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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will take its first trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, for UFC Fight Night 166. Two bouts have drawn our attention in this installment of Prime Picks.
Curtis Blaydes Wins by TKO/KO (-110)
Blaydes enters his main event against Junior dos Santos as a significant -250 favorite, which is also a decent option. However, to keep odds more intriguing and maximize your return on investment, seeking the prop bet that Blaydes ends this bout with strikes is a worthwhile play. For starters, Blaydes has recorded 75 percent of his victories by knockout, while two-thirds of the former champion’s defeats have come due to strikes. Each of the last four men to beat dos Santos have done so by knockout, and we expect Blaydes to add to that total before the night ends.
Blaydes recently shattered Cain Velasquez’s longstanding record for the most takedowns landed in heavyweight history when he grounded Justin Willis seven times in 11 tries in their March matchup. He added to that total in September, when he dragged Shamil Abdurakhimov to the canvas five more times in five attempts. Across his 10 bouts inside the Octagon, Blaydes has only failed to get his opponent down in two of them: He went 0-for-13 on attempts against Daniel Omielanczuk at UFC 213, and Francis Ngannou did not afford him the opportunity, as he laid waste to Blaydes in 45 seconds in November 2018. Despite these two blanks, Blaydes still averages 4.5 takedowns per fight, and when expanded to a 15-minute margin, that average rises to seven. Once he gets his opponent down, “Razor” employs lethal elbows and vicious ground-and-pound to get work done. Throughout several of his UFC bouts, Blaydes has landed more ground strikes than strikes on the feet on his way to victory.
To survive this encounter, dos Santos will need to rely on his stellar 80 percent takedown defense rate. The last fighter to put the Brazilian on his back was Stipe Miocic in their first encounter in 2014, and only one of his last seven opponents—Alistair Overeem—even tried. Despite a single submission victory to his credit in his second pro appearance and the fact that the Yuri Carlton-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has only attempted one submission in his entire 20-fight UFC career, most adversaries not named Velasquez simply have not bothered to try to put “Cigano” on his back. Staying away from the cage and at long boxing distance will almost certainly be in dos Santos’ best interest, as long as he does not throw any kicks that get caught and result in a takedown. Although Blaydes sports a three-inch reach advantage, dos Santos’ technical boxing ability is far above that of his opponent, with the ability to utilize his range and get out of danger quickly. He will need to be the faster man to the punch and must stay moving so Blaydes does not crash forward and slam him to the canvas.
To predict this outcome, we look to the final two bouts of the trilogy between dos Santos and Velasquez, as the American Kickboxing Academy product took down dos Santos 13 times across the fights lasting a combined 48:09. What might be overlooked is that Velasquez strung together an incredible 46 attempts but only managed to land less than 30 percent of those tries. Blaydes, like Velasquez, is undaunted by the prospect of having to try over and over again to get dos Santos on the ground. While dos Santos may be able to thwart the first, second and even third takedown attempts, Blaydes can be relentless, and we see him eventually landing the takedown and inflicting some serious damage while on top. While he may not be able to finish the former champion in a single round, he has 25 minutes to inflict punishment, and it should be enough time for Blaydes to force a stoppage.
Rafael dos Anjos (-260)
No fighter has ever submitted dos Anjos, and Michael Chiesa’s best path to victory in the co-main event is almost certainly by submission. The Brazilian is a wily veteran who is dangerous everywhere, and if Chiesa intends to make this a ground fight, he will need to be very cautious. When defending the takedown, dos Anjos can threaten with submission attempts like the guillotine if he sees an exposed neck or a kimura to reverse position. Although a majority of Chiesa’s wins have come by tapout, he has never lost a fight on the scorecards, with 75 percent of his defeats also coming by way of submission.
Chiesa has landed at minimum one takedown in all but one of his bouts inside the Octagon, and has hit at least two in seven of those appearances, including each of his last three. The pressure for Chiesa will come at the absence of strikes, as “Maverick” has only put together one 50-plus-strike performance across all of his UFC bouts.
Conversely, dos Anjos has cracked the 50-strike margin in each of his last five fights, while surpassing that number 13 times in total. We see dos Anjos’ pace and aggression wearing down Chiesa when he mixes in striking, even in a three-round affair. The Brazilian is accustomed to going five hard rounds and has done so in each of his last five appearances, while Chiesa has only reached the 15-minute mark five times in his career. While dos Anjos may not be able to secure a stoppage, he should do enough to stay out of submission trouble and outwork Chiesa on his way to victory.
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