It’s the first UFC card of the year and a debut for the latest broadcast partner, ESPN+. As expected, this card is headlined by a title fight as TJ Dillashaw looks to join Amanda Nunes as the only other reigning double champion in the UFC.
As always, I’ll be giving you my picks for the best of the card and 5Dimes will be providing the odds.
Donald Cerrone vs. Alex Hernandez:
Donald Cerrone makes his first appearance of 2019 in the very first card of the year! If recent history is an indicator, then this could be a 5-fight year for Cowboy. Time hasn’t been particularly kind to Cerrone, at least in the last two years as he finds himself in the unenviable position of gatekeeper at 155lbs – not winning enough fights to challenge for any titles, but still enough of a name for a rookie keen to make his bones.
Alexander ‘The Great’ Hernandez rides into town looking to extend a winning streak to 9-0. A single loss back in 2013 is the only blemish on his record and he looks to add Cerrone to his two previous victims in the UFC. Hernandez was a +260 (15/4) outsider against Beneil Dariush and a narrow underdog at -110 (10/11) against Olivier Aubin-Mercier. This time he starts as the favourite and the line has progressively tumbled from -130 to -190 as the money comes in.
This is a fight which is booked for a Hernandez win. As the up and comer, he carries the weight of expectation and will know that a win over the wily veteran could set him up for bigger things. Cerrone on the other hand, is just here to fight. Sure, he likes to win and the money that comes with it, but he is more about testing himself against the best the UFC are prepared to throw at him. Hernandez won’t have faced anyone in his fledgling career that is as rounded or dangerous as Cerrone but if he is destined for the top then he’ll need to overcome that. I think that Cowboy has the tools to derail this hype train and will be all over him to show Hernandez how it feels to be a beaten betting favourite.
Recommendation: Donald Cerrone – 2 units at +165 (33/20) @ 5Dimes
Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw:
Taking aim at more than one belt seems to be the ‘in’ thing in the UFC at present; McGregor, Cormier and Nunes have all successfully held multiple belts in the past two years. This time it’s the turn of TJ Dillashaw. Dillashaw, the former ‘snake in the grass’ and standout competitor of the Treigning Lab (formerly Elevation Fight Team) under coach and mentor, Duane Ludwig.
Dillashaw will be known to most as the first champion produced by Team Alpha Male, but an acrimonious split with the team saw the champion follow his mentor to Denver, Colorado where he relinquished and regained his belt. While it was Urijah Faber that put TJ on the map it was the coaching of ‘Bang’ Ludwig that elevated him to the next level, becoming one of the pound-for-pound top fighters in the UFC. This marks the second defence of the second reign as 145lb kingpin, as he snatched the belt from former teammate, Cody Garbrandt and then proved it was no fluke by finishing his opponent in the first round of the rematch.
Henry Cejudo shocked the world when he beat Demetrious Johnson for the 125lb strap in July 2018, but for more than one reason. California native, Cejudo, was caught in a house fire only 10 months prior, which that left him with severely burned feet and very nearly cost him his life. Less than a year later he was avenging one of two career defeats against one of the all-time greats. It was a titanic tussle with Cejudo narrowly taking a split decision over the most dominant champion in MMA history.
An Olympic Gold medallist for the USA in 2008, Cejudo is arguably one of the top 3 wrestlers to compete in the UFC and has had success in an area where MMA wrestling traditionally prevails over freestyle.
As this is for the 125lb title its best to get the elephant out of the room first. Weight is going to be the biggest hurdle for both fighters. TJ has been seen looking gaunt [allegedly] and still with 10lbs to cut, while Cejudo has previous for missing weight. As this is a 5 round fight you would have to give the edge to Cejudo on conditioning – he is used to 125, and very comfortable with going the distance. If TJ’s chin remains unaffected by the cut then I don’t see Cejudo troubling him with strikes, and he should be able to defend most takedowns. I’ve got TJ winning in my book, but I’m going to make a small play on the Unders and set the line at 4.5 rounds for plus money.
Recommendation: Under 4.5 Rounds – 2 units at +110 (11/10) @ 5Dimes