Prime Picks: UFC Fight Night 188 ‘Font vs. Garbrandt’

By Jay Pettry May 21, 2021

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday follows a pay-per-view card with fight night fare, although there are some really fun matchups on the table. The headliner draws a sure-fire banger that has shifted to a pick-’em and held steady. UFC Fight Night 188 brings with it a slew of fascinating betting options and somewhat surprising lines. Other than the all-Damir parlay—Damir Hadzovic (-130) and Damir Ismagulov (-550) currently at -109—check out the evenly matched main event, a heavyweight banger that should end quickly, a former title challenger who may inadvertently close out her division and a heavyweight stalwart looking to push back a high-flying newcomer.

Rob Font (-115)

Font finds himself on the door to contention, and a win over former champion Cody Garbrandt might propel him into a title picture that is currently logjammed by the inevitable Aljamain Sterling-Petr Yan rematch. The Boston native’s recent resume looks even more impressive as his opponents continue to perform, with Sergio Pettis now the new Bellator MMA champion and Ricky Simon on the rise even without his mullet. The last win, over a growingly chinny but still dangerous Marlon Moraes, was the step he needed to take against elite competition, as past encounters with Raphael Assuncao and Pedro Munhoz dragged him back into the waiting room in the lower Top 15. There should be very little grappling in this bantamweight battle for as long as it lasts, as both men primarily throw hands to get the job done.

Garbrandt may have the power—he possesses 10 career knockouts, several of them of the clean variety—but his chin has been tested the last few years. A pairing with Assuncao was just what he needed to get back on track, as he iced the perennial contender with a right hand from the deep to put himself on highlight reels for years to come. Assuncao, who has historically not presented as a preternatural threat on the feet, was feasted upon by Garbrandt’s superior speed and accuracy until the job was done. Font may yet greet him with a “very good, but brick not hit back,” as he stays in Garbrandt’s face with a substantially higher volume than “No Love” is accustomed to dealing.

The first round will almost certainly be the most dangerous for Font, as the lion’s share of Garbrandt’s finishes have come in the opening frame. Those early exchanges, hearkening back to Garbrandt’s three-fight knockout skid, are where he might be the most vulnerable. Forcing a brawl is where Font can excel, as long as he does not walk into a big right hand, landing two or three to the Team Alpha Male standout’s one. Mixing things up and even offering a takedown attempt should they clinch could keep Garbrandt guessing and throw him off his game. Font, who can roll downhill once he gets into a rhythm, can bust up Garbrandt on the feet and make “No Love” fight off his back foot, while being defensively sound to not walk face-first into a home-run shot. Font’s punches in bunches should be the difference-maker in this thrilling headliner.

Jared Vanderaa-Justin Tafa Goes Under 1.5 Rounds (-105)

Once again, the UFC continues its pattern of placing two very unranked heavyweights high on the main card, likely because the matchup promises violence. Violence is what the UFC Apex shall receive—there are no fans in the building for this heavyweight slobberknocker—and it is just a matter of who lands first. Neither man has shown the chops to be among the heavyweight elite, but they can still put on an entertaining contest if they stand in front of one another and trade blows. Whether it is through Tafa’s heavy hands or Vanderaa’s sizeable reach advantage that catches him coming, a la Yorgan De Castro, the odds are understandably close as to whether this fight reaches the 7:30 mark.

The last win for “The Mountain” came on Dana White's Contender Series, where he upended Harry Hunsucker. Vanderaa smashed him with strikes after tossing the woefully outmatched Hunsucker to the floor. Like the undermentioned heavyweight slugfest, these two big men will both likely cut weight to reach the 266-pound limit, and neither shies away from a brawl. It stands to reason that Team Quest’s Vanderaa sports a relative wrestling advantage, but that should only come to light if he takes a few on the chin. Tafa’s hands, especially when mixed with kicks, can help him find his intended target. One way or another, this one should not last long.

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Felicia Spencer (-175)

It may come as a surprise to many that the second-best women’s featherweight on the roster is not a massive favorite against Norma Dumont—a tweener opponent who cannot find her right weight class at 135 or 145 pounds on short notice. Spencer, who has only fallen short in her career to Cristiane Justino and Amanda Nunes, was not finished in either contest. In both outings, “FeeNom” displayed almost inhuman durability to go the distance, even though her face after the latter looked like shades of Martin Lawrence when he “boxed” Thomas Hearns. This line was even closer before, with Spencer around -150 before the trend started swinging back in the logical direction. Based on the careers and strengths of both women, there is ample value in the line of Spencer, even as she creeps towards 2-to-1 contention.

It may be an oversimplification to say that Dumont’s style is almost exclusively reliant on her size and strength advantage, but she was able to beat Ashlee Evans-Smith largely thanks to her being larger—not to mention she missed weight by a wide margin. She will have no such advantage against Spencer, who can easily match her strength and overpower her to the ground without issue. The Brazilian’s strategy on the rangy Megan Anderson was to try to clinch and drag the Aussie down, but Anderson flipped her around, stood up and cold-cocked Dumont with a right hand. Spencer may not have that one-shot kill power, but her ground prowess and submission skills make her an easy selection in a fight that should likely be a lot more lopsided on the odds.

Ben Rothwell Wins Inside Distance (-120)

A 39-year-old Rothwell on the heels of yet another USADA suspension is not often a great option, as his herky-jerky style has lost its edge and his strikes have diminished in power the last few years. In this unlikely heavyweight preliminary offering, Rothwell welcomes surprising signee Chris Barnett, a man who can perform cartwheel kicks despite floating between heavyweight and super heavyweight and measuring about 5-foot-9. Barnett, who was once known as “Huggy Bear,” has traipsed around regional competition for the last decade with only one major appearance under his belt—a failed Rizin Fighting Federation encounter with Kirill Sidelnikov in 2016. The line on Rothwell by stoppage—he still maintains a stellar career finish rate of 89%—is too good to pass up.

The increase in the level of competition, even for a shopworn Rothwell, is a veritable chasm compared to Barnett’s recent foes of 0-0 Ahmed Tijani Shehu and the gargantuan Alexandru Lungu. Some of the wackier moves that Barnett has tried to pull off over the years should not faze the Kenosha, Wisconsin, native. Even now, Rothwell should likely win this any way he sees fit, whether it is from strikes or by catching a rampaging “Beastboy” coming in and latching on to a bizarre gogo choke. The first round could be amusing, as Barnett, who takes this fight on short notice and is not guaranteed to make the 266-pound limit, burns through his gas tank using high-risk, low-reward maneuvers. As the newcomer’s adrenaline dump exhausts his energy reserves quickly, Rothwell can pick and pound away until he forces a stoppage.

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