By Nick Stavas
UFC 252 is finally here. The main event features two of the greatest fighters in MMA history set to square off for a third time in a winner-take-all battle for legacy. It’s hard to imagine that a fight of this historical caliber will take place in front of an empty room, but regardless of the circumstances, it will undoubtedly be a monumental clash with the world watching on the edge of their seats. That fight and more main card bangers are featured in below as we get you ready for Saturday’s fight card in Las Vegas.
Main Card (10 P.M. ET on ESPN+ PPV)
– (C) Stipe Miocic vs. #1 Daniel Cormier – UFC Heavyweight Championship
– #14 Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera – Bantamweight Bout
– #5 Junior Dos Santos vs. #6 Jairzinho Rozenstruik – Heavyweight Bout
– #12 John Dodson vs. #15 Merab Dvalishvili – Bantamweight Bout
– Herbert Burns vs. Daniel Pineda – Featherweight Bout
Prelims (8 P.M. ET on ESPN)
– Jim Miller vs. Vinc Pichel – Lightweight Bout
– Ashley Yoder vs. Livinha Souza – Women’s Strawweight Bout
– #15 Felice Herrig vs. Virna Jandiroba – Women’s Strawweight Bout
– TJ Brown vs. Danny Chavez – Featherweight Bout
Stipe Miocic (-110) vs. Daniel Cormier (-110)
Two storied careers and legendary competitors will finally settle the score in this trilogy fight for the UFC heavyweight strap between Stipe Miocic (19-3) and Daniel Cormier (22-2).
In the first meeting, Cormier became the first fighter in the promotion’s history to move up from light heavyweight to challenge the heavyweight king. Fresh off three straight title defenses and the greatest run in the long history of the division, Miocic seemed unbeatable. He wasn’t. Cormier knocked Miocic unconscious in the first round to become a two division champion.
Fast forward 13 months, Miocic was hungry for revenge, and revenge he received. A much longer and more greuling scrap saw Cormier win the first three rounds with ease until Miocic made a major adjustment and turned Cormier’s lights out in the fourth.
Fast forward yet another year, and here we are. Set for the biggest fight in the biggest division for the most prized piece of jewelry in the sport. Now what?
There’s so many factors that go into finding a good play for this fight. Size, strength, weight, past results, odds, you name it, it ought to be discussed. One critical thing to note is that since this fight will be taking place at the UFC Apex center, the cage will be 30 percent smaller than regulation size. For the lower weight classes this really hasn’t made much of a difference, but with a couple of 240-pound behemoths in the cage, it very well could play a key role in determining the outcome of this bout.
Cormier has been open about his gameplan, saying he hopes to use his Olympic-level wrestling to his advantage to put Miocic in an uncomfortable position. From here, I’d assume Cormier will attempt to inflict damage with ground strikes and possibly even look for a submission, considering he has seven submission victories on his record.
Miocic, on the other hand, hasn’t said much about what he plans to do. A few months ago there were rumors that Miocic was pushing for a larger cage with the thought that the smaller Octagon gives grapplers like Cormier an advantage that they wouldn’t normally have if it were regulation size. Apparently those requests from Miocic’s camp failed to hit home with the UFC, because in the past couple weeks Miocic has flipped the script, becoming optimistic about his chances against Cormier in the smaller arena. Regardless, I don’t expect Miocic to stray away from what got him to this point: powerful, precise boxing, elite footwork and solid wrestling skills. All of these attributes are what allowed Miocic to become the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time, and I fully believe he’ll bring those to the table again Saturday.
Picking a winner in this fight is like trying to pin a medal on a shadow. With pick ‘em odds, I really don’t see any value on either side of the moneyline. However, the total round play is quite appealing. Due to the fact that Cormier has been so adamant about taking Miocic down and going to work on the ground, I’m going to lean toward the over here. Cormier is undoubtedly the better, more accomplished grappler, but assuming Cormier can just walk in and ragdoll Miocic is ludicrous. Miocic has good enough submission defense and clinch tactics to make Cormier work. As I have always stressed in every UFC betting preview, ground fights almost always lead to slower finishes, and if Cormier decides to follow through with the game plan that he has in mind, I think that’s what we’re going to get here.
Best Bet: Over 2.5 rounds (-135)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Sean O’Malley (-310) vs. Marlon Vera (+240)
Episode 13 of The Suga Show is upon us.
“Sugar” Sean O’Malley (12-0) is undoubtedly the hottest, most exciting prospect in the entire UFC and has built a fanbase that is teetering on the brink of a cult following. With his exciting finishes, brash personality and outrageous social media gambits, O’Malley has quickly become one of the most popular fighters in the world. Some will argue that the build-up surrounding him is overblown considering he has yet to beat a ranked opponent, but those grievances can be directed toward the promotion just as much as O’Malley himself. Is the hype train too big? Maybe. Is O’Malley unproven? Yes, in some ways. However, regardless of his antics outside the cage, the man has delivered every time he has stepped inside the Octagon thus far.
The 25-year-old Arizonian is currently undefeated and is 4-0 in the UFC since earning his contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017. As a stand-up fighter, it’s hard to find another guy that moves in the way O’Malley does; constantly entertaining and always unpredictable. The creativity in his striking and footwork has been unmatched to this point, as he uses textbook faints to collect data on his opponent’s movements before attacking both high and low with quick, powerful strikes. In 2018, O’Malley was suspended by the USADA for a debatable violation, sidelining him for the entirety of 2019. However, O’Malley seems to be back on the path to superstardom, having recorded consecutive first-round knockouts of Jose Quinonez and Eddie Wineland in the span of just three months.
Marlon “Chito” Vera (17-6-1) is without question the tallest task for O’Malley to this point. Despite being just 27 years old, Vera is a seasoned veteran. Since his Ultimate Fighter victory back in 2014, Vera holds a 9-5 record in the UFC with notable wins over the likes of Andre Ewell, Frankie Saenz and Brian Kelleher. Most recently, Vera lost via unanimous decision to Song Yadong, but to be fair, Yadong is on a five-fight undefeated tear since entering the UFC. When on the feet, Vera is a brawler, using powerful punch combinations to gain entry for an eventual takedown. Once on the ground, he has fantastic jiu-jitsu skills and a wide variety of dangerous submissions.
On paper, it’s pretty clear that Vera poses threats that O’Malley has yet to face in his career. O’Malley has shown that he can wrestle, particularly in the Andre Soukhamtath fight, but he’s never squared off against a grappler with the credentials that Vera possesses. Likewise, Vera has never faced an opponent with the striking skill set that O’Malley has showcased. I think this fight essentially comes down to the fact that O’Malley’s striking advantage over Vera is greater than Vera’s grappling advantage over O’Malley. Like I said above, Vera’s main source of offense is pressing forward with kicks and punches to push his opponents against the fence and take them down. With a three inch advantage in height and reach, O’Malley fights at a range that will not allow Vera to execute said game plan, which should leave Vera with very few methods of victory. I’m not ruling out the possibility that this is a good fight, considering it is definitely the toughest test O’Malley has faced to date, but something tells me the Suga Show could be adding another clip to the highlight reel come Saturday night.
Best Bet: O’Malley inside distance (+150)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Merab Dvalishvili (-210) vs. John Dodson (+160)
Former title challenger John Dodson (21-11) is set to make yet another appearance in the Octagon Saturday night. After bouncing between flyweight and bantamweight for nearly the entirety of his career, it seems as if Dodson has settled on staying at bantamweight for the time being. With the consensus “fastest hands” in the UFC, Dodson is able to throw strikes before his opponents even see it coming. His boxing and footwork is masterclass and it usually makes up for the height and reach he gives up in most fights considering he’s only 5-foot-3.
Dodson will be taking on a much bigger and stronger opponent in Merab Dvalishvili (11-4). As a foundation wrestler, Dvalishvili has made massive strides in his striking game over the course of his career, but still relies mainly on his elite grappling skills. Dvalishvili is one of, if not the best, grappler in the bantamweight division and has wasted no time showing that in his recent fights. Since starting his UFC career a meager 0-2, Dvalishvili is on a four-fight win streak dating back to September of 2018. This can be partly attributed to his time training at Serra Jiu-Jitsu in New York, home to legendary coaches Matt Serra and Ray Longo. The word “imposing” is often used in the world of combat sports, and maybe too often. However, if there was one word to describe Dvalishvili’s fighting style, it is most certainly that. Dvalishvili’s ability to suffocate his opponents on the ground and wear them down to the point of exhaustion is borderline disturbing.
Dodson’s unrivaled speed and striking ability has allowed him to stick around in the UFC for a long time, but I feel as if Dvalishvili has the wherewithal to counteract that with his grappling. Not only that, but Dodson’s wrestling defense, while serviceable, has never been completely up to par against world class ground fighters. All of this points towards a slow, grueling fight that should live to see the final horn, with Dvalishvili controlling the octagon and making it a long night for Dodson.
Best Bet: Dvalishvili by decision (-130)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Vinc Pichel (-120) vs. Jim Miller (-110)
Usually a matchup between two men over the age of 35 would never be tabbed with fight of the night potential, but if there ever was one, this is it. Jim Miller (32-14) is the definition of a company man that likes to stay busy. This fight on Saturday will be Miller’s eighth appearance in the Octagon since the start of 2018. He’s a blueprint mixed martial artist who couples solid striking skills with sneaky good jiu-jitsu and wrestling. In his prime, Miller went toe-to-toe with some of the best fighters in the history of the lightweight division, including Anthony Pettis, Dustin Poirier, Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz. Granted, those were all losses, but Miller is no stranger to the bright lights, having headlined many Fight Night events and even spending some time ranked in the top 10. Now 36 years old, Miller seems to be trending toward the end of his career, but he isn’t done yet. You might recall just two months ago when Miller caught Roosevelt Roberts with a nasty armbar and submitted him in the first round.
Speaking of which, this fight could be touted as the Roosevelt Roberts bowl, considering both Miller and his opponent, Vinc Pichel (12-2), each recorded their most recent victories over Roberts.
Pichel didn’t defeat him as easily as Miller did, however. That bout was a 15-minute war, with Pichel and Roberts going back and forth for the first two rounds until Pichel eventually did enough in the third to win the fight by decision. The most important thing to note: that fight was in June of 2019, meaning it has been over a year since Pichel climbed into the cage. Pichel is essentially the opposite of Miller in terms of activity, having fought only six times since 2014 and dealing with a plethora of injuries and health issues along the way. The sample size on what Pichel brings to the table is small and it’s difficult to judge a fighter’s skill set off of performances that took place over three years ago. From what we have seen, Pichel is a good boxer who has serious power in his hands and a decent wrestling arsenal.
In my eyes, there’s no question that Miller is the better all-around fighter between these two. Some would argue that Pichel has an advantage on the feet, but even that argument is weak considering Roberts pieced him up for a good seven minutes. Pichel also has a bad habit of leaving his chin exposed when throwing his powerful combinations, which could end up costing him against an experienced southpaw counter-puncher like Miller. On top of that, Miller’s grappling advantage is huge, as his constant pressure and submission creativity could pose major problems for Pichel if this fight gets taken to the ground. There’s always the possibility that Pichel catches Miller with one of his patented overhands, but given Miller’s fight IQ and the durability of his chin, I don’t see him getting caught making a mistake like that. I think Miller is the safe choice to win what should be an incredibly entertaining scrap to kick off the main card.
Best Bet: Miller moneyline (-110)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)