Main Card (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV)
– (C) Stipe Miocic (+100) vs. #1 Francis Ngannou (-130) – UFC Heavyweight Championship
– #7 Tyron Woodley (+210) vs. #10 Vicente Luque (-270) – Welterweight Bout
– Sean O’Malley (-310) vs. Thomas Almeida (+240) – Bantamweight Bout
– #15 Gillian Robertson (+135) vs. Miranda Maverick (-165) – W. Flyweight Bout
– Khama Worthy (-130) vs. Jamie Mullarkey (+100) – Lightweight Bout
Prelims (8 p.m. ET on ESPN)
– Alonzo Menifield (-300) vs. Fabio Cherant (+235) – Light Heavyweight Bout
– Abubakar Nurmagomedov (-240) vs. Jared Gooden (+190) – Welterweight Bout
– Michael Oleksiejczuk (-170) vs. Modestas Bukauskas (+140) – Light Heavyweight Bout
-Omar Morales (-190) vs. Shane Young (+155) – Featherweight Bout
Early Prelims (7:30 p.m. ET on Fight Pass/ESPN+)
– Marc-Andre Barriault (-125) vs. Abu Azaitar (+100) – Middleweight Bout
Stipe Miocic (+100) vs. Francis Ngannou (-130)
For the first time in over three years, the heavyweight belt will be on the line in a fight that does not feature Daniel Cormier. With the Miocic-Cormier trilogy finally settled once and for all, the door is open for all comers to challenge for the heavyweight title. Of course, this fight is a rematch as well, as undisputed champion Stipe Miocic (20-3) will again defend his strap against top-ranked contender Francis Ngannou (15-3).
While the title of “baddest man on the planet” will be up for grabs Saturday, I don’t think there’s any debate about who the scariest man on the planet is. Francis Ngannou is absolutely terrifying. The duration of Ngannou’s last four bouts are as follows: 45 seconds, 26 seconds, 71 seconds, 18 seconds. Ngannou dispatches his opponents before they even know what hit them and he is undoubtedly the most powerful puncher in the UFC. Obviously, the incredibly short nature of these fights leaves a lot to be desired when analyzing Ngannou’s skills, which suggest that the one-punch knockout might just be the full extent of his skills. Ngannou wants to get in, put you to sleep, and get out. There’s not much to it.
That style certainly is entertaining and leads to a lot of highlight-reel finishes, but it also served as Ngannou’s downfall in the first matchup against Miocic back in 2018. Miocic exposed Ngannou for lacking the necessary technique and cardio to win a five-round fight. After Miocic survived the flurry of kill shots in the first round, the fight was essentially over. Ngannou’s cardio failed him miserably and Miocic used his speed, wrestling and clinch skills to control him for the remainder of the fight en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Now here we are, 39 months later, and these two are ready to run it back. Unfortunately for Ngannou, I don’t see this fight playing out any differently than the first one. Miocic is better than Ngannou in almost every facet of MMA. He’s a smarter, faster and more efficient striker, while his wrestling is obviously far superior, which he proved in the first meeting.
At this point, it seems futile to bet against the champion, which is why the odds are puzzling. Ngannou being the favorite in this fight makes no sense to me.
Looking back through the entire history of the UFC, the victor in the first fight wins the rematch at a 63% clip. You might be thinking, “well, the first meeting between Miocic and Ngannou was more than three years ago, so doesn’t that count for something?” The answer is no, because Ngannou hasn’t shown us anything since then to suggest that he can handle Miocic’s versatility. All of those blistering first-round knockouts tell us nothing about how Ngannou has improved in his wrestling, clinch grappling or cardio.
This fight really just comes down to whether or not Miocic can survive the first round again. If he can, I don’t see any paths to victory for Ngannou. Miocic will likely wrestle his way to another decision victory or a late finish and ride off into the sunset with the heavyweight belt around his waist once more. Of course, making it through the first round against Ngannou is no easy task, but Miocic has done it before, so I don’t see why he couldn’t do it again.
Miocic is the greatest heavyweight in the history of mixed martial arts and to make him the underdog in this spot seems a bit disrespectful, but I’ll gladly take the plus-money gift from Vegas. Miocic should be able to use his footwork and speed to avoid getting clipped early, and from there he’ll have no issues wearing out Ngannou on the ground and in the clinch. For those reasons, I’m quite confident we’ll be hearing Bruce Buffer yell “and still” when this is all said and done.
Best Bet: Miocic moneyline (+100)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Tyron Woodley (+210) vs Vicente Luque (-270)
In what has now been pushed to our co-main event of the evening, we have a high stakes fight taking place in the welterweight division. Tyron Woodley (19-6) tries to end his three fight slide as he takes on talented striker Vicente Luque (19-7).
For Tyron Woodley, one could argue this is the most important fight of his career. A loss in this fight could put his spot on the UFC roster in jeopardy. With the UFC lately cutting ties with aging former title holders on skids, Woodley needs to be on notice in this fight. In his last three bouts, what killed him is his tentativeness to let his hands go. He has been pressured against the fence and he hasn’t thrown anything to get the respect of his opponent, basically taking a backseat for the entire fight. He needs to change that in this fight. Luckily for him, he won’t have to worry as much about getting taken down here as his grappling credentials should hold up much better against Luque. Woodley still poses elite power in his hands and great wrestling skills. He needs to take the center of the Octagon early and often and keep the pressure on Luque. If he can do that, he will have himself in a great position to win the fight.
For Luque, the recipe is quite clear. Press Woodley up against the cage and let his elite striking and granite chin lead the way. He has a piston for a jab, and he follows it up with extremely crisp combinations to either try and get a finish or carry him to a decision win. Luque has built an incredibly impressive record with wins in his last 11 of 13 fights. His only losses coming to top contenders in Leon Edwards and Stephen Wonderboy Thompson.
So when looking at all the variables in this fight, I feel compelled to take the underdog in Tyron Woodley. He won’t have to worry about the same level of wrestling and grappling that he has in his past three losses, and I think he will fight with incredible urgency. Expect lots of clinch exchanges and takedown attempts from Woodley, just doing anything he can to get back in the win column.
Best Bet: Woodley moneyline (+210)
Value Bet: Woodley by decision (+385)
–William Burke (@w_burke22)
Sean O’Malley (-310) vs. Thomas Almeida (+240)
The Suga Show has returned.
“Sugar” Sean O’Malley (12-1) is one of the most exciting rising stars in the promotion and has potential to become a legitimate threat in the bantamweight division. Even though the Suga Show hype train was slightly derailed last August after O’Malley was finished by Marlon Vera, it seems as if it’s starting to leave the station again. O’Malley suffered a leg injury about halfway through the first round against Vera, and Vera capitalized, essentially kicking O’Malley’s leg out from under him. O’Malley couldn’t walk out of the Octagon on his own power after suffering the first loss of his career. Tough scene to watch for any Suga fans.
O’Malley is back, however, and poised to start another win streak in hopes of finding himself in the bantamweight rankings soon. Stylistically, O’Malley is an elite striker who uses awkward faints and movements to throw his opponents off their rhythm. O’Malley is lightning fast and has an abundance of different attacks he can use to finish opponents.
O’Malley’s unconventional style and precise striking will be a tall task for his counterpart, Thomas Almeida (22-4). Almeida is quite literally the opposite of a surging prospect. Once a title contender at 135 pounds, Almeida is trending in the wrong direction and could be fighting for his job on Saturday. Almeida started his professional career at 20-0 and appeared to have all the tools to be a champion in the UFC. Then, things went sideways. Almeida is now the loser of three straight and hasn’t won a fight in nearly five years. Following a two-year layoff, Almeida made his return to the Octagon against Jonathan Martinez in October, where he lost by unanimous decision.
When Almeida is at his best, he can be dangerous. His boxing is crisp and he possesses some serious power in his hands, with 17 of his 22 pro victories coming by KO/TKO. The issue with that notion is the fact that Almeida is clearly not at his best anymore. He hasn’t really fixed any holes in his game and has recently been relying solely on his toughness, which will only get you so far in this sport.
Almeida will likely come out throwing calf kicks like a mad man simply because that’s what Vera used to beat O’Malley, but I have to believe that O’Malley and his team have diligently worked to defend those.
Outside of calf kicks, O’Malley holds a clear advantage in nearly every aspect of this fight, which explains the lopsided odds. There is some value in the props, though.
I think Almeida’s tendency to leave his chin open in the stand-up is going to cost him in this fight. O’Malley is so calculated and fast with his strikes that he should be able to expose the holes in Almeida’s defense relatively easily, leading to a fight-ending shot at some point. I’m backing O’Malley to finish this bout before the final horn sounds.
Best Bet: O’Malley inside distance (-115)
Value Bet: O’Malley by KO/TKO (+160)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Gillian Robertson (+135) vs. Miranda Maverick (-165)
This fight was initially scheduled to take place on one of the preliminary cards, but thanks to the Volkanovski vs Ortega bout being cancelled, it was promoted to the main card. Gillian Robertson and Miranda Maverick are fighters who are very alike in many ways and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that their fighting styles mirror each other, but this bout will tell us whether or not the rising prodigy of Maverick is ready to claim her position as a top flyweight fighter.
There’s a breed of athlete in sports that can be identified fairly easily by any observant fan, the type of athlete that is clearly elite, but cannot penetrate the upper echelon of the sport. Their talent is undeniable and has been proven, but when facing those who are truly and objectively members of the upper echelon, they fall short. In this fight, that athlete is Gillian Robertson (9-5). “The Savage” is a wonderful talent with some very nice results in her career, but against women like Cynthia Calvillo, Talia Santos, and Maycee Barber, Robertson has been outclassed.
At 25 years old there’s still plenty of time to improve and her skills can be sharpened, but the fighter is in desperate need of a meaningful victory and this, the most important fight of her career, could suffice. Robertson’s wrestling is her strength, excelling in neck chokes, but a finishing of Sarah Frota with her elbows proved that Robertson isn’t a one-trick pony. However, while Robertson generally holds an advantage in her wrestling game, that might not be the case against Miranda Maverick (8-2).
Despite owning the most wins, stoppages, and submissions in women’s flyweight history, Robertson is an underdog against the 23 year old Maverick. Maverick rose through the ranks of Invicta before shifting to the UFC where she splashed in her debut by forcing the doctor to intervene on the behalf of Liana Jojua. The Missourian has displayed her submission skills with a variety of naked chokes and a very nice armbar in her repertoire and will intend to prove her abilities by enacting them against Robertson.
In a lot of fights between two very accomplished wrestlers the two can end up standing for a majority of the fight, not desiring to invite the other to capitalize on a mistake. While I could see that happening, I feel as though the young women will both desire to assert their wrestling dominance given the implications of the fight. The winner will become or continue to be a ranked contender and a dominant performance could net a fighter with just a single numeral preceding their name.
Despite Robertson being the older and more experienced fighter, I believe that Maverick holds the advantage in most areas of this fight. Robertson doesn’t even own the reach advantage despite being two inches taller than her opponent. I believe that Maverick owns the edge in power and wrestling and should take away the victory because of it.
Best Bet: Maverick moneyline (-165)
Value Bet: Maverick inside distance (+350)
– Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
Khama Worthy (-130) vs. Jamie Mullarkey (+100)
The opening bout on the main card is a lightweight bout between a pair of unranked contenders, Khama Worthy and Jamie Mullarkey, who are both looking to put some exclamation points on their careers and break their slumps. Worthy, a talented finisher, would like to make one more good run before beginning to think about retirement. Mullarkey is just 26 and will be looking to pick up his first UFC win and get his career back on track.
Worthy’s journey to this point in his UFC career has been an interesting one, with a modeling career, a loss to an unknown Paul Felder, and a 2-4 stretch that nearly saw him exit the sport altogether. Worthy (16-7) struck with MMA, however, and reeled off seven straight wins before dropping his most recent fight to Ottman Azaitar. “The Deathstar” found his way in the sport by being a threat both on his feet as well as on the canvas. Worthy has earned choke and knockout wins in the UFC and only has four decision results in his entire career.
On the other hand we have Jamie Mullarkey (12-4), a rising star out of Australia who has struggled in his UFC career. In two fights Mullarkey has yet to register a victory despite entering the promotion with a 12-2 record and eight knockouts, meaning that he’ll be desperate for a victory at UFC 260. Earning a win over Worthy might not get Mullarkey any sort of ranking or ranked fight, but it will keep him on the UFC roster, something that isn’t currently a guarantee.
The reason this fight doesn’t have a bigger disparity in terms of odds is mainly because of Worthy’s age and his last fight, but I’m not buying into that. I don’t think Mullarkey has the skill to dance with the best fighters in the world and Worthy, even though his skills are dulled, is one of those fighters. I expect to see Worthy to get back on track with a victory over the underdog.
Best Bet: Worthy moneyline (-125)
Value Bet: Worthy inside distance (+160)
– Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)