UFC on ESPN 9 Primer and Picks

The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Las Vegas tonight for an 11-fight card at the UFC’s Apex Facility. The show will be headlined by a welterweight clash between top-ranked former champion Tyron Woodley and sixth-ranked Gilbert Burns.

As of early this afternoon, most betting shops had Woodley (19-4-1 MMA, 9-3-1 UFC) listed as a -175 favorite with Burns at +145 on the comeback. The total was 4.5 rounds (‘under’ -165, ‘over’ +145).

The 38-year-old Woodley hasn’t competed since March 2 of 2019 when he lost his belt to Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision (50-44, 50-45, 50-44). As the judges’ scores suggest, it was an absolute blowout in favor of Usman at the UFC 235 co-main event.

Woodley wasn’t focused on fighting, spending much of his time making a rap album, trying his hand at acting in Hollywood and hosting a podcast. So, has anything changed since then?

Perhaps. He spent three weeks in February training at Mike Swick’s gym in Thailand. He was preparing to face Leon Edwards in the UFC London main event on March 21.

However, the global pandemic forced that show to be cancelled. Since then, Woodley has continued to train while awaiting an opponent. It seemed as if a fight with arch-rival Colby Covington might happen, but that didn’t materialize.

Woodley had to settle for Burns, and you could make a case that he was disappointed when his opponent was booked a couple of weeks ago.

Whatever the case, he’s in a must-win spot here. If Woodley is going to make another run at the belt, he can’t get sent to the back of the line by the sixth-ranked 170-pounder who is fighting in his first main event.

Burns (18-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) has won five consecutive fights and is 7-1 in his last eight Octagon appearances. He is off a first-round knockout win over Demian Maia at UFC Brasilia on March 14.

The 33-year-old Burns moved back to welterweight last year and has gone 3-0 since then. He is unbeaten in 11 career fights at welterweight.

PREDICTION: This is a big step up in class for Burns, who hasn’t faced near the level of competition at welterweight like Woodley has for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, Burns appears to be the hungrier fighter. He’s been much more active than Woodley, who has only fought twice since July 29 of 2017. Burns has competed eight times in that span. Burns will need to steer clear of Woodley’s powerful right hand, especially in the early going, but I’m confident he can do so with his world-class grappling skills. Give me two units on Burns for a +153 payout (BetDSI).

In the co-main event, 12th-ranked Blagoy Ivanov (18-3-1 MMA, 2-2 UFC) will take on 13th-ranked Augusto Sakai in a heavyweight showdown. As of early this afternoon, most spots had this scrap as a pick ’em (-115 either way).

The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -180, ‘under’ +150).

Most heavyweight fights have totals of 1.5 rounds. Not only does this contest have a total of 2.5 stanzas, but there’s also an expensive price on the ‘over.’

The reason for this is Ivanov’s chin and his recent results. The former World Series of Fighting heavyweight champion has gone the distance in all four of his UFC appearances.

Ivanov lost a UD to former UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos in the five-round UFC Boise main event. However, he bounced back with wins over Ben Rothwell and Tai Tuivasa.

Ivanov lost a split decision to Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis his last time out this past November.

Sakai (14-1-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) has 11 career wins by knockout, including a 59-second dusting of Marcin Tybura last September. The 29-year-old Brazilian also owns wins over veterans Andrei Arlovski and Chase Sherman.

PREDICTION: I can’t turn down plus money on a heavyweight fight with a total of 2.5. Let’s go with one unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds for a +162 return (5Dimes).

The rest of the main card looks like this: Billy Quarantillo (-130) vs. Spike Carlyle (+110) in a 150.5-pound catchweight bout, Roosevelt Roberts (-360) vs. Brok Weaver (+280) in a 157.5-pound catchweight fight and Mackenzie Dern (-400) vs. Hannah Cifers (+300) in a women’s strawweight clash.

Weaver was the only fighter on the card to miss weight, coming in at 1.5 pounds over the 156-pound allowance. The 150.5-pound catchweight for Quarantillo vs. Carlyle was agreed upon well in advance.

The card begins at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**Other Picks**

–Carlyle is an interesting figure who goes by the nickname of ‘Alpha Ginger.’ The redhead had an explosive UFC debut, winning with an 85-second KO of Aalon Cruz at UFC Norfolk on Feb. 29. Let’s put one unit on Carlyle as a +115 ‘dog (5Dimes).

–Leon Roberts is too expensive to back on the side, although I’m good with including him in any parlay you might’ve working. I think he’s going to finish Weaver, so I’ll put one-half unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds for a +147 payout (5Dimes).

–Katlyn Chookagian (13-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC) is in bounce-back mode after losing to women’s flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko on Feb. 8 at UFC 247. The second-ranked Chookagian can exact a small measure of revenge tonight when she faces the champ’s sister, 12th-ranked Antonina Shevchenko, who is a -140 ‘chalk.’ I like Chookagian for one-half unit as a +124 underdog (BetDSI).

**B.E.’s Bonus Octagon Nuggets**

–A 25-foot Octagon will be used in all of the cards at the Apex Facility. The normal size of the Octagon is 30 feet.

–Former middleweight kingpin Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva challenged Conor McGregor to a 176.5-pound catchweight fight earlier this week. I seriously doubt this scrap will materialize but for what it’s worth, McGregor ‘accepted’ the challenge on social media. Bovada has made Silva a -125 favorite for this potential contest, with McGregor at -105 odds.

–With Henry Cejudo retiring (at least for now) and vacating his bantamweight belt, UFC President Dana White announced this week that former featherweight champion Jose Aldo will face Petr Yan for the 135-pound belt. The contest doesn’t have a date or venue yet. BetOnline has Yan installed as a -240 ‘chalk’ vs. Aldo (+205). I lean Aldo there at the generous underdog odds.

–White shot down all speculation of McGregor facing Usman for the welterweight championship. White said Usman will make his second title defense against either Covington, Edwards or Jorge Masvidal.

–At a media scrum Friday, White said that light-heavyweight champ Jon ‘Bones’ Jones wanted “Deontay Wilder money” ($30M) to move up to heavyweight and fight Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou. White said his lawyer has text messages to prove it, but he’s not going to go public with those. Jones took to Twitter to dispute those claims.

Leave a Reply