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UFC Fight Night 158 on Saturday came to Vancouver, British Columbia, and did so with several fights featuring close odds. However, one of the biggest upsets of the year took place at Rogers Arena, which saw several other underdogs take home wins. With plenty to discuss, there is no time to waste for this edition of Beating the Books.
Tristan Connelly (+365)
Our expectations were that the size difference would be too vast and power shots from Michel Pereira would find their home early, but this did not happen. Connelly did exactly what he said he was going to do by riding out Pereira’s wacky antics and tiring out the much larger Brazilian. One of Connelly’s direct quotes to Sherdog.com prior to the bout: “I think he is going to get tired throwing all this weird s---.” Pereira did.
Some of Pereira’s strikes could have proven effective had they connected, as they included a Superman punch off the cage and an attempt to pull off a “Showtime” kick by vaulting from the fence to land. Otherwise, a backflip to try to stomp the body was not only illegal but wildly inefficient. These attacks, while spectacular, rapidly drained the energy reserves of the Brazilian fighter, who also missed weight. Avoiding anything crazy, Connelly poured on the pressure and captured a decision. In terms of a few additional lines that cashed as a result of Connelly’s victory: Fight Goes to Decision closed at +315, while Connelly Wins by Decision was a hefty +700. If you managed to pick any of these unlikely outcomes, you took home some good money on a heavy gamble, just like Connelly did by winning both halves of the “Fight of the Night” bonus.
Uriah Hall (+230)
Were it not for the huge upset by the short-notice Canadian over the heavily hyped Pereira, Hall’s split decision victory against Antonio Carlos Jr. would have taken the cake. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, “Primetime” never let himself get in danger on the mat, as Carlos Jr. failed to officially attempt a submission despite leaning heavily on the takedown. For most of the fight, Hall avoided any serious risk on the ground, where Carlos Jr. held the sizeable advantage.
Throughout the first two rounds, Hall kept pumping his jab -- it may have been his most effective weapon in the fight other than a stiff right hand early on -- into the increasingly damaged nose of his counterpart. The more the former Ring of Combat champion bloodied the Brazilian, the harder Carlos Jr. tried to take the fight down; and although he did get the fight there a few times, it was not until Round 3 that momentum changed. By then, it was almost too little too late, as Hall threw a spinning kick and overextended on a few strikes that resulted in a takedown by “Cara de Sapato.” This led to several minutes of back control, but it was not enough to make up for the first two rounds that Hall won on two scorecards. Hall picked up an extremely close victory and, in the process, started his first winning streak since 2015.
Misha Cirkunov (-105)
When evaluating the battle between Cirkunov and Jim Crute, we placed special emphasis on Crute’s well-roundedness and his karate background. When Crute went toe-to-toe with Cirkunov, other than landing a body kick that immediately put a welt on him, the Aussie was unable to do much on the feet. Cirkunov had practically no interest in standing with Crute and instead went straight for a takedown.
Crute had his moments, as would be expected with his ever-expanding skill set, but many of his escapes and maneuvers relied on pure power and explosiveness that the Canada-based Latvian managed to counter. When the Australian finally gained the upper hand, he started getting reckless with his strikes on top, and Cirkunov took advantage with a sweep that turned into a submission attempt. Cirkunov surprised everyone when he set up a Peruvian necktie. Crute rolled in an attempt to survive but ended up in worse shape and had to tap. Cirkunov, who was slightly less favored in the fight, became the first man to ever defeat Crute.
Hunter Azure (+110)
Like several bouts throughout the course of the event, Azure-Brad Katona was a close affair that split media scorecards, although a few more scorers awarded the fight to Katona. The only opinions that mattered at the end were the three judges in the arena who scored the bout, and all three gave it to Azure, who was much more active striking and stuffed a majority of the Canadian’s takedown attempts.
Azure tagged Katona a few times and set the Canadian on wobbly legs. Although Azure did not officially score a knockdown, the damage was done, as he outlanded Katona by a nearly 2-to-1 clip and outstruck him in all three rounds. Katona spammed takedowns early and did not hit one in the opening round, but he chained a few together in the later rounds. However, he was not able to do anything with them. Despite landing multiple takedowns, Katona did not attempt a single significant ground strike or submission whenever he managed to get the fight to the mat. The judges must have seen this and gave Azure credit for his grappling defense, as he earned the slight upset to remain undefeated in his Octagon debut.
Chas Skelly (+145)
A battle between two skilled grapplers delivered exactly what it promised: two guys trying to gain the upper hand, all while pursuing quick submissions and reversing positions. Skelly and Jordan Griffin jockeyed for position while racking up submission attempts, guard passes and reversals over three hard-fought rounds. In many of these exchanges, Skelly seemed to gain the upper hand, doing just a bit more across the board to pick up a win.
While Griffin may have had a slight striking advantage and scored with more significant strikes, he was outstruck in total by the savvier grappler. “The Scrapper” was simply scrappier than Griffin and managed to pursue more effective submissions, including his close rear-naked choke attempt in the opening round. The line on this fight shifted gradually, as Skelly opened as the -130 favorite, only to have money come in steadily on “The Native Psycho” to move the line in the other direction.
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