“Thug” Rose looks like a live underdog at UFC 237 in Rio

The UFC returns to Brazil with a pay-per-view event for the first time since 2016, as UFC 237 takes place this Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. Here’s a look at the three marquee fights at the top of the card, headlined by an exciting women’s strawweight title fight.

Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade

Rose Namajunas will look to defend her title for the second time when she takes on Jessica Andrade on enemy turf. Namajunas (8-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) became champion when she shocked the world by knocking out longtime champ and pound-for-pound queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217 in November of 2017.

She later showed it wasn’t just a lucky punch by outpointing the Pole in a UFC 223 rematch in April of last year. With six wins in her last seven fights, including four finishes, “Thug” has quickly evolved into one of the best female fighters in the world. It’s also easy to forget that she is just 26 and constantly improving.

However, William Hill surprisingly opened her as a +120 underdog, with Andrade as a -149 “chalk.” As of Friday afternoon, most books had Andrade (19-6 MMA, 10-4 UFC) installed as a -130 favorite. Namajunas was available at +110 on the comeback. The best return price for the champ was +115 at 5Dimes.

One factor for Andrade’s role as the favorite has to be the Brazilian’s power and recent form. She shocked many by knocking out former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz in less than two minutes at UFC 228 last fall.

That result followed dominant decision wins over the likes of Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres, making it six wins in her last seven fights just like Namajunas. There’s also the fact that the fight takes place in Brazil where the crowds are usually rampant and hostile, which can be daunting for many fighters.

With that said, it’s important to note that Andrade’s last loss was to Jedrzejczyk, who completely outclassed her on the feet to win a unanimous decision at UFC 211. That’s not to say that MMA math works, but it does count for something, considering that defeat came just six months before Namajunas became champion.

“Thug” is excellent at managing distance and will undoubtedly use her three-inch advantages in both height and reach when the fight is standing. She has avoided 60 percent of significant strikes thrown her way and given Andrade’s voluminous striking, decisive counter punches will be there for the taking.

If Andrade attempts to take Rose down, it won’t be easy given the champ’s 75 percent takedown defense. Even if Namajunas finds herself on her back, she can utilize her jiu-jitsu skills that have produced five of her eight career wins via submissions.

Andrade’s power is always a threat, but we see great value in backing the champion as an underdog here.

Prediction: Namajunas by decision

Jared Cannonier vs. Anderson Silva

Jared Cannonier will look to get the biggest win of his career when he takes on former middleweight king Anderson Silva in the co-main event.

Having competed as a heavyweight and light heavyweight, Cannonier (11-4 MMA, 4-4 UFC) enjoyed a successful middleweight debut at UFC 230 last November when he knocked out David Branch. The MMA Lab fighter is now No. 10 in the rankings as a result.

As for Silva (34-9 MMA, 17-5 UFC), the Brazilian competed for the first time in two years when he returned at UFC 234 in February. It was a unanimous-decision defeat to current interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, but Silva definitely looked much better than he did in his two previous fights.

However, Silva still has only one win in his last seven bouts. That victory over Derek Brunson was extremely controversial, with most media members scoring the fight in Brunson’s favor.

Cannonier may not be as long or tall as Silva, but he does have youth (nine years younger than the 44-year-old) on his side and a power advantage. He will face a raucous crowd, though. If he is unable to finish Silva — who still holds the mysticism that prevents even the best fighters from executing a game plan — he faces the risk of the judges giving the fight to Silva like Brunson experienced.

“The Killa Gorilla” should emerge victorious, however. As of Friday afternoon, most books had him favored in the -130/-140 neighborhood. Bettors can back Silva at +110 odds.

We expect to see Cannonier landing the more significant strikes in the contest. Barring Silva producing his first knockout win since 2012 or some shady scorecards, he should suffer his 10th career defeat.

Prediction: Cannonier by decision

Jose Aldo vs. Alexander Volkanovski

One of the most anticipated fights on the card is a featherweight tilt between former champion Jose Aldo and surging contender Alexander Volkanovski.

Following three losses in four fights to high-level strikers Conor McGregor and Max Holloway (twice), Aldo (28-4 MMA, 10-3 UFC) proved he was not done just yet with quick knockout wins over Jeremy Stephens and most recently, Renato Moicano. After primarily competing in grueling five-round wars over the years when he was the champion, Aldo is quicker and more explosive now that he’s exclusively fighting in three-round bouts.

His opponent in Volkanovski (19-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) is not like Stephens or Moicano, though. The Aussie is a wrestler who throws with volume, boasts an effective jab, knockout power, and can bounce back from adversity. This was evident when he was knocked down by Chad Mendes during their UFC 232 bout, only to come back and knock the former title challenger out in the same round.

Volkanovski’s style is not new to Aldo. After all, the Brazilian defeated Mendes, notably similar to Volkanovski both in style and build, twice when he was in his prime. Aldo also has a pair of wins over former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar, and he’s taken out a number of other wrestling-based opponents through the years.

Aldo has phenomenal takedown defense and his striking skills, in particular his counter-striking, are still among the best in the entire UFC. Volkanovski will need to be cautious about that early on as he showed some defensive issues against both Mendes and his previous opponent in Darren Elkins. Such issues will only be punished by Aldo.

It’s easy to forget that Aldo is just 32. And while Volkanovski is two years younger with less wear and tear, this should be a win for Aldo. The Brazilian looks like a bargain as a -130 favorite at 5Dimes.

Prediction: Jose Aldo by KO/TKO

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