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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:00 PM

UFC 231 - Best Bets

The Octagon returns to Toronto on Saturday night with Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway defending his featherweight belt against undefeated Brian ‘T-City Ortega in the UFC 231 headliner at Scotiabank Arena.

As of early Friday night, most books had Ortega (14-0-1 MMA, 6-0-1 UFC) listed as a -125 favorite with a total of 3.5 rounds (‘under’ -125, ‘over’ -105). Holloway had been the short ‘chalk’ for several months until Thursday when the 27-year-old Ortega took over the favorite role.

Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) has won 12 consecutive fights since losing a unanimous decision against Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor at UFC Boston on August 17 of 2013. During this incredible run, the 27-year-old Hawaiian has finished nine of 12 foes and collected five fight-night bonuses.

Holloway entered the title picture in 2015 by submitting Cub Swanson, beating Charles Oliveira and earning decision victories over Cole Miller and Jeremy Stephens. Then in 2016 Holloway knocked off Ricardo Lamas by decision, enticing ‘The Bully’ into a swing-for-the-fences contest in the final 10 seconds of the scrap (it was savage!).

The victory over Lamas garnered Holloway a shot at the interim 145-pound strap against former lightweight champion Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis. Holloway won the belt by taking out Pettis with a third-round knockout at UFC 206 in Toronto.

Next, ‘Blessed’ took on the legendary Jose Aldo Jr. to unify the featherweight belts. Holloway went into Aldo’s hometown of Rio and beat him by way of third-round KO at UFC 212. Then in the rematch in Detroit at UFC 218, Holloway once again won with a third-round KO of Aldo on Dec. 2 of 2017.

Coming into 2018, Holloway had the look of one the promotion’s most dominant champions. However, he had to withdraw from his scheduled March 3 title defense against former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar due to an injury. When Tony Ferguson was injured doing media a week before facing Khabib Nurmagomedov for Ferguson’s interim lightweight belt, Holloway accepted an offer to face Nurmagomedov on just six days of notice.

The fight on April 7 didn’t happen, though, because the New York Athletic Commission forced Holloway to quit cutting weight – out of health/safety concerns – on Friday morning. He was scheduled to defend his featherweight title against Ortega at UFC 226 on July 7, but he was pulled from the fight due to “concussion-like symptoms.”

Holloway was put on the shelf while doctors ran various tests. The medical people never quite figured out what the issue was for the featherweight kingpin, but they nonetheless cleared him to return to fighting. There was a good deal of chatter concerning how Holloway’s weight cut would go, but he stepped on the scale this morning and hit his mark with a half-pound to spare at 144.5 pounds.

Ortega also had an easy weight cut and was one of the first fighters to make his number. He’s less than 24 hours away from his shot at fulfilling a life-long dream.

It wasn’t an easy path for Ortega to get this chance to taste UFC gold. The son of an illegal Mexican immigrant, he grew up in the rough San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles, spent a little time in jail and had two sisters who were struggling with addiction.

Ortega started straightening his life out long ago, though. He’s been nothing but class in and out of the Octagon since signing with the UFC, and he recently started the Brian Ortega Foundation, a non-profit that aims at helping youth who are struggling like he did.

Ortega has finished each of his seven fights in the Octagon, twice rallying in the third and final round of fights he was losing on the scorecards against both Clay Guida and Renato Moicano. On Dec. 9 of 2017, ‘T-City’ earned Performance of the Night and Fight of the Night bonuses after submitting Cub Swanson midway through Round 2 with a flying-guillotine choke.

Edgar was next in the UFC 222 co-main event in Las Vegas. Late in Round 1, Ortega hurt Edgar with a big standing elbow. Sensing his opponent was in trouble, Ortega threw a flurry of uppercuts, one of which caught ‘The Answer’ and sent him down and out. Edgar had never once tasted defeat via KO loss during his storied career, but that streak ended in the opening stanza against Ortega.

Prediction: It says here that Ortega has the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu out of any fighter on the UFC’s roster that’s not named Demian Maia. He’s also dangerous standing, although most including me feel like Holloway will have the advantage on the feet. Holloway has a competent ground game, a purple belt in BJJ and a pair of submission victories on his resume. This is a toss-up fight to me, but I’ve become a big believer in Ortega, and I think he wins here. Let’s go with 1.5 units on Ortega at the -105 price available at [...]. Also, I’m on ‘under’ 3.5 rounds at the -111 price (Bet365) for one unit.

In the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko will face former women’s strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant flyweight championship. As of Friday night, most spots had Shevchenko (15-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) installed as an expensive -350 favorite with Jedrzejczyk at +275 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $275).

Both of Shevchenko’s UFC losses have come in extremely close decisions against current bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes. Since the second loss to Nunes in a split decision at UFC 215 on Sept. 9 of 2017, Shevchenko has only fought once. She beat Priscila Cachoeira by rear-naked choke in the second round of their flyweight contest in Brazil in February.

Jedrzejczyk (15-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) won her first 14 career fights, winning the strawweight strap on March 14 of 2015 by dusting Carla Esparza by second-round KO at UFC 185. The Polish Muay Thai specialist successfully defended her 115-pound belt five times over a two-year stretch. However, she lost her title on Nov. 4 of 2017 when she was knocked out by ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas 3:03 into the opening round of their UFC 217 showdown.

Jedrzejczyk was given an immediate rematch, only to drop a UD to Namajunas at UFC 223. She bounced back to defeat Tecia Torres by UD at UFC Calgary this past July 28, and now moves up a weight class to try to win another belt.

Prediction: Shevchenko beat Jedrzejczyk three different times in Muay Thai matches many years ago. She has superior size and strength and is every bit as dangerous standing as Jedrzejczyk. Now I certainly don’t suggest laying the expensive price on Shevchenko, but I believe she’ll win. If you have prop options and can get Shevchenko to win inside the distance, I recommend doing so for one unit for a +195 return. Also, I’ll go with one-half unit on ‘under’ 4.5 rounds for a +200 payout (Bet365).

Other Picks

--Let’s take Alex ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira for one unit as a +130 underdog to defeat Gunnar Nelson in a welterweight clash.

--Give me Jimi Manuwa for a +165 payout for one unit against Thiago Santos.

--Eryk Anders for 1.5 units at a +115 price to beat Elias Theodorou.

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

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