The UFC is breaking down borders yet again this weekend, this time making their debut in Zagreb, Croatia with UFC Fight Night 86. The card is undeniably weak, and betting opportunities limited, but there are a couple of standout bets from the top three bouts on the main card.
Ngannou vs. Blaydes
Francis Ngannou is an intriguing prospect – arguably the most interesting young talent on the card. Sitting on a record of 6-1 he made his debut for the UFC at the tail-end of last year. This 29-year-old French heavyweight is relatively young in a division dominated by fighters in their mid-30s and that potentially makes him one to look out for in the future.
Newcomer Curtis Blaydes makes his UFC debut on late notice. Blaydes, who replaced Bojan Mihajlovic, is a former college wrestling standout and most recently competed at regional level in Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA). At this stage it is too early to determine whether he is something special, or just another prospect exposed too soon.
If Blaydes has any edge then it is on the ground, and not just because of his wrestling background. French fighters are typically good strikers but weak on the ground. If Ngannou is able to overcome this then he has a chance, but if he is put on his back early then it could be a long night. One thing was obvious from watching some tape of Blaydes and that is that the calibre of fighter he has faced so far is below the level that Ngannou could reach and for that reason I’m taking the big Frenchman.
Recommendation: Francis Ngannou – 2 units at +125 (5/4)
Lewis vs. Gonzaga
Stepping in as a late replacement for Ruslan Magomedov is ‘The Black Beast’ Derrick Lewis. Participating in 13 consecutive bouts with a finish, Lewis hasn’t seen a judge’s scorecard in five years. The only trouble is those finishes have had him on the losing end when facing higher-level competition.
Brazilian veteran Gabriel Gonzaga has had a rocky time of it over the past few years, going 4-4 since the beginning of 2013. He is, however, coming off a win and his talent level remains much higher than those of any opponent Lewis has ever beaten. He may be passed his best but Gonzaga is still capable of getting the job done.
Gonzaga does has a massive edge in his BJJ and would love to take this to the ground and lock in the submission. However, Lewis has the sort of hands that can turn Gonzaga into a bobble head and an overhand right could see the Brazilian seeing stars. I’m going to side with brute force and look for Lewis to finish this inside the distance.
Recommendation: Lewis wins inside distance – 2 units at -102 (1/1)
Rothwell vs. Dos Santos
After mixed beginnings to his UFC career, Ben Rothwell is arguably, and incredibly, at the peak of his career with four consecutive wins over top competition. His most recent win – a submission of Josh Barnett – put the heavyweight division on notice and solidified Rothwell as a top title contender. Now, with a win over a former heavyweight champ in Junior dos Santos, ‘Big’ Ben could be next to challenge for the gold.
Whereas Rothwell has continued to climb in recent times, JDS has seem a significant drop in form since losing for a second time to Cain Velasquez in 2013. He has since gone 1-1, most recently suffering a KO loss to Alistair Overeem in a fight which saw him unusually tentative. If the Brazilian can regain some of his past self in this fight then he has a good chance, but his future looks unclear at best at this point.
I don’t know who wins, but a bet is a bet and I’ll be making a play on this lasting more than seven and a half minutes.
Recommendation: Over 1.5 Rounds – 3 units at -145 (7/10)