Published on Thursday, 6/22/23, at 11:55 a.m. Eastern.
Updated on Saturday, 6/24/23, at 9:20 a.m. Eastern.
JACKSONVILLE – The Octagon returns to Jacksonville for the sixth time since April of 2020 on Saturday for UFC on ABC 5. With the exception of Las Vegas, no city in America has hosted more UFC events in the last four years.
When Jacksonville’s mayor Lenny Curry and Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis stepped up to host UFC 249 (the first major sporting event since the pandemic started) and two additional shows in a one-week span in May of 2020, Dana White promised to return the favor.
White has done just that, bringing UFC 261 to VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena with three title fights. It was the first indoor sporting event of any type since the start of the pandemic, and the venue’s more than 15,000 seats sold out in a matter of minutes.
I was there that night and the only bet I lost was a small one on Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal as a generous underdog vs. Kamaru Usman, who successfully defended his welterweight strap that night by scoring a second-round knockout win, becoming the first opponent to KO Masvidal in his first 50 career scraps.
I cashed winners with ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas (+170), Valentina Shevchenko to win inside the distance (+110), Anthony Smith (+200), Randy Brown (-140) and Brendan Allen to win inside the distance (+130).
Namajunas won back the strawweight title with a first-round KO (headkick and punches) over Weili Zhang, Shevchenko scored a second-round KO victory over Jessica Andrade, Smith beat Jimmy Crute by TKO, Brown submitted Alex Oliveira in the first round and Allen also had a first-round submission victory over Karl Roberson.
I also returned to Jacksonville last April for UFC 273, but my good gambling fortune from UFC 261 didn’t show up with me. The only bet I won was the ‘under’ (1.5 rounds) for Aleksei Olynyk’s first-round submission win over Jared Vanderaa. Although I lost all sorts of props on Khamzat Chimaev to beat Gilbert Burns, at least I got to watch the best scrap I’ve ever seen live. Those men put on a show!
I’ll be hitting Interstate 10 for Jacksonville again tomorrow. After this run of six shows in four years, the Octagon probably won’t be back in Jacksonville for at least 5-6 years, so I’m all over it again.
The main card starts at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC, while the prelims kick off at noon Eastern on ESPN.
The headliner will be a bout between featherweight contenders, as fifth-ranked Josh Emmett takes on undefeated and ninth-ranked Ilia Topuria. As of late Thursday morning, most books had Topuria (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) installed as a massive favorite in the -335 to -390 range.
Topuria has finished four fights in a row (three KOs, one submission) inside of two rounds, earning back-to-back Performance of the Night bonuses. He handed Bryce ‘Thug Nasty’ Mitchell his first career loss the last time out, submitting him at the 3:10 mark of Round 2 last December at UFC 282 in Las Vegas.
Topuria’s other Octagon scalps have come over Youssef Zalal, Damon Jackson, Ryan Hall and Jai Herbert. Eight of his 13 wins have come via submissions and four have been by KO.
Emmett (18-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) turned 38 in March. He saw his five-fight winning streak snapped in February when he lost to Yair Rodriguez, who won the interim featherweight championship by scoring a second-round submission (triangle choke) at UFC 284.
PREDICTION: I was blown away by Topuria’s performance in his win over Mitchell, who had dominated his first six UFC fights on the ground, including wins over Charles Rosa, Andre Fili and Edson Barboza. I knew Topuria was the better striker, but he had his way with Mitchell on the ground, too.
I’m betting on Topuria several ways. The hope is that when the main event rolls around, he’ll be poised to polish off a three-fight parlay for one unit that begins with Randy Brown (-220) and Brendan Allen (-175) and nets a +197 return.
I’m also going with one unit on Topuria to win by KO for a +160 return. His price to win inside the distance is -300, so that’s obviously too expensive. Therefore, to cover the other potential scenario, I’ll go with one-half unit on Topuria to win by submission for a +190 payout. I’m confident he’ll get the finish in a five-round bout, but I feel better about the chances of a KO.
Why? Well, Emmett wants to stand and Topuria, who had three consecutive KO victories before finishing Mitchell with a choke, will be glad to stand and bang with him.
In the co-main event, Amanda Ribas (12-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) is a -200 ‘chalk’ vs. Maycee Barber in a women’s flyweight showdown. The 29-year-old Ribas is 2-1 in three fights at 125 pounds. The Brazilian is ranked ninth in the flyweight loop.
The 25-year-old Barber (12-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) is in a four-fight winning streak after capturing a split-decision victory over Andrea Lee in March. She hasn’t tasted defeat since a close unanimous-decision loss (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) at UFC 258 against Alexa Grasso, who is now the UFC women’s flyweight champion.
PREDICTION: I think this is a toss-up fight and when I can get an underdog payout of +170 with a fighter on a four-fight winning streak, I like my chances. Give me one-half unit on Barber for a +170 payout.
-We’re all about Brendan Allen to get past Bruno Silva. The 27-year-old Allen (21-5 MMA, 9-2 UFC) is ranked 13th in the middleweight division with four straight wins, including three submission victories. He’s earned back-to-back POTN bonuses and is 6-1 in his last seven bouts.
Silva (23-8 MMA, 4-2 UFC) has taken six of his eight career losses via submission. That’s not a good recipe when facing a guy like Allen, who has 12 of his 21 career wins by submission.
However, we’ll concede that Silva is extremely dangerous with his hands when the fight is standing. In fact, he has garnered three POTN bonuses in his four UFC victories. All four of those wins came by KOs, with three of them – over Brad Tavares, Jordan Wright, Andrew Sanchez and Wellington Turman – coming in Round 1.
I’m backing Allen for one unit to win inside the distance for a +105 return, and let’s also put 0.75 units on Allen to win by submission for a +175 payout.
But we realize that Silva could finish this scrap with a KO, too, and any finish by Allen could come early as well. Therefore, we’ll also go with one unit on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +125 return.
On the main card, David Onama (10-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) and Gabriel Santos (10-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) will collide in a featherweight matchup. Most books have Santos installed as a-225 favorite, leaving Onama at +185 on the comeback. The total is 2.5 rounds shaded to the ‘under’ at a -138 price.
Onama has a 100 percent finishing rate, with six KOs and four submissions on his resume. Six of his wins have come via first-round finishes and three have come in the second round.
If the total was 2.5 rounds for each of Santos’s fights like it is today, the ‘under’ would be 7-4 in his 11 career bouts.
Let’s go with ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at a -138 price for one unit. I’ll also risk a quarter-unit on Onama for a +190 payout (Caesars).
Finally, we have a lightweight showdown between unbeaten Trevor Peek (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and Jose Mariscal (13-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC). Most spots have Peek as a -120 ‘chalk’ with Mariscal as an even-money underdog. The total is 1.5 rounds, but it’s expensively shaded to the ‘under’ at a -180 price.
I want to back the ‘under,’ but that price is too steep for me. Peek has eight KOs in his eight career bouts, with six coming in Round 1, one in Round 2 and one in Round 3.
Mariscal has six KOs and three submissions in his 13 career victories. He’s also been KO’d in three of his six defeats. Seven of his 19 career fights have ended in the opening frame.
I’m going to put one-half unit on Peek to win at a -120 price, and I’ll put one-third of a unit on the fight to end in Round 1 for a +220 return (BetRivers).
Since we posted our initial plays on Thursday, the Topuria number has grown even more (-375 at BetMGM). If we’re fortunate enough to have our parlay starting with Brown and Allen still alive going into the main event (with it finishing with Topuria for a +197 return), you might want to consider coming back with a half-unit on Emmett? As of 9:20 a.m., the best price available on Emmett was +280 at FanDuel and BetMGM.
Hold out, though, as perhaps Emmett could get to +300 by this afternoon. In that scenario, we have our finishing props on Topuria and we’ll have him at +197 if Allen and Brown take care of business. If that’s the case, playing Emmett at +280 to +300 for a half-unit would make some sense. Make that decision as you wish, or check out my twitter as I’ll probably be posting from the arena (assuming I’ll be able to get a signal?).
Whether you tail or fade, best of luck to all and enjoy the show!