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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday in Las Vegas trudges on with UFC Fight Night 177—a card thin on name value but deep in compelling matchups. With no choice but to counterprogram the Las Vegas-based organization—the UFC currently finds itself in the midst of a 23-consecutive-weekend stretch of Saturday events—Bellator MMA fights back with the second half of its doubleheader. Bellator 246 and UFC Fight Night 177 have many close lines and clever ways to make a smart buck, as you can see in this installment of Prime Picks.
Angela Hill (-125)
In many fans’ eyes, Hill should be riding a four-fight winning streak into this unexpected UFC Fight Night 177 headliner against Michelle Waterson. In addition to Sal D’Amato, all but four scoring media members felt Hill had done enough to upset Claudia Gadelha in May. Instead, she dropped a razor-thin split decision in a bout that truly could have gone either way: Total strikes were separated by a single blow. Against Hill, who feels she still has momentum on her side after the controversial defeat, Waterson will look to right her own ship on the heels of two losses. Over five rounds, we believe Hill’s volume and pace can wear down “The Karate Hottie.”
Inside the Octagon, each fighter to put at least 60 strikes on Waterson has beaten her. Against women that land more than 40, she is 2-2. Beyond a first-round submission loss to Randa Markos, Hill has racked up those numbers or more in every fight, win or lose, dating back to her second UFC stint beginning in 2017. In fact, Hill has crossed that 60-strike threshold that Waterson dreads in five of her last six outings, and she has done so in 10 UFC fights dating back to her debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 20” Finale in 2014. With five rounds instead of Hill’s usual three with which to work, it is practically a foregone conclusion that the strike totals will be off the charts in this one.
In her last two losses, Waterson was stifled by Carla Esparza’s wrestling and Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s overwhelming strength and pinpoint accuracy, the latter busting up the Jackson-Wink MMA rep and bullying her against the cage. She will not likely have to worry about either of those facets against Hill, who has shown herself to be more of a technical brawler that appears to be finally putting it together. Hill may have the faster hands, but she will have to contend with plenty of kicks flying at her high and low. Perhaps more noteworthy than Hill’s last stretch of fights on paper is how she has won them. With only five career finishes, two have come in her last three bouts. The whirling dervish of fists and elbows has picked up steam as she hones her craft, and her stock undoubtedly rose against Gadelha, even in defeat. Hill’s perpetual forward motion will work against Waterson, who would vastly prefer to stay at arm’s length, unless “The Karate Hottie” decides to sprinkle in takedowns to throw Hill off her game. This fight, which features close odds, could go right down to the wire. After 25 minutes, Hill can get her hand raised, as long as she fights her own fight and does not get lulled into a tit-for-tat kickboxing match with her opponent. If an additional parlay option is needed, Over 4.5 rounds at -280 is a better margin than Fight Goes to Decision at -290. It allows for the extremely unlikely situation that a late stoppage comes after the 22:30 mark of the match.
Mike Rodriguez Wins Inside Distance (-130)
Although a few other matches on the UFC Fight Night 177 main card are enticing—like Khama Worthy as the minor -135 favorite against undefeated finisher Ottman Azaitar or Roxanne Modafferi at +265 to beat Andrea Lee— the most appetizing line comes in the form of a potential light heavyweight slugfest. In a repeat performance from a win at UFC on ESPN 15, we expect that Rodriguez can once again force a stoppage against longtime vet Ed Herman, even on short notice.
After keeping his 100 percent finish rate intact by clobbering Marcin Prachnio a few weeks ago, the longest Rodriguez has taken to win a fight is just over nine minutes. As a result, if an opponent can ride out the early storm or surprise him early—his two stoppage defeats came at 68 and 64 seconds—they can capitalize on his slowing down. A savvy veteran like Herman could unquestionably outlast the taller, longer and heavier-handed Rodriguez, but “Short Fuse” will be in danger of being detonated the whole time.
Even though he will turn 40 next month, Herman can still crack. A blistering knockout from a knee that made Patrick Cummins do a dance enjoyed by many on the Sherdog forums, Herman has never needed to knock out his opponent, even though he maintained the ability to do so. On the other hand, the only two men to stop him with strikes are Nikita Krylov and Derek Brunson, with a third TKO loss on his ledger due to a knee injury. As he has only gone the distance 11 times in his 40-fight career, Herman also would prefer to get his hand raised without needing to put in 15 minutes of hard time.
Although Herman has put together his first winning streak since 2012—Rodriguez was still two years away from becoming a pro at the time—this matchup may be the one to break it. Look for these two to trade early, and do not be surprised if Herman tests the takedown defense of the Massachusetts native should he get clipped. Pairing this line for Rodriguez with the Under 1.5 Rounds at +110 should be to one’s advantage, as all of Herman’s stoppage wins and losses dating back to 2007 have come before the 2:30 mark of Round 2.
Jon Fitch (-110)
The Bellator 246 headliner between Juan Archuleta and Patrick Mix—with the unbeaten Mix as a -180 favorite—is quite intriguing. The lack of any currently released prop bets stifles the creativity to a degree, and Archuleta’s craftiness cannot be overlooked. Mix, who has finished his opponent in each of his last eight wins, including four consecutive first-round stoppages, could do it again or meet a man in Archuleta that he cannot force to say “Matte.” Instead of the headliner, the more tantalizing approach is the co-main event, where we find ex-UFC and one-time Bellator title challenger Fitch. Rory MacDonald, a man Fitch arguably defeated his last time out, waded into Neiman Gracie’s guard without fear of submission. Fitch might not maintain quite the spotless submission defense, but his path to victory is very much the same.
Fitch’s style has never been particularly crowd-pleasing, which led to his needing an eight-fight winning streak—it included victories over Diego Sanchez, Thiago Alves and Joshua Burkman—to get a crack at Georges St. Pierre’s throne. At the age of 42 and regularly contemplating what comes next, Fitch decided the draw with MacDonald would not mark the end of his career. Against Gracie, he will be facing a man who is virtually submission or bust, and Fitch can put him to the test.
Gracie proved he could handle a young, talented grappler by taking out Ed Ruth in their welterweight grand prix quarterfinal, doing so by flipping the script and taking down the wrestler. Throughout his UFC tenure, Fitch was far from a perfect defensive wrestler, maintaining a takedown defense rate not far above 50 percent. Should Gracie get the grinder down, Fitch could be in a world of trouble. The longtime vet has been submitted before in two World Series of Fighting bouts, but other than that and his 2002 professional debut against Mike Pyle, Fitch has shown the kind of submission defense and smothering top game that can help him outlast the Gracie.
As long as Fitch does what he does best and force commentator Mike Goldberg to slip in an “Embrace the Grind” catchphrase, the aging American Kickboxing Academy rep can get his hand raised one more time. It may not be visually appealing, but Fitch will not need to contend with a crowd urging a referee standup as he locks down his man on top.
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