UFC 292 Primer with picks

UFC 292 Primer with picks

The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its return to Boston’s TD Garden on Saturday night for UFC 292. In the main event, Aljamain ‘Funk Master’ Sterling (23-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) will attempt to successfully defend his bantamweight strap for the fourth time against rising star ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley.

As of Friday morning, most books had Sterling installed as a -250 favorite, with O’Malley (16-1-0-1 MMA, 8-1-0-1 UFC) at +200 to +210 (DraftKings) odds on the comeback. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -150, ‘under’ +114) or 3.5 rounds (‘under’ -141, ‘over’ +106).

The price on Sterling was as high as -280 to -290 as recently as Aug. 11. Gamblers can take props on ‘Aljo’ to win inside the distance (+110 at DraftKings), win by TKO/KO (+650 at BetRivers, but +550 to +600 at most other shops) or win via submission (+150 at DraftKings but +195 at FanDuel).

The 34-year-old Sterling is on a nine-fight winning streak that’s the longest in UFC bantamweight history. In his last five victories, the Serra-Longo Fight Team member has defeated three former 135-pound champions in Henry Cejudo (split decision), T.J. Dillashaw (second-round TKO via punches) and Petr Yan (twice – split decision and DQ for illegal knee). He also has an 88-second win by submission (rear-naked choke) over a former title challenger, Cory Sandhagen.

His three successful defenses of his bantamweight belt are the most in the division’s history. Sterling is also the division’s all-time leader in wins (14), total strikes landed (1,646), total fight time (3:49:49) and control time (1:08:36).

Two of Sterling’s three career losses came by split decisions against Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao. He hasn’t tasted defeat since Dec. 9 of 2017 when Marlon Moraes caught Sterling with a vicious flying knee that knocked him out cold at UFC Fresno.

O’Malley will enjoy a four-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-7 Sterling. His 72-inch reach is one inch longer than Sterling’s.

The 28-year-old O’Malley took his only career defeat against Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera by first-round TKO at UFC 252 on Aug. 16 of 2020. Since then, he owns a 4-0 record with one no-contest due to an inadvertent eye poke that rendered Pedro Munhoz unable to continue last July at UFC 276.

O’Malley earned this title shot thanks to a split-decision win over Yan at UFC 280 last October in Abu Dhabi. He garnered an extra $50,000 by earning the third Fight of the Night bonus of his career. In 10 career Octagon appearances, O’Malley has collected seven fight-night bonuses, with four Performance of the Night honors.

O’Malley has 11 career wins by KO and one via submission. Only four of his 17 career fights have gone the distance and, if the fight gets to the championship rounds, it’ll be the first time O’Malley has seen a Round 4.

PREDICTION: This is a classic striker vs. grappler matchup. When the fight is standing, O’Malley has a huge advantage over Sterling with his superior striking. On the flip side, Sterling will have a massive advantage in the wrestling department and should dominate if he can get O’Malley to the canvas. Can O’Malley end Sterling’s reign atop the division with one punch at any moment? No doubt about it. However, only one of Aljo’s foes has been able to find his chin with a finishing shot in his 26 career fights. I think this is a horrible matchup for O’Malley. I’m confident Aljo will be able to get him down and keep him there thanks to his superior strength and ground skills. Let’s go with two units on Sterling to win inside the distance for a +110 payout. In addition, we’ll have Sterling in a parlay that we’ll get to below. 

In the co-main event, Weili Zhang (23-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) will try to defend her women’s strawweight championship against Amanda Lemos, a 36-year-old Brazilian who has won back-to-back fights and seven of her last eight bouts with five finishes.

As of Friday morning, most shops had Zhang listed as a favorite in the -310 (DraftKings) to -375 (BetRivers) range, with Lemos as a +250 (most spots) to +280 (BetRivers) underdog. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -125, ‘over’ -106).

For gamblers thinking either woman can get an early finish, BetRivers was offering a +163 payout for ‘under’ 1.5 rounds (-225 for the ‘over’). For those thinking the bout could go the five-round distance, BetRivers had ‘over’ 3.5 rounds at +150 odds and ‘over’ 4.5 rounds for a +215 return.

The props market had Zhang anywhere from +100 to +135 (FanDuel) to win by TKO/KO, +400 to +450 (FanDuel) to win via submission and -150 to win inside the distance.

Lemos had +450 to +550 (BetRivers) odds to win by TKO/KO, +330 to win inside the distance and +1000 to +1200 (FanDuel) to win via submission.

Zhang will be competing in her sixth title fight in her last seven Octagon appearances. The 34-year-old from China won her first three UFC fights to earn a title shot in her home country at UFC Shenzhen back on Aug. 31 of 2019.

Zhang needed only 42 seconds to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history by blasting Jessica Andrade via TKO (knees and punches) to win a POTN bonus. Then six months later, she successfully defended her women’s 115-pound belt by beating Joanna Jedrzejczyk via split decision in the greatest fight in women’s mixed martial arts history.

The historic battle between Zhang and Jedrzejczyk won FOTN honors and was named the 2020 Fight of the Year by every MMA publication that exists.

However, in Zhang’s second title defense at UFC 261 in Jacksonville on April 24 of 2021, she lost to former women’s strawweight queenpin ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas by first-round head kick KO only 78 seconds into the contest.

They would rematch at UFC 268 on Nov. 6 of 2021, with Namajunas emerging victorious via split decision. Then at UFC 275 last June in Singapore, Zhang ended her rivalry with Jedrzejczyk by beating her by second-round KO with a beautiful spinning backfist. She earned a POTN bonus, and the loss prompted Jedrzejczyk to leave her gloves in the Octagon and announce her retirement.

After Carla Esparza won her sixth straight fight with a split-decision win over Namajunas at UFC 274 in May of 2022 to win the women’s 115-pound strap for a second time, she was booked to defend it against Zhang at UFC 281 last November in New York City.

Zhang dominated Esparza and won the belt back by scoring a second-round submission by RNC. It was her eighth career win by submission to go with her 11 career KO victories. Zhang’s only other career loss besides the two to Namajunas came in her professional debut when she dropped a decision to Meng Bo on Nov. 9 of 2013.

Lemos (13-2-1-0 MMA, 7-2 UFC) lost her Octagon debut by second-round TKO (punches) against Leslie Smith, but that was in a bantamweight contest back on July 16 of 2017. She made her strawweight debut, a drop from 135 pounds to 115, more than 29 months later at UFC Busan in South Korea, where she defeated Miranda Granger by first-round submission.

Lemos won her first five fights at strawweight before losing to Andrade via first-round submission in the UFC Vegas 52 headliner at The UFC APEX on April 22 of 2022. Since then, however, Lemos has wins over Michelle Waterson (second-round submission via guillotine choke last summer) and Marina Rodriguez (third-round TKO via punches) in the UFC Vegas 64 main event this past November.

Lemos has 11 finishes among her 13 career wins, including eight KOs and three submissions. Only three of her 16 career bouts have gone the distance, and, like O’Malley, she’s never been in a fourth round.

PREDICTION: Both fighters have seen ‘under’ 1.5 rounds cash at a 5-3 clip in each of their last eight bouts. Like Sterling, we’re going to use Zhang in a parlay (more details later). We also like her prop to win in Rounds 1, 2 or 3 at a -110 price for one unit. Let’s also go with one-half unit on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +163 payout. 

Ian ‘The Future’ Garry was scheduled to face Geoff Neal in a highly anticipated welterweight scrap, but Neal pulled out with an undisclosed injury last week. Neil Magny, the UFC welterweight division’s all-time leader in career wins, accepted the offer to replace Neal on just nine days of notice.

As of Friday morning, most books had Garry favored in the -485 (DraftKings) to -530 (BetRivers) neighborhood, with Magny as a +350 to +390 (BetRivers) underdog. DraftKings had opened Garry at -298 on Aug. 9. The total was 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -165, ‘under’ +125) at BetRivers.

The 25-year-old Garry (12-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) is undefeated with eight finishes, including seven KOs and four first-round finishes. The promotion’s No. 13 ranked welterweight has three KOs in his five career UFC victories, including a first-round KO win over Daniel Rodriguez his last time out at UFC Charlotte on May 13.

Magny (28-10 MMA, 21-9 UFC) is ranked No. 11 in the 170-pound loop. The 36-year-old shares the same height (6-foot-3) as Garry, but his 80-inch reach will give him a 5.5-inch advantage.

Magny is 20-7 in his last 27 fights, but he’s only 2-2 in his last four Octagon appearances. He’s off a split-decision win over Philip Rowe at UFC Jacksonville on June 24.

Magny owns notable career wins over the likes of Rodriguez, Max Griffin, Neal, former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, Li Jingliang, former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit, Hector Lombard, Kelvin Gastelum and Tim Means. His last two defeats have come against Gilbert Burns (first-round submission via arm-triangle choke at UFC 283) and Shavkat Rakhmonov (second-round sub via guillotine choke last June).

Magny has seen 19 of his 38 career fights go the distance. He has seven wins by KO and four by submissions. Magny has been submitted six times and KO’d twice by Santiago Ponzinibbio and Lorenz Larkin.

PREDICTION: We’re all about Garry in this situation! Let’s go with two units on the prop bet for Garry to win by KO at an even-money price (DraftKings and BetMGM) and one unit on Garry to win inside the distance at a -135 price (DraftKings). Finally, let’s also risk one-half unit on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +125 payout and one-half unit on Garry to win in Round 1 for a +200 return. 

In a bantamweight battle, Mario Bautista was scheduled to collide with former 135-pound kingpin Cody Garbrandt, but ‘No Love’ had to pull out with an injury on Aug. 9. Da’Mon Blackshear (14-5-1-0 MMA, 2-1-1-0 UFC) is fresh off a first-round submission win via twister, only the third such sub in UFC history, over Jose Johnson this past Saturday in Las Vegas. He agreed to step in and face Bautista on just a few days of notice.

Blackshear, who is a +180 underdog vs. Bautista (-225), will be making a record-tying turnaround in seven days. He’ll also attempt to break Khamzat Chimaev’s UFC record of two wins in a 10-day span.

Bautista (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) is on a four-fight winning streak and has three consecutive victories via first-round submissions. Blackshear has never been finished in his five career losses, and the 29-year-old has 11 career finishes (nine submissions, two KOs).

PREDICTION: During my weekly segment on Hail Varsity Radio in Omaha on Thursday, I asked former Nebraska RB and high school wrestling standout Damon Benning what it was like to cut weight twice in seven days since that’s the situation Blackshear is in. Benning said, “A recipe for disaster. Your body and muscles just don’t react well to that.” With that in mind, I’ll go with Bautista to win inside the distance for one-half unit and a +165 payout (DraftKings). Let’s also go with one-half unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at a -105 price (BetWay).

In the pay-per-view opener, Vera (20-8-1-0 MMA, 14-7 UFC) will take on Pedro Munhoz in a showdown between bantamweight veterans. Most books have the sixth-ranked Vera installed as a -200 favorite vs the 10th-ranked Munhoz, who is a +170 underdog.

Vera, a 30-year-old Ecuadorian, is 10-3 in his last 13 fights, but he saw his four-fight winning streak snapped in a split-decision loss to Sandhagen in March.

The 36-year-old Munhoz is 2-4 with one no-contest in his last seven fights, but all four losses came to the current champ (Aljo via unanimous decision) and three former champs in Frankie Edgar (split decision), Jose Aldo (UD) and Dominick Cruz (UD). Munhoz has never been finished, taking all seven of his career defeats by decision.

In fact, he’s seen six of his last seven bouts go the distance, with the lone exception being the no-contest when O’Malley rendered Munhoz unable to continue after a bad eye poke. Munhoz owns notable wins over Garbrandt, Caraway, Jimmie Rivera and Rob Font.

PREDICTION: I like Vera to win, but his straight price is too expensive for me. Therefore, I’m risking one unit on Vera in a five-fight parlay with Sterling, Zhang, Garry and Brad Tavares (more on him below) that should net a return in the +380 range. 

In the Prelims headliner, Tavares will take on former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, who is making his Octagon return 28 months after sustaining a gruesome leg fracture in the first exchange of his UFC 261 showdown vs. Uriah Hall.

We want to give the 39-year-old Weidman all the props in the world for making a successful recovery to get back inside the Octagon tomorrow night. With that said, we have to put our handicapper hat on to break down this fight.

And let’s face it: Weidman was already washed going into the bout vs. Hall. He was 2-5 in his seven previous fights going into UFC 261, and all five of those defeats had come by KO. Furthermore, in one of his two wins during that span, he was saved by the bell at the end of Round 1 against Gastelum, who ended up losing late in Round 3 to Weidman by submission.

The 35-year-old Tavares is 2-4 in his last six fights, but he was on a four-fight winning streak prior to those six bouts. He’s never been submitted, either.

Everybody made weight this morning, with Sterling and O’Malley tipping the scales at 135 pounds. Lemos apparently had an easy cut because she was 114 pounds, one pound below the 115 limit.

Whether you tail or fade, best of luck with your wagers and enjoy the show!

**B.E.’s Bonus Octagon Nuggets**

-Veteran lightweight Joe Lauzon said this week that he expressed an interest in getting on the UFC 292 card. He wanted to fight Chase Hooper, but “was told that my services weren’t needed.” The 39-year-old Massachusetts native isn’t bitter about it, though. “I don’t need to fight, so whatever makes sense,” Lauzon said. “If the location, the date, the opponent, if it all makes sense, I’m 100 percent down to fight again. But my gym is doing great. I don’t need to fight. It’s one of those things I really like doing. If it makes sense, I’m down (and) I’ll do it again. If we’re done, we’re done. It doesn’t matter. We’ll see.”

-Here’s the UFC 292 Cold Open.

-Here’s Dana White’s “If you don’t know, now you now” segment for UFC 292.

-The final faceoff between Sterling and O’Malley at Friday’s ceremonial weigh-ins.

-Sterling said this week that this there’s a “99%” chance that this will be his last fight in the bantamweight loop. Of course, that thought process entails him winning and calling out Alexander Volkanovski for a featherweight title shot. If he loses tonight, that could change everything. Obviously, a big part of his desire to move up a division is that his Serra-Longo teammate, Meral Dvalishvili, is the No. 1 ranked contender at 135 pounds. They won’t fight each other, so Aljo wants to get out of his way and pursue the 145-pound belt.

Nate Diaz fired back at criticism from boxing promoter Eddie Hearn in this tweet on Friday.

-I’ve been salivating at the chance to back Jailton Almedia in his heavyweight showdown vs. Curtis Blaydes that’ll serve as the main event for the UFC Sao Paulo card on Nov. 4. DraftKings has been the only book to hang odds on this contest, with Almeida as a -145 to -155 favorite since early July. I don’t have a DraftKings account in Florida, though, and haven’t made the three-hour drive over to Biloxi since the odds came out. Therefore, I was extremely disappointed to see the odds move from -148 to -192 before going all the way up to -250 on Thursday. Betway became the first book other than DraftKings to drop odds on Friday, opening Almeida at -250. He has since been adjusted to -200, with Blaydes at +150 on the comeback. Blaydes is +205 at DraftKings. Almeida has won 14 consecutive fights and hasn’t tasted defeat since Jan. 28 of 2018. The 32-year-old Brazilian owns a 19-2 MMA record with 19 finishes. He started his career as a welterweight in 2012 and both of his career losses came at middleweight. Almeida is 5-0 in the UFC with three submissions and two KOs. He has earned POTN bonuses in each of his last three fights, and only one of his opponents (Shamil Abdurakhimov) has made it to Round 2.