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UFC 226 Best Bets
After serving as coaches in Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and light-heavyweight kingpin Daniel Cormier will collide in the Octagon on Saturday night in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Center in the UFC 226 main event. Miocic’s heavyweight belt will be on the line.

As of early Friday afternoon, most betting shops had the 35-year-old Miocic (18-2 MMA, 12-2 UFC) installed as a -240 favorite with Cormier as the +200 underdog (risk $100 to win $200). The total was 3.5 rounds (-120 ‘over, +100 for the ‘under’).

Miocic has won six straight fights with his last taste of defeat coming in a controversial decision loss to Junior dos Santos on Dec. 13 of 2014. Since then, the Cleveland native has posted five knockout victories, including four in a row in the first round before his last triumph came via unanimous decision over Francis Ngannou at UFC 220.

In his 14 career Octagon appearances, Miocic has bagged eight fight-night bonuses. His 54-second knockout of former heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski at UFC 195 earned him a shot at Fabricio Werdum’s belt at UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil. Miocic won by first-round KO midway through the opening stanza.

In his first title defense, Miocic survived some early adversity against Alistair Overeem at UFC 203 in the promotion’s debut in Cleveland. Overeem dropped Miocic and was able to lock in a tight guillotine choke. Miocic was able to wiggle out, however, and then finish Overeem later in the opening round with ground-and-pound treatment from the top position.

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Miocic avenged his defeat to Dos Santos by defeating him by KO in the first round at UFC 211 in Dallas. Then at UFC 220, he became the UFC’s greatest heavyweight champ ever by defending the belt for a record third consecutive time. Miocic won the UD by three scores of 50-44 apiece.

Cormier (20-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) is 13-0 overall and 2-0 in the UFC when fighting at heavyweight. He was an alternate in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament back in 2011 and ’12. ‘DC’ entered the event in the semifinals and advanced thanks to a first-round KO victory over Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva. Then in the finals, Cormier won a UD over former UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett.

His Octagon debut came against another former UFC heavyweight champ in Frank Mir at the UFC on FOX 7 co-main event. Cormier dusted Mir by UD (30-27 across) and beat Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson by the exact same score in the UFC 166 co-main event.

With his long-time training partner entrenched as the UFC champ at the time and with a rivalry developing between then-LHW champ Jon Jones, Cormier opted to move down to the 205-pound loop. His initial LHW bout was scheduled against Rashad Evans, who had to pull out less than two weeks before the bout.

Patrick Cummins replaced Evans and was knocked out by Cormier in merely 79 seconds. A third-round submission victory over Dan Henderson hooked Cormier up with his shot at Jones’s belt. The UFC 182 showdown was dubbed Fight of the Night but went Jones’s way by 49-46 scores from all three judges.

Shortly after falling to Jones in January of 2015, ‘Bones’ was suspended after being arrested on hit-and-run charges. Cormier beat Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson by second-round submission to win the vacant LHW strap at UFC 187. He defended the belt successfully by capturing a split-decision triumph over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 192.

‘DC’ and Jones were scheduled for a UFC 200 rematch two summers ago, only for Jones to pop dirty for a PED several days before the show. Anderson Silva stepped in on less than 48 hours of notice and lost a three-round decision (30-26 across). Next, Cormier stopped Johnson again with a second-round submission at UFC 210.

Jones and Cormier tangled last July in Anaheim in the UFC 214 headliner. A close fight through 2.5 rounds ended suddenly when Jones landed a headkick and finished the job with a ruthless barrage of strikes. However, less than two weeks later, Jones once again tested positive for a banned substance. Therefore, the result was changed to a no-contest.

Cormier was reinstated as the 205-pound champ immediately. He then defended his strap at UFC 220 in Boston by scoring a second-round KO of Volkan Oezdemir. Moments after the victory, he was offered a shot at Miocic and happily accepted.

Prediction: I like Stipe to retain his belt, but it certainly won’t be easy. And I’ve got entirely too much respect for Cormier to eat a ‘chalk’ price north of -200. I’ll pass.

Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) was set to defend his featherweight belt against undefeated No. 1 contender, Brian ‘T-City’ Ortega, in the co-main event, but Holloway was forced to withdraw late Wednesday night due to concussion-like symptoms. Ortega was removed from the card.

At Thursday’s presser in Vegas, Dana White stated clearly that Holloway wasn’t going to be fighting anytime soon. He said Jeremy Stephens has been blowing up his phone in hopes of getting a title shot. Stephens is currently slated to face former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo at UFC on FOX 30 on July 28.

Since Holloway has already defeated Aldo twice, I’d be shocked to see Aldo get a crack at Ortega for an interim belt. If Stephens beats Aldo, I believe he’ll be in line to challenge Ortega for the interim featherweight title. Frankie Edgar is also in the mix, but the former lightweight champ was already KO’d by Ortega earlier this year.

The heavyweight showdown between fifth-ranked Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis and top-ranked Ngannou has been elevated to the co-main slot. As of early Friday, most books had Ngannou installed as a -365 ‘chalk,’ leaving Lewis at around +300 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $300). The total was 1.5 rounds (‘under’ -185, ‘over’ +160).

Prediction: Let’s go with two units on Lewis at +305 odds (5Dimes.eu) here. Lewis is 7-1 in his last eight fights and 10-3 in 13 Octagon appearances. I think he’s the better fighter on the ground and has powerful body kicks that can slow Ngannou’s desire to march forward. The longer the fight goes, the more it favors Lewis, who has an outstanding chin that can hold up against the early bombs Ngannou will be looking to land. That’s not to imply that Lewis has elite stamina, but I think it’s better than Ngannou’s.

**Other Picks**

-- I don’t like to eat ‘chalk,’ but I think Michael Chiesa is worth risking the -150 price (5Dimes) in his lightweight showdown vs. former champ, Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis. Chiesa has won three of his past four fights with the only defeat coming in controversial fashion vs. Kevin Lee. Since then, Chiesa has had more than a year to improve his skills. He’s been doing so at the new UFC Performance Institute in Vegas. These fighters were scheduled to battle in Brooklyn a few months ago before Conor McGregor’s lame shenanigans caused a cut on Chiesa’s forehead that forced him off the card. Pettis has been on a steady decline for years now. With his skills waning, he’s limped to a 2-5 record in his last seven walks to the cage. Although Chiesa missed weight Friday morning, tipping the scales at 157.5 pounds, it’s not going to deter my thoughts on this matchup. Let’s play Chiesa at -150 for two units.

-- Max Griffin, fresh off a solid win over Mike Perry, is a +160 underdog vs. Curtis Millender in a welterweight clash. Let’s take Griffin for one unit at +160 odds.

-- Lando Vanatta has first-round finishes in seven of his 12 career fights. Let’s play one-half unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds for a +188 return (Pinnacle) in Vanatta’s lightweight scrap versus Drakkar Klose.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards


  
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