After last week’s unmitigated nightmare of a card, we should be back to some sense of normalcy with this 12 bout fight night card. Last week, we lost a fight leading up to weigh-ins and had two more fights changed. We then had Gerald Meerschart pulled from the card inside of 90 minutes before it was scheduled to begin due to a positive COVID test that caused that fight to be cancelled. Then in the most rare of occurrences, we had Trevin Giles faint just before he was set to walk out to face Kevin Holland. Add this up and we had just eight fights take place and only six of which were as originally scheduled.
We can assume we will be without such headaches this week, at least not to the same extent. This card doesn’t bring a world of star power, but it should be enjoyable from a viewing perspective. We are projected to get finishes, as eight of twelve fights are predicted to end inside the distance (ITD) by the betting lines, and of the four that are not, three of them check in at +125 or less to end ITD.
With a shorter breakdown this week, let’s get to the three fights that will close out this fun card.
Derrick Lewis -210 vs Aleksei Oleinik
Fight is five rounds at heavyweight and is -675 to end inside the distance.
This five round main event makes my life quite easy, as this is the epitome of a striker vs grappler matchup. Derrick Lewis is the striker and will be looking to win the race with the grappler Oleinik. The race of course is Lewis securing a KO against Oleinik securing a takedown and in turn, a submission.
This will be a new test for Lewis, as he has never faced a grappler as credentialed and dangerous as Oleinik. In fairness to Lewis’ previous opponents, Oleinik is the most credentialed heavyweight grappler this side of Frank Mir, but it will be a new test nonetheless. Lewis will know what to expect, and will certainly train for it, but his takedown defense is alarmingly suspect. He’s defended just 53% of takedowns in the UFC and what’s more, the last five opponents to attempt takedowns against him, have completed at least one. The last three opponents to attempt takedowns against him have completed at least three. While Oleinik’s biggest strength is with his submission grappling, he isn’t as skilled as a wrestler. Getting the fight to the floor will be the most difficult hurdle for him, but if and when he does, I believe the fight will essentially be over at that point, ending with an Oleinik submission. A note to make on Lewis is that while he has power throughout fights, he has not finished a win before the third round since 2017. That amount of cage time with Oleinik would be a dangerous proposition for his ability to keep the fight upright for as long as it lasts, and an advantage for Oleinik.
The other side of the coin is Oleinik needing to avoid power shots, which Lewis has no shortage of. Oleinik’s current two fight winning streak is against a pair of opponents who do not carry crippling power. His previous two fights leading up to that were against Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem, a pair of fighters who do bring power to the table, and both KO’d Oleinik inside the first round. Oleinik also has a questionable gas tank, and if this fight reaches the third round or later, I would fully expect his chin to give out while he lacks the energy to complete a takedown. Lewis doesn’t have an astounding gas tank either, but I would give him the edge in this fight.
I referred to this fight as a race to a finish, and that feels like the most accurate depiction. Whichever fighter is able to dictate where the fight takes place will get the job done. This isn’t a fight to rush to the betting window for, but we know how either fighter will win and that brings some value to the table. Depending on your lean, either Lewis via KO at -150 or Oleinik via submission at +255 would be the prudent plays for the fight. Of the two, I’d deem Oleinik via sub as the best value.
Chris Weidman -130 vs Omari Akhmedov
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -130 to end inside the distance.
It makes me somewhat sad to see Chris Weidman in the co-main event on a card featuring Derrick Lewis. No disrespect to Lewis, but Weidman was an absolute star in the sport and has taken quite the tumble. Weidman has lost five of his last six fights, and the alarming part is they have all been losses via KO. The chin has become an issue to the point that we can draw comparisons to Luke Rockhold.
The good news for Weidman is that the level of opponent in comparison to his last six fights drops considerably with this matchup. Weidman will have every advantage in this fight, save for the chin issues. While the chin issues exist, in comparison to Omari Akhmnedov, Weidman will be the better technical striker, the superior wrestler and will have the superior grappling skill set while on the floor. While Akhmedov is far from helpless as a grappler in totality, he will simply be outclassed in this department and if Weidman can keep his chin out of harm’s way, he will own the fight on the floor and find a submission.
Akhmedov is a low volume striker, but he attempts to make the strikes he lands count. While the level of power he possesses is adequate, he doesn’t have the largest amount of natural power. What he does do is put as much as he can behind his strikes, and often throws overhand strikes with every bit of power he can muster. His sole path to victory in this matchup will be getting one of those strikes home and securing a KO. If he’s unable to, he’ll get a lesson on where the level of his overall MMA skill set actually sits as Weidman outclasses him en route to an easy win.
I do believe there is value on Weidman as just a -130 favorite, but the best value plays on this fight are on the props. Akhmedov via KO sits at +230, and with that being his lone realistic avenue to victory, it can be played as a standalone option or as a hedge to Weidman wagers. If swinging for the fences, Weidman via sub sits at +575 and is the avenue to the best pay day on this fight.
Darren Stewart -170 vs Maki Pitolo
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -165 to end inside the distance.
I’ve long been an anti-fan of Maki Pitolo’s MMA skill set. Pitolo initially earned his UFC shot on Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) in 2019 with a body shot KO of Justin Sumter. This fight was Sumter’s second shot on DWCS and the second time he was finished on the show. Pitolo went on to lose his UFC debut to Callan Potter, who is as low level of a fighter as the promotion offers. He was knocked out in 2:20 and 0:53 seconds by his other two promotional opponents, and this led me to believe Pitolo would be dominated by Charles Byrd, but I was in for a shock. Not necessarily due to any improved skill set from Pitolo, but instead because Byrd was actually cooked (Thanksgiving joke). Pitolo earned a second round KO after surviving the first round, but Byrd retired from MMA after the fight, leaving the quality of opponent Pitolo beat as a remaining and large question mark. This test against a proven but middling level opponent in Darren Stewart will answer many questions.
I wanted to provide a background on my feelings on Pitolo before diving into his skill set. He does have sound enough boxing, but does not bring big power to the table, and has been knocked out three times in MMA. He’s just average at best as a wrestler and grappler, but that would be his path to victory in this particular fight. Darren Stewart has struggled with being controlled by higher-end wrestlers at times but is the superior striker in this fight. Stewart will be the more dangerous fighter on the feet and in the clinch and if we see the totality of the fight on the feet, it is a fair assumption that Stewart will knock Pitolo out. There is a generally undersold and wide power edge for Stewart in this fight and I don’t believe Pitolo will have the fight IQ to avoid the shots he needs to avoid. If Pitolo is able to secure takedowns, the fight gets very dicey for Stewart and he could easily be on the losing end on the scorecards. That however is a massive if and I believe the most likely outcome in this fight is a Stewart KO. Stewart via KO sits at +165, lower than I’d hoped but still a slight value and the best avenue of attack in this fight.