UFC 229 is now available on Amazon Prime.
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
One of the most anticipated fight cards of the year goes down this Saturday in Las Vegas, as UFC 229 touches down at T-Mobile Arena. It features a lightweight title fight in the main event, as champion Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on the returning Conor McGregor. There are also a number of interesting bouts on the undercard. It all makes for some solid betting opportunities, and here are my top plays in this edition of Prime Picks:
Conor McGregor (+150)
Like every other MMA lover in existence, I am beyond excited for the main event between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. This should be one of the best fights of the year, and there’s no doubt it’s going to be the biggest cash cow for the Ultimate Fighting Championship as far as pay-per-view buys go. It’s such an intriguing clash of styles between the top grappler in the division (Nurmagomedov) and the top puncher (McGregor). You have two men at the top of their games who want to hold the gold, and that should lead to an amazing display of mixed martial arts. When the fight was first announced, I favored Nurmagomedov. After all, he’s 26-0 for a reason, and that’s because no one has been able to stop his vaunted takedowns. I totally understand why he’s the betting favorite, but I believe if anyone has a chance to dethrone the champ it’s McGregor -- one of the most brutal pound-for-pound punchers in MMA history.
We haven’t seen many flaws in the Russian’s game, but if anyone is going to knock out Nurmagomedov, it’s the Irishman. He has special knockout power that he showed off in his wins over durable opponents like Eddie Alvarez and Jose Aldo, not to mention his knockouts over the likes of Chad Mendes and Dustin Poirier. Yes, it’s true McGregor has been exploited on the ground by Nate Diaz and it’s true he hasn’t fought in MMA in two years, but I still believe he can win this fight. To me, the fight is a coin flip, and at these underdog odds, I have to take McGregor due to his massive striking advantage. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nurmagomedov smothered him, but I’ll be happy to take McGregor at +150 odds. It’s rare to see him available as an underdog, and I can’t pass up the opportunity to take him here at plus money.
Tony Ferguson (-360)
The co-main event looks like a mismatch. I don’t think the fight between Ferguson and Anthony Pettis is going to be close, and I see “El Cucuy” dominating the former champion. I just feel like he’s better at every aspect of MMA. I think he has the better striking, the better Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the better wrestling, the better cardio and the better chin. Yes, the knee injury he suffered earlier this year is a bit of a red flag, but from all accounts he looks to be in tremendous shape and the injury doesn’t seem like it will hamper him going forward. Pettis, meanwhile, has looked like he has been on the decline for a few years now, and I’m not going to buy into the hype following his win over Michael Chiesa. That was a good win for Pettis, but it won’t make me think he’s back. Ferguson has won 10 straight fights and has looked amazing the entire time he has been in the UFC, save for his one loss to Michael Johnson -- a fight during which he broke his arm. I think Ferguson finishes this fight against Pettis, who showed flaws in his durability in his last few outings before Chiesa. Either he overwhelms Pettis with a volume striking attack or he finds a submission on the ground, but I think Ferguson wins this fight pretty easily. At -360, I think the line is pretty reasonable and I expect Ferguson to be a popular parlay piece.
Dominick Reyes (-225)
Another favorite on the card that I like to win is Reyes, who takes on Ovince St. Preux in a prospect-versus-gatekeeper matchup. I believe in Reyes and think he’s a future title contender at 205 pounds. So far, we haven’t seen any flaws in his game and we’ve only been spectators for his devastating brand of violence; he has knocked out or submitted every opponent he has met inside the Octagon. There’s no doubt that St. Preux represents a major step up in competition from the guys Reyes has been fighting, but he is a flawed fighter who can be beaten. Reyes has huge knockout power on the feet and a capable ground game. Plus, he’s fast, young and motivated to be a champion. I just look at this as a terrible matchup for St. Preux, who is one of the most inconsistent light heavyweights in the game. I think Reyes knocks out St. Preux, and I think the -225 moneyline odds on him are fair.
Alan Patrick Silva Alves (-255)
On the preliminary card, the fighter I like the most for a play is Alves. He takes on Scott Holtzman in what appears to be a mismatch. Alves has looked great in the UFC, with a 5-1 overall record that includes his current three-fight winning streak. His only loss in the Octagon has come against Mairbek Taisumov, and there’s no shame in that. Otherwise, he has beaten everyone he has fought. Alves is a dominant wrestler, and now that he’s back fighting on a regular schedule, he could become a dark horse contender at 155 pounds. Holtzman has shown huge flaws in his takedown defense in the UFC, and he has only beaten the worst guys in the division. I just can’t see Holtzman being able to stop Alves’ takedowns, and he doesn’t have the knockout power necessary to stop the fight when it takes place on the feet. This should be a dominant win for Patrick, and I expect him to earn a lopsided decision. At -255, he’s one of the favorites on the card I trust the most to get his hand raised.
Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for Sherdog.com as well as the lead staff writer for MMAOddsbreaker.com. Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all time is Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua and he wishes Pride never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.
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