The best UFC event in a year takes place on Saturday when Jon Jones makes his long-awaited heavyweight debut, facing Ciryl Gane for the vacant title at UFC 285. The rest of the main card is equally as stacked, with Valentina Shevchenko defending her flyweight title against Alexa Grasso in the co-main event. A bevy of marquee matchups also grace the rest of the lineup. This is the kind of card MMA fans dream about, so without further gilding the lily, and no more ado, let’s get down to business.
As always, all odds are courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Geoff Neal, +390
Let’s start here: Shavkhat Rakhmonov still probably wins this fight, but these odds are too wide.
For as fantastic as Rakhmonov has looked thus far, he’s still relatively unproven. 16-0 with 16 finishes is nothing to sneeze at, but Neal is a clear step up in competition for Rakhmonov and, more importantly, one that will challenge him in new ways. Neal is an excellent defensive wrestler. Statistically, he has an 85 percent takedown defense rate, and Belal Muhammad, a great wrestler, went 0-7 in his attempts to get Neal down. Furthermore, when Neal has given up takedowns, he’s really good about not accepting the position and continuing to work until he’s back up to his feet. In nine UFC bouts, Neal has only given up 3:34 seconds of total control time. Rakhmonov is well-rounded, and we’ve seen him show knockout power. But he doesn’t work at nearly the rate Neal does, and Neal has proven to be a very sound defensive striker, as well. All of this adds up to Rakhmonov having the toughest test of his career thus far, and with odds this wide, I’m taking a shot on Neal.
Jalin Turner, +185
Here’s a fun fact for you: Outside of the main event — two heavyweights — Jalin Turner is the tallest man on this fight card (well, he’s tied with Ian Garry). That means that if you stand him next to Bo Nickal, arguably the greatest prospect in middleweight history, this lightweight does not look massively out of place. That’s insane.
Mateusz Gamrot is an incredible chain-wrestler and scrambler, and when Turner has struggled, it’s been to exactly that sort of fighter. However, Turner has looked unbelievable his last few times out, and I believe he’s leveled his game up. I expect Turner’s length and physicality are going to give Gamrot plenty of problems, and his own ability to scramble to keep him out of the worst of grappling exchanges with the Polish fighter.
Ciryl Gane by Decision, +300
I wrote a larger breakdown of this fight for the site, but the short version is this: I have no idea what’s going to happen in the main event. Jon Jones is returning after a three-year layoff and is moving up a weight class. His physique raises questions about what he’s going to look like Saturday. I still think this fight might favor him, but I am in no way sure of that. What I am sure of is that if Ciryl Gane is going to win, it will be on the judges’ scorecards.
In terms of heavyweights, Gane is not exactly a knockout artist. He prefers to let opponents come to him, opening up only when necessary. Jones is not the kind of opponent to put himself in the line of fire willingly, and he also has proven to be exceptionally durable. That means, if Gane wins, it is exceedingly likely to be by way of simply outworking Jones in a ranged kickboxing match. This feels like a good value bet.
Bo Nickal by Submission, -165
Does this one need much explanation?
Nickal is quite possibly the greatest prospect in MMA history. His three professional fights have ended in a combined 2:27 seconds, two by submission, one by TKO. Jamie Pickett is a perfectly serviceable fighter, but he’s in well over his head here. He doesn’t have the wrestling to keep Nickal off of him, and when it gets to the floor, well, three of his career losses have come by submission. Nickal is going to keep doing what Nickal does.
Parlay of the Week
This week we’re taking advantage of something special for DraftKings, the Same Game Parlay! That’s right, for UFC 285, DraftKings is allowing Same Game Parlays on all the fights and I have one I feel exceptionally confident in: Valentina Shevchenko + Shevchenko/Grasso Over 1.5 Rounds. Let’s jump into it.
First off, I have no idea how Alexa Grasso can win this fight. She’s a volume boxer who doesn’t really have finishing power, which is about as good of a matchup as is possible for Shevchenko, who can simply dictate the range and kick her on the feet, or get a body lock and trounce her on the floor. Seriously, this should be one of Shevchenko’s simpler title defenses.
That being said, Grasso is extremely tough. In 18 career fights, she’s only been finished once, by Tatiana Suarez. Now, we can’t discount the possibility that Shevchenko comes out looking to make a statement and gets right after Grasso from the jump, but time is catching up to her somewhat, and in her entire UFC career she only has one finish inside of 8 minutes with the Jessica Eye head-kick. So I’m feeling OK about Grasso’s chances to survive the first couple of rounds.
This Same Game Parlay pays out at -145.
Long Shot of the Week
Point To Be Deducted in Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane, +2000
I’ve been waiting for the opportune moment to chase this bet, and now it’s finally here. Jon Jones is back, and you know what that means: so are the eye pokes.
It’s a running joke in the MMA world the frequency with which Jones gets called for eye pokes, and this matchup has the potential for several of them. I expect much of the fight to be contested at long range, meaning the arms will be extended out, as will the fingers. Add in that Jones will likely be looking for takedowns, and we saw lose two points for kneeing Anthony Smith while down, and there’s a chance here for things to get weird. Can’t you just see it? I can, and so I’m going to chase the dream.
Another week, another disappointing outcome. I felt great about our chances last week, but losing the main event really hurt us, as did Brendan Allen hustling Andre Muniz. Alas. On to the next one.
Until next week, enjoy the fights, good luck, and gamble responsibly!
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