The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 243 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will look to break records this Saturday at UFC 243 in Melbourne, Australia. While not the most scintillating event on paper, there is plenty of action to be had if you play your cards right. Without further ado, the UFC 243 edition of Prime Picks:
Robert Whittaker (-105)
This fight is practically a pick-’em, despite Whittaker opening at -185 and holding at around -140 for several months until the line has radically shifted the past week towards Israel Adesanya. With Adesanya at -115 as of the writing of this piece, technically the defending champion is the slightest of underdogs. Despite sitting atop a card that might not stack up compared to other pay-per-view events this year, the main event title unification bout between Whittaker and Adesanya is easily one of the more intriguing bouts of the year. Can “Bobby Knuckles” return from a layoff of nearly 16 months to hand Adesanya the first loss of his career? Will Adesanya keep it rolling and become of the few interim champs to take the title from the divisional king?
Whittaker suffered major injuries in each of his bouts against Yoel Romero in 2017 and 2018, tearing his MCL while capturing the interim strap and then breaking his hand in the first round of their June 2018 rematch. While Whittaker was recovering, “The Last Stylebender” has won all four appearances in the Octagon, including a one-sided drubbing of Derek Brunson, a far more exciting than expected battle against Anderson Silva and his “Fight of the Year” contender against Kelvin Gastelum. In that bout with Gastelum, the American wrestler pushed Adesanya harder than any fighter ever had, but Adesanya turned to grit and tenacity, almost forcing a stoppage in the thrilling final round.
Since moving to middleweight, “Bobby Knuckes” has looked nothing short of miraculous, despite how you may have scored his fights with Romero. In five fights at welterweight, Whittaker did not stand out from the pack, despite winning “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” at 170 pounds. Making his move to 185 pounds in November 2014, his career trajectory changed drastically. He has won all eight of his middleweight bouts, and although he had never earned a post-fight bonus as a welterweight, he has racked up seven in those eight in this new division. Winner of five bonuses in his last four fights -- a feat that only those the likes of Justin Gaethje have accomplished -- Whittaker showed that as a middleweight he has the ability to both dish out and take tremendous punishment, and recover like few others.
While conventional wisdom may dictate that Adesanya, the former kickboxer, has the definitive striking advantage over Whittaker, a former wrestling champion, that may not be the case. In terms of a pure kickboxing match, Whittaker would almost certainly be at a disadvantage, but MMA striking is vastly different than that of K-1. While the threat of a potential takedown from Whittaker can prove to his advantage, he has landed exactly two among five attempts across his last eight bouts, showing that he has not needed to lean on his offensive wrestling game in this division. Gastelum was only able to get Adesanya down once among nine tries, although some of Adesanya’s previous opponents have had greater success in their ground game -- but not enough to secure a victory.
Make no mistake, this is not a striker-versus-grappler matchup. Whittaker head kicked Ronaldo Souza two years ago, and almost half of his career wins have come due to strikes. If this fight goes to the ground, it is because Whittaker wants it to go there, and this is an advantage he should employ on his way to victory. Allowing Adesanya to get in his rhythm and set up kicks would spell harm for Whittaker, considering over three-quarters of Adesanya’s wins have come by knockout, including several with his legs. The odds are close for a reason, and these two men could very well hurt one another as the fight goes on. We expect that Whittaker will do enough to get his hand raised in the end, with a more well-rounded skillset that can counter, survive and thwart what Adesanya throws at him over the course of a five-round fight. The oddsmakers anticipate this fight ending violently, with Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision at favorable -160 odds and the Fight Goes to Decision line coming back at +130. If there were a prop bet available predicting that this fight would earn a post-fight bonus, we would advise that you pursued that, as well.
Al Iaquinta vs. Dan Hooker Goes to Decision (-185)
A bet like this that might seem like a trap is one that could prove fruitful for savvy bettors. Perhaps surprisingly, Hooker is currently a -165 favorite against his American counterpart Iaquinta (+145), and although Hooker opened as a slight favorite the line has gradually increased in favor of “The Hangman.” In his last time out, “Raging Al” showed the incredible durability of his chin, surviving two knockdowns and several flush head kicks from Donald Cerrone as he dropped a lopsided decision in May. While Cerrone does not frequently display one-shot knockout power, Hooker has evidenced this on numerous occasions, with four of his last five victories coming by clean knockout.
Winning a decision early in his career, every one of Hooker’s UFC wins have come by stoppage, including six of eight by knockout. The Aussie has likewise been difficult to finish, as only Edson Barboza has stopped Hooker with strikes, doing so in Sherdog.com’s “2018 Beatdown of the Year”. A loss like that is not easily forgotten, and although he has rebounded with a knockout victory over an increasingly chinny James Vick, that defeat is still fresh in many memories. Facing Iaquinta, a pressure boxer known for a high output, Hooker could be put back on his heels and forced to fight off his back foot. With Hooker unable to sit down on a knockout blow, coupled with Iaquinta’s terrific chin, we expect that this fight will end up in the hands of the judges. If you disagree, and feel this fight will end with one fighter getting knocked out, tapping out, or in the case of Iaquinta, put to sleep, the comeback for Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision is now +155.
Tai Tuivasa Wins in Round 1 (-105)
Despite being on a two-fight skid, Australia’s Tuivasa is a -400 favorite against Ukrainian Sergey Spivak, and those odds are quite reasonable. Tuivasa rumbled into the UFC with two dramatic first-round stoppages, and then ran into former champ Andrei Arlovski. Although he prevailed by decision, his first-round knockout streak had ended. Since then, he dropped two to Top 10 fighters Junior dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov that halted that momentum of the entertaining Australian. This matchup is much more promising for “Bam Bam,” going up against a fighter that dropped his promotional debut to Walt Harris by quick knockout.
Although Spivak came into the UFC with a spotless record with nine finishes in nine fights, his level of competition was somewhat questionable. Holding first-round submission victories over two of the most experienced fighters in the sport in Tony Lopez and Travis Fulton, the majority of his other opponents maintained .500 records or less. If “The Polar Bear” has a road to victory, it is by taking the boisterous, burly brawler down to the canvas, but the only man to do so in five UFC fights has been Ivanov. We expect that, in front of a home crowd and desperately seeking a win, Tuivasa will come out guns blazing and throw everything he has at his opponent. Owner of one of two flying strike knockouts in UFC heavyweight history -- Harris the other -- Tuivasa will be again searching for a highlight reel knockout. We predict that he will get one and will do so in the first round, like the rest of his stoppage victories. If you wish to be a little more conservative in your approach, Tuivasa Wins Inside Distance is -222, while Tuivasa Wins by TKO/KO is -180.
Megan Anderson Wins Inside Distance (-150)
With the betting lines showing Anderson (-600) as the biggest favorite on the card, simply selecting her to win would not give prospective bettors the best chance at coming out ahead. Instead, selecting that Anderson will finish her debuting opponent Zarah Fairn dos Santos is much more reasonable and beneficial choice. This fight has all the makings of a hometown fighter matched with a favorable opponent to produce spectacular results. Anderson, once billed as a future opponent for Cristiane Justino, has not had a good stretch in the Octagon to date. Her one win -- a TKO due to an eye injury -- is surrounded by one-sided losses which showed serious deficiencies in her ground game. Luckily for Anderson, her opponent appears to have no interest in taking the fight to the ground, as Fairn Dos Santos staved off multiple takedown attempts by Suvi Salmimies on her way to capturing a unanimous decision two years ago.
France’s Fairn dos Santos is a bit of an unknown quantity, having been on the shelf for nearly two years, although a slated bout with Kaitlin Young at Invicta Fighting Championships 32 in November did not come together due to visa issues for the Frenchwoman. Across her six career victories, including four by technical knockout, her opponents hold a combined record of about 19-10. The featherweight Fairn dos Santos’ most recent win came over one-time UFC strawweight competitor Izabela Badurak. In that bout, she simply walked down her much smaller opponent until she pounded her out in less than two minutes.
Fairn dos Santos will not be able to do that against an opponent her size, and one that will be throwing kicks at her the whole time. It will be interesting to see Anderson face off against an opponent that actually holds a slight reach advantage over her, as Fairn dos Santos measures 73 inches in reach compared to Anderson’s 72. Anderson holds something that Fairn dos Santos has not likely encountered before: a height advantage, as she measures two inches taller than the French fighter. After opening her career by reaching the scorecards in three straight fights, Anderson has finished her opponent in each of her next seven wins. In terms of demonstrated skill and level of competition, Anderson should be able to prevail in this fight and win by stoppage. If you believe this fight reaches the scorecards, Anderson Wins by Decision is a considerable +250 and Fight Goes to Decision is currently +160.
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