The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its debut on big ESPN Sunday evening when the Octagon touches down at Talking Stick Resort Casino in Phoenix for UFC on ESPN 1 “Velasquez vs. Ngannou.” The card features a number of intriguing matches for fans to watch, and the sportsbooks are offering betting odds for all 13 scheduled bouts. Below are some of my favorite plays on the card in the UFC on ESPN 1 edition of Prime Picks.
Jimmie Rivera (-145)
One of my top plays on the card is Jimmie Rivera, who I am picking to beat Aljamain Sterling in what should be an awesome bantamweight contest. Stylistically, I think this is a favorable matchup for “El Terror” and I see him defeating Sterling by decision. His key to winning this fight will be to stop the takedowns of “Funk Master” and keep this on the feet, where he holds the technical striking advantage. Rivera has a brilliant career record of 22-2, and his only loss in the last 10 years came against Marlon Moraes, who looks like the next champion at 135. Inside the Octagon, he’s already racked up a 6-1 record with five of those wins coming by decision. He likes to sprawl-and-brawl his way to victory, and it’s a gameplan that has given him a lot of success. For Sterling, he’s going to want to take his opponent to the mat and beat him there. Sterling is 16-3 in his career including 8-3 inside the UFC, and most of his wins have come from him utilizing his wrestling and submissions to get his hand raised. His losses have come from him being unable to get the takedown and getting outstruck on the feet. Rivera is incredibly difficult to take down and he should be able to do just that. I like him here quite a bit at the -145 odds he’s currently at.
Andrea Lee (-190)
Another fighter I like for a straight play is rising women’s flyweight prospect Andrea Lee, who I believe beats veteran Ashlee Evans-Smith. She’s been talked about as a future flyweight champion for a couple years now, and although she hasn’t been able to rise to the top of the division just yet, I believe 2019 could be her year. Lee is currently riding a five-fight win streak and in her last bout defeated Veronica Macedo via decision in her Octagon debut. She’s a well-rounded young fighter with a really solid ground game and serviceable striking. The UFC wants her to beat Evans-Smith, and I see that happening. “Rebel Girl” is just 3-3 in the UFC and has struggled to stay healthy, on average fighting about once a year. She is pretty good from top position if she can get it but otherwise has below-average striking and mediocre wrestling. I view this as a bad matchup for Evans-Smith and see her opponent being able to grind out a decision. At -190 Lee looks like a solid bet for either a straight play or as part of a parlay.
Cynthia Calvillo (-300)
For the parlay bettors, Cynthia Calvillo should be able to defeat Cortney Casey-Sanchez in a women’s strawweight bout. When you talk about future title contenders at strawweight, Calvillo has to be at the top of the list. She’s 7-1 in her career, including a 4-1 mark in the UFC alone. Some of her victories include Joanne Calderwood, Montana De La Rosa and in her last bout, Poliana Botelho. Her only loss was a close decision against former champ Carla Esparza in what was stylistically a bad matchup for her against a better wrestler. Against most other fighters in the division, though, Calvillo should have the wrestling advantage over them. To Casey-Sanchez’s credit, she has fought the best fighters at 115 and has generally been able to go the distance with them. However, her 8-6 record including a 5-5 mark in the Octagon shows she is inconsistent and not someone you want to bet on. Calvillo should be able to get the takedowns when she needs them and although “Cast Iron” is tough enough to go the distance, I see her opponent winning a clear decision. The -300 odds on Calvillo seem fair.
Nik Lentz (+155)
For an underdog play, I like Nik Lentz to defeat Scott Holtzman in a lightweight matchup. There are two main reasons I like “The Carny” here. The first is his experience. He has fought in the UFC since 2009, and a decade later he’s still winning fights in the Octagon. Lentz has a 13-6-1, 1 NC record all-time in the UFC and he has had success at both lightweight and featherweight. He’s the ultimate grinder, as many of his wins have seen him utilize a pressure-based wrestling game to win decisions. He’s become a very good bet over the years. The second reason I like the veteran is that he’s evolved as a fighter. For years criticized as being a “blanket,” he has actually finished his opponents in his last three victories, including a head kick knockout over Gray Maynard in his last fight and a submission win over Will Brooks before that. It’s nice to see Lentz finishing fights and combined with his wrestling it makes him a difficult matchup for a lot of guys in the division. As for Holtzman, he surprised many (including myself) when he knocked out Alan Patrick in his last fight, but I’m still not completely sold on him yet. The former hockey enforcer has a 5-2 record in the Octagon, but all his UFC wins other than Patrick have come against the worst fighters in the lightweight division. I don’t see “Hot Sauce” being able to stuff his opponent’s takedowns, and I think “The Carny” goes back to his old grinding style here. At +155 odds, I like Lentz quite a bit as the underdog.
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. Mauricio 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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