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A much-needed week off came for the Ultimate Fighting Championship at the beginning of April, just in time for the promotion’s second jaunt on the ABC network. This fight card, which brought a recent change in opponent for the headliner, sees several lopsided betting lines as only four of the 14 matches currently show favorites below -150. Take a chance with us as we break down four betting underdogs on this event, and why each has a real chance at victory on this UFC on ABC 2 edition of Prime Picks!
Kevin Holland (+285)
Less than three weeks ago, we prognosticated that Holland’s headliner against Derek Brunson could be a trap fight. Although Holland still seemed the more comfortable option against a questionable Brunson, the Strikeforce vet blanketed the upstart to win a frustrating decision. His performance showed glaring weaknesses, as he proved far too comfortable to remain on his back for extended periods of time. Could the powerful Marvin Vettori replicate Brunson’s success, especially with Holland taking this fight on short notice? Certainly. If you think he can, Vettori Wins by Decision is a safe +173 at the moment. However, Vettori is not Brunson, and even though he can hit takedowns like the best of them, there is clear value in the line for “Trailblazer.”
Holland did have moments throughout his 25-minute affair with Brunson, however fleeting. Hurting Brunson in the second round and cutting him open in the final frame, Holland’s performance was the kind that Sherdog Senior Editor Ben Duffy would shout at his television while watching, as missed opportunities and overaggressive strikes led to Holland’s undoing. His Italian foe is composed, has deceptively heavy hands and can force a clinch and land a takedown like the best of them, but the wrestling chops for Brunson are far superior to that of the Italian. Although it fell thanks to his last outing, Holland still remains in the top 10 as one of the most accurate strikers in company history, landing just under 60 percent of his strikes. His shots gave Brunson pause when they landed, and they can do against an otherwise iron-chinned Vettori. Additionally, his ability to counter and land effectively even when retreating is a skill that he may find himself relying on as Vettori pushes the pace.
While “The Italian Dream” might be able to take advantage of the same missteps Holland makes -- three weeks is not long to elicit major corrections in striking approaches or distance control -- he would need to rack up more ground control time than ever if he hopes to win. Ground control time has never been an area where Vettori has particularly excelled, and he passed the five-minute mark for the first time against Jack Hermansson thanks to a knockdown in the opening round. It is one thing to take your adversary down, but it is another entirely to keep them there for more than a few seconds. Spamming the takedowns, discouraging the chatty Holland and forcing him to fight off his back foot or against the fence would all be in Vettori’s best interest. He has the style to do just that and spoil this play.
Sheer volume can fluster counterstrikers should they get bum rushed and overwhelmed to break up their replies. Chaining striking into grappling can also do that, and the one charging forward needs to keep their head on their shoulders on the way in. Vettori has faced heavier-handed strikers than Holland in the past, and none have yet rattled his cage. On the other hand, Vettori’s presents a volume-first approach and infrequently presents the kind of power that can ring bells, but this may be a new wrinkle of his game as evidenced by him dropping Hermansson early. This is a risky fight for Holland, and he is a rightful underdog. However, his in-cage style will almost certainly irritate the hot-headed Italian, and he may lure Vettori out of his game plan and get on his nerves as he would have against a younger, less mature Brunson. It is the errors he forces Vettori to make that “Trailblazer” can capitalize, and why the largest underdog on the card deserves a second look.
Mackenzie Dern (+120)
After having a child, Dern seems to have turned a corner when it comes to fight preparation. The Arizonan trained in Brazil struggled to reach the strawweight limit repeatedly, even passing the 116-pound mark by a whopping seven pounds less than three years ago. Whether a result of age, leaving the MMA Lab and Black House for greener pastures, or finding her own as a competitor, Dern appears more of a contender every time she competes. A disappointing loss to Amanda Ribas when she could not implement her grappling firmly in the rearview, Dern as a slight underdog is one to watch against fellow new mom Nina Nunes, née Ansaroff.
Wife of two-division champ Amanda Nunes, Nina has excelled in her division as being one that keep a high volume as long as she can stay on her feet. Tatiana Suarez landed multiple takedowns en route to victory, but she faded when she discerned that Nunes was ready to keep pressing forward. Similarly overwhelmed by Nunes’ unflappable nature was Claudia Gadelha, who found herself at a nearly two-to-one significant strike disadvantage when Nunes turned up the heat as the bout progressed. “The Strina” is vulnerable to being controlled on the ground, especially in the center of the age when she cannot walk up the fence, and this is where Dern almost certainly holds a sizeable advantage.
Even as she has developed over the years, Dern’s striking has nary more been than a simple means to an end. Winging telegraphed right hooks allows her to close the distance and grab hold of who she is facing, because those punches do have a surprising amount of pop on them should they connect. When the grappling gets involved -- Dern’s takedown game is typical of a submission-first artist, as she has only officially landed one across 18 attempts -- the tone of the fight shifts dramatically. The accolades do not need to be listed as to what Dern has accomplished in the grappling world, but they are vast and comprehensive and have been comfortably on display in any of her impressive MMA submissions. Coupled with the level of activity – Nunes has understandably been absent for coming up on two years, while Dern has competed four times in that same span – there is ample room in the line for Dern to pull off the minor upset.
Jim Miller (+200)
On Saturday, Miller will have as many UFC bouts as he has years on this earth: 37. Against relative newcomer Joe Solecki, Miller will have had as many fights inside the Octagon as Solecki in the latter’s pro career, and in the same time frame as well. Even in his rapidly advancing age, Miller is still a dangerous threat, especially from his grappling, and each of his last four wins have come by first-round submission. Other foes have overpowered Miller, surviving his submission threats and doing enough on the feet to keep him honest. Solecki will be facing the toughest test of his career, and he does so as a substantial -240 favorite. Like the other options presented on this card, there is money to be made on the upset.
Miller has suffered submission losses in the past, although there is a very distinct caveat to each one. Charles Oliveira tapped Miller in 75 seconds, but he is the promotion’s all-time submission leader. Michael Chiesa too made Miller surrender with a rear-naked choke, and all of Chiesa’s career finishes have come by submission. Likewise, a fresh Nate Diaz had Miller tap back in 2012 with a guillotine choke, and the Stockton, Calif., native holds more submission wins than any other method of victory. Time will tell if Solecki is on that level, but the smart money is that he will not become the fourth man to submit “A-10.” A decision victory for Solecki could come should you think the prospect passes the test, and that line is a feasible +145 currently.
The most common question of this current preliminary headliner is “What does Miller have left in the tank?” What Solecki did to Matt Wiman in his promotional debut in 2019 could be replicated against Miller, in that Solecki overwhelmed his aging foe with wrestling and kept Wiman flat on his back. Should he not be able to secure the submission, he might find himself gassing out faster than when he was younger, and Vinc Pichel handled Miller on the ground with size and strength. Miller will threaten you until you put him away, and he is especially hazardous in the first five minutes. Should the man ten years Miller’s junior try to tangle with a savvy grappler like Miller in the early going, he might find himself staring down the barrel of his first submission defeat. Father time is yet undefeated, but Miller has not reached that threshold yet; he should still be proficient in pushing back a promising prospect in this potentially profitable play.
Jarjis Danho (+255)
To say the sport has been unkind to the goliath heavyweight known as “Man Mountain” would be a severe understatement. Many fans of the promotion today may not have heard his name uttered before, as his last appearance came in late 2016. Two UFC outings have seen the Syrian fouled on both occasions, although the fouls came in bouts he was losing. In his debut, a groin shot in the third frame prematurely forced the fight to the hands of the judges, and Daniel Omielanczuk captured a majority technical decision verdict. A few months later, Danho fought to a draw after Christian Colombo landed an illegal knee to lose a point. It has been over four and a half years since Danho competed, and ring rust fears no man. There is still value in his betting line, even after his lengthy absence, simply because of what he brings to the table.
Yorgan De Castro burst on to the scene with knockouts in three of four wins early in his career, with his most impressive likely over current Bellator MMA roster member Ras Hylton. A destruction of Sanford Alton Meeks on the third season of Dana White's Contender Series showed that his leg kicks can be effective at the higher level, and Justin Tafa paid dearly for coming in carelessly in De Castro’s shocking promotional debut. Subsequent outings have demonstrated a serious ceiling in his ability; namely, De Castro seems to almost shut himself down when challenged. A solid first round against Greg Hardy dwindled in Rounds 2 and 3 when he practically stopped fighting altogether; his output plummeted in his next pairing against Carlos Felipe as the rounds progressed as well. Whether an adverse reaction to getting struck, or the disabling surprise when he cannot knock a foe out with a single strike, this mental struggle leaves vast openings for opponents.
All five of Danho’s career wins have come by knockout, and unlike the Cape Verde native, he has shown some glimpses of fight should he leave the first period. Strength and power are the name of the game for Danho, who will almost certainly come out looking to make a fresh impression in front of the UFC brass. This heavyweight contest, which should likely serve as a proverbial “pink slip” bout, is undoubtedly make or break for both men. It cannot be understated that Danho last competed before De Castro made his professional debut, so there are far more questions than answers. Based on what has been on display lately, there is not a great deal to be excited about De Castro aside from his effective leg kicks. “Man Mountain” moving forward looking to get his hands on De Castro should break up one of his opponent’s best weapons, and he can score the upset if he has improved to any noticeable degree in his time off. No matter the victor, should you need a prop bet to tie into a parlay, Fight Goes Over 1.5 Rounds at +100 or Fight Goes to Decision at +250 are both reasonable choices.
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