MMA's foremost Argentine fighter headlines Saturday's event in his home country. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
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Another week on the calendar almost always means another card from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but if nothing else, this one at least breaks new ground with the Octagon touching down for the first time in Argentina. With the UFC putting on its inaugural show in Buenos Aires, who better to headline than Santiago Ponzinibbio, not just the sport’s foremost Argentine fighter but also the most fun name to pronounce in all of MMA?
Sure, it may not say much for the UFC product that the UFC Fight Night 140 main event draws it primary appeal from one half of its equation having a tongue-twister name, but in all seriousness, the Ponzinibbio-Neil Magny headliner is an excellent welterweight contest, even if not up to snuff as a typical “headliner.”
Ponzinibbio is 8-1 over his last nine bouts and Magny is the 170-pound division’s ultimate spoiler, perpetually flying under the radar and ready to throw a monkey wrench into things at the slightest provocation. Are we going to top the theatrics of Yair Rodriguez-Chan Sung Jung a week ago? Unlikely, but we can still have some fun watching fights, especially if there’s some coin involved.
The UFC’s attempted manifest destiny and march toward global superiority doesn’t always offer us the best cards possible, but UFC Fight Night 140, even if low on star power, has some well-made fights here and there, along with some unfairly overlooked roster talent worthy of greater shine. Sure, this weekend has cards from Bellator MMA, Invicta Fighting Championships and One Championship, but none of them have betting lines as robust as UFC Fight Night 140, so let’s figure out how to get to the pay window:
Straight Up CashRicardo Lamas (-170)
I’m breaking with regular tradition here, as I typically try to cater to the crowd and offer insight on the main event. However, with Ponzinibbio in his own backyard at -280, even given Magny’s penchant for upsets, it seems a tad out of place. I think “Genta Boa” is going to do his thing in front of his home crowd, and -280 isn’t a price I’d advocate betting on the man. While Magny has a flair for tipping over the apple cart, even at +240, I think Ponzinibbio’s rangy, stylish striking is enough to shut him down.
Let’s talk turkey on the co-main event. When it comes to betting on MMA, the most difficult part is stable knowledge. We often have emerging prospects with uncertain capacities, mercurial veterans who could be “on” or “off” depending on the night or simply a style clash that lends itself to potential insanity. This is not the case with Lamas-Darren Elkins. With this pair of rugged, 10-plus-year veterans, I think we’ve got a good handle on what sort of fight we’re going to get.
At 36 and coming off of two straight losses, Lamas is a far cry from being the top contender he was four years ago. However, his vicious knockout loss against Josh Emmett in December was simply the reality of MMA, where you get socked with a wicked counterpunch if you get lazy. In June, he absolutely deserved to drop the decision to Mirsad Bektic, but the latter is an elite prospect and improving with every fight. Against Elkins, he faces maybe the most grindy of grinders in all of MMA. Sure, Elkins has beefed up his striking game over the last few years to supplement his wrestling, but his standup still has a herky-jerky quality to it that Lamas should be able to exploit with his superior hand speed and boxing. On top that, if Elkins gets lazy on a takedown attempt, Lamas has his sneaky, nasty guillotine choke at the ready.
“The Damage” is good at taking, well, damage, so this one is likely going the full 15 minutes. However, Elkins isn’t a natural finisher who can surprise Lamas with his striking power, nor does he have the dynamic all-around game to set up takedowns like Bektic did. I like Lamas to just wrestle and box his way to a tidy decision, and -195 isn’t a bad number for what almost feels like a sure thing.
Straight Up PassKhalil Rountree (-175)
As I often espouse here, a “straight up pass” isn’t a fight pick; it’s cautionary measure. I do think Rountree will get his hand raised in Buenos Aires, but not in a million years would I ever put money on him to do so.
Rountree is the fighting definition of unreliable. With his athleticism and crushing southpaw striking, this guy should be a Top-10 light heavyweight already. However, he’s completely boom-or-bust in the cage, and I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d feel comfortable betting him as a favorite. “The War Horse” has the veneer of a patient striker, slowly stalking his foes back to the cage before unloading with bombing punches and kicks, but it’s just that: a veneer. He stays patient for a few minutes before diving on the first opportunity he gets to hurt his opponents, then throws everything he has in that engagement and typically gasses himself out, time and time again.
Rountree is an infinitely better athlete than Andrew Sanchez, who dummied him on the floor in “The Ultimate Fighter 23” final; he gave up a positively awful takedown to Tyson Pedro and then got run over on the ground; and his loss to Michal Oleksiejczuk, since overturned as a result of the Pole’s U.S. Anti-Doping Agency infraction, saw him zap his own cardio within three minutes and get picked apart for the rest of the fight. UFC Fight Night 140 opponent Johnny Walker is a spindly and often sloppy striker, but he has some power and Rountree will oblige him in the standup. In terms of making straight fight picks, I’d still take Rountree for his power and diverse striking repertoire, but from a betting perspective, history informs us that there’s a chance the American hurts Walker, flails on him with everything he has, exhausts himself and spends the rest of the fight sucking wind. If nothing else, Rountree is lucky Buenos Aires is only 80 feet above sea level, unlike some parts of Argentina that are 3,000 or 4,000 feet in altitude.
A Prop-ular BetCynthia Calvillo Wins by Decision (+340)
A year ago, Cavillo was highly prized as one of the top prospects in the sport. Then she ran into Carla Esparza, who was a more mature version of exactly her kind of style and managed to outwrestle her to a unanimous decision win. This is a classic example of MMA’s “What have you done for me lately?” sort of thinking.
Botelho is a dynamic and exciting fighter, but this betting line is largely informed by the fact that she was able to put her left foot into Syuri Kondo’s gut in May and register an exciting, thrilling knockout to the body. The Brazilian might have some serious striking chops, but she is still wild in the standup and more than accessible to be outwrestled by a grappler like Calvillo. In fact, the reason I have some reservations about this line is the fact that Calvillo may be able to crawl onto Botelho’s back and legitimately threaten with some rear-naked choke attempts. However, Botelho is a survivor, and I think she makes it the full 15 minutes.
Women’s strawweight is among the deepest divisions in the entire sport, and Calvillo should not be discarded simply because she ran into a difficult style matchup. Botelho is still primarily a free-wheeling striker that will open herself up to Calvillo’s well-rounded wrestling game and give up enough takedowns that the Team Alpha Male product should be in her wheelhouse throughout the contest and thrive in the grappling game. Plus, this line is simply juicy; not only is Calvillo a silly +150 underdog in a fight she should win, but if Botelho can survive the full three rounds, +340 is a steal.
An Unprop-ular BetRountree Wins by Knockout (-125)
For all the reasons previously discussed, this is a pass. Again, do I think Rountree will win? Yes, more than likely, but there’s a reason I feel like he is one of the most difficult fighters to bet in the entire sport.
If Rountree wins, it will likely be a first-round knockout when he storms Walker and clobbers him against the fence with southpaw fisticuffs. However, it shows the cleverness of the oddsmakers here that Rountree is a -175 favorite, yet his winning by first-round knockout is only -125. Plain and simple, the cat is out of the bag, and even oddsmakers know the most likely way he is going to win. A -125 line may seem seductive -- it’s easy to imagine “The War Horse” opening up and smashing the Brazilian with heavy hooks and body kicks along the fence -- but what if Walker survives that one big salvo from Rountree? If Walker manages to withstand that nasty, brutal barrage, you’re just watching your money go up in flames.
I fully understand why it’s tempting. Why bet Rountree at -175 when you know that his likely path to victory is the aforementioned striking siege somewhere in the first five minutes, and you can get an extra $50 on your hundred? As seductive as it might be, just stay away. Anytime Rountree fights, he’ll likely be a fixture in this column. Despite his athleticism and potential, it never quite clicks in the cage. He’s a major liability to bust your bets on account of being a one-round fighter with miserable cardio who seems destined to never quite measure up to the lofty expectations we spectators might imagine for him.
An Accumulation ContemplationLamas (-170)
Michel Prazeres (-150)
Total Odds: +562
Luis Pena’s lack of strategy was our critical parlay buster at UFC Fight Night 139, on top of Rodriguez smoking Jung with come-from-behind knockout for the ages. This time around, even if I don’t think UFC Fight Night 140 is an especially strong betting card, I like this three-team parlay with some good odds for strong favorites, or in the case of Calvillo, a fighter who should be the favorite.
I already explained why I like Lamas and Calvillo. Lamas should be able to flex a boxing match on Elkins, who is nowhere near as good with his hands and should be forced into a desperate wrestling game against “The Bully,” who can live up to his nickname by sprawling, brawling and tagging Elkins with superior handcraft; at -170, that’s good money. As for Calvillo, frankly, she should be the favorite against Botelho. The American opened as a -165 favorite and has been bet down to the underdog position, as best I can deduce, simply because Botelho had a sassy liver kick knockout in her last fight. Calvillo is still the vastly superior grappler and should be able to capitalize on that advantage, especially against an opponent whose striking style is heavily predicated on throwing a ton of kicks, which should open up the chances for Calvillo to tackle her to the mat.
As for Prazeres, well, he’s not exactly an exciting fighter to watch, but he is a grappling hoss with quality takedowns and a smothering style, which should be enough to give opponent Bartosz Fabinski his first loss in the Octagon. Fabinski has been low-key impressive so far in his UFC run, but his style is predicated on setting up clever takedowns and working a diligent grappling style that I don’t think will fly against Prazeres. The Brazilian is nicknamed “Trator” for a reason; he is going to throw just enough strikes to close the distance and then bulldoze Fabinski to the ground. Prazeres isn’t exactly a cardio specimen, but by the time he’s out of gas, he’ll likely already have two rounds of top control in the bank. Fabinski is a smart grappler and should be able to stave off Prazeres’ usual modus operandi of going to the north-south position and trying to strangle him to death, but I can’t see him staying upright or getting on top himself, which should allow the Brazilian to win the decision and get us in the money.
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