Prime Picks: UFC on ESPN 56 ‘Lewis vs. Nascimento’

The Ultimate Fighting Championship stops by St. Louis for the first time since January 2018 and cannot help itself by bringing a heavyweight main event in tow. While its predecessor in Brazil had vast lines across the billing, just one match of the 13-bout lineup this Saturday displays a favorite above -260, and that specific pairing could be a trap fight. Join the UFC on ESPN 56 edition of Prime Picks as we expect “fist go boop” in the main event, pitch a two-piece combo of finishes and shine our focus on a dark horse in the light heavyweight division.

Derrick Lewis Wins Inside Distance (-140)

At the tender age of 39, there will come a time when the wheels completely fall off the Lewis wagon. Some might argue that after losing four of five, they already have for “The Black Beast.” However, the opposition defeating him, generally speaking, is of the higher echelon of the division—or at least worthy of a place in the Top 10. When Chris Daukaus and Marcos Rogerio de Lima try to throw hands with the Houstonian, they get their chins checked. Against a grappler who is willing to trade on the feet for extended periods and does not excel at getting the fight to the mat, this is the kind of pairing where Lewis can feast. Rodrigo Nascimento has not displayed the power to give Lewis any issues, and his offensive wrestling is nothing the New Orleans native has not encountered. Lewis to win this fight and prevail by finish is worth it in the main event.

In a strange sportsbook situation, the current odds on the featured book see Lewis winning by stoppage at -140 and his prevailing via knockout at -145, but that likely is an error. Cast aside any notions of Lewis even attempting a submission, as he has never officially done so in his entire UFC career. If the line on a knockout is superior, it is the best avenue for betting on the burly brawler. Lewis has never won a bout that has entered the fifth frame, and he was clear he had no interest in going that far in a fight. This headliner is knockout or bust for Lewis. The alternative could be, for example, Nascimento wins by submission or decision at +250. Lewis’ beard has not likely dilapidated to the point of getting put out by a heavyweight who has not finished a fight with strikes in over 10 years.

It would be a huge mistake for Nascimento to try to slug it out with the UFC’s all-time knockout leader. His sole career loss came to Daukaus in 45 seconds, and Lewis hits much harder than the Philadelphia native. Even mixing in the threat of the takedown to open up his strikes might prove to his disadvantage, as Curtis Blaydes most violently learned a couple of years ago. If Nascimento can turn Lewis into a takedown dummy, a la Sergey Spivak or Jailton Almeida, it would be in his best interest to do so. He may be in for a rough night if he puts Lewis’ back against the wall but cannot drag him down. Wearing Lewis out is also a difficult proposition, as “The Black Beast” works in surges and is among the best at saving up his energy for one concussive, punctuating blow. Before 25 minutes elapse, the giant Lewis fists can find their home, making this a choice option in the main attraction.


Joaquin Buckley-Nursulton Ruziboev Does Not Go to Decision (-300)

Terrance McKinney-Esteban Ribovics Lasts Under 1.5 Rounds (-250)

Before diving into the parlay itself, there appears to be a surprising amount of respect given to Ruziboev coming into this 170-pound encounter. The Uzbek fighter has shifted up and down from welterweight and middleweight over the years, and he will be making a drop cut down in weight after appearing a little over a month ago at 185 pounds. The sky may be the limit for the aggressive finisher, but when comparing the strength of schedule, it is rough sledding. Buckley recently beat Alex Morono and Vicente Luque in back-to-back fights, and +115 is a very generous line for Ruziboev compared to -140 for Buckley. With that said, this collision will almost certainly play out like a car crash of offensive skills, with neither man interested in taking a step back. An outright play on Buckley is not out of line, but instead, the stoppage option keeps with our theme in this accumulator.

If Matt Frevola and Benoit St. Denis compete at ludicrous speed, McKinney went plaid years ago and never turned back. In 21 fights, “T. Wrecks” has never heard the final bell, only passing the midpoint of Round 2 once. On the other side of the equation, even though Ribovics has gone to decision in his first two UFC outings, his willing dance partner in McKinney will make sure the third time is the charm for a stoppage. Whether it is McKinney in the opening moments—he celebrates two wins in under 30 seconds in the Octagon—or the Argentinian outlasting the storm and getting the upper hand in a hurry, all that matters is the referee waving the fight off before the halfway point of the second stanza. Based on the combined histories of the four fighters engaging in this parlay, a good payday should result.

Alonzo Menifield (+210)

As one of the most substantial betting underdogs on the bill, a surging Menifield fights fellow rising light heavyweight Carlos Ulberg. Both sport five-fight unbeaten streaks, with Menifield’s four wins and a draw including three stoppages against Ulberg’s five victories with four finishes. Their respective climbs up the ladder have been reasonable and well-matched, and the triumphant man could vault into the Top 10. Since his knockout loss to Kennedy Nzechukwu, Ulberg has leveled up both his striking and grappling arts, and his power has been on full display as he has registered a knockdown in each of his last four trips to the cage. However, with a threat like Menifield, the line appears off, as “Atomic Alonzo” has that name for a reason.

Menifield has been derided for his disappointing losses in the Octagon, where running out of steam after several unsuccessfully explosive attacks cost him greatly. The Texan may not have reeled it all in, but he appears to have done so to the degree where he does not easily win two rounds and has to hold on tight when the opponent comes on strong. Like Ulberg, Menifield has also scored four knockdowns in his last four fights, and liabilities are getting tightened up, as well. If Ulberg and Menifield throw down in the pocket, it becomes anyone’s fight. The -260 favorite known as “Black Jag” could yet get his hand raised, but Menifield is as live an underdog as any with his quick-strike abilities.

Viacheslav Borshchev (-145)

The tried-and-true striker-versus-grappler situational matchup shines brightly as Borshchev and his 86% career knockout rate contend with a wiry submission artist in Chase Hooper. For many of those pairings, the one who can control where the fight takes place is the one who wrestles best. Unfortunately for the underdog, a takedown accuracy rate of 22% does not inspire massive confidence. Every second that Hooper remains upright and in kickboxing range with Borshchev is a second too many if he hopes to keep his head attached to his shoulders. Still raw on the feet, Hooper has too many holes defensively to be competitive against the slugging Borshchev.

On the other side of the coin, the book has been all but written on how to deflate the Team Alpha Male bruiser: Take him down. Borshchev’s five opponents in the UFC have successfully grounded him a whopping 26 times. Hooper will almost certainly try. Given that his takedown shots are not nearly as successful of a strategy compared to a body lock with a trip courtesy of his long limbs, it will be up to him to safely close the distance and tie Borshchev up to drag him down. Until he gets up close and personal with “Slava Claus,” Hooper’s chin will be on the gunnery range, as he tends to stand straight up and lean back when hands fly at him. Borshchev can watch the footage of Steve Garcia’s mauling of Hooper to pick up on tells, and he can emulate that path to victory.
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