By: Nick Stavas & Trent Pruitt
Another week, another UFC event. Last week Dana White and the UFC staged three events in just eight days, giving sports fans and gamblers the fix they needed. While most major leagues around the globe are in final discussions of a return, UFC presses on as usual with fight night on Saturday. Luckily we won’t have to hear Bruce Buffer say “Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena” over and over again in this one, as the UFC has packed up and left Florida, retreating back west to its headquarters in Las Vegas. This card will take place at the UFC Apex facility: a brand new, state-of-the-art MMA complex that typically houses Dana White’s Contender Series. As far as most fans are concerned, the location of the octagon is irrelevant as long as there are fights, and fights there shall be. So sit back, enjoy, and if you plan on gambling, look no further for the best plays on Saturday’s main card, we’ve got you covered.
Main Card (9 PM ET on ESPN & ESPN+)
Main Event: Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns – Welterweight Bout
Blagoy Ivanov vs. Augusto Sakai – Heavyweight Bout
Kevin Holland vs. Daniel Rodriguez – Welterweight Bout
Roosevelt Roberts vs. Brok Weaver – Lightweight Bout
Mackenzie Dern vs. Hannah Cifers – Women’s Strawweight Bout
Best bet: most likely to profit
Value bet: best bet relative to Vegas odds
Confidence level: 5-star scale next to each bet (★★★☆☆)
Tyron Woodley (-175) vs. Gilbert Burns (+150)
There is no doubt that this main event is the most exciting fight on this card, just as God intended it. If you’re a casual MMA fan you’re probably wondering why the name Gilbert Burns sounds so familiar. Well, that’s because it’s barely even been two months since we last saw him in the octagon. Burns is on a five-fight tear, with his most recent victory being over Demian Maia at UFC Brasilia back in March. Originally, it was Leon Edwards who was lined up to take on Tyron Woodley in a pseudo-title eliminator, but a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and concerns from Edwards’ camp caused that bout to fall through. Thus, Dana White dialed up Burns, who signed the contract on short notice. Burns isn’t new to this, though. In fact, Burns knocked off Gunnar Nelson just six weeks after beating the brakes off then-undefeated Alexey Kunchenko. Needless to say, Burns is arguably one of the hottest fighters in the entire UFC right now. The only problem for Burns is that Woodley is a massive step up in competition from his previous five opponents.
This will be the first time Woodley climbs inside the cage since losing his title to current champ Kamaru Usman in March 2019. With an entire year layoff, it’s hard to say what exactly we can expect from the 38-year-old Woodley. It’s important to note, however, that he IS still the top-ranked contender in the welterweight division, and it’s hard for me to accept that just a year’s worth of ring rust will have a major effect on a world class fighter such as Woodley. Looking at Woodley’s pure power in his hands, coupled with his college wrestling background at Missouri and a full arsenal of boxing skills, it’s easy to see why he held the welterweight belt for nearly three whole years. Burns will likely have a pretty significant advantage in the jiu-jitsu portion of this fight, but if Woodley can keep Burns on his feet and in the center of the octagon, I don’t see him having much of a problem. While Burns’ winning streak is no joke, I feel like the jump in competition will be too much for him to handle.
Best Bet: Woodley (-175) ★★★★☆
Value Bet: Woodley by stoppage (+150) ★★★☆☆
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Blagoy Ivanov (-105) vs. Augusto Sakai (-115)
This heavyweight bout pins the Bulgarian, Blagoy Ivanov up against the up-and-coming Brazilian, Augusto Sakai. Ivanov boasts an 18-3 record in his professional career and current form is LWLWW while his opponent enters at 14-1-1 with five straight wins. Sakai is 4-0 since entering the UFC and is looking to continue his climb to the top of a log jammed Heavyweight Division. In order to do so, he’ll have to either knock out Ivanov early or possess the stamina to outlast Blagoy over three rounds.
When it comes to this matchup I draw a lot of comparisons from a fight we just saw two weeks ago in Walt Harris vs. Alistair Overeem. In this bout, Sakai plays Harris where he possesses the heavy knockout power while Ivanov takes the role of Overeem, a much more technical fighter that is willing to take a beating until he can find his opportunity to strike. I think what makes this fight interesting is that it won’t be “Knockout or Bust” for Augusto, like we saw a couple of weeks ago in Jacksonville. Sakai is a knockout machine, boasting 11 of his 14 wins via the knockout but the other 5 fights on his resume have gone the distance where he is 3-1-1 and hasn’t lost a decision since May of 2017.
Okay, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty… Part of me really wants to roll with Sakai since he has the big knockout power, boasts a 4-inch reach, and is on a hot streak. On the flip side, I think that Ivanov will be able to survive the barrage of punches in the first round and look to win rounds two and three since he’s the more technical fighter. By the way, six out of his previous seven fights have gone the distance and his decision losses are to heavy hitters consisting of Junior Dos Santos (7/2018) & Derrick Lewis more recently (11/2019). I’m going with the underdog in Blagoy Ivanov for a smaller play here as I believe he may get to use the ground game to his advantage here, an area where Sakai has yet to be tested. The Bulgarian averages 1.07 takedowns per fight with a takedown conversion rate of 62%. Ivanov definitely has the advantage if and when he withstands the early attack. No doubt why this fight is even in the eyes of the oddsmakers, it should be a good one!
Best Bet: Ivanov (-105) ★★☆☆☆
– Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)
Daniel Rodriguez (-325) vs. Gabriel Green (+275)
Up until Tuesday night, this bout was slated to be Daniel Rodriguez vs. Kevin Holland. Unfortunately for both parties, Holland suffered an injury in training and was deemed unable to perform. With that news, Rodriguez is being forced to totally shift his game plan and prepare for UFC newcomer Gabriel Green, whom Dana White had on standby in the case that Holland failed his physical. Green will be making his UFC debut on less than a week’s notice, which isn’t ideal, especially considering he hasn’t fought professionally in almost two years. However, the 27-year-old Green isn’t new to big stages in the MMA world having fought multiple times in CXF and Bellator events. His counterpart Rodriguez is fairly new on the scene in the UFC too. In his debut in February, Rodriguez submitted UFC veteran Tim Means in a wild standing guillotine choke. With a win under his belt and a freshman opponent across the octagon, Rodriguez comes into this fight as a heavy favorite against the rookie Green. Rodriguez is undoubtedly the more experienced fighter and has a wide array of finishing tactics, with stellar knockout power and a versatile jiu-jitsu skill set that allows him to sink in submissions from almost any position. Green’s style is very similar, but again, given the fact that he wasn’t even aware he was fighting until just two nights ago, the advantage clearly lies with Rodriguez.
Best Bet: Rodriguez by stoppage (-165) ★★★★☆
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Roosevelt Roberts (-325) vs. Brok Weaver (+250)
While the skill level and overall matchup might be considerably uneven, this has the potential to be the most fan-friendly fight on the card. After competing on the Ultimate Fighter, Roosevelt Roberts is now three fights deep into his UFC career. Those fights include a loss to Vinc Pichel sandwiched in between victories over Thomas Gifford and UFC veteran Alexander Yakovlev. At 6-foot-1, Roberts typically holds a pretty significant size and reach advantage over his fellow lightweight fighters. However, in this bout, his opponent measures nearly identical in both categories. MMA journeyman Brok Weaver enters Saturday on a five-fight winning streak, his most recent being a disqualification victory over Rodrigo Vargas, who was picking Weaver apart until throwing an illegal knee. Weaver is a brawler, through-and-through. My best comparison would be Nate Diaz in the sense that Weaver is always moving forward with reckless abandon looking for that big shot to end it. The only issue with that comparison is that Weaver lacks the chin strength, grappling skills, octagon control, conditioning and boxing savvy that Diaz possesses. So maybe it isn’t a great comparison? Regardless, Roberts is the much more technical fighter with the ability to hold his own both on the ground and in a stand-and-bang scrap. There’s no doubt Weaver will be swinging for the fences trying to end this fight early, which is why it should be fan-friendly. Unless Weaver does land that knockout shot, it’s likely that this fight goes the distance, simply because Roberts is pretty methodical in his approach to most opponents. Ultimately, I expect Roberts to have no issue carving up Weaver using his much more polished fighting style.
Best Bet: Roberts (-325) ★★★★★
Value Bet: Roberts by decision (+120) ★★★☆☆
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Mackenzie Dern (-390) vs. Hannah Cifers (+325)
The Main card kicks off with a strawweight matchup between a pair of Americans. Mackenzie Dern enters with a 7-1 record and this will be her second bout back after maternity leave and she’s a heavy betting favorite against Hannah Cifers, who comes in at 10-4 and was just slaughtered by Angela Hill last time out.
As for the breakdown of this fight, Hannah Cifers will want to avoid going to the ground with Dern as she boasts four of her professional victories via the submission. Additionally, Cifers will want to keep this fight upright as she has five knockouts to her resume so that is her best chance of winning. Ultimately, I don’t think overanalyzing this bout is a good idea and I believe Dern will walk away victorious. Our best shot to cash a reasonably priced ticket is to knock down the heavy juice on Dern and take her to win inside the distance. If this one goes to the ground, which it should, Mackenzie will get the submission victory.
Best Bet: Dern (-390) ★★★★★
Value Bet: Dern by stoppage (-145) ★★☆☆☆
– Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)