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Dec 13, 2019

UFC 245 Best Bets

UFC Welterweight Championship Preview

For only the fifth time in the promotion’s history, the Octagon will feature three championships bouts on one card. It goes down Saturday in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Center, where welterweight rivals Kamaru Usman and Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington will do battle for Usman’s 170-pound strap in the UFC 245 headliner.

Usman (15-1 MMA, 10-0 UFC) won Season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter and has been laying waste to the welterweight division for the past four years. The only criticism of Usman is one that former welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre often faced: Usman struggles to finish foes.

In fact, he has just one knockout and one submission in his 10 UFC victories. Eight have come by way of unanimous decisions, including his past four wins over Emil Weber Meek, Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos and Tyron Woodley. Woodley had owned the belt for nearly three years, although he only defended it four times with three wins and one draw. Two of those wins – over Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in a rematch of the draw and over Maia – were considered two of the most boring title fights in the promotion’s history.

Woodley’s win over Darren Till at UFC 228 came against a dangerous opponent, but a young one that was rushed into a title shot that should’ve belonged to Covington. My only point there is that Woodley wasn’t – and never was! – the dominant champ he proclaimed to be during his reign atop the division.

Nevertheless, one couldn’t help but be extremely impressed by the way Usman absolutely dominated Woodley in a blowout UD triumph at UFC 235 this past March. Usman did whatever he wanted, backing down his opponent against the cage, then taking down Woodley (an extremely accomplished wrestler and striker) and keeping him down while delivering ground-and-pound punishment for most of the 25 minutes.

The scorecards told the accurate story: 50-44, 50-45 and 50-44 and…. NEW welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, the Nigerian native who is the first African-born champion to wear UFC gold.

As of Friday afternoon, most books had Usman installed as a -180 favorite, while Covington was a +155 underdog. The total was 4.5 rounds shaded heavily to the ‘over’ at a -240 price, meaning gamblers taking the ‘under’ can earn a +200 payout (risk $100 to win $200). The proposition wager for the fight to go to decision has -250 odds, with “doesn’t go to decision” at +190.

Covington (15-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) is a next-level clown. His act is lame, fake, unattractive and all negative connotations apply, but he’s certainly thrived at creating attention to himself. And like Joe Rogan says, when you put all that aside, “the guy can fight.”

The former All-American wrestler at Oregon State and American Top Team Member brings a seven-fight winning streak to Vegas. Like Usman, though, most of his wins have come from the judges. In fact, Covington’s last five victories have come by way of UDs.

The 31-year-old Covington looked better than ever his last time out in August at the UFC Newark headliner, as he pieced up former 170-pound kingpin Robbie Lawler with a UD victory. The judges scored it 50-45, 50-44 and 50-45. Covington set a UFC record for most strikes thrown in a bout (541).

In recent years, Covington has feuded with just about every person on the UFC roster, in addition to Dana White. On June 9 of 2018 when Woodley was injured, Covington defeated Dos Anjos by UD at UFC 225 to win the interim welterweight title. However, White stripped him of the belt when he opted to have surgery and not face Woodley late in 2018. Since then, White and Covington haven’t seen eye to eye.

At Thursday’s UFC 245 Media Day, Covington claimed that if negotiations don’t go better for his next bout, he’ll retire and sign with the WWE. Whatever the case, he brings momentum and confidence galore into this scrap.

Usman-Covington Picks

I’ve never been impressed with either fighter’s stand-up game until Covington spent the later rounds of his fight with Lawler standing and trading. Both fighters are elite wrestlers and grapplers. I think Covington has better cardio and is a little more versatile. Like everyone else, though, I would love to see him get his ass beat. However, that’s my heart talking. My brain says Covington has a slight edge and since he has the underdog odds, let’s go with one unit on Covington for a +155 payout.

UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship Preview

In the co-main event, Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes (18-4 MMA, 11-1 UFC) will defend her women’s bantamweight belt against Germaine de Randamie. As of Friday afternoon, most spots had Nunes installed as a favorite in the -300 neighborhood, with De Randamie as an underdog in the +240 range. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -115, ‘over’ -105).

Nunes is the current double champ in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. She’s off a first-round, head-kick knockout of Holly Holm at UFC 239 in July. Since losing to Cat Zingano by third-round KO at UFC 178 on Sept. 27 of 2014, Nunes has won nine consecutive fights.

The Brazilian has finished seven of those nine opponents, with current women’s flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko going the distance with Nunes twice. Nunes defeated ‘The Bullet’ by UD (29-27, 29-28, 29-27) at UFC 196 in a three-round affair. That win earned her a title shot.

Nunes took full advantage, destroying Miesha Tate in the UFC 200 main event. After rocking Tate with strikes galore that knocked here down, Nunes went to the ground and submitted her with a rear-naked choke. In her first title defense, ‘The Lioness’ dusted former champion Ronda Rousey with the quickness, needing only 48 seconds to send ‘Rowdy’ into retirement.

Next, the rematch with Shevchenko was booked for UFC 215 on Sept. 9 of 2017. The five-round war ended in a split decision that went to Nunes by scores of 48-47, 47-48 and 48-47.

After successfully defending her belt again with a fifth-round KO triumph over Raquel Pennington at UFC 224, Nunes moved up a weight class to challenge featherweight queen Cris Cyborg, who had won 20 straight fights and hadn’t tasted defeat in more than 13 years.

Nevertheless, Nunes took it to Cyborg early and often. It was basically phone-booth fighting from the jump, and Nunes prevailed with a vicious KO that took merely 51 seconds to complete. Nunes earned Performance of the Night bonuses in her wins over both Cyborg and Holm. In fact, she’s collected an extra 50 large for POTN bonuses in five of her last seven outings.

De Randamie (9-3 MMA, 6-1 UFC) is a 35-year-old Dutch kickboxer who won the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight belt with a UD win over Holm at UFC 208. However, she was stripped of the strap when she refused to defend it against Cyborg. Since then, she’s gone back down to bantamweight and captured wins over Pennington (UD) and Aspen Ladd (first-round KO in 16 seconds).

This is a rematch of a fight more than six years ago at UFC: Fight for the Troops 3 in Fort Campbell, KY. Nunes won at the 3:56 mark of Round 1 by KO (elbows). De Randamie has won all five of her fights since that defeat.

Nunes-de Randamie Picks

How can a bettor turn down Amanda Nunes on prop bets for her to win inside the distance or by knockout? Well, the simple answer is you can’t, certainly not if you’ve been paying attention to her recent performances. As previously noted, she’s finished every opponent not named Shevchenko during her nine-fight winning streak. Let’s go with Nunes to win inside the distance at a -160 price for one unit. Also, I like two units on Nunes to win by KO/TKO for a +130 return, one unit on Nunes to win in Round 1 for a +200 payout and two units on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at a -115 price. She’s the Baddest Woman on the Planet, which has been clearly evidenced by first-round finishes of the top legends on the women’s side of the sport in Tate, Rousey, Cyborg and Holm. I think Nunes does it again with a first-round KO.

UFC Featherweight Championship Preview

Will ‘The Blessed Era’ continue in the featherweight loop? Max Holloway will defend his 145-pound belt against Alexander Volkanovski in the first title fight Saturday night. As of Friday, most books had Holloway (21-4 MMA, 17-4 UFC) listed as a -180 favorite with Volkanovski at +150 on the comeback. The total was 4.5 rounds (‘over’ -210, ‘under’ +175).

The 28-year-old Holloway saw his 13-fight winning streak snapped this past April when he lost a UD to Dustin Poirier (49-46 X3) for the interim lightweight championship at UFC 236. He bounced back nicely, however, by defeating Frankie Edgar 14 weeks later via UD at UFC 240.

Holloway hasn’t tasted defeat in a featherweight bout since losing a UD to Conor McGregor back at UFC Boston on Aug. 17 of 2013 when ‘Blessed’ was only 21 years old. On the way to a title shot, the Hawaiian beat the likes of Cole Miller, Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis. The win over Pettis got Holloway the interim featherweight belt.

The title was unified when he dusted Jose Aldo by third-round KO at UFC 212. Holloway won by third-round KO again when they ran it back against Aldo at UFC 218. After a health scare forced Holloway to pull out of his next defense against unbeaten Brian Ortega, the fight was re-booked for UFC 231.

Holloway handed Ortega his first career loss when the doctors wouldn’t allow ‘T-City’ to come out for Round 5. Holloway broke the record for most strikes landed in a fight in UFC history (307) against Ortega.

Volkanovski (20-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC) is a 29-year-old Australian on a 17-fight winning streak dating back to 2013. He’s won all seven of his UFC fights, including three by KO. His most notable scalps have come over Darren Elkins, Chad Mendes and Aldo.

Volkanovski showed his chin, toughness and will to win in the FOTN against Mendes, who twice challenged Aldo for the 145-pound strap. Mendes was having his way throughout Round 1, peppering Volkanovski with an array of powerful kicks and strikes. I bet Mendes that night and thought I was on my way to an easy victory.

In Round 2, however, it became clear that Volkanovski had taken Mendes best shots, eaten them and was still standing with gas left in the tank. On the flip side, even though Mendes was still seemingly winning most of the striking exchanges in the first two minutes of the second stanza, it was evident that he was starting to tire. Later in the round, Mendes was gassed and Volkanovski poured it on and won by TKO (punches) with 46 seconds left in the round.

Then he went to Rio and dominated Aldo at UFC 237 in a UD victory (30-27 X3), earning this title shot.

Holloway-Volkanovski Picks

Volkanovski poses a serious threat to ‘The Blessed Era,’ but I do think Holloway will retain his belt. I’m not going to risk a price North of -150, though. I’m ok with putting Holloway into parlays, though, and perhaps a three-teamer with Matt Brown (-350/375-ish vs. Ben Saunders, who is 1-5 in his last six fights) and Nunes is a solid option. Based on the current odds, that parlay should pay out at around +175 to +180.

Moraes-Aldo Preview

A pair of legends round out the main card’s two other fights. With two losses to Holloway, Aldo has decided to try and make another title run at 135 pounds. The Brazilian is making his bantamweight debut against Marlon Moraes, who lost in a title shot his last time out against Henry Cejudo.

As of Friday afternoon, most books had Moraes installed as a -200 favorite, leaving Aldo at around +175. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -125, ‘over’ +105).

Before falling to Cejudo, Moraes (22-6-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) had won four fights in a row, including three straight first-round finishes of Aljamain Sterling (KO: knee), Jimmie Rivera (KO: head kick and punches) and Raphael Assuncao (guillotine-choke submission).

After going more than a decade without a loss, Aldo (28-5, 10-4) is 3-4 in his last seven fights. He responded to the back-to-back defeats against Holloway by scoring a pair of KO victories. First, he took on Jeremy Stephens, who had Aldo badly hurt in the first two minutes of action. Showing the heart of the champion that he was for so many years, Aldo rallied and finished Stephens with punches with 41 seconds left in the opening frame.

Next, Aldo blasted Renato Moicano with a KO 44 second into the opening round. He is in bounce-back mode, though, after falling against Volkanovski.

Moraes-Aldo Picks

Aldo tipped the scales at 136 pounds, which is fine with the one-pound allowance for bantamweight non-title fights. He also looked in good spirits and weighed in during the first 20 minutes of the allotted time. That tells me this wasn’t as difficult a cut as many thought it would be. Therefore, I’m on Aldo for 1.5 units as a +175 underdog. Also, give me one unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at the -125 price.

Yan-Faber Preview

The opener of the main card on pay per view at 10:00 p.m. Eastern will be another 135-pound scrap. Urijah Faber (35-10 MMA, 11-6 UFC) is a +375 underdog against Petr Yan (-500-ish). The 40-year-old Faber has held world titles in both the bantamweight and featherweight divisions in multiple organizations, including the WEC under the Zuffa banner, during his storied career, but he lost all four fights in attempts to collect UFC gold (twice to Dominick Cruz and twice to Renan Barao).

Faber retired after defeating Brad Pickett at UFC Sacramento on Dec. 17 of 2016. However, ‘The California Kid’ decided to return this past July when the promotion returned to his home base in Sac-town. He did so in extremely impressive fashion, scoring a first-round KO over Ricky Simon in just 46 seconds.

Yan-Faber Preview and Picks

Prediction: Hey, after the way Faber looked in July, why the hell not?! Let’s go with one-half unit on Faber for the +375 return.

UFC 245 Extra Picks

-- Does the gruesome broken nose that required surgery for Mike ‘Platinum’ Perry after his split-decision loss to Vicente Luque just four months ago concern me? Of course it does. I remember how badly Rory MacDonald struggled in his first few fights after suffering a similar nose injury against Robbie Lawler in one of the promotion’s bloodiest bouts ever. Considering the injury, this is an entirely too fast of a return for Perry, but this dude isn’t like the rest of us. He’s an absolute savage with heavy hands, an unbelievable chin and unwavering confidence. I can’t turn down Perry as a lucrative underdog, so give me one-half unit on ‘Platinum’ as a +205 ‘dog vs. Geoff Neal.

-- As I’ve been saying for years, Matt Brown is probably my favorite UFC fighter ever. After tearing his ACL training shortly after his last scrap, a first-round KO win over Diego Sanchez via vicious elbow from hell, Brown has been sidelined for more than two years. ‘The Immortal’ is back in the Octagon for the first time since November of ’17 to take on veteran welterweight Ben Saunders. Brown is too expensive of a favorite to back in a straight bet but, as previously noted, I suggest you put him in any parlay you come up with. I’ll take the prop for Brown to win by KO for one-half unit at a -160 price, and I’ll also back Brown for one-half unit to win in Round 1 for a +120 return.

B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets

-- Perry-Neal is the Prelims headliner on ESPN2, which starts its coverage at 8:00 p.m. Eastern with Brown vs. Saunders. The Early Prelims are on UFC Fight Pass starting at 6:00 ET.

-- Jessica Eye, who is off a second-round, head-kick KO loss to Shevchenko for the flyweight belt, missed weight by five pounds for her scrap against Viviane Araujo, who is a -175 favorite. Eye is a +145 ‘dog.

-- Former bantamweight champ Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt will try to end a three-fight losing streak when he faces Raphael Assuncao at UFC Columbus.

-- Oh boy! We’ve got a heavyweight slugfest booked for the UFC Columbus headliner in March. Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou will square off against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who KO’d Alistair Overeem with four seconds left in the fifth and final round last Saturday night. I can’t complain about any Bad Beats anytime soon, because Overeem was four seconds away from a decision victory. (I had Rozenstruik to win by KO and inside the distance, cashing both in miraculous fashion.) Speaking of Bad Beats, I think the UFC made SVP and Stanford Steve’s segment for the first time this past Monday night on Sports Center. Overeem had +800 odds to win by decision before Rozenstruik took out a huge chunk of his lip with the strike that ended the scrap.

-- Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar’s bantamweight debut has been put on hold. He agreed to replace injured Brian Ortega and face Chan ‘The Korean Zombie’ Sung Jung in the UFC Busan headliner next Saturday night (12/21) in South Korea. The former lightweight champion signed up for the five-round affair on only 16 days of notice. As of Friday afternoon, TKZ was listed as a -175 favorite, leaving Edgar with +145 odds at most shops. Edgar had decided to drop down to the 135-pound loop after his third failed attempt at winning the featherweight strap in a loss to Holloway earlier this year. The New Jersey native was booked to face Cory Sandhagen in the co-main event of UFC Raleigh on Jan. 25. Ortega pulled out of the event due to a slight tear of his ACL that’s expected to sideline him for about three months.

-- The return of Conor McGregor was announced on Thanksgiving night. He’ll face Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in the UFC 246 headliner on Jan. 18. Cerrone has dropped back-to-back fights against Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. Nevertheless, if there’s a fighter on the roster that has earned the right to get paid in a big-money fight, it’s certainly Cerrone. I have no problem with him getting this shot at McGregor, who was a -225 favorite at most books as of Friday. (Cerrone is the +185 ‘dog.) However, Dana White said in a media scrum earlier this week that if McGregor beats ‘Cowboy,’ a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov will happen later in 2020. That would be based on Nurmagomedov successfully defending his lightweight strap against Ferguson at UFC 249 on April 18. (Those odds as of Friday? Nurmagomedov -220, Ferguson +180.)

-- That assertion by White is a complete slap in the face to Justin Gaethje, who you could argue has been one of the promotion’s best employees since signing. Gaethje, who is currently listed as a -155 favorite in a potential showdown against McGregor, has won three fights in a row by first-round KOs over James Vick, Edson Barboza and Cerrone. ‘The Highlight’ has a 21-2 overall record and a 4-2 ledger in the UFC. In his Octagon debut, he KO’d Michael Johnson late in Round 2 in a scrap that garnered 2017 Fight of the Year honors from most publications. After losing to former lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez by third-round KO, Gaethje faced Dustin Poirier, who won by fourth-round KO. Gaethje-Poirier was named the 2018 Fight of the Year. The loss to Alvarez earned Fight of the Night honors, as did his win over Barboza. Four of Gaethje’s six UFC fights have taken FOTN honors. Couple those bonuses with three for POTN, and Gaethje has seven fight-night bonuses (again, in only SIX fights!). But McGregor, who hasn’t won a UFC fight since beating Alvarez on Nov. 12 of 2016, would get a title shot ahead of Gaethje?

-- What’s even more frustrating (to me, MMA fans and especially Gaethje) is how White went about explaining himself and trashed Gaethje in the process. White said, “We offered Gaethje a lot of fights that Gaethje hasn’t taken either. So Conor is next in line if he beats ‘Cowboy.’” Huh?! Gaethje turned down ONE fight and his reasoning was extremely rational. He was offered Ferguson on four weeks of notice at UFC 239, and Gaethje simply felt he needed a longer training camp to prepare for ‘El Cucuy,’ one of the more dynamic and versatile mixed martial artists in the history of the lightweight division. Trent Reinsmith of Bloody Elbow noted the following factoids about McGregor since Gaethje joined the UFC: He’s fought once and lost to Nurmagomedov by submission. He got arrested and ruined three fights on the UFC 223 card with his dangerous temper tantrum in Brooklyn that resulted in multiple injuries to fighters and UFC staff. He shoved referee Marc Goddard after jumping over the cage at Bellator 187. He was arrested twice more – once in Miami and once in Dublin for punching an old man for turning down the offer of a shot. And finally, he’s the subject of two ongoing sexual assault investigations on two different continents, according to reporting from the New York Post. Oh, and one last thing: Cerrone-McGregor will be contested at welterweight so even if ‘The Notorious’ is victorious, he’ll still be without a win in the lightweight loop for more than three years.

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

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