Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski scored a third-round knockout win over Yair Rodriguez as a -380 favorite in Saturday’s UFC 290 headliner at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Volkanovski successfully defended his featherweight title for the fifth time and improved his overall record to 26-2.
The 145-pound kingpin hooked up his backers for the following prop bets: to win by TKO/KO for a +180 payout (BetRivers), to win inside the distance (+145) and to win in Round 3 (10/1). Bettors backing ‘under’ 3.5 rounds cashed +117 tickets.
What’s next? Well, unbeaten Ilia Topuria is ranked fifth and three of the four names ahead of him have already lost to Volkanovski. The other, Arnold Allen, is off a unanimous-decision defeat vs. second-ranked Max Holloway.
Topuria and Volkanovski actually did a face off as the 34-year-old Aussie was leaving the Octagon.
In the co-main event, Alexandre Pantoja became the new UFC flyweight champion with a split-decision win (46-49, 48-47, 48-47) over Brandon Moreno as a +165 underdog. According to MMADecisions, 25 of 30 media members scored the bout in favor of Pantoja.
Fifteen of those media members had it 49-46 for Pantoja and another one had it 49-45 for Pantoja. Judge Ben Cartlidge had the 49-46 score for Moreno, with Pantoja only winning the opening round.
Both fighters claimed an extra $50,o00 by garnering Fight of the Night honors. MajorWager had it 48-47 for Pantoja.
Gamblers taking ‘over’ 4.5 rounds cashed -124 tickets, while bets for the scrap to go to a decision prevailed at a -105 price. The prop for Pantoja to win by decision had a +500 payout at FanDuel. The prop for Pantoja to win by majority or split decision had a +1200 (or 12/1) return at BetWay.
UFC President Dana White wouldn’t commit to booking an immediate rematch, but he implied that Pantoja’s three head-to-head victories (one on The Ultimate Fighter) over Moreno wouldn’t be an obstacle to running it back. White also said that Moreno suffered a broken hand in the bout, and that both fighters were immediately transported to the hospital.
Going into Saturday night, Robert Whittaker hadn’t lost a fight to anyone not named Israel Adesanya in more than nine years. But that streak came crashing to an end in the second round of his middleweight clash against Dricus du Plessis, who captured a KO win at the 2:23 mark of the second stanza.
Whittaker was having his way in the opening minutes of the fight, finding a consistent home for his jab as me moved in and out. However, Du Plessis dropped Whittaker later in the stanza and bloodied him up.
The South African poured it on from there, keeping constant pressure on Whittaker. Du Plessis hurt him again and had Whittaker going backwards before the final flurry. A series of punches to the head and body put Whittaker down and out as the referee intervened.
Then an odd scene developed in the Octagon, as White allowed Adesanya, the undisputed middleweight champion, to come in for a face-off and some banter on Joe Rogan’s microphone. Adesanya used the n-word at least a half-dozen times and the animosity between the two men was palpable.
Du Plessis improved to 20-2 overall and 6-0 in the UFC with five stoppages. He also bagged his second career Performance of the Night bonus.
Gamblers backing Du Plessis cashed generous +275 tickets, while bets on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds came in by seven seconds for a +138 return. Props on DuPlessis hit for him to win in Round 2 (12/1 or +1200 at Caesars), to win inside the distance (+400) and to win by TKO/KO (+500).
BetOnline has Adesanya installed as a -330 ‘chalk’ vs. Du Plessis, who is a +270 underdog.
In a lightweight thriller, Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker entered his bout against Jalin Turner mired in a 2-4 slump and was listed as a +240 underdog. Turner, who had recorded a 5-1 record in his six previous fights, got the best of Hooker in the opening frame by landing with more power and frequency.
Turner had Hooker in all sorts of trouble after landing a vicious head kick midway through the second stanza. Hooker somehow ate the kick and then took a series of standing elbows.
After Hooker clinched up and recovered a bit, the rest of Round 2 turned into absolute mayhem. In the first eight minutes of the contest, Turner had bloodied Hooker and connected with dozens of kicks, elbows and punches. Nevertheless, Hooker was still standing.
And Turner was starting to tire late in the round. Hooker shifted the momentum by backing up Turner with several strikes to the head and the body.
The fight went to the ground in the last 20 seconds of Round 2. Hooker took Turner’s back and started locking in a rear-naked choke with about five ticks remaining. He got under the neck and with just a few more seconds, Hooker would’ve finished the fight but Turner was saved by the bell.
In Round 3, Turner was visibly gassed. He began dropping his hands and his punches were more labored. Hooker had more energy and continued to push the pace. Turner was able to score a takedown, but Hooker got back up to his feet. He clearly took the third round and seemingly stole Round 2 with the late submission attempt.
Two of the judges agreed with that sentiment, as Hooker collected a split-decision victory (29-28, 28-29, 29-28). The media agreed too, according to MMA Decisions, with 27 of 29 members scoring it for ‘The Hangman.’
White later revealed that Hooker sustained a broken arm in Round 2. The fact that this bout – probably a top-five candidate for 2023 Fight of the Year – wasn’t awarded FOTN honors is a tribute to what a thriller Moreno-Pantoja was.
In the pay-per-view opener, Bo Nickal remained undefeated with another first-round finish. When Josiah Harrell was removed from the card earlier in the week after an MRI revealed a brain disease that requires surgery, promotional newcomer Val Woodburn stepped in on short notice.
Nickal needed only 38 seconds to score a first-round KO and the three-time national champion wrestler didn’t even need to attempt a takedown. He was one of the biggest favorites in UFC history (-1600 to -2200 range, but it was as expensive as -2500 earlier in the week), but there was one prop bet available at plus money.
That was for Nickal to win by TKO/KO, and gamblers backing this wager cashed +260 tickets at FanDuel. Nickal was so heavily favored that even the prop to win in Round 1 had a -390 price. He improved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the UFC.
All five of his victories (two on Dana White’s Contender Series and one under one of Jorge Masvidal’s promotions) have come inside of three minutes. Nickal has finished four of his five foes in 62 seconds or fewer.
White said that Woodburn would absolutely be given another fight in the UFC after replacing Gore on such short notice. He also implied that the promotion wasn’t going to rush Nickal into a fight with a ranked opponent.
Therefore, with a hat tip to the Spinnin Backfist twitter account run by the crew at Barstool, I think veteran middleweight Eryk Anders is an excellent fit for Nickal to take a step up in competition. Anders, a former Alabama football player on the 2009 national championship team, has solid takedown defense and power in his hands.
In the Prelims headliner on ABC, ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler graced the Octagon one final time for his retirement fight. He was facing Niko Price, the perfect veteran dance partner known to get into action-packed brawls.
Lawler, the 41-year-old former welterweight champion who made his promotional debut at UFC 37 in Bossier City, LA., on May 10 of 2002, needed only 38 seconds to finish Price via KO.
Lawler cashed tickets for his backers as a +180 underdog. He also hooked up his supporters for prop bets to win inside the distance (+400 at Betway), to win in Round 1 (+900) and to win via TKO/KO (+440 at BetRivers). Wagers on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds were winners for a +123 payout.
As Lawler was discussing his perfect farewell performance with Rogan in the Octagon, the UFC teed up this tribute video:
You can take a look at Lawler’s handywork in this highlight clip below:
Other winners on the Prelims included Tatsuro Taira, Denise Gomes and Alonzo Menifield. Taira defeated Edgar Chairez via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27) as a -900 ‘chalk,’ while Gomes scored the fastest KO (20 seconds) in women’s strawweight history over Yazmin Jauregui as a +300 underdog. Gomes earned an extra $50,000 thanks to a POTN bonus.
After fighting to a majority draw at UFC 284, Menifield beat Jimmy Crute via second-round submission (guillotine choke) as a +120 underdog. Bets on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds cashed at a -107 price. Menifield improved to 5-1-1 in his last seven fights.
My picks from my preview here at MajorWager went 4-4 to record 0.69 units of profit. My losers were Whittaker to win by a decision for one-half unit at +225 odds, a two-unit parlay with Volk, Turner and Whittaker, the ‘under’ (1.5 rounds at a -106 price) for Turner-Hooker and the prop for Turner to win by KO at +195 odds.
My winners included ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for Menifield-Crute, Volk to win inside the distance (+150), Pantoja (+175) and Volk-Rodriguez to NOT go the distance.
UFC 290 delivered and then some and has to enter my top-five all-time cards. The UNO for me is UFC 261 in Jacksonville (Usman-Masvidal 2) in part because I was there and it was the first post-COVID indoor sporting event in the world. My No. 2 has to be UFC 196 (Diaz-McGregor 1).
I’ll give UFC 290 a slight edge over UFC 189 (McGregor-Mendes) and UFC 117 (Silva-Sonnen 1).