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The Ultimate Fighting Championship is taking to Moscow this weekend for UFC Fight Night 163, with a plethora of matchups between locals and outlanders. Unlike UFC 244, this event features almost half of its matchups with favorites sitting above -200. Let's get down to business with the UFC Moscow edition of Prime Picks.
Calvin Kattar (+245)
This is a risky call for many reasons, but first and foremost it needs to be mentioned that Russians are 15-3 against non-Russian fighters -- not counting those from other nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States -- in the first two forays for the UFC into the Russian Federation. Additionally, this is merely a three-round battle, as it has been upgraded to the main event at the expense of the originally scheduled bout between Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov. Finally, Zabit Magomedsharipov is riding a terrific 13-fight win streak, and has finished his opponent in three of his five UFC contests.
In his most recent appearance in June, Kattar put on a thrilling performance of boxing and movement by demolishing Ricardo Lamas in the first round. Kattar did struggle earlier in his lone promotional loss to Renato Carneiro, where he was performing well until "Moicano" was able to disable him with a steady diet of leg kicks. Lamas tried to do the same, and even found success in the early going, but Kattar disrupted this gameplan by using simple fundamentals of boxing and checking those kicks. Working the body to force Lamas to drop his hands, "The Boston Finisher" then strung together several combinations coupled with a sharp left jab to find his openings, and violently ended the fight with a vicious one-two.
The Dagestani fighter has displayed a substantial takedown game in his first five fights with the company, grounding his opponents 26 times while sporting an accuracy rate of slightly below 60 percent. The lowest number of attempts Magomedsharipov has put up across those appearances was seven, and against Sheymon Moraes he tried 15 times, while landing 11. In comparison, Kattar has been officially been planted on his back one time across five attempts.
Magomedsharipov, who has finished five different fighters in the opening stanza, has yet to put one away any earlier than 4:22 of the second frame inside the Octagon. While postulating that his weakness might be his cardio, the Russian lost the final round against Jeremy Stephens and arguably the last round against Kyle Bochniak, Kattar will need to do more than take a single round to eke out a win in hostile territory. Stephens showed his best work in that round, pressuring Magomedsharipov and forcing him to try to set up strikes while backing away. Ever the brawler, Stephens tried to load up on big shots in that third period, when instead he could have potentially found great success had he set up those wild hooks with combinations and technical boxing, instead of swinging for a proverbial "home run" shot.
Kattar's clearest path to victory starts with his jab. By disrupting Magomedsharipov's unorthodox strikes and staying out of harm's way of the grappling game that his opponent will look to impose, Kattar can win this fight if he stays smart and stays on the inside to not allow the Russian to get his rhythm and spinning attack going. An intangible that could prove to the disadvantage of the Bostonian is that he was intending to fight in his home city, only for the bout to be transplanted to Magomedsharipov's backyard when the Russian suffered a blood illness. It is unclear what exactly the illness entailed, and how if at all that Magomedsharipov will be compromised by needing an extra few weeks to recover. In an easy "Fight of the Night" candidate, Kattar can come out with a win by stuffing takedowns, putting on a high pace and keeping the Dagestani whiz kid on his back foot. If you would rather prefer a safer option, Fight Goes to Decision is currently -175.
Alexander Volkov Wins Inside Distance (+115)
Much has been said about Greg Hardy's striking volume in his UFC career to date, landing 133 significant strikes in total. This was compared to Volkov's punch totals, as the Russian frequently lands over 100 significant strikes in his UFC bouts. Instead, the focus should be on the total number of shots that Hardy has absorbed to date -- a much smaller number at 42 -- which will be telling to see Hardy take more than 10 significant strikes in any given round. While known as a knockout artist, with two-thirds of Volkov's victories coming by strikes, he has only secured a small number by clean knockout. The rest have come by sheer numbers, coupled with an impressive accuracy of 60 percent.
Hardy showed some wrinkles in his game when he faced Ben Sosoli, adding in some effective leg kicks while utilizing head and lateral movement to avoid most of the Australian's powerful counters. With this more measured approach, "Prince of War" was not simply able to bulldoze through his opponent as he had done previously against Juan Adams and Dmitry Smoliakov. This will be the first time Hardy has encountered a reach disadvantage inside the Octagon, with Volkov measuring one inch longer in the arms and standing two inches taller.
Volkov's knockout at the hands of Derrick Lewis is still fresh in many minds, as it was his most recent appearance with the promotion, taking place in October 2018. As a colleague of mine often says, "he was winning until he got caught," which rings true as Lewis scored the stoppage with 11 seconds left in the bout. Hardy is not Lewis, and this is such a radical step down in terms of competition. Having faced former champions and future title challengers of late, Volkov should not have any issue with this change in foe. As he will only have three rounds to potentially get a finish and not five, look for Volkov to impose his relentless attack and secure a late stoppage as Hardy tires. With only three weeks separating his last appearance against Sosoli, Hardy's cardio will not likely improve that drastically without the use of his inhaler. Barring an unexpected quick blitz that hurts and finishes Volkov (Hardy Wins in Round 1 is +575), the Russian should gain confidence in every second that ticks off the clock. If you disagree, and think that "Drago" instead takes this on the scorecards, that line is +240.
Karl Roberson (-110)
This fight between Roberson and the undefeated Roman Kopylov is a thrilling test for these middleweights, and both men are currently sitting at -110 pick-'em odds. With Kopylov opening as high as -190, the line has closed in to make these odds even. Highly touted Octagon newcomers are sometimes given relatively favorable matchups to display their wares in debuts, but this is nothing of the sort. Roberson, who earned a spot on the roster by trouncing Ryan Spann in 15 seconds on the opening season of Dana White's Contender Series, has alternated wins and losses in his last five but has generally looked very impressive when coming out on top. Although he squeaked by with a split decision win over newcomer Wellington Turman in July, he struggled most when Turman took the fight to the canvas. A lot of Roberson's offense -- and defense -- has been based in his power and explosiveness, and if he relies too heavily on this type of activity, his gas tank will be sapped before the second bell sounds 10 minutes in.
While coming up as a sambo practitioner, Kopylov has largely rested on his striking laurels to stay undefeated so far. Across his eight wins, seven have come by knockout or technical knockout, although it has often been from attrition rather than a single devastating "walk-off"-style strike. Willing to target the body and head indiscriminately, Kopylov would likely enjoy nothing more than to get into prolonged striking exchanges with his American adversary. A striker by trade, Roberson may not shy away from these types of skirmishes, although if he takes some damage, he has shown to force the grappling. Should this take place entirely on the feet, it will be quite a fight, but as the odds indicate, it could be a coin-flip affair. As long as Roberson dictates the pace, does not end up with his back against the fence, and most importantly, avoids the damaging spinning strikes sure to come his way, he can come away with a hard-fought victory.
Jessica-Rose Clark (-115)
In the only battle between fighters not from the region on the card, we will likely be in store for a fun rematch between these two bantamweights on the outside of the Top 15 looking in. Shallow as the division is -- Nicco Montano and Sijara Eubanks have yet to win a fight at 135 pounds with the organization and are ranked at the No. 14 and No. 15 slots in the official UFC rankings, respectively -- a victory should likely see one woman crack that list. Like the previous pick of Roberson, this contest featured one fighter who opened as a significant favorite, with "Jessy Jess" beginning at -180 before odds tightened up.
In their first meeting at Invicta FC 13 in 2015, Kianzad took a clear-cut decision by boxing up her Australian rival. Since that fight, neither woman has particularly flourished, with Kianzad putting in her best work together to reach the finals and lose a tooth in "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 28, while Clark strung three wins together before dropping an intriguing but ultimately one-sided loss to prospective title challenger Jessica Eye.
Since Clark last competed against Eye in June 2018, Kianzad made it to the finals of TUF, lost and was ejected by the promotion. From there, she won on the regional circuit, was re-signed and competed again inside the Octagon in July, and lost once more by lopsided decision. On all but one of her bouts in Invicta Fighting Championships and the UFC after her win over Clark, Kianzad has looked flat and has struggled to get her offense going. This bout may be a tale of "which fighter has improved more since their first meeting," and on first glance, it would appear to be Clark. While both women have once competed at featherweight, this weight class of bantamweight suits them both providing that Kianzad can make 136 pounds. Going back up to a safer weight class, Clark should have improved enough at her striking defense and overall skillset to win the rematch. One final thing is all-but certain about this fight: it will reach the scorecards, with Fight Goes to Decision at -410, and neither woman has finished a fight since 2014.