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The Ultimate Fighting Championship is back in Boston with UFC on ESPN 6 this weekend. Without trying to scrimp on analysis, one of our picks has not changed from what it was the month before, so we included a small update for it. That out of the way, it's time to get down to business with the UFC Boston edition of Prime Picks.
Dominick Reyes (-165)
Reyes got by former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir by the slimmest of margins, capturing a hotly contested split decision over "No Time" in March. While not a "robbery" on either side as some were to point out, it showed that Reyes may not be quite unstoppable after all. Reyes burst on to the stage following a sensational head kick knockout over Jordan Powell at LFA 13 in June 2017, and went on to finish his first three opponents in the Octagon as well. A one-sided win over Ovince St. Preux led to his clash with Oezdemir, and that victory set him up to face former middleweight king Chris Weidman.
Weidman lost his title dramatically to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194 in December 2015, and has scarcely looked the same since. Three more knockout losses to Yoel Romero, Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo Souza have marred his record, with his only win in the last four years over former interim title challenger Kelvin Gastelum. While Weidman has not been on the losing end of quick drubbings, the way he has lost has been striking. Most recently, Souza separated Weidman from his consciousness in the third round of UFC 230, earning the New Yorker an extra $50,000 for his troubles and head trauma. While Weidman was up on one of the Sherdog official scorers' cards and 19-19 on the other two, a close fight came to an emphatic conclusion when Souza put Weidman down with a right hand on the temple.
In Reyes, Weidman will be facing an opponent with serious knockout power. Just about 17 months ago, "The Devastator" smashed current middleweight contender Jared Cannonier in under three minutes with a walk-off uppercut. A fighter with potential concerns in his chin's durability may find it risky moving up 20 pounds in weight where the opponents generally hit harder. On the other hand, the radical depletion of fluids to make weight will not play as much of a factor in his ability to take a punch. Will Weidman's beard hold up against the aggressive striking style of Reyes, or will Weidman seek other options where he does not need to rely on getting struck in the face for long periods of time?
A question that should be answered in the opening minutes is Reyes' willingness to commit to his kicking game. A NCAA D-I All-American wrestler, Weidman will far and away be the most talented grappler that Reyes has faced in his nearly five-year career. Reyes' best weapon is his head kick, as even if he does not connect with it, his opponent will have it in the back of his mind. Likewise, the threat of the takedown from Weidman could stifle those kicks, out of concern that Weidman could catch one and get the Californian to the canvas. Reyes boasts a solid takedown defense rate of 85 percent, with Oedzemir, St. Preux and Jeremy Kimball each grounding him once among 21 combined attempts in his five UFC fights. His opponent is tied with Thales Leites for the most takedowns landed in UFC middleweight history with 37, and a decent accuracy percentage of about 52 percent gives the Serra-Longo fighter some hope should he decide to utilize a wrestling gameplan.
We see this fight playing out one of two ways: Reyes puts Weidman away with his powerful striking within a few rounds, or Weidman successfully implements his wrestling to nullify the taller striker. The odds indicate that Reyes, riding his unbeaten momentum and facing a fighter moving up in weight after questions of his ability to take prolonged damage, will come out with the win. Even so, the over-under is set at 1.5 rounds (-160), while Fight Goes to Decision is a sizeable +310, meaning that the expectation is that this fight will end in the middle rounds. Reyes Wins by TKO/KO (-110) is a slightly favored result, while Weidman Wins Inside Distance is +250 is less likely to happen in the bookmakers' eyes. We expect that Reyes will take home the win, and although he may have to overcome some adversity and potentially survive off his back for some time, he can punch his ticket for a light heavyweight title shot.
Yair Rodriguez (-105)
It is first important to note that Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens has -- for now -- become a pick-em, while Rodriguez closed as the -120 favorite in their first matchup. As the bout lasted 15 seconds before ending due to a nasty eye poke and/or swipe, this line should not show any significant change compared to the their first meeting less than a month ago. Neither man suffered any long-lasting injury, as Stephens claimed that he has no permanent damage to his eye, nor did the two appear to have any public problems in training camp. While one could argue that "Lil' Heathen" has a chip on his shoulder due to Rodriguez's accusation that Stephens "quit," Stephens is one of the most experienced UFC fighters there is. We do not expect that his approach will change significantly, as he likely did not learn much from their brief foray in September. With this in mind, we are still of the belief that Rodriguez will come out on top, and may do so more comfortably, as Stephens will not have five rounds to land a huge shot that changes the course of the fight.
You can check out a more detailed examination of this fight here.
Joe Lauzon (+140)
Lauzon is facing a critical moment in his career when he locks horns with Jonathan Pearce (-150). Having dropped three straight, including two by technical knockout, and six of his last nine, the perpetually entertaining Lauzon is at a crossroads. Before Donald Cerrone swiped the record for the most bonuses all-time, Lauzon was sitting at the top spot with a remarkable 15 post-fight bonuses. Surprisingly, "J-Lau" has not earned one in any of his last four fights, and this is the longest stretch in his UFC career that he has not taken home bonus money. The last time Lauzon won a bonus was against Jim Miller in August 2016, when the two battled to a "Fight of the Night" split decision that Lauzon controversially dropped. Comparatively, Justin Gaethje signed with the promotion in July 2017, and has since earned seven.
Making his Octagon debut will be Pearce, who earned a shot in the Las Vegas-based promotion with a diving knockout at Dana White's Contender Series, Season 3, Week 3. "JSP" has finished eight of his nine opponents in his wins, including seven due to strikes. This may not bode well for the diminishing chin and durability of his 35-year-old adversary, who has suffered knockouts in three of his last six defeats. However, an intangible that should work in Lauzon's favor is his ability to win almost every time in front of a home crowd. In Massachusetts, Lauzon has competed 14 times and won 13, with the lone blemish his last appearance in the state against Michael Johnson in 2013. Although Clay Guida ran through Lauzon in 67 seconds almost two years ago, Lauzon should have enough in the tank to take home one more win in the arena just over 25 miles from his gym. If you disagree, and feel that Pearce will not only get the job done but also do it within three rounds, Pearce Wins Inside Distance is currently -110.
Maycee Barber (-130)
It might be a dangerous suggestion to pick a fighter who already has their sights set on their next opponent, but we predict that Barber can get her hand raised against Gillian Robertson. A volume striker, Barber has outlanded her opponents by upwards of 30 significant strikes in each of her two Octagon performances. In contrast, Robertson has never needed to land more than 30, with three of her four UFC wins coming by tapout. The common theme in every one of Robertson's UFC bouts is that she has landed at least one takedown. Neither of the American Top Team product’s previous opponents were even willing to try, so her takedown defense is an open question.
Robertson has gone from a contestant on "The Ultimate Fighter: Season 26" bounced out of the competition in the quarterfinals to a flyweight contender, holding the most wins and finishes in divisional history. However, her competition has not been among the ranked fighters at 125 pounds, with none of her four victories coming over a fighter who had won inside the Octagon at that point. As long as Barber stuffs the inevitable takedown and gets her varied striking going on the outside, this fight should be the 21-year-old's to lose. With this win, Barber should enter her name in the title conversation, but it would be advisable if she took one or two more before looking to divisional queen Valentina Shevchenko. If she looks past "The Savage" and is more focused on upcoming opponents like Paige VanZant, she could find her unbeaten record fading away before her eyes.
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