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The Octagon heads to Uruguay for the first time this Saturday for UFC Fight Night 156. With 13 fights to pick from on this card, there is some potential betting action to be had. Below are our top plays in the UFC Fight Night 156 edition of Prime Picks.
Vicente Luque (-230)
Lest you think we would begin this piece with the main event itself, those odds are far too risky to get near. Currently, Valentina Shevchenko sits at a -1300 favorite with the comeback on Liz Carmouche at +850. The fight game is far too volatile to advise anyone to put money on a line like that, and even though every picker on the Sherdog.com Pick-em League that has submitted their picks so far have Shevchenko coming out on top and for good reason, Carmouche's strength and wrestling chops could surprise us all. Either way, the co-main event of Luque vs. Mike Perry is far more appealing from a betting perspective.
Luque is on an impressive five-fight finish streak, although he did not always bulldoze through his competition as the record might imply. In fact, in his most recent performance against Derrick Krantz, Luque had his chin checked right out of the gate as Krantz charged at him like his hair was on fire. “The Silent Assassin” was able to win the fight and get the knockout by staying patient and not overextending himself, until he rocked and dropped Krantz. This was similarly displayed in Luque's thriller against Bryan Barberena, when "Bam Bam" had Luque on the ropes and actually outlanded Luque in terms of significant strikes.
Barberena's best moments came when he lured Luque into a wild exchange, as he dropped the Brazilian in the "Round of the Year"-candidate opening stanza. Luque recovered and rallied to get the late finish, but not before some more dangerous moments for him. Perry hits harder than Barberena, but Barberena's pace is generally significantly higher than Perry — “Platinum” has never landed more than 90 significant strikes in the Octagon, while Barberena has done so thrice. Both Luque and Perry are bona fide finishers, with Luque stopping his opponent in 94 percent of his wins including all nine of his Ultimate Fighting Championship wins, compared to Perry scoring the knockout in 85 percent of his victories.
What this fight will likely boil down to is the oft-cited "Fight IQ," where Luque has excelled in his UFC career. Perry knows one speed, as he has never even once attempted a submission in ten UFC bouts. In Perry's most recent outing against Alex Oliveira, he let Oliveira wear himself out with high-risk flashy strikes that largely missed, while the American responded with power strikes that often hurt the Brazilian. Luque is not that undisciplined, and as long as he remains calm, he should be able to win this fight and could score an exciting finish in the process.
Ilir Latifi (+130)
Although briefly the favorite, Latifi enters this match as an underdog against Volkan Oezdemir, despite the latter dropping each of his last three. That last loss for “No Time,” a split decision to Dominick Reyes, was a hotly contested split decision that divided media scorecards -- although all three Sherdog.com scorers gave the decision to Reyes.
Nevertheless, current heavyweight king and former light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier gave the blueprint for how to beat Oezdemir when he did so in 2018, and it is one that Latifi could very likely follow. In their meeting at UFC 220, the Swiss fighter came out firing, but Cormier stayed tight and kept the pressure on until he brought the fight to the canvas. “DC” almost locked up the rear-naked choke in the first round but decided to smother Oezdemir and end the fight in the second with strikes. Now, “The Sledgehammer” is not Cormier, but he is a heavy-handed wrestler that will work his opponent against the fence until he gets his man down.
Oezdemir's greatest chance for success, and the reason he is the favorite, is because he is such a dangerous striker. Part of his appeal is his ability to generate a surprising amount of power in short distances, as evidenced by his quick knockouts of Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa. With his back against the fence against both Cirkunov and Manuwa, Oezdemir's short clinch strikes shocked and then switched off both men in short order. Despite Oezdemir's power and 73 percent knockout rate, look for Latifi to push the pace against Oezdemir, with the Swede imposing his will to pick up a gritty win.
Tecia Torres (-165)
Marina Rodriguez is undefeated after 12 career fights, with 11 wins and a draw to her credit. Her opponent, Torres, finds herself on a three-fight losing streak dating back to February 2018. All four of Torres' career losses have come against former champions or challengers, including in this streak to current champ Jessica Andrade, former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk and upcoming challenger Weili Zhang. Torres shows her most success when she is able to stay at distance and pick her shots carefully. Sometimes “The Tiny Tornado” can be a bit too complacent to stay in her opponent's clinch, and that would massively provide an advantage to the eight-limbed Rodriguez.
Marina Rodriguez earned her shot in the UFC when she won in Dana White's Contender Series: Brazil, forcing her opponent Maria de Oliveira Neto to submit to strikes after a slew of vicious knees and elbows. Her UFC debut was less than successful, fighting to a draw with Randa Markos. She rebounded from the losing end of a 10-8 opening stanza by taking the next two rounds on two judges' scorecards, but along the way displayed some holes in her ground game. Although Torres can go to the ground if she has to, she has never landed more than two takedowns in any of her UFC fights.
Rodriguez' impressive win over Jessica Aguilar saw the Brazilian take a dominant decision, as she battered the women's mixed martial arts pioneer and handed Aguilar her fourth loss in her last five fights. This meeting with Torres could show that Rodriguez is ready for the top echelon of the division, as Torres is ranked inside the top-10, but it could be too much, too soon for the unbeaten fighter. As long as Torres keeps her distance and avoids incoming knees and elbows, she should be able to take home a victory, but Rodriguez will not make it easy on the American Top Team standout Torres.
Alexey Kunchenko vs. Gilbert Burns Goes to Decision (-155)
Instead of selecting the victor in this intriguing fight between an unbeaten Russian and an explosive Brazilian, we instead see this fight playing out a certain way. Although the two men have reached the scorecards in just 10 of their 38 career bouts, eight of those have occurred within the last three years of their respective careers. While Burns is a multiple-time World Jiu-Jitsu Championship gold medalist, if he gravitates away from his top control and ground game, he changes into a less tactical fighter that wings low kicks and huge right hands.
Kunchenko's last three opponents have combined for a record of 104-35-3, showing that he has faced fighters that have proverbially "seen it all" in the cage. “Wolverine” has demonstrated his ability to stay measured and patient inside the Octagon, in his both debut against Thiago Alves and his sophomore effort against Yushin Okami. Against Alves, Alves kept it close with his striking, but Okami could not get the fight down to the ground after well over a dozen attempts. This test for Kunchenko is significantly dire, as "Durinho" has displayed time and time again he has the ability to change the course of the fight with one punch. As is often said, if Kunchenko does not get reckless and fall victim to one of Burns' looping hooks or end up in his back, this fight should go the full 15 minutes.
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