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The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this Saturday. The card features an incredible lightweight barnburner between Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje in the main event, as well as 12 other bouts for fans to enjoy. The sportsbooks are offering odds on all 13 fights, and below are my top plays in the UFC on ESPN 2 edition of Prime Picks.
Michael Johnson (-115)
One of my top picks on this card is Johnson, who should beat Josh Emmett in an intriguing featherweight bout. I like Johnson here for two main reasons. First, I like the way he’s looked since moving down a weight class. After a hard-luck submission loss to Andre Fili in his 145-pound debut, Johnson has rebounded with back-to-back decision wins over Andre Fili and Artem Lobov. “The Menace” is a very good boxer with solid takedown defense and now that he seems to have figured out the weight cut, he should be a tough out for anyone in the division. The second reason to like Johnson is that we need to fade Emmett. He hasn’t fought since last February, when he had his face smashed in by Jeremy Stephens, and has taken a whole year off to heal up his injuries. I have never been that impressed with Emmett inside the Octagon and he’s still living off of his upset knockout win over Ricardo Lamas in late 2017 in a fight where he missed weight. Johnson should be able to stuff any takedown attempts, keep this fight on the feet, and outbox him for a decision win or maybe even get a knockout. At -115, there’s value on Johnson here in a fight with pick ‘em odds.
Kevin Holland (-190)
In what may be an exciting middleweight bout, Holland should defeat Gerald Meerschaert. Both men are entertaining, but Holland has several advantages heading into this fight. Just 26, Holland is 1-1 inside the UFC with a decision loss to Thiago Santos in his debut and a submission win over John Phillips. He’s won five of his last six fights overall, and 12 of his 13 career wins have come by stoppage. What I like about Holland here most is his ground game, as he’s very solid on the mat and has a variety of submissions in his bag. That’s the perfect foil to Meerschaert, who despite all of his own finishing ability, has very poor submission defense. “GM3” is 31 and has a 28-10 mixed martial arts record with 26 wins by stoppage. As he’s shown during his 4-2 run in the UFC, he knows how to finish a fight. However, he can also be finished himself, as he’s been stopped nine times in his career including eight times by submission. In his last fight, he was absolutely dominated by Jack Hermansson on the ground and forced to tap out. If Holland can get his opponent to the ground, this fight could be over quick. Give me “Trailblazer” at -190 odds to get the win.
Kennedy Nzechukwu (-225)
In light heavyweight action, I like Nzechukwu to have a successful UFC debut over Paul Craig. I’m both high on the newcomer and am fading Craig in this spot. Nzechukwu is only 26 and has already racked up a perfect 6-0 record with four of those wins coming by knockout. He had a tremendous 2018 with three knockout wins, including one on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series that earned him a UFC contract. The Fortis MMA product is a tremendous athlete with pure knockout power and makes for an intriguing addition to the light heavyweight division, which needs prospects. The promotion is setting up Nzechukwu with a very winnable fight here against Craig, who is clinging to his spot on the UFC roster. The Scot is 2-3 inside the Octagon but if it wasn’t for a literally last-second submission win over Magomed Ankalaev he would be riding a four-fight losing skid. As it stands, he’s lost three of four, with all of those losses coming by stoppage. I just don’t view Craig as a UFC-caliber fighter and this is a set-up fight designed to get the American a big UFC debut victory by knockout. Give me Nzechukwu at -225 odds.
Michelle Waterson (+125)
For an underdog pick, give me Waterson to beat Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Like most women’s strawweight bouts, I’m expecting a very competitive fight here, but there’s a bit of value with “The Karate Hottie” at plus money. She’s coming off a successful 2018 where she picked up consecutive decision wins over Felice Herrig and Cortney Casey. Meanwhile, Kowalkiewicz started the year with a decision win over Herrig before being brutally knocked out by Jessica Andrade. That loss to Andrade could potentially be a career-altering defeat, and you have to fade Kowalkiewicz. Waterson should be able to hold her own on the feet and if this fight goes to the mat, she should have the advantage there as well. She has also proven she can finish fights inside the Octagon, whereas Kowalkiewicz is purely a decision fighter, having not finished a fight since her KSW days. At +125, Waterson is the pick.
Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for Sherdog.com as well as the lead staff writer for MMAOddsbreaker.com. Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all time is Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua and he wishes Pride never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.
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