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The only show under a major tent this weekend is UFC 265 from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which offers up a card in Houston that should please a packed house at the Toyota Center. This fan-attended event draws some scintillating matchups and a few head-scratchers, but the lines are incredibly close: Four of the five on the main card draw odds with a favorite of -135 or lower. This pick’em palooza provides an irresistible line in the headliner, a bead on an all-Brazilian brawl, a misleading striker-versus-grappler option and a light heavyweight banger that should end quickly. As an added bonus, one rescheduled bout’s breakdown still holds true, even though the line swung even higher in the expected victor’s favor.
Derrick Lewis Wins by TKO/KO (+419)
Lewis should not be a huge underdog against any opponent on the planet. As of now, “The Black Beast” clocks in at a titanic +310 against 9-0 rangy tactician Ciryl Gane, who may be rightfully favored because of his skillset, but not by that much. The value of Lewis in any regard is readily apparent, as Lewis has the ability to change the tide of the bout with a single blow. Gane, five years younger, may yet present the skillset to nullify his burly opponent, but to win, he will need to fight flawlessly for 25 minutes. The likelihood of Lewis winning in any way other than knockout are sparse, with a lone submission to his credit while he faces an opponent that has proved he can stay just active enough to win rounds. Should Lewis win, it will be by knockout—the Houstonian is tied for the promotion’s lead in knockouts—and the massive plus money is too great to pass up.
Styles do make fights, and Gane’s ability to circle and keep at the end of long punches and low kicks has impressed as he worked his way up the ladder. The well-rounded skillset of Gane has kept him away from harm from both strikers and grapplers, and his head movement has provided him protection from the worst of any heavy blow. Against Alexander Volkov, Gane did cruise to a decision where two judges gave him every round, but they were close and he still took some shots. His speed gave him the edge, but against Lewis, he will find a big man that moves with deceptive agility and the chin to push through anything that comes his way to throw bombs.
Lewis’ toughness has often been on display against the best heavyweight strikers in the sport, and his chin has been cracked by the likes of Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt at the tail end of their careers—as is often said, the last thing to go is the power. To beat Lewis, in much of his tenure dating back to after he briefly appeared in Bellator MMA, you have to put him away. If you do not, he will find some way to win, a fourth gear or some kind of accumulation of damage that makes his opponent wilt. Gane may have the fundamentals locked down, with both higher accuracy and volume than his opponent, but there is no preparing for the kind of “swangin’ and bangin’” that Lewis presents.
Keeping Lewis guessing while never staying stationary is how Gane can emerge unscathed and become an undefeated interim champion. In each of his last five fights, “Bon Gamin” has kept a good game by landing effective from a safe distance and put up significant strike totals over 50 per bout. In comparison, Lewis has achieved this tally just twice in his entire 21-fight UFC run, and scored 12 knockouts in the process while Gane celebrates just one. The MMA Factory export has not displayed the kind of power at the highest level against a sturdy chin to inspire confidence that he can put Lewis away, but he can mark him up on the outside to ruin this play—the line of Gane wins by decision is a safe +195, which is most likely option should he will defeat Lewis.
Gane’s chin has rarely been tested cleanly, and no one with the power of Lewis has squarely connected with it. “The Black Beast” hits practically every adversary flush before it is all over, and this startling power may be too much for the Frenchman to compute. Somewhere before the dust settles, Lewis’ hands will find their range and land on his intended target and do the deed. “The Black Beast” comes into this title fight at a perfect 10-0 when fighting in his home state of Texas with nine knockouts, and that should rise to 11-0 with 10 knockouts as this upset special takes hold.
Pedro Munhoz (-108)
Barring a 13-second starching to Conor McGregor, the path to victory against Jose Aldo in the last several years has been to match and exceed his volume. Keeping Aldo fighting off of his back foot is crucial, so that he cannot get his devastating kicking game going, even if his appearance against Marlon Vera is the first time in years that his vaunted leg kicks played a factor. Munhoz, who relies too heavily on his chin but to date has never been finished, can welcome a brawl and throw hands with the best of them. Even though Aldo may hit harder on a strike-by-strike basis, he may have a hard time setting up those kill shots if Munhoz is constantly in his face not allowing Aldo to take a breath.
Even though Aldo has in the past a surprisingly effective takedown game, his mauling of Chan Sung Jung and stifling of Mark Hominick, the former featherweight champ has not leaned on it in quite some time. Much like his leg kicks largely fading away, or for example Fedor Emelianenko abandoning his sambo skills in favor of sloppy brawls, the game of Aldo now is to stand in front of you and try to hit you as hard as he can. Largely gone are the days of his tactical destruction, which gave way to a grittier, striking-heavy battle that saw him lose more often than he won because he would not let his hands and feet go. While his victory over Vera felt to some to be a return to form, Munhoz is the kind of pressure fighter who will push Aldo every chance he gets. A firefight is what fans will likely be treated to in this co-main event, and one that the slightly older Brazilian—Munhoz is two days the elder—can win going away. Barring a perfectly placed strike that disables Munhoz, one Aldo is still capable of bestowing as evidenced by knockouts of Jeremy Stephens and Renato Carneiro, Munhoz’ relentless charge and frenzied pace should turn the tide in his favor.
Vicente Luque (-110)
The dynamic coming into this potential welterweight thriller is that Michael Chiesa is the preeminent grappler while Luque is the striker on record. That “judge a book by its cover” breakdown ignores how sneaky effective that Luque is when handling most ground exchanges. If not facing a nullifying grappler like Michael Graves or Leon Edwards that can completely take him out of his game, he largely feasts on foes that duck down to try to take him down. The proud owner of the highest number of brabo chokes in UFC history—three, along with Tony Ferguson—Luque can set up his lethal submission game in an instant. Together with his sharp hands with stunning power, he has the ability to finish the fight in far more ways than his opponent. The ability to win in a myriad of ways presents opportunity for value, as Luque does not have to rely in one strategy succeeding to get his hand raised.
Against Chiesa, a smother submission artist not afraid to embrace the grind, Luque does run a risk of getting put on his back for extended periods of time. Since moving up to welterweight, Chiesa has hit 19 takedowns and no fewer than four in any of those bouts. Stripping away the brutal weight cut to 155 pounds has paid off perfectly to date, racking up high amounts of control time—more than 10 minutes in each of his last three fights—as he crushes his way to a win. The takedown defense game of Luque has leveled up substantially since the days of the Edwards defeat, and he is the kind of fighter that can make his adversary pay for a failed attempt with knees, elbows, or any number of other weapons at his disposal. While the path to victory for Chiesa is clear and direct, the tools in Luque’s arsenal to hurt Chiesa and threaten from any position are the difference makers.
Alonzo Menifield-Ed Herman Goes Under 1.5 Rounds (-112)
Menifield comes into this light heavyweight rumble as a high favorite around -240, and that is to be expected for a man that charges out of his corner like his mohawk is on fire against one that tends to be slower and more methodical. The best days of Herman may be behind him, but his win streak—controversial result over Mike Rodriguez aside—has demonstrated his savvy veteran skillset covering some of his expanding deficiencies in speed and survivability. Whether Menifield has shored up his own weaknesses in coming out too hot and burning himself out early or not, his all-action approach gives hope that this fight will not last beyond 2:30 of the second round.
Herman still has the wherewithal to be dangerous in his own right, wrecking Patrick Cummins with a knee that made the mustached wrestler do the chicken dance. His finishing instincts, even when hurt, can help when Menifield steps on the accelerator. “Atomic” may be an apt nickname for the Texan, who is a volatile attacker that can destroy himself with his own aggressiveness. Cardio betrayed him against Devin Clark, and walking face-first into a left hook from Ovince St. Preux when he thought he had “OSP” on the ropes similarly spelled his undoing. Menifield will almost certainly come out swinging to try to put the longtime vet away early, as every minute that Herman stays in it, the bout leans every so slightly in his favor. The value in the under here is more alluring than one beating another by stoppage, even if Menifield wins inside distance is -140 while Herman’s comeback on that train of thought is a high +415. This under option allows for both Menifield or “Short Fuse” to detonate the other and notch a dramatic win, and if it gets broken up, it is likely due to Herman’s durability as he stands up to everything Menifield throws at him.
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