One of the most heavily anticipated UFC events in quite a while is just over twenty-four hours away from kicking off when UFC 285 takes place in Las Vegas. This card is absolutely stacked, but clearly the biggest story of the weekend will be the return of Jon Jones as he faces Cyril Gane for the vacant UFC Heavyweight title.
Jones has been away from the octagon for over three years and the light heavyweight legend will be moving up to a new division for this fight and looking to add to his already legendary career resume. Speaking of legendary fighters, Valentina Shevchenko will be defending her UFC Women’s Flyweight title against Alexa Grasso in the co-main event of the card.
The rest of the card is stacked with talent as well, with multiple fighters looking to jump into the title conversations in their respective divisions with victories on Saturday. Also, one of the most highly touted prospects in the quite some time will be making their debut tomorrow when Bo Nickal faces Jamie Pickett to open the main card. Check out my WagerWire Fighter Spotlight on Nickal for ways to turn one of the biggest betting favorites in UFC history into a much more reasonable bet.
Weigh-in results are final: Mana Martinez missed weight by one pound and Geoff Neal missed by four pounds, which is pretty surprising and not a close miss. Both fighters will be fined sizeable portions of their show money. Now that the weigh-in results are in the books and we have a final card locked in for tomorrow, let’s get right into the OddSmokerMMA UFC 285 Picks & Predictions:
Esteban Ribovics – Ribovics is 11-0 with a 100% finish rate with six wins by KO/TKO and five via submission. He will be making his UFC debut after a first-round knockout win on Dana White’s Contenders Series over Thomas Paull. He’s facing Loik Radzhabov, who is 16-4-1 and taking this fight on extremely short notice to make his UFC debut. Radzhabov has a 75% stoppage rate in his wins with seven KO/TKO and five submissions and has never been stopped as a pro. There isn’t much statistical info available for this one with both fighters making their debuts, but it will likely come down to which has the better cardio down the stretch here. I’m giving the slight lean to Ribovics since he has had a full camp to prepare, but he’ll likely need to win the first two rounds and survive the third for his first career win via decision in a close fight.
Farid Basharat – Basharat is 9-0 with six wins via stoppage (five of them by submission) and will be making his UFC debut this weekend when he faces 12-4-1 Da’Mon Blackshear. Basharat is the younger brother of UFC fighter Javid Basharat and is coming off a decision win on the last season of DWCS. Blackshear will be making his second walk to the octagon after fighting to draw in his own debut with the promotion. He’s a solid grappler also, with eight submission wins on his record and has also never been stopped. I expect this fight to be a good bit closer than Basharat’s -500 ML would suggest, so I don’t intend to touch it from a betting perspective. However, Basharat should be able to squeak this one out on the scorecards or potentially with a late submission.
Tabatha Ricci – Ricci is 7-1 with three stoppage wins and will be fighting Jessica Penne this weekend. Her only loss came to current title contender Manon Fiorot in her UFC debut, and she has since gone 2-0. Penne is 14-6 with 10 stoppages and eight of them via submission. She will have a sizeable 4″ height and 6″ reach advantage in this matchup, but that’s about where her advantages end. Ricci will be 12 years younger than her opponent and has higher striking volume and better grappling skills than Penne. Ricci has landed five takedowns in each of her last two fights, and I expect a similar approach in this one as well. I think Ricci will be able to get this one done via decision on the judge’s scorecards.
Cameron Saaiman – Saaiman is 7-0 with six stoppages and is coming off a late KO/TKO in his UFC debut. Saaiman also won his DWCS fight last year via third-round KO/TKO and each of his past three fights have gone that length or to decision. He’ll be facing 10-3 Mana Martinez, who is 2-1 in the UFC with both wins coming via split decision. Both fighters have positive striking differentials, while neither are particularly solid grapplers, so I’m expecting this one to largely stay on the feet. I think this is going to be a very close fight that will likely end up going the distance, where I’m taking Saaiman to pick up the win via decision.
Ian Garry – One of the best young prospects in the welterweight division, Garry is 10-0 with six stoppages and has gone 3-0 already in the promotion as he faces Song Kenan at UFC 285. Kenan is 18-6 with 16 stoppages with nine knockouts and seven submissions while being KOed in three of his six losses. He has gone 4-2 in the UFC thus far but has lost to his tougher competition. Garry will have sizeable 3″ height and reach advantages while also having higher striking volume and better grappling skills. Kenan has won 12 fights in the first round, but he is only 6-4 past that. Garry should comfortably be able to outland Kenan in the striking exchanges and since Kenan has zero takedowns in the UFC, I don’t expect he’ll be able to get the fight to the ground if he gets in trouble. I think Garry will get this one done via second or third round knockout.
Julian Marquez – Marquez is 9-3 with a 100% stoppage rate in his wins and is coming off the first KO/TKO loss of his career in his last fight against Gregory Rodrigues. He had won his two prior fights leading into that one and each of his past wins have come via submission. He’ll be facing Marc-Andre Barriault, who is 14-6 with ten stoppages. Barriault has dropped two of his last three fights, with the win coming over recently released Jordan Wright. Both fighters have positive striking differentials and while neither one particularly utilizes takedowns that often, Marquez is the more dangerous fighter on the ground. There aren’t many underdogs on this card that I like, but I do think Marquez can do enough to get this one done with his first decision win or another late-round sub.
Amanda Ribas – Ribas is 10-3 with six stoppages and will be facing 11-4 Viviane Araujo on this weekend’s card. Both fighters have dropped two of their past three fights against some of the tougher competition that the division has to offer and will be looking to bounce back here. Ribas has the better striking differential since both fighters have takedown defenses at better than 90%, there’s likely to be a lot of striking exchanges in this one. That could be an issue for Araujo, who has been outlanded by six of her last seven opponents. Ribas entered her last fight a biceps injury that has since had time to heal, and when healthy, she is one of the best young fighters in the division. I think Ribas will be able to get this done via a potentially split decision.
Dricus Du Plessis – Du Plessis is 18-2 with 17 stoppages with ten of them via submission and has gone 4-0 during his run in the UFC. He’ll be facing 23-8 Derek Brunson this weekend. Brunson has 15 stoppages of his own (11 KO/TKO) but has also been knocked out in six of his eight losses. Du Plessis will be ten years younger in the matchup and has the better striking volume between the two. Brunson is the slightly better grappler and has great takedown defense at 89%, but it’s impossible to trust his chin against the power of Du Plessis. This has the potential to be one of the most entertaining fights on the card, and I think Du Plessis has a solid chance of getting this one done via first or second round knockout.
Cody Garbrandt – Garbrandt is 12-5 with ten wins KO/TKO and will be looking to put an end to a terrible stretch that has seen him drop five of his last six fights. He’ll be facing 13-9 Trevin Jones, who has seven stops and also is looking to end a rough stretch that has included three straight losses. There’s a legit chance that this will be the last fight in the UFC for whoever loses this fight, so I expect both guys to show up. Garbrandt has been knocked out in four of his five losses, but those defeats came to some of the best talents in two separate divisions. While Jones is a solid fighter, he is levels below the fighters that Cody has struggled against. Jones also only has three KO/TKO wins in 22 pro fights and has a terrible 11% takedown accuracy. Garbrandt is clearly the better fighter in this matchup and I expect him to pick up this win via decision or late round KO/TKO.
Bo Nickal – Nickal is 3-0 with a 100% stoppage rate and will be making one the mostly highly anticipated UFC debuts in quite some time. He’ll be facing 13-8 Jamie Pickett and Nickal will likely close as the largest betting favorite in UFC history with a ML of -2000 and higher already. For full details on this fight and to ways to the turn that line into -250 or better, check out my WagerWire Fighter Spotlight article for this week. Nickal with the easy statement victory in his promotional debut.
Mateusz Gamrot – This could very well be the fight of the night with 21-2 Mateusz Gamrot stepping in one two-weeks’ notice to face 13-5 Jalin Turner. Gamrot has twelve wins via stoppage while never being finished but is coming off the first decisive loss of his career against Beneil Dariush. He’ll be facing Turner, who has a 100% stoppage rate in his wins and is coming off five straight stoppage victories. Turner will be the sizably bigger fighter with 5″ height and 7″ reach advantages. While Turner is extremely dangerous early in fights, he is only 3-3 when being extended past the first five minutes. That’s not a good recipe against someone who has never been finished and is 19-2 under the same circumstances. Gamrot should be able to weather the early danger here and comfortably take over as the fight progresses for a decision or late stoppage.
Shavkat Rakhmonov – Rakhmonov is 16-0 with a 100% stoppage rate (eight by each method) and is one of the best fighters in the welterweight division. He’ll be facing Geoff Neal, who is 15-4 with 11 stoppages while being stopped in two of his four losses. While Neal has higher striking volume and great 85% takedown defense, Rakhmonov has a much better striking differential and is the better grappler of the two. While Neal’s only path to victory in my opinion is an early knockout, Rakhmonov could win this fight via any of the three methods. I expect Rakhmonov to test that takedown of Neal early and often (if needed), where he should be able to eventually grind down Neal and get him out late. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if this is the first decision win of Shavkat’s career.
Valentina Shevchenko – Shevchenko is 23-3 with 15 stoppages and is one of the greatest women’s fighters of all-time. She’ll be looking to defend her UFC Flyweight title for an eighth time when she faces 15-3 Alexa Grasso in the co-main event. Shevchenko is coming off one of her more challenging title defenses in her last fight, but she has won 11 straight overall and two of her three career losses have come to Amanda Nunes when she went up in weight to meet her. Grasso has won four consecutive fights and she is a solid boxer and striker, but all three of her losses have come in the UFC against her tougher and higher ranked opponents, and I’m seeing a path her for Grasso to pick up the win. As good as her boxing is, she won’t outstrike Shevchenko, and it’s unlikely she’ll be able to hold Valentina down and control her to earn rounds like Taila Santos was able to. I think Valentina wants to make a statement in this fight and I think she gets it done inside the distance relatively early.
Jon Jones – Jones is 26-1 and making his return to the octagon after over three years away to challenge 11-1 Cyril Gane for the vacant UFC Heavyweight championship in the main event. Jones has 16 wins via stoppage in his career, and his only loss came via disqualification for “illegal” elbow strikes (Dana White considers Jones undefeated and has been vocal to have that outcome overturned). Gane is one of the best fighters in the heavyweight division with eight stoppage wins of his own. His only loss game in a decision to former champion Francis Ngannou early last year. While Gane is a very dangerous striker, he was exposed as a fairly weak grappler in the matchup against Ngannou. Furthermore, he has admitted in the past that he rarely trains grappling and often doesn’t train period without a fight booked. Jones, despite the layoff and time away from the octagon, is one of the best mixed martial artists of all-time by any metric. While his last performance prior to the layoff left a lot to be desired as he earned narrow decision wins, Jones has stated publicly this week that he had grown disgruntled with his position and pay at the time. I don’t find it hard to believe at all that he was being sincere, and also find it hard to imagine that he would return and risk any part of his legacy if he wasn’t fully motivated. Jones will be able to weather the threat Gane presents on the feet and will likely look to get this fight to the ground early and often. Once down there, Jones is extremely dangerous, and I think as fight progresses and the time on the ground add up, Jones will be able to stop Gane via ground and pound sometime in the latter rounds.
My favorite picks for UFC 285 are: Jon Jones, Bo Nickal (R1), Valentina Shevchenko (ITD), and Ian Garry (KO/TKO). Other spots that I really like are Cody Garbrandt and Mateusz Gamrot. There’s a lot of chalk this weekend on my picks, but my favorite (and currently only) underdogs are Julian Marquez and Esteban Ribovics.
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