Prime Picks: UFC on ESPN 32 ‘Kattar vs. Chikadze’

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After more than enough time off, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday is back in black, it hit the sack; it’s been too long, we’re glad that it’s back. We took some hits in 2021, but did so knowing full well that selecting slates of underdogs and narrow prop bets may come up short at times. In many instances, while the logic and reasoning held up in the analysis, the fight game is an illogical beast that allows for any variety of result that few can predict. The expression “nothing ventured, nothing gained” rings true for our series of Prime Picks, as we will always take chances and hunt for big scores instead of settling for safe, wide moneyline bets. Let’s start the year right with a pair of 2-to-1 underdog plays, a lumbering heavyweight with more upside than might be evident on the surface and perhaps the most obvious prop of the night at UFC on ESPN 32.

Calvin Kattar (+200)

Giga Chikadze has defied expectations since joining the promotion in 2019, even after losing on Dana White's Contender Series and roaring through his first seven wins against opponents with a wretched 3-56 record. The ex-Glory kickboxer has appeared to rise to the level of competition as he moved up the featherweight ranks, and he has displayed the skills and power to get the job done. His last two victories over Edson Barboza and Cub Swanson—knockouts of historically durable names—proved he belongs in the upper echelon of the division, but against the iron-chinned Kattar, he faces something else entirely. While Chikadze may be favored for a reason, at least some of it due to the drastically different momentum each man brings into the fight, for him to post odds in the -250 range appears to be a step too far.

If Chikadze knocks out the Massachusetts native, it would make him the first to do so across Kattar’s 28-fight career, and “The Boston Finisher” has taken on a slew of heavy hitters in his division since joining the roster in 2017. His boxing-centric style has rightfully earned him praise through his tenure in the Octagon, but cries for him being the best boxer in the UFC came crashing to a halt when Max Holloway styled on him for five brutal rounds. Even though he was on the receiving end of a 50-42 scorecard, Kattar never wavered and did not slow much through the five-round onslaught from the Hawaiian. Overcoming Kattar since he joined the Las Vegas-based promotion has taken either a brutal barrage of leg kicks, a la Renato Carneiro, a wily game that gave Zabit Magomedsharipov two rounds, with Kattar coming on strong in the third, and the Holloway effort. None of these strategies appear wholly replicable by the Georgian, and if Kattar puts on the kind of pressure that gave Dan Ige and Shane Burgos fits, he can stalk Chikadze down and take his dangerous kicks out of the equation.

The old expression goes “if you kill the body, the head will fall,” and that may ring true for a striker like Chikadze, who tried to name a liver kick after himself. Chikadze will come in slightly taller, slightly longer and much more elusive with a far wider toolset than the underdog. In order for the Georgian to find success, he will have to lead the dance, or at the very least get Kattar’s respect early and often. If Kattar can walk through what comes his way and start stringing together quick, powerful punching combinations together that back Chikadze to the wall, it could be his fight to win. The Bostonian was smart to take a year off after the Holloway drubbing to make sure his head was right, and as long as the loss was not life-changing nature, he has the kind of unflinching style that will make Chikadze struggle as the fight progresses. Should the fight reach the later rounds, Kattar holds the experience that Chikadze does not, and he can take over when the latter’s flashy style starts to grow taxing. Should you feel Chikadze will walk through Kattar, your options are either him winning by KO/TKO (+130) or on the scorecards (+200). The latter may be more reasonable, given Kattar’s unflappable nature.

Jake Collier (-127)

It may be a stretch to call a middleweight’s return after nearly three years off and up 80 pounds a success when that now-heavyweight has gone 1-2 in his new division, but Collier has shown signs of life in a career that had stagnated previously. To date, the ex-middleweight has alternated wins and losses across his entire UFC tenure, and his last appearance did not go his way in a narrow split decision to Carlos Felipe. Merely from a record perspective, Collier will draw one of the lightest tests the division can offer, as Chase Sherman looks like a man carved out of stone; however, his chin historically is more one of glass. Even though he is a full-framed 265-pound man at this point, Collier is still light on his feet with decent quickness on his punches.

In his two-stints with the organization, Sherman has amassed three victories opposite seven defeats, with only one win over an actual heavyweight: Damian Grabowski. Rashad Coulter and Isaac Villanueva both prefer the 205-pound range. A 93% knockout rate is not an accident, but “The Vanilla Gorilla” is firmly in the “live by the sword, die by the sword” camp of slugging it out until someone goes down. In Collier, an opponent who would be much more comfortable sticking and moving, Sherman will have to be careful not to expend his gas tank within the first two rounds. Collier can rise to the occasion. The card placement as the co-main event when multiple ranked fights sit below it may be a head-scratcher, but neither man is afraid to throw hands and one of them could get caught if they throw caution to the wind and engage. Collier has displayed the better fight IQ of late, and as long as he does not walk into a bomb that is sure to be lobbed his way, he can outwork the Mississippi native to either a late stoppage or decision.

Katlyn Chookagian Wins by Decision (-115)

In terms of rankings alone, these two women’s flyweights—Chookagian, at No. 2, and Jennifer Maia, at No. 4—should serve as the main event. A five-round tilt between the ex-title challengers might give a clearer picture on how one would fare should they get another crack at dominant champion Valentina Shevchenko, but the promotion had excitement in mind when it billed Kattar-Chikadze. With respect to both Chookagian and Maia, their styles are not particularly scintillating to witness, as both tend to engage in long, drawn-out battles where it is more a game of inches than of explosive movement one way or the other. They met in 2019, and Chookagian took home a smart nip-tuck decision in which she stayed at a safe range, and peppered Maia while staving off most of the takedown efforts from the Brazilian. Running it back again, little indicates that this should play out any differently than before.

The distance game is crucial for both women, as “Blonde Fighter” wants to be at a kickboxing range where she can get off sharp front kicks and pop out jab after jab from a distance. Maia would like nothing more than to glom on to Chookagian, thus taking that effective skill set away and transforming the flyweight tilt into a dirty boxing affair. The Brazilian would vastly prefer, from this close range, to power her opponent to the canvas and look for submissions while racking up grinding top control time. Maia’s best chance in their first fight came when she grounded Chookagian in the third frame, doing so by picking her up in the air and dropping her down to the mat. If she can do this early, stealing the first round and doing enough to win at least one more, she could snag a decision. From what each woman has displayed lately, Chookagian will do what she does best, picking and poking her way to an efficient decision. As a parlay option for any other play on the card, Fight Goes to Decision at -350 is a virtual freebie.

Charles Rosa (+205)

The call for Rosa to come in on a few days’ notice, up a weight class no less, against T.J. Brown is not necessarily done so with the utmost of confidence for the Massachusetts man. Rosa is a durable, able and effective grappler, and he is a fighter who does not take a great deal of risks. His perfect win-loss-win-loss pattern has gone on for 11 appearances in a row. He prevails by either doing enough on the ground or hitting a submission, or he falls short when someone better on the ground shuts him down. Rosa is at best an opportunist, while Brown has shown to go wherever the wind may take him, and on the largest stage, it has largely been to his detriment. At this stage of his career, the 31-year-old Brown should not be a -250 favorite against anyone in the company, let alone a competent vet like Rosa.

Rosa will be jumping up on short notice against an opponent who arguably has lost all three of his UFC appearances, as Brown’s split decision over Kai Kamaka III was a serious contender for “Robbery of the Year,” though it was ultimately overshadowed by the madness that was Alesha Zappitella-Jessica Correa Delboni and Gleison Tibau-Rory MacDonald. An exciting Glory MMA product, “Downtown” Brown has earned most of his career wins by stoppage, with several head kick finishes to his credit. Brown may find himself in a sink-or-swim encounter if the two go to the ground. Danny Chavez thoroughly outgrappled him, and Jordan Griffin put him to sleep when Brown tried to implement his own takedown game. The intangible of taking the fight this week could work to Rosa’s disadvantage, but his submission game should play the difference maker in this lightweight fight as he looks to spring the sizable upset.

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