Published on Friday, July 7, at 12:42 p.m. Eastern.
Updated on Friday, July 7, at 8:20 p.m. Eastern.
Alexander Volkanovski (25-2 MMA, 12-1 UFC) will be in bounce-back mode Saturday night for the UFC 290 headliner at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, as the featherweight champion returns to the division to defend his strap against the interim 145-pound champ, Yair Rodriguez.
The 34-year-old Volkanovski attempted to go up a weight class and become a double champ this past February at UFC 284. In his showdown against lightweight kingpin Islam Makhachev, Volkanovski lost a unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46).
According to MMADecisions, six media members scored the bout 48-47 for Volkanovski, while 21 members had it 48-47 for Makhachev and two had it 49-46 for the 155-pound champ.
Whatever the case, Volkanovski is content to return to the division he’s dominated to seek his fifth successful title defense. As of Friday morning, most books had Volkanovski installed as a -350 (BetMGM) to -400 favorite vs. Rodriguez, who is a +260 to +300 underdog.
The total was 4.5 rounds at BetRivers (-117 to the ‘over’ and -113 to the ‘under’). Caesars had the fight to NOT go to a decision at -120, while there were -110 odds for the scrap to go the distance.
Volkanovski’s only other previous loss in his career came in the welterweight division more than a decade ago, so he’s undefeated at featherweight. He took the belt from Max Holloway and then successfully defended it against him twice, although many, including us here at MajorWager, scored Volkanovski-Holloway II for ‘Blessed.’
Volk’s other successful title defenses have come against Brian Ortega (UD) and The Korean Zombie (fourth-round knockout). He also owns additional scalps over three-time title challenger Chad Mendes (second-round KO), former two-time champ and UFC Hall of Famer Jose Aldo and Darren Elkins.
Rodriguez (15-3-0-1 MMA, 10-2-0-1 UFC) claimed the interim featherweight belt on the same night Volk lost to Makhachev in Perth, Australia, at UFC 284 this past February. ‘El Pantera’ scored a second-round submission victory over Josh Emmett.
The 30-year-old Rodriguez’s only two defeats in the Octagon came against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar (in 2017) and Holloway (UD via 49-46, 48-47, 48-47) in a five-round Fight of the Night in 2021.
Rodriguez, who won The Ultimate Fighter Latin America Featherweight Tournament in 2014, owns quality scalps over The Korean Zombie, Jeremy Stephens, Ortega, B.J Penn, Dan Hooker, Charles Rosa, Andre Fili and Alex Caceres. He has five KOs and four submissions in his 15 career victories.
PREDICTION: Let’s go with one unit on the fight to NOT go to a decision at a -118 price at FanDuel. Only seven of 19 career fights for Rodriguez have gone the judges’ scorecards, while just 11 of 27 career scraps for Volkanovski have gone to a decision. Also, we’re on Volkanovski for one unit to win inside the distance for a +150 return.
In the co-main event, flyweight champion Brandon Moreno (21-6-2-0 MMA, 10-3-2-0 UFC) will defend his belt against Alexandre Pantoja, who defeated Moreno by UD at UFC Santiago in Chile on May 19 of 2018.
The 33-year-old Pantoja (25-5 MMA, 9-3 UFC) also bested Moreno via second-round submission (rear-naked choke) during TUF 24 season in 2016. The Brazilian is on a three-fight winning streak, including back-to-back submission wins inside of two rounds that garnered $50,000 Performance of the Night bonuses.
Pantoja has never been finished, taking all five career defeats by decisions. He has 18 finishes (eight KOs and 10 submissions) in his 25 career wins. ‘The Cannibal’ owns other notable wins over Alex Perez, Brandon Royval, Manuel Kape, Matt Schnell and Wilson Reis.
As of Friday morning, most spots had Moreno listed as a -200 to -225 ‘chalk,’ with Pantoja as an underdog in the +165 to +175 range. The total was 4.5 rounds at BetRivers (-120 to the ‘over’ and -110 for the ‘under’).
Moreno has faced Deiveson Figueiredo in four of his last five fights, going 2-1 with one draw. ‘The Assassin Baby’ has a 7-1-2-0 record in his last 10 bouts since the decision loss to Pantoja in 2018. Three of Moreno’s last five scraps have been awarded FOTN honors, including a third-round TKO win (body kick and punches) over Kai Kara-France last summer at UFC 277.
PREDICTION: I think this is a toss-up fight that could go either way. Although I’ll concede that Moreno’s losses to Pantoja came at the age of 22 and 24 and he’s vastly improved since then, it’s not as if Pantoja hasn’t been getting better, too. Similar to my play on Maycee Barber as a +170 underdog vs. Amanda Ribas at UFC Jacksonville two weeks ago, I like to take the generous underdog when I think it’s a coin-flip matchup. In this scenario, I also have the luxury of backing a guy that’s already tasted victory against his opponent twice. Not only that, but this is the moment Pantoja has been waiting for his entire career. I’m confident he’s ready to rise to the occasion. Let’s go with one unit on Pantoja as a +175 underdog.
The rest of the main card looks like this: Robert Whittaker vs. Dricus du Plesis in a battle of middleweight contenders, Jalin Turner vs. Dan Hooker in a lightweight scrap and Bo Nickal vs. promotional newcomer Val Woodburn in a middleweight matchup.
Whittaker (24-6 MMA, 15-4 UFC) and Du Plessis are hoping to make statements and garner a title shot vs. 185-pound kingpin Israel ‘The Last Stylebender’ Adesanya, who has already beaten Whittaker twice (once by second-round KO and another time by UD). As of Friday morning, most books had Whittaker as a -400 favorite, leaving Du Plesis as a +300 underdog.
The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -157, ‘over’ +118). Bettors can back Whittaker to win by TKO/KO for a +114 payout at BetRivers.
For those examining the total, it’s noteworthy that the 29-year-old Du Plessis (19-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC) has seen just one of his 21 career fights go the distance. But on the flip side, the 32-year-old Whittaker has had five consecutive bouts go to the judges’ scorecards (three of which were five-round matches) and seven of his last eight.
Since losing a split decision to Court McGee in 2013 and a losing to Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in 2014 (at UFC 170 via first-round KO) in welterweight fights, Whittaker hasn’t tasted defeat against anyone not named Adesanya in the span of nearly 9.5 years. During this stretch, ‘The Reaper’ owns a 13-2 record with 12 of those wins coming at middleweight.
Whittaker has nine career wins by KO, five by submission and 10 via decisions. He’s lost by KO twice, submission once and the judges three times. His UFC 271 loss to Adesanya was scored 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46.
Du Plessis owns eight KOs and 10 submissions in his 19 career wins. The South African has lost once by submission and once via KO. He is the former welterweight and middleweight champion under the EFC banner in South Africa, and he was also the KSW welterweight kingpin before joining the UFC.
Du Plessis has four finishes in his five Octagon appearances, including a third-round submission victory (face crank) over Darren Till at UFC 282 and a second-round TKO win (corner stoppage) over Derek Brunson at UFC 285.
PREDICTION: Just like the main event, I think Volk and Whittaker are both a tad overpriced. However, they aren’t overpriced enough to make me invest in the underdogs. I don’t think Whittaker or Volk are going to have easy times getting their hands raised Saturday night, but I ultimately feel like both will prevail. Let’s go with one-half unit on Whittaker to win by decision for a +225 payout (BetRivers).
As of Friday morning, most shops had Turner (13-6 MMA, 6-3 UFC) as a -275 to -315 favorite vs. Hooker, who is +240 on the comeback at BetRivers. The total was 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -120, ‘under’ -106 at FanDuel).
The 28-year-old Turner is a tall lightweight at 6-foot-3 and he’ll enjoy a three-inch height advantage. ‘The Tarantula’ also has a 1.5-inch reach advantage over ‘The Hangman.’
Turner had his five-fight winning streak – which were all finishes inside of two rounds – snapped his last time out in a split-decision setback vs. Mateusz Gamrot at UFC 285 on March 4. According to MMADecisions, 23 of 26 media members scored the contest for Gamrot.
Hooker hasn’t been the same fighter since going 1-1 in back-to-back five-round wars vs. Paul Felder and Dustin Poirier. Hooker beat Felder via split decision on Feb. 23 of 2020 in the UFC Auckland headliner on his home turf in New Zealand. Per MMADecisions, 12 of 17 media members gave Felder the win, one had it a draw and four scored it for Hooker.
Four months later, Hooker earned another FOTN bonus in a UD loss to Poirier. Since the win over Felder, he is 2-4 with three of his losses coming in the opening round to Michael Chandler (TKO), Makhachev (kimura submission) and Arnold Allen (TKO). Hooker is off a second-round TKO win over Claudio Puelles.
If gamblers backed Turner’s 19 career fights to go ‘under’ 1.5 rounds, they’d own a 13-6 record with those wagers. As for Hooker, he’s seen three of his last five bouts end in the opening round.
PREDICTION: Let’s go with one unit on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds at a -106 price. In addition, let’s back Turner for one unit to win by KO for a +195 payout (BetRivers).
Update: Turner missed weight by two pounds this morning in Las Vegas, tipping the scales at 158 pounds. The fight is still on and Turner will forfeit 20 percent of his purse to Hooker. I will stick with my bets on this matchup.
Nickal will open the pay-per-view card at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN+ as one of the biggest favorites in UFC history (-2500 at BetMGM, -2800 at Caesars and -3335 at BetRivers). The former three-time national champion in men’s freestyle wrestling at Penn St. finished his collegiate career with a 120-3 record.
After coming up short of making the team at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, the 27-year-old Nickal (4-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) made his MMA debut last summer with a KO win in 33 seconds vs. John Noland. Next, he picked up back-to-back wins on Dana White’s Contender Series with submission wins in 52 and 62 seconds vs. Donovan Beard and Zachary Borrego, respectively.
Then in his Octagon debut in the pay-per-view opener of UFC 285 in March, Nickal submitted Jamie Pickett at the 2:54 mark of Round 1 and earned a POTN bonus.
Woodburn is 7-0 with five KOs in his professional career that’s been spent in the Combat Night Promotion in Florida. He took the fight on four days of notice after Tresean Gore withdrew due to a torn ligament in his wrist.
The only potential ways to bet Nickal without risking a fortune (to win next to nothing) are for him to win in Round 1 at a -370 price (FanDuel), to win by submission (-210 at FanDuel) or to win by TKO/KO for a +260 payout (FanDuel).
You’re probably safe taking Nickal to win in Round 1 and/or by submission, but those prices are just too expensive for me.
-In a light heavyweight rematch between Alonzo Menifield and Jimmy Crute, let’s go with one unit on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds at a -107 price. Although these fighters went the three-round distance in their first meeting at UFC 284 that was scored a majority draw, seven of Crute’s nine UFC fights (if we count his one appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series) have ended in Round 1. Ten of Menifield’s 16 career bouts have ended in the opening frame.
–In a three-fight parlay for two units to win 2.43 units, let’s go with Volk (-350 at BetMGM), Whittaker (-380 at Caesars) and Turner (-275 at BetMGM).
**B.E.’s Octagon Nuggets**
-The Early Prelims start at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. The Prelims will be on ABC and ESPN starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
-Volk tipped the scales at 144.5 pounds, one-half pound below the 145-pound limit.
-Hat Tip and huge props to the one-and-only ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler, who will face Niko Price in the Prelims headliner on ABC as a +185 underdog in his retirement fight. Lawler is one of the most exciting and classy UFC fighters in the promotion’s history. More on him below.
-Moreno and Pantoja both made weight at 125 pounds to make the co-main event official. Royval also made weight, as he was serving as the backup for the flyweight title fight. Royval won’t be needed now unless Moreno or Pantoja falls ill or some unusual circumstance develops tomorrow. We’ll nonetheless note that Royval lost to Moreno by TKO (punches) with one second left in Round 1 at UFC 255 on Nov. 21 of 2020. In his next bout, he lost by second-round submission (RNC) to Pantoja on Aug. 21 of 2021. However, he’s on a three-fight winning streak since then with back-to-back wins by finish.
-Aussie phenom Jack Della Maddalena is now off the card. The 26-year-old welterweight was scheduled to face Sean Brady initially, but Brady had to withdraw on June 30. Brady’s replacement, Josiah Harrell, was pulled from the card today when an MRI revealed a brain disease that requires surgery. On the bright side, Harrell is expected to make a full recovery from surgery. Maddalena has won 14 straight fights and is 4-0 in the UFC with four finishes in less than 3.5 minutes. He’s won three POTN bonuses in a row.
-In a five-round main event in Brazil on Nov. 4, I like Jailton Almeida as a -145 favorite vs. Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes.
-Finally, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones vs. Stipe Miocic is official for the UFC 295 main event at MSG in NYC on Nov. 11. DraftKings has Jones listed as a -320 favorite, with Miocic as a +265 underdog.
-Here’s Dana’s ‘If You Don’t Know, Now You Know’ segment for UFC 290:
-Here’s a thread on my Twitter profile in honor of Lawler: