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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns from what seemed like a lengthy absence with UFC on ESPN 7 at the Capitol One Arena in Washington, D.C. If the odds for the main event of Combate Americas: Tito vs. Alberto were a little closer, we would have recommended Tito Ortiz in perhaps an accumulator or parlay, but there is little to be gained by a -1100 favorite. Are you ready to make some dead presidents in this edition of Prime Picks?
Alistair Overeem (-110)
It is time for the annual question: “How will Overeem’s chin hold up?” Such a query is reasonable given the amount of knockout losses he has suffered in his MMA and kickboxing careers (16), especially when compounded with his rapidly advancing age (39). We previously posed this question in November 2018, when he faced then-undefeated prospect Sergey Pavlovich. In that bout against the debuting 12-0 knockout artist, Overeem was a slight underdog. He ignored the sportsbooks and pulled off a win that let everyone know he was still a force to be reckoned with in the UFC. Against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, a fearsome kickboxer in his own right, he will likely have to weather an early storm if he wants to come out with a win in a matchup that has shifted to a pick-’em.
Overeem’s accuracy is not to be understated, as he posts an astonishing significant strike accuracy rate of 74 percent -- the highest of any fighter in UFC history. With that efficiency, a knockout rate of 51 percent has followed. That particular percentage does not fully reflect his striking prowess over the last decade, as Overeem has recorded nine of 13 wins since 2010 via strikes. His ground game and submission ability are largely forgotten, as he has not tapped an opponent since James Thompson at Dream 12 in 2009. However, 17 of his victories have come by way of submission, even though “The Demolition Man” has vastly preferred to end fights with strikes of late. If Overeem decides to plant his ex-kickboxer opponent on his back, the Dutchman should hold a massive advantage.
While Overeem is one of the more experienced fighters on the active roster, his 77 total bouts in MMA and kickboxing are actually fewer than that of his younger opponent. With just nine MMA fights under his belt, Rozenstruik has competed upwards of 85 times in the kickboxing ring and recorded over 60 knockouts. All but one of Rozenstruik’s career MMA appearances have ended by knockout within two rounds, and seven of those eight came within the opening frame.
With three knockouts in a combined 6:32 of cage time in Rozenstruik’s brief UFC run, coupled with an 89 percent knockout rate, Overeem will always be in danger in this fight. One short left counter was all “Bigi Boy” needed to set down Allen Crowder, and two follow-up punches shut out the American’s lights out. Like the Crowder fight, a lone quick left hand when Andrei Arlovski was lunging in separated the Belarusian from his faculties. This is a heavyweight fight, so when two fighters that sport knockout power and ability lock horns, anything can happen. While we can easily see a path to victory for the Suriname native, the patience shown by “Econoreem” and a more tactical approach from a distance can keep the former Strikeforce champion out of harm’s way long enough to take down his opponent or hurt him in the clinch. The last two men to get reckless against Rozenstruik woke up staring at the lights, so if Overeem can outwork him and effectively counter his powerful counterpart, he can prevail.
For a mild but worthwhile play, Overeem Wins Inside Distance sits at a solid +105, as we do not see this fight lasting all five rounds. Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision is a bit high at -800, but it appears to be easy money, as this has the makings of a fight that should not exit the first round, no matter who wins. In fact, Under 1.5 Rounds is -140, and that is equally intriguing as a prop bet suggestion. If you think this fight will spell the end of Overeem’s chin, Rozenstruik Wins by TKO/KO is currently +130.
Marina Rodriguez (-125)
There is no shame in being surprised in a fight result, as we did not expect Rodriguez to come out on top against Tecia Torres in August. Instead of Torres keeping her distance, picking her shots and closing the distance when she could find openings, Rodriguez largely controlled all three rounds. The Brazilian outlanded Torres by a better than 2-to-1 clip in terms of significant strikes, stuffing every takedown attempt from “The Tiny Tornado” and even landing one of her own. Cynthia Calvillo will likely test that takedown defense, as she has landed at least one in all but one of her UFC bouts.
Rodriguez will hold a one-inch reach advantage over her opponent and will stand two inches taller, but in her last outing, she showed a clear advantage even in the clinch. Calvillo, who had improved her striking to an extent while training at Team Alpha Male, moved on earlier this year after Justin Buchholz left. Retaining the services of Tiger Muay Thai, she has yet to showcase her skills and may hope to have a transformation the likes of Khalil Rountree.
The American will want to get the fight down to the canvas, as she strongly prefers the rear-naked choke, having tapped three opponents in the Octagon with that move already. Much like the bout against Torres, we expect that Rodriguez will be able to stave off those constant takedown attempts, keep the fight standing and use a varied striking game to take home a win. As a bonus, the prop of Fight Goes to Decision stands at -195, which is a decent bet, as just under half of these two women’s combined bouts have reached the scorecards. This includes nine of the last 11 for the two dating back to 2017.
Aspen Ladd (-150)
Let us preface this pick by first pointing out the obvious: This selection hinges significantly on Ladd’s appearance on the scales at the weigh-in. Her previous weight cut before facing Germaine de Randamie was horrific, and we would have advised any savvy bettors to avoid that UFC Fight Night 155 headliner. Whether a result of the weigh-in drama or a picture-perfect right hand that sent Ladd crashing face first to the canvas, the damage had been done and the hype train somewhat derailed. Coming off her first loss -- one she nearly successfully appealed -- Ladd will look to prove her naysayers wrong across the board.
Ladd, who has found herself with a strength advantage in many of her previous bouts, may find that former featherweight title challenger Yana Kunitskaya will not be as easy to drag down and batter as Lina Lansberg or Tonya Evinger. The Californian’s ability to bully her opponent could work if she manages to land effectively early on, like when Cristiane Justino hurt “Foxy” repeatedly in their bout that lasted just over 200 seconds. In her two appearances following the “Cyborg” fight, Kunitskaya largely employed a game plan of working her opponents against the fence before trying to plant them on the mat. This matchup could play out as one trying to employ a strength advantage over the other, but as long as Ladd is not physically compromised coming into this, she should be able to eke out a win. If you want a prop bet to attach to this bantamweight scrap, Fight Goes to Decision is a solid -180.
Tim Means (-265)
Thiago Alves is perhaps surprisingly 36 years of age, although in fight mileage he appears far older. “Pitbull” made his promotional debut in 2005, far earlier than any fighter on the card and before a majority of the athletes competing in Washington D.C. had even made their pro debuts. In addition to this being his 27th Octagon outing, he has also been involved in nine fights in which he had to subsequently withdraw -- the most of any fighter in UFC history. With this experience and an opponent who shares a similarly lengthy tenure in the sport, these two can potentially collide for a great fight.
Means is coming off the first strike-induced stoppage loss of his career, as he and Niko Price traded leather for nearly five minutes and rocked one another, with the latter coming out on top. Alves and Means have dropped their last bouts, share records of 2-4 in their last six and have been knocked out once along the way. “The Dirty Bird” will celebrate five-inch height and reach advantages over his Brazilian adversary, and traditionally when he catches his opponent, he goes for a finish. Max Griffin hurt Alves early on in their contest, but instead of capitalizing on the damage, he took down Alves. Means, ever the aggressor -- sometimes to his disadvantage -- will be searching for the knockout until the final bell. While he may not be able to stop the ever-durable Alves, he should have enough in the tank to hurt the American Top Team mainstay frequently throughout the bout. One intangible in this welterweight affair is that the Brazilian is on the final fight of his UFC contract, and his future may be substantially different depending on his performance.
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