Fighters Only’s UFC 231 betting guide and odds are brought to you by 5Dimes.
The UFC returns to Toronto, Canada for the penultimate PPV of the year. As always, the big names are rolled out for the biggest market outside the US.
As always, I’ll be giving you my picks for the best of the card and 5Dimes will be providing the odds.
UFC Women’s Flyweight championship bout: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
In a parallel universe Valentina ‘Bullet’ Shevchenko could have been fighting Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino at UFC 232 later in December. Shevchenko was on the wrong end of some of the most wayward judging I’ve seen in a title fight when she unsuccessfully challenged Amanda Nunes. Even the watching media couldn’t agree with 10 scoring for Nunes, 10 scoring for Shevchenko and 2 scoring the fight a draw. Personally, I felt it should have gone to Bullet, but while some rounds may be questionable, a split decision was almost inevitable and maybe a draw would have been the fairer outcome. Two losses against the champion and Shevchenko found herself marginalised, for at least as long as Nunes held the belt. Valentina was booked for another title shot, this time at 125lbs, but the fight never materialised.
A little over a year ago the entire MMA community was waxing lyrical over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the then 115lb women’s champion. She was unbeaten in professional MMA and had demonstrated eviscerating striking against Carla Esparza when winning the title, and Jessica Penne on her first defence. These were her last stoppage wins as she followed up with a unanimous decision over Claudia Gadelha, who many felt had won their first encounter, and successive defences against Kowalkiewicz and Andrade. She was hailed as the new Rousey, the best female fighter ever and the hyperbole went into orbit. Joanna lost her title against Rose Namajunas in New York, a display that was as much about her arrogance going into the fight as it was about Namajunas employing the better game plan. A rematch was booked and, while it went longer, the result was the same. Joanna was back to square one and on the outside looking in at 115lbs.
Although this represents the first meeting in MMA, it’s a path well-trodden by both combatants with Shevchenko sitting pretty at 3-0 in Muay Thai alone. This is MMA though and although the preferred styles remain the same, I think that Bullet has evolved her ground game more than Joanna. The difference in size is also huge as Joanna moves up 10lbs while Valentina drops 10lbs, it’s very noticeable too. The main concern would be the weight cut but if that goes fine then I just don’t see Valentina losing. The former champion at 115lbs no longer looks the invincible prospect that she did, and I think that Bullet takes this to move to 4-0 against her opponent.
Recommendation: Valentina Shevchenko – 2 units at -350 (2/7) @ 5Dimes
UFC Featherweight champion ship bout: Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega
It’s been a tough year for Max Holloway. It is easy to forget that an overzealous NYSAC official robbed him of an opportunity, at the ill-fated UFC 223 card, to become another double champion for the UFC. Holloway stepped up at late notice to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the vacant 155lb belt, but medical issues saw him replaced by Al Iaquinta. As fights go it was a no brainer for Max to take the fight as the rewards far outweighed the risks. It wasn’t to be, and another postponement in July left us waiting until December for the first competitive outing for the Hawaiian in 2018. Not that 2017 was too shabby, mind. Back to back third round finishes of Jose Aldo left Holloway peerless at the top of the 145lb pile. Big questions remain over his health as conflicting stories are bounded around the MMA media.
Brian Ortega has come from nowhere to become the new face of 145lbs. A submission specialist by trade this BJJ black belt has tapped out black belts in Diego Brandao and Cub Swanson, while showing that he has power in his hands as he became the first man to finish Frankie Edgar in a potential Knockout of the Year contender. Flying under the radar has served Ortega well as he was matched against Swanson in a fight that was supposed to be a tune up for a title shot for Cub. Fast forward 7 months and Ortega gets the title shot that has so far eluded Swanson. Question is whether Ortega is good enough to beat Max. The ever-shortening odds suggest that he is.
This is a fight whereby the passage of time changes your perception immeasurably. If you’d asked me a year ago who was likely to win then I’d have bet the farm on Holloway. Why? Because he hasn’t put a foot wrong since losing to Conor McGregor 5 years ago. Now? I still favour Holloway and by some distance, but Ortega has continued to upset the odds. I picked Ortega over Edgar, but I never expected a knockout. This is most certainly a huge step up in class for T-City, but we have no idea how high his ceiling is. I’m taking a small play on the underdog purely because MMA is crazy and dumb things happen when least expected. I’m also less than convinced that Max is 100% healthy and that sways my opinion hugely.
Recommendation: Brian Ortega – 1 unit at +115 (21/20) @ 5Dimes
Honourable mention goes to Gunnar Nelson. Nelson, an elite BJJ black belt, should have far too much in the tank for Alex Oliveira. Oliveira struggles against opponents with a solid ground game and while Nelson doesn’t possess the striking to end this fight, he more than makes up for it on the ground.
Recommendation: Nelson by Submission – 2 units at +135 (27/20) @ 5Dimes