounced back to win six straight fights, including a split-decision triumph over Lima in a rematch at Bellator 267 in October of 2021.

But in May of 2022, Page lost a split decision to Logan Storley for the interim Bellator welterweight championship at Bellator 281. He responded with a 26-second KO win (leg kick) over Goiti Yamauchi at Bellator 292 last March.

The 36-year-old Page will now make his first walk in the UFC exactly 364 days after finishing his run at Bellator with the win over Yamauchi.

Holland has won two of his last three bouts, including a third-round KO win over Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC 287 last April and a first-round submission victory over Michael Chiesa at UFC 291 last July. He’s in bounce-back mode tonight, though, after losing a split decision to Jack Della Maddalena in Las Vegas this past September.

Holland has been one of the promotion’s most active fighters since being signed in August of 2018. He’s produced wins in the middleweight division over the likes of Gerald Meerschaert, Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley and Jacare Souza.

There’s no shame in any of his four losses at middleweight, which came to Thiago Santos (who once challenged Jon Jones for the 205-pound strap), Brendan Allen (currently ranked sixth), Marvin Vettori (currently ranked fifth!) and Derek Brunson.

Since dropping down to welterweight, Holland has compiled a 4-2 record with additional wins over Tim Means and Alex Oliveira. We mentioned the split-decision setback to JDM and he also lost to ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in a bout that earned Fight of the Night honors. Holland’s corner wouldn’t let him go out for the fifth round vs. Thompson due to a broken right hand.

Holland also took a short-notice fight (on just 24 hours!) at a 180-pound catchweight and lost to Khamzat Chimaev.

PREDICTION: Holland and Page both stand 6-foot-3, but ‘The Trailblazer’s 81-inch reach gives him a two-inch edge. He’s also the younger man by five years. Holland owns 21 career wins by finish (14 KOs and seven submissions). This is a big step up in competition for Page, who is a legit star but still hasn’t competed under the bright lights of the ‘Big Show.’ I like Holland at a -125 price (BetMGM) for one unit (risking 1.25 units to win one). Also, let’s put one-half unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds for a +148 payout (BetRivers) that would net 0.74 units of profit on 0.5 units of risk. Page could also close the show, as he has 16 career finishes (13 KOs, 3 subs).

Another 170-pound battle is on tap when 11th-ranked Della Maddalena (16-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC) faces fourth-ranked Burns. Once again like BSD-Poirier, the higher ranked contender is the underdog to the younger up-and-comer with the flashy winning streak.

As of this afternoon, most spots had JDM as a -155 to -162 ‘chalk’ with Burns (22-6 MMA, 15-6 UFC) as a +135 underdog. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -148, ‘over’ +112) at BetRivers.

The 37-year-old Burns is 8-3 in the welterweight division since moving up from 155. He’s beaten a former champ in Tyron Woodley and three guys who once challenged for the 170-pound strap in Demian Maia, ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal.

Burns also owns quality victories at welterweight over Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny. His losses have come to Kamaru Usman, the former champ, and Chimaev in an Instant Classic bloodbath for the ages that earned Fight of the Night honors and Fight of the Month at MMAJunkie.

After Chimaev edged Burns (29-28 on all three scorecards) in Jacksonville in April of 2022 (I remember….because I was there!), the Brazilian bounced back to beat Magny via first-round submission and Masvidal in a blowout UD at UFC 287 in Miami.

Then at UFC 288 last May, Burns agreed to meet Belal Muhammad only 28 days after defeating Masvidal. But in Round 1, Burns suffered a major injury to his left shoulder, leaving him unable to punch with his left hand in Rounds 2-5.

With Burns compromised, Muhammad won a UD rather easily. Burns fortunately didn’t have to go under the knife, as he opted for multiple stem-cell injections and rest instead.

Now he says he’s 100-percent healthy nine months later.

JDM won his first four fights with first-round finishes, bagging three Performance of the Night bonuses in the process. However, he’s needed the judges to give him the nod in consecutive split-decision victories over Bassil Hafez and Holland.

Hafez had taken the bout with JDM on less than a week of notice after the original opponent was forced off the card.

PREDICTION: I get the age factor, but I’m of the belief that Burns still has plenty of fight left in his never-ending gas tank. And I haven’t been overly impressed with JDM in his last two fights. Let’s risk one-half unit (0.5) on Burns at +135 to win 0.68 units.

In the opener of the pay-per-view portion of the card, seventh-ranked Song Yadong will take on former bantamweight champion and fourth-ranked Petr Yan in a 135-pound clash.

As of this afternoon, most books had Yan (16-5 MMA, 8-4 UFC) as a -135 to -148 ‘chalk’ with Yadong at +120 odds. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -375, ‘under’ +250).

The 26-year-old Yadong (21-7-1 MMA, 10-2-1 UFC) has won back-to-back fights, including a fifth-round KO win over Ricky Simon last April and a UD win over Chris Gutierrez this past December. He also owns quality victories over Vera and Marlon Moraes.

The Chinese product who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento is 5-foot-8 and has a 67-inch reach. Yadong, who will have a one-inch edge in height, has nine career KO wins and three victories via submissions. He lost a UD to Kyler Phillips at UFC 259 and the doctors wouldn’t let him go out for the fifth round due to a bad cut in his TKO loss to Cory Sandhagen in September of 2022.

The 31-year-old Yan won his first seven UFC fights, finishing four of his opponents, including Jose Aldo in a fifth-round KO win to win the vacant bantamweight title (after T.J. Dillashaw was suspended for two years by USADA and stripped of his belt) at UFC 251 in July of 2020.

Since then, however, not much has gone right for Yan, who was in the lead and in total control late in the fourth round of his first title defense against Aljamain Sterling. With 31 seconds remaining in Round 4, Sterling had his knees on the canvas and Yan committed a crucial mistake by landing a vicious knee to Sterling’s head.

You can’t knee or kick a downed opponent in the head, so Yan was correctly disqualified when Sterling was unable to continue. Therefore, Sterling was awarded the belt.

When an injury sidelined Sterling, Yan was scheduled to face Sandhagen for the interim belt at UFC 267. Yan won by UD (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) to set up a rematch with Sterling at UFC 273.

I was in attendance that night in Jacksonville when Sterling captured a split-decision win over Yan (48-47, 47-48, 48-47). Since dropping that heartbreaker to Sterling, the Russian lost another gut wrencher when O’Malley got the nod in a split decision over Yan at UFC 280.

Nearly a year ago on March 11, Yan lost for a third straight time and fell to 1-4 in his last five bouts when he was dominated via UD by Dvalishvili.

PREDICTION: I like Yadong for one unit for a +112 payout.

The prelims headliner features a crucial heavyweight contest between fifth-ranked Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes and seventh-ranked Jailton Almeida. As of this afternoon, Almeida was a favorite in the -120 to -130 range.

The Brazilian had actually been an even-money underdog early in the week and the fight was a pick ’em early Thursday. The total is 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -152, ‘under’ +115).

Since signing with the promotion, the 32-year-old Almeida (20-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC) has ripped off six straight wins with five finishes inside of two rounds. He’s also earned three POTN bonuses.

Almedia owns first-round submission wins over Parker Porter, Anton Turkalj and Jairziho Rozenstruik, and he’s off a UD victory over Derrick Lewis (50-45, 50-44, 50-44) in a five-round headliner at UFC Sao Paulo this past November.

In Almeida’s first 19 career wins, he produced 12 submissions and seven KOs inside of two rounds. The win over Lewis was only the second time in his career he’s been into Round 3.

Back in January of 2018 in his seventh career MMA fight, Almedia lost a UD to Bruno Assis in a three-round affair. His only other career loss came in his fifth career appearance in 2017 when he was KO’d in 16 seconds by Tyago Moreira in a middleweight contest.

It’s a 15-fight winning streak that Almeida will enter the Octagon with tonight.

The 33-year-old Blaydes (17-4-0-1 MMA, 12-4-0-1 UFC) was supposed to be Almeida’s opponent at UFC Sao Paulo, but he had to withdraw from the bout about 5-6 weeks beforehand due to an undisclosed injury.

Blaydes owns quality wins over heavyweights like Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, Alexander Volkov, Rozenstruick and current interim champion Tom Aspinall. But the win over Aspinall came 15 seconds into the scrap when Aspinall blew his knee out throwing a leg kick.

That was on July 23 of 2022. Blaydes has only competed once since then, getting starched by first-round KO at the 3:08 mark of his main-event bout vs. Sergei Pavlovich last April. Before the win over Aspinall, Blaydes had beaten Chris Daukaus by second-round KO (17 seconds into the second frame) in March of 22.

Therefore, Blaydes has less than 10 minutes of Octagon time in the last 24 months. That’s a lot of inactivity to say the least.

PREDICTION: My only slight concern in backing Almeida was the weight gap with Blaydes, but those concerns were alleviated when he easily handled Lewis, who I’m going to guess entered the Octagon at around 290 pounds when he lost to Almeida. The Brazilian is a better striker when the fight is standing and, although Blaydes is an accomplished wrestler with an outstanding ground game, I think the edge goes to Almeida when the fight hits the canvas, too. This is my favorite play on the card. Give me Almeida for 2.5 units at a -120 price (BetMGM and DraftKings). 

**Other Picks**

-I mentioned O’Malley (-250) in a parlay earlier. Let’s team the bantamweight kingpin in a three-legger for one unit of risk with Maycee Barber (-190 vs Katlyn Chookagian) and Robelis Despaigne (-330 vs. Josh Parisian) that should net a +178.44 payout. 

Let’s also risk 0.25 units on another three-leg parlay with Poirier, Almeida and Barber that should produce a +697.5 return. Therefore, risking 0.25 units should net 1.74 units of profit if all three fighters prevail.

-Best of luck with your bets, folks, and I hope everyone enjoys the show!!