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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday stages a mixed bag of a card with a few rankings-relevant matchups and some other battles that may produce fireworks. The lines have a lot of give throughout the day, and even some major underdogs like Timur Valiev and Jai Herbert provide decent value even if they may not get their hands raised. This is an upset special edition of the UFC Fight Night 190 Prime Picks, with four choice picks for underdog lines that should play out.
Alexander Volkov (+130)
No fighter on this card may be more of a live underdog than the surging Volkov, who dispelled concerns about his punching power by demolishing Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem in recent outings. In this headliner, he faces a smaller, unbeaten French adversary who has not suffered a loss or dropped a single round since joining the UFC in 2019. Experience will weigh far in Volkov’s favor in this main event, as he has competed at a much higher level for far longer, with over five times the number of matches compared to Ciryl Gane. More importantly, since joining the promotion in 2016, Volkov has only suffered two defeats—to Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes. In the former, Lewis shocked him by knockout with 11 seconds to go, and the latter saw Blaydes implement a wrestling clinic. Both of those wins are not easily replicated, and neither are the kind of games that Gane can run to capture a win.
Height and reach are major factors in Volkov fights, and he will find that he actually gives up one inch on his fists to his Frenchman while remaining a few inches taller. Like Volkov, Gane fights long, so it could very well be a battle of jabs and front kicks, as neither wants to close the distance. The striking accuracy for “Drago” is among the highest in UFC heavyweight history, and this may surprise Gane, who rarely gets hit cleanly. Even though he holds a small number of knockout wins by single strikes, his power has stemmed from an accumulation of damage as his blows continue to mount. “Bon Gamin” will need to keep moving constantly and not get pinned down, or he might find himself getting boxed up.
Gane will be taking a serious step up in competition against Volkov, even though he holds wins over respectable names like an aging Junior dos Santos and the still-relevant Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Volkov will far and away be the best active striker he has faced, and this will pose issues for a Gane who likes to fight at his own pace. He was able to lead the dance against Rozenstruik, which was at least in part due to Rozenstruik’s seeming unwillingness to engage. Like Volkov, Gane sports excellent footwork and the ability to close the distance in a hurry. The latter will be invaluable, because it is not likely that his three years of pro MMA education will have honed a jab as sharp as Volkov’s. The Russian has been working at it for over a decade.
Even if “Drago” were favored, the suggestion would be for him, so the plus money gives even greater value for an already solid option. The jury is still out on Gane’s upside, and he is only one year younger than the Russian, so it is not as if “Bon Gamin” comes in six years his junior or so. Gane has a lot of learning to do, and this matchup will serve as a terrific opportunity, win or lose, against one of the better names in the division. At this point in their careers, however, the smart money is on Volkov, who can stuff takedowns from practically everyone not named Blaydes and keep a pace that can hold up for five rounds. As Volkov turns up the pressure, Gane may find himself having to fight off his back foot, which will prove more tiring than he anticipates. With “Drago” being the underdog, a prop bet on how he gets it done is unnecessary, but it could be fair to sprinkle a little on him winning on the scorecards (+370) as he rolls downhill round by round.
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Ovince St. Preux-Tanner Boser Goes to Decision (+105)
Betting on St. Preux is a bit like a box of chocolates, in that you never know what you are going to get. Of late, the longtime light heavyweight has fallen into a rough patch of authoring surprising wins and suffering disappointing defeats, and he will be taking this fight on short notice at heavyweight. His first jaunt above 206 pounds did not go his way, although he kept it close enough to convince one judge to score it for him. It remains to be seen what a sudden heavyweight “OSP” will be like, as he could hit the scales at 225-230 pounds just as a light heavyweight without a hard weight cut. Instead of Maxim Grishin at 205 pounds, Boser will clock in likely north of the 240-pound mark, proving a far different test with good striking but featuring little of the imminent danger that has stunned and put “OSP” away in the past.
Often during his career, St. Preux has been losing until he won or winning until he lost unexpectedly. Boser may give “OSP” problems with his length, especially due to his leg kicks and rangy jabs, but anyone who has remotely pushed the pace on the Canadian has nullified him. St. Preux can force the action by hunting for takedowns or otherwise making Boser work against the fence. St. Preux will find that his best hope may be his wrestling, but his cardio has failed him lately, and wrestling may sap what little he has left in the tank. All this points to a labored stalemate of a fight that should wind up in the hands of the judges, as neither man can find the finish he seeks. The line of the fight going the distance may be a safer play that trying speculate on which version of the 38-year-old ex-football player will show up.
Nicolas Dalby (+115)
Dalby’s career resurgence has gone well, as the Danish fighter once known as “Lokomotivo” exorcised his demons the last few years. Riding a seven-fight unbeaten streak into this meeting with Tim Means, Dalby finds himself fast approaching the rankings. Two no contests in that time could not have provided better results, as his all-action battle with Ross Houston ended early because the blood the two men shed created an unsafe fighting surface. Another came against Jesse Ronson. Dalby rode along as Ronson’s seemingly feel-good story came crashing to the ground when the Canadian was found to have anabolic steroids coursing through his veins. Dalby finds himself in tough sledding against a more accurate, more active striker, so going toe-to-toe with “The Dirty Bird” may not be his best path to victory. Instead, mixing it up is where Dalby can excel.
As it is often said, it is not always the takedown as much as it is the threat of the takedown that can throw a striker off of his game. Means vastly prefers to frame up, get up close and blast an opponent with nasty knees and elbows. From this close range, Means has done some serious damage throughout the years, but a willingness to throw caution to the wind has gotten him in trouble. His ground game is not the best, and his mediocre takedown defense can be exploited by chain wrestling from Dalby, who can strike his way into a clinch before pursuing a level change. As long as the man now known as “Danish Dynamite” does not stand directly in front of Means and allow the American to tee off on him, he can take a path of lesser resistance and outgrapple him to victory.
Isaac Villanueva-Marcin Prachnio Goes Under 1.5 Rounds (+150)
If you are searching for a bout that is almost exclusively contested on the feet, with high volume, decent power and low defense, look no further than this light heavyweight scrap. Chins are liabilities for both men, and their primary methods of victory are from strikes; in their 32 combined victories, they hold exactly one win by submission. Likewise, while their career knockout rates hover around 75%, both have suffered a surprising number of stoppage defeats when their beard did not hold together. In their seven UFC bouts, these two have suffered five knockout losses between them, with each hitting the under. Unless someone decides to have a sudden change of heart to preserve their place on the roster, this should be a battle of Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots until one of them falls down, and it should not take long.
Of the 48 matches that Villanueva and Prachnio have taken throughout the years, just one-quarter of them have gone past the midpoint of the second round. Even though both men pride themselves on being strikers, when looking at their seven UFC matches, just once has either man outlanded his opponent in significant strikes: Prachnio over Khalil Rountree. Should you wish to select a victor in this pairing, there are two clear options: Prachnio wins by TKO/KO (+195) or Villanueva wins by TKO/KO (+275). Take your pick, as this tilt is tailor-made for the one who bestows a violent finish sooner than later.
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