By Nick Stavas, William Burke & Trent Pruitt
An entertaining card is on tap for fight fans this weekend from the UFC Apex center in Las Vegas. This will be the final event stateside before Dana White and Co. packs up shop and ships off to Abu Dhabi for a full lineup of events on Fight Island starting with UFC 253 on September 26th. This 13-fight card includes a total of four ranked match ups, a possible welterweight title eliminator in the main event, a middlweight banger featuring the promotion’s hottest prospect, and a familiar Cowboy making yet another appearance in the Octagon. We previewed all of those fights and offered up our favorite bets as we get you ready for UFC Vegas 11.
Main Card (8 P.M. ET on ESPN+)
– #2 Colby Covington vs. #5 Tyron Woodley – Welterweight Bout
– Donald Cerrone vs. Niko Price – Welterweight Bout
– Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gerald Meerschaert – Middleweight Bout
– #11 Johnny Walker vs. #12 Ryan Spann – Light Heavyweight Bout
– #15 Mackenzie Dern vs. Randa Markos – Women’s Strawweight Bout
– Kevin Holland vs. Darren Stewart – Middleweight Bout
Prelims (5 P.M. ET on ESPN+)
– Mirsad Bektic vs. Eduardo Garagorri – Featherweight Bout
– Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Mara Romero Borella – Women’s Flyweight Bout
– #13 Jordan Espinosa vs #14 David Dvorak – Flyweight Bout
– Sarah Alpar vs. Jessica-Rose Clark – Women’s Bantamweight Bout
– Randy Costa vs. Journey Newson – Bantamweight Bout
– Andre Ewell vs. Irwin Rivera – Bantamweight Bout
– Darrick Miner vs. TJ Laramie – Featherweight Bout
– Tyson Nam vs. Jerome Rivera – Flyweight Bout
Colby Covington (-350) vs. Tyron Woodley (+270)
After a long time in the making, we are finally going to see Colby Covington (15-2) take on Tyron Woodley (19-5) in this banger of a main event.
After starting his UFC career with an underwhelming 3-2 record, Woodley put together one of the greatest runs in the history of the welterweight division on his way to earning the belt. That streak included wins over the likes of Kelvin Gastelum, Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Darren Till. It was truly unprecedented, and after three straight title defenses, Woodley looked damn near unstoppable.
Then along came a guy by the name of Kamaru Usman. Usman tore through the division, mauling just about everyone in his path en route to his title shot. To many fans’ surprise, Usman did the same thing to Woodley. Woodley was totally outmatched, dominated in every single facet of the fight.
After losing his title to Usman, Woodley battled injuries and decided to take a 15-month layoff. In hindsight, I’m not sure that was a great idea. Less than four months ago, Woodley got his brakes beaten off yet again, as current top-ranked contender Gilbert Burns took him through a five-round demolition job.
Going into the fight against Burns, I thought Woodley wasn’t getting nearly the respect he had earned. Looking back, maybe he was getting exactly the amount he deserved. The fact of the matter is this: Woodley just isn’t what he used to be. Regardless of his past accomplishments, gleaming athletic accolades, or his unparalleled journey through the ranks of the top welterweights, the 36-year-old has displayed a sharp decline in skills and cardio over the past two years.
Unfortunately for Woodley, his regression is only going to be exaggerated against a guy that epitomizes skills and cardio. Covington is one of the best pure mixed martial artists on the planet and has a third lung when it comes to fitness. The pace at which Covington fights is truly unmatched. In his title bout against Usman last December, Covington was likely leading on the scorecards 3-1 until Usman recorded the TKO in the fifth round. He’s a savvy boxer with fantastic wrestling skills and a dangerous submission game. The guy can truly do it all. Prior to his scrap with Usman, Covington had won seven straight and he currently holds a 10-2 record in the UFC.
There’s a reason Covington is such a heavy favorite in this fight and frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the gap gets even wider. Woodley has made his living off applying pressure, using his Olympic-caliber wrestling skills and heavy hands to wear down his opponents. Here’s the catch: we haven’t seen him do that in nearly three years. There’s no doubt in my mind that Woodley is still a world class fighter but he hasn’t shown anything in his past two outings to suggest he stands a chance to win this fight.
Five of Covington’s last six fights and six of Woodley’s last eight fights have gone the distance. Unfortunately for us gamblers, Vegas knows that, given the fact that the odds for this fight to see the final horn are somewhere in the -200 range. That’s why I’m going to fade that trend. Both Usman and Burns could have finished Woodley in the championship rounds if they wanted to, but each fighter settled in and got conservative to ensure a decision victory. Something tells me Covington isn’t going to do that. Maybe it’s the brash, Trump-loving, “snowflake triggering” persona that Covington exhibits, or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s a straight up animal in the Octagon (hence the nickname “Chaos”). Either way, I think Covington is going to bulldoze Woodley on Saturday and there’s some serious value in that notion.
Best Bet: Covington inside distance (+325)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Donald Cerrone (+125) vs Niko Price (-155)
Yee-haw! We are back in the saddle this weekend and get the treat of watching Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-15) in the co-main event of the evening. He matches up against the always entertaining Niko Price (14-4) in a bout that screams fight of the night. Both men are coming off recent fights, both fighting in April at UFC 249. Unfortunately for these men, neither were able to get their hand raised that evening. But don’t let that fool you, both men were extremely competitive in their respective fights. In fact, I thought Cowboy won the decision vs Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.
Price, however, didn’t get the benefit of the scorecards, as his fight was stopped via doctor’s stoppage in the third round. He had been battered all evening by Vicente Luque’s overhand right that eventually completely closed his eye. Price had his moments, backing the talented Luque up on multiple occasions and threatening submissions from the ground.
So what are we thinking for this fight? I could see this playing out a number of ways in terms of the winner. The one variable that is a constant? This fight will end in a finish, one way or the other. Niko Price has yet to have had a bout that didn’t end in him finishing his opponent or him getting finished. The sample size isn’t small either, this is 11 UFC fights we are talking about. He is wild and flashy and is always looking for the finish. Safe to say he isn’t in any boring fights.
For Cowboy, people like to spew the narrative that he’s finished because he’s lost four in a row. I could not disagree more. He was facing championship competition in each of those fights. Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, and Anthony Pettis isn’t exactly an easy slate. And as I said earlier, I thought he actually BEAT Pettis. His chin can be brought into question, but it held up pretty well against Pettis, who isn’t known for having pillow hands.
For a fight that seems like a close matchup on paper, how are we betting it? I see these two meeting in the middle early, and exchanging heavy shots that will eventually drop one or the other. Keep an eye out for Cowboy’s left high kick, or a Price wild offering to finish this fight.
Best bets: Under 1.5 rounds (-110), fight won’t start round 3 (-175)
-William Burke (w_burke22)
Khamzat Chimaev (-400) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (+300)
It’s not terribly often we see a fighter come into the UFC and completely take over the media spotlight, but Khamzat Chimaev (8-0) has done just that. Chimaev ruled the month of July, winning two fights over John Phillips and Rhys McKee in just 11 days, setting the record for the fastest turnaround victories in UFC history. To say those performances were dominating is an understatement, as Chimaev outlanded his opponents 192-2 in the combined nine minutes of total fight time. Read more about Chimaev’s climb to becoming a quite literal overnight sensation here. Since this is a betting preview, let’s get down to the logistics of Saturday night’s bout.
This is usually where I talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each fighter, but there’s one simple issue: we haven’t seen any weaknesses in Chimaev’s game. Of his eight professional fights, he has won four by submission and four by KO/TKO. In fact, no one has made it out of the second round with Chimaev, his longest contest coming in his UFC debut against Phillips which lasted just over six minutes. Chimaev is a mauler in the truest sense of the word. He takes his opponents down and unleashes a fury of damaging ground strikes until they essentially just give up.
Possibly the most impressive thing about Chimaev’s first two UFC fights is the fact that they were fought in two different divisions, Phillips being at middleweight and McKee at welterweight. Saturday night’s bout against Gerald Meerschaert (31-13) will take place at 185 pounds.
There’s no question that Meerschaert is easily the toughest test Chimaev has faced in his career. Meerschaert is a consummate veteran with over 40 professional fights under his belt including 11 in the UFC since his debut in 2016. Meerschaert has certainly had his fair share of ups and downs, with notable wins over hot prospects such as Trevin Giles and Oskar Piechota. However, when fighting top notch competition, Meerschaert has struggled immensely, especially against good boxers. Luckily for Meerschaert, Chimaev isn’t a boxer, at least from what he’s shown so far.
Meerschaert has made it clear through interviews and social media posts that he feels disrespected by the fact that Dana White has already booked another fight for Chimaev on Fight Island in October, and rightfully so. Meerschaert is by no means a pushover, the opposite in fact. He’s a wily veteran who has three times the Octagon experience than that of Chimaev.
Vegas obviously isn’t giving him any respect either with these odds. While I think the gap is way too large, I understand why the sportsbooks are favoring Chimaev so heavily here. He’s the next big thing and a surefire future contender.
Assuming Chimaev comes out with the same game plan he used in the first two fights, expect this bout to be more competitive than the odds suggest. The casual proposition for Meerschaert’s path to success is that he needs to avoid getting taken down at all costs and attempt to keep this fight standing up as long as possible. The easy rebuttal to that narrative is that the canvas is where Meerschaert is most comfortable. He is extremely crafty on the ground and really doesn’t mind being on his back, even welcoming it at times. This could make things a little more difficult for Chimaev.
Chimaev shouldn’t have a problem winning this fight judging by the Khabib-esque skill set he has displayed to this point. However, I don’t expect another devastating blowout victory here. I see Chimaev taking some time to wear down Meerschaert, eventually seeking a finish in the latter half of the fight. This makes the total round over very appealing play here, especially at plus-money.
Best Bet: Over 1.5 rounds (+110)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
Mackenzie Dern (-160) vs. Randa Markos (+150)
First thing’s first, make sure you shop your lines. The fluctuation in prices for this fight are crazy as I look from site to site. I found Dern at -160 at our favorite bookmaker, Betonline (which you’ll see an ad for in this preview – click that and get a 50% match on your first deposit) and I found Markos at +150 at Betrivers. I’m not even trying to push our affiliate code, just make sure you don’t get robbed when you’re placing your bets.
Anyways, let’s dive into this one. #15 Mackenzie Dern enters this bout with an 8-1 record overall and is 3-1 in the UFC. Five of her wins have come by submission and three via decision. Dern is a savage when it comes to her BJJ and that held true last time out as she finished Hannah Cifers in the first round with a kneebar. She is going to look to submit Markos in this one – everyone knows this. It’s her biggest strength in the Octagon. But… she’s terrible at takedowns, landing just 7% of attempts and I think that’s going to play a massive role into how we end up betting this fight.
As for Randa Markos, she has flipped wins and losses in 13 fights (excluding a draw in 2018) dating back to 2014. Her most recent fight was with Amanda Ribas in which she lost via unanimous decision in March in Brazil. She boasts a career record of 10-9-1 overall and enters this fight at 34 years old. As we mentioned earlier, Dern will be looking for takedowns and that should play nicely into Markos’ hands as she has a 58% takedown defense but more importantly, she’s a wrestler and she should be able to fend off these attempts.
When doing my research, I watched the virtual media day and Markos said that she recognizes that grappling is Dern’s biggest strength and she’s going to look to stay off the canvas as best as possible. Seeing that Markos is the more experienced fighter, I trust that she’ll be able to control the fight against a young Dern who will be looking to attack. So I’m parlaying Dern’s terrible takedown offense with the fact that Markos literally said she wants no part of going to the ground Saturday into betting that this fight will go the distance. This is going to be a standup fight and neither of these women possess big knockout power so that won’t be a factor. Seven out of the last eight Markos fights have gone to decision while two out of four Dern bouts have gone the distance. Honestly, I think the oddsmakers had no choice but to respect Dern’s submission ability and set the fight to not go the distance at a slight favorite but the trends and stats say this one has a really good shot at going the full fifteen. I love the plus money payout here and I’m confident that it will hit considering Markos hasn’t been submitted since UFC 202 back in August of 2016.
Best Bet: Fight goes the distance (+115)
-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)
Kevin Holland (-265) vs. Darren Stewart (+225)
Very few fighters have taken advantage of this pandemic schedule as much as Kevin Holland. This Saturday will mark his third fight since May as he eyes an opportunity to go 3-0 this year. Holland (18-5) will see a steady veteran in Darren Stewart (12-5) on the other side of the octagon Saturday night.
When breaking down this fight, you have the traditional striker in Holland vs. the heavy handed Stewart. Stewart possesses a unique threat against Holland with his sneaky submission skills as well. Stewart has three UFC submissions to his credit, along with two more KO/TKO finishes. Don’t expect Holland to spend much time trying to get Stewart to the ground.
What has impressed me most about Holland in these two fights is his willingness to fight anyone. He has fought at 170 and 185, even though 170 is his natural weight class. He has developed a patience to his striking to match his power and precision. In his last fight against Joaquin Buckley, he was piecing him up on the feet in the first round. He had him injured, but kept his patient approach and picked his shots beautifully. This kept him out of trouble from counters, and eventually he stiffened Buckley with a right in the second round.
Holland is a sizable favorite in this fight, but I love the prop action you can get on him. I think he will continue to pick his shots well, and use his sizable reach advantage on Stewart to bust him up early and get a later stoppage. The damage will pile up and Holland will finish the fight before the final bell.
Best bet: Holland inside distance (+115)
-William Burke (w_burke22)
Jordan Espinosa (-115) vs. David Dvorak (-115)
Jaw-dropping stat of the day: David Dvorak hasn’t lost a fight since May of 2012.
That’s right, it has been eight years since Dvorak (18-3) added to his loss column; an accomplishment that is extremely rare in any sport.
Having won 13 fights in a row on the regional scene, Dvorak made his UFC debut in March and dominated Bruno Silva from start to finish en route to a unanimous decision victory. Dvorak is a very technical striker who uses nasty leg kicks and long range punch combinations to do damage. He also has quite the submission arsenal, having won seven fights by such method in his career. In fact, all but three of Dvorak’s 18 pro wins have been finished before the final horn.
Dvorak will certainly be facing his most difficult challenge to date in Jordan Espinosa (15-7-1) on Saturday night. The 30-year-old has bounced back and forth between bantamweight and flyweight for most of his pro career, but seems to have settled on staying at 125 for the time being. Since making his debut on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018, Espinosa is 2-2 in the UFC, with his two losses coming to Matt Schnell and Alex Perez, both of whom are ranked in the top 10 in the division. Espinosa draws a lot of similarities from perennial contender and UFC veteran John Dodson: a great boxer with lightning fast hands who struggles on the ground.
As a whole, this fight could really be a breakthrough performance for whoever wins. Each guy is sitting at the bottom of the top 15 in the flyweight rankings and could begin the climb into title contention with a victory on Saturday. The biggest factor on paper is Dvorak’s pace. Even in his regional circuit fights, the constant pressure and volume of strikes can be overwhelming for his opponents. Adding to that, Espinosa has seemingly struggled with cardio at times which could pose as a huge issue against Dvorak.
As I said above, Espinosa isn’t too keen on the ground and has a tendency to expose his head if he’s put in a tough position. Unfortunately for him, that also plays right into Dvorak’s hand. The odds are right where they should be for this one in my opinion because it really is a dead even fight on paper. However, judging from what each guy has shown in their short stints in the UFC, I’m riding with Dvorak to add one more to his wildly impressive winning streak.
Best Bet: Dvorak moneyline (-115)
Value Bet: Dvorak inside distance (+365)
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)