UFC Vegas 8 select fight betting preview

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Let’s start with a little prayer that this fight night card can avoid at least some of the pitfalls of last week’s fight night card. Last week was something of an unmitigated disaster with fight cancellations. After an originally scheduled 11 fights, only nine took place and of those nine, only six were the bouts scheduled at the beginning of fight week. As if the card changes itself weren’t enough, we got an extremely unfortunate judging outcome in the main event. In what was some of the worst judging we’ll see, in an era of horrific judging, Frankie Edgar was gifted a split decision in a fight he clearly lost to Pedro Munhoz. 

With nowhere to go but upwards from last week, let’s get into this week’s select fights. 

Aleksandar Rakic -290 vs Anthony Smith

Fight is at 205 lbs and is -170 to end inside the distance. 

A quick note before diving into this fight. Just about all main events in the UFC are five rounds, but this one will be just three rounds. If there is a cardio edge in a three-round fight, it will likely belong to Smith, but it seems unlikely gas will play a factor in this fight.

I was initially a bit shocked to see this line as wide as it is, but here we are. Let’s start with the favored Rakic. Rakic is now a developed prospect that is attempting to turn the corner to title contender. Rakic got quite the jump in competition in his last fight and was on the wrong end of a split decision call against Volkan Oezdemir in an extremely close fight. Outside of being dropped by Devin Clark, his last fight was his only true adversity thus far in the promotion. As a striker in this fight, Rakic will likely be the busier fighter and will either be even with Smith or a bit ahead in the power department. Rakic will also be the somewhat better wrestler but will need to be constantly aware if he secures takedowns, as Smith will be the more dangerous BJJ fighter. Smith likely won’t threaten submissions off of his back, but is quite capable of sweeping, and were he to be in top position, it would represent the largest advantage for either fighter in any department in this fight. 

Smith will have that BJJ edge, but I also believe him to be the tighter striker. He won’t throw the same volume as Rakic, but his shots will be the cleaner ones and he may have an edge on the inside if Rakic isn’t calculated in his forward movement. I suspect this line is as wide as it is due to the number of shots Smith ate in his KO loss to Glover Texeira back in May. He ate 138 significant strikes in that fight, 63 of which being of the ground and pound variety, and ultimately lost via attrition in the fifth round. I’ve heard a lot of chatter this week that this fight is too quick a turnaround after a beating like that, but I am unsold on that narrative. Smith previously had some chin issues back when he was fighting at 185 lbs, but has been durable since the move to 205, including a five round decision loss to the then champ Jon Jones, in which he ate an illegal knee. The turnaround could play a factor, but I feel it playing a factor is cooked into this betting line as a foregone conclusion. 

An interesting quote from Rakic to MMA Junkie this week was as follows:

“I need to make a statement. That’s it. I need to make a statement, and I need to shock the world once again, like I did in Stockholm against Jimi Manuwa”

Rakic is referring to his KO win of Jimi Manuwa back in June 2019. Ironically a card headlined by Anthony Smith, who scored a submission of Alexander Gustafson in the main event that same night. The noteworthy portion of this quote, to me, is that he’s not viewing himself as a favorite in this fight. No 3:1 favorite needs to shock the world. That’s simply not how it works. If he is putting underdog pressure on himself while entering the most difficult matchup of his career, Rakic could make mistakes he’s made to pay for on Saturday night. 

As I mentioned, I really believe this line to be too wide. I believe the potential durability issues for Smith are cooked into the line as a foregone conclusion and I believe we will see quite a competitive fight. I do believe Rakic should be a small favorite, and I think his volume could be the difference in the fight. However, I do think this fight goes the full distance and whoever wins, will have to have convinced the judges they won. This is easily a dog or pass main event in my view. 

Mar 7, 2020; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Neil Magny (red gloves) before the match against Li Jingliang (blue gloves) during UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Neil Magny -250 vs Robbie Lawler

Fight is at 170 lbs and is +165 to end inside the distance. 

Neil Magny is one of the best decision fighters on the UFC roster, earning nine wins and just one loss from the judge’s in the UFC. He has a complete skill set and should certainly remain a ranked fighter for years to come, but this line is another that is far too wide. I should edit myself to say, this line is far too wide, assuming the 38 year old former champ Robbie Lawler is still 70% of his prime form. Magny’s last six fights have featured a thin win over Anthony Rocco Martin and less competitive wins over Li Jingliang, Craig White and Carlos Condit. The losses have been lopsided fights in which Magny was finished against Rafael Dos Anjos (RDA) and Santiago Ponzibbio. Using this group as a guide, it seems quite useful to ask ourselves where we believe the current version of Robbie Lawler fits in. For me, the answer is somewhere in between RDA and Martin. We need to look back at late 2017, just a year and a half after losing the welterweight strap to Tyron Woodley, and Lawler’s own bout with RDA. He tore his ACL and meniscus midway through that decision loss, and that ensuing surgery and recovery kept him out until early 2019. 

If you recall that return fight against Ben Askren, it was one of many mistakes made by referee Herb Dean of late, as he stopped the fight in mind-numbing fashion. Lawler was dominating the first round and was fighting off a bulldog choke whilst giving a thumbs up when Dean waved off the fight for god knows what reason. He then got the unfortunate matchup of Colby Covington, whose overwhelming pace and pressure gave Lawler the first loss he suffered on both legs since losing the belt to Woodley. Looking at stat sheets and recent outcomes without context paints a picture of Magny being rightfully favored, but if he is unable to keep Lawler from getting inside, his chin will be in absolute jeopardy. Magny will be the better wrestler and BJJ player in this fight, but I can’t see a path to his grappling controlling Lawler for any significant periods and I think the fight will be decided on the feet. If Magny can keep Lawler on the end of the jab for the majority, he’ll improve his decision track record, but that really is a massive if. There is truly a path to a KO for Lawler in this fight, and with that line sitting at +460, that is the avenue to attack if wagering. 

With the main and co-main covered, here’s a few more quick hitters for this weekend. 

Alexa Grasso -310 vs Ji Yeon Kim

Fight is at 125 lbs and is +255 to end inside the distance. 

After having massive weight cutting issues at 115, Grasso makes the jump to 125. Staying in line with the theme of the evening, the line for the favorite is too wide here. Kim will be the much larger fighter and will have a 2” height and 6” reach advantage over the favorite Grasso. It would be surprising to see any grappling at all in this fight, and the +255 ITD line is telling in that it would be surprising to see either fighter secure a stoppage. So with a 15 minute kickboxing match, the smaller fighter up a weight class is over 3:1, which again, is too wide. Grasso is quicker and a bit sharper in the striking, but the size difference will play a factor here with Kim’s boxing range being outside that of Grasso’s. Dog or pass here and the value is on the dog. 

Magomed Ankalaev -335 vs Ion Cutelaba

Fight is at 205 lbs and is -280 to end inside the distance. 

Whew finally. This is the third time this rematch has been booked, and it will be perhaps the most must watch fight on the card. In the initial fight, Cutelaba was playing possum in the first round, pretending to be hurt to draw Ankalaev in, but did a bit too good of a job, as he fooled the referee who stopped the fight. Now, Ankalaev is truly better in all facets of MMA, save for power, and will ultimately win this fight and via finish if he can survive the early storm. Cutelaba is a berserker that throws big power chasing finishes early in fights, and will have roughly a one round window to secure the finish of Ankalaev, or will be finished himself. Of 21 career fights for Cutelaba, just two have gone the distance. This fight will continue that trend and the best and safest play in this fight is the ITD line of -280, which is too low. 

Impa Kasanganay -135 vs Maki Pitolo

Fight is at 185 lbs and is -105 to end inside the distance

I’ve screamed from the mountain tops, to whoever would listen, including one very annoyed Wendy’s drive-thru worker, that Maki Pitolo does not carry a UFC caliber skill set. After being the only fighter to ever lose via submission to Darren Stewart in his last fight, Pitolo is working towards proving me correct. The debuting Kasangany will be a tough stylistic matchup for Pitolo here, as Pitolo allows himself to be backed up to the cage and loses any technical nature to his striking. Kasangany does not have an extensive fight track record just yet and has been a decision winner in the majority of his fights, but I could see the correct shot on the button putting the lights out on Pitolo. Kasangany will simply have to avoid the wild power shots to roll to a win in his debut, and at an attractive price. 

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