Best bets for UFC 284: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski

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This week’s UFC 284 card in Perth, Australia, borrows a similar theme from Brazil’s UFC 283 from last month in that 10 of the 13  bouts feature an Australian athlete taking on a “ship-in” from elsewhere in the world.

A larger 30-foot octagon, travel for those outside of Australia as well the time adjustments all come into play for foreign events. Not to mention that the UFC does some subtle manicuring to put local fighters in potentially favorable positions.

 

Last week’s Insight the Octagon digital release failed, leaving us 2-1 +1.15 units for the year. While Sergey Spivak did exactly as predicted, Da Woon Jung looked statuesque, deliberate and unathletic in his attempt to gain legitimacy in the middleweight division.

 

 

Islam Makhachev (-400) vs. Alex Volkanovski (+330)

Lightweight (155 pounds) Championship | Main Event

Finocchiaro: This is more than just the middleweight title as Volkanovski the current featherweight tile holder and acknowledged “pound for pound” champion in the UFC moves up a weight class to challenge the “New Khabib” in Russian vise grip Makhachev. Makhachev holds the lightweight title and is acknowledged as No. 2-ranked in those fallacious “pound for pound” rankings. The “pound for pound” discussion is folly because it’s so difficult to compare athletes of varying sizes when it comes to mixed martial arts.

Makhachev, 31, is three years younger and four inches taller than Volkanovski, but he has no reach advantage. I’ll acknowledge he has faced, heavier athletes. His striking is refined and his grappling/sambo/wrestling is world-class dominant.

Lastly, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which tests UFC athletes, will readily admit that in the cat-and-mouse game that is ensuring fighter safety by testing all athletes, the Russian contingent remains one step ahead of the process at almost every juncture. Just saying.

Volkanovski is a uniquely constructed athlete who in his youth played championship team rugby at 205 pounds! Volkanovski used fortitude, focus and grit to get to the 145-pound limit let alone dominate there. To believe the move up to 155 pounds will be a challenge seems unwarranted.

What may be questioned is how his cardio fare will carry the extra weight if and when this bout enters the championship rounds. There, we’ll all discover how vulnerable Makhachev is … or isn’t.

Volkanovski’s footwork and striking may be superior to Makhachev’s and while he’s not the grappling threat that Makhachev is, his wrestling base coupled with his short, stout frame will pose a tremendous challenge to the incoming pressure grappler.

Once the bell rings, I believe Makhachev’s surely going to get Volkanovski to the canvas, but when he gets up, what will the reaction be from the larger Makhachev? Further, Makhachev has been talking about his hands and how he believes he can ice Volkanovski on the feet.

Straying too much from his wresting/grappling forte would be unwise for Makhachev.

This fight sets up well for Volkanovski to surprise Makhachev, who in addition to competing without his mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov in the corner Saturday has been vocal about not gaining the support of the UFC for this “pound for pound” production.

Volkanovski’s compact frame, his incredible strength, his Greco-Roman wrestling base coupled with his black belt in BJJ equip him with the appropriate tools to legitimately challenge for this title.

Makhachev opened -330 for this bout and has been bet to the current -400. I handicap Makhachev more in the -240 to -260 range and will advise those interested in Volkanovski to use patience for the line may continue to rise as we near the bout.

Total in this fight: 3.5 rounds Under -130

I’ll have more to say about this total later this week after scouring the props.

Kuhn: A clear stylistic battle, confounded by a move up in weight class. Volkanovski proved his effective and powerful stand-up by winning many rounds against Max Holloway.

Meanwhile, Makhachev is the heir apparent to the elite grappling standard set by Khabib Nurmagomedov. Makhachev is the much larger fighter despite the shorter reach. His wrestling to date has been excellent, and taking on an older opponent unaccustomed to facing natural lightweights makes this Makhachev’s fight to lose.

The numbers, ignoring the change in weight, still favor Makhachev. He’s a deserving clear favorite. However, as his price continues to rise, you might find better value taking a low threshold Over of 1.5 rounds, which is now cheaper than betting Makhachev straight up. We’ve seen Volkanovski tested on the mat, but you have to expect he’ll fight hard not to be submitted so soon in the fight, even if he gets stuck in a bad spot.

Kuhn’s picks: Makhachev to win, Over 1.5 for parlays.

Yair Rodriguez (-160) vs. Josh Emmett (+140)

Featherweight (135 pounds) interim Championship | co-Main Event

Finocchiaro: The title that Volkanovski is vacating is being offered on an interim basis to the winner here, which is the UFC’s way to create hype in a five-round co-main event.

Rodriguez is a Mexican fighter, so we know he’s as tough as a $3 steak and has an elite striking base grounded in boxing. Rodriguez attempts to use his height, length and footwork to maintain distance in order to unleash lethal leg strikes, spinning elbows and fists.

Rodriguez has made great improvements on becoming a more complete mixed martial artist, but he’s chosen to develop his skills at the expense of being a busy fighter, which could come into play Saturday. Rodriguez enters this fight with little to no momentum or fight continuity while his opponent can say quite the opposite.

Emmett is shorter and older with a slight reach disadvantage. In a striking affair, which is what Rodriguez requires to be successful, those are obstacles he must overcome to be successful.

Still, Emmett, an NAIA championship-level wrestler with a blue belt in BJJ, is the more well-rounded fighter. His striking is power based and its success depends on his ability to use force of will and footwork to gain the inside on opponents, which allows him to hurl hooks, crosses, knees and elbows onto foes.

In past fights we’ve witnessed Emmett employ very little wrestling, opting instead to use his forward pressure power striking, but in this bout against a slick customer like Rodriguez, Emmett will have to employ a tactic similar to the one Frankie Edgar used years ago on Rodriguez.

That night, Rodriguez was repeatedly taken down and received a destructive amount of ground and pound. Emmett’s complete fight arsenal, durability and wrestling will allow him to gain advantage later in this bout. Monitoring.

Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds Over -175

Kuhn: It’s technique versus power in what is likely to be primarily a stand-up battle for the interim lightweight title. Few people swing for the fences like Emmett, who throws power with 75% of his strikes. Yet Rodriguez throws at 71% and manages to strike at a higher output, outworking his opponents by 25% on volume.

Rodriguez also utilizes more diverse strikes than Emmett, switching up his targets and landing more leg kicks than most. It seems like Rodriguez will win more voluminous exchanges while Emmett waits to land something big.

Expect lines to stay tight. The numbers lean Rodriguez, but there’s not much value unless the price retreats a bit. The Overs are heavily juiced already as we’re all expecting a close decision.

Kuhn: Lean Rodriguez to win

Joshua Culibao (-105) vs. Melsik Baghdasaryan (-115)

Featherweight (135 pounds)

Finocchiaro: Baghdasaryan, an aggressive, forward-pressing Armenian striker travels into hostile territory for what may be one of the most violent affairs of the year.

He is 7-1 and 2-0 in the UFC. A Muay Thai, kickboxing and boxing background highlight the fact that Baghdasaryan looks to walk opponents down, then engage and overcome them with a violent striking attack. The southpaw is young, powerful and has a granite beard.

He’s facing Culibao, an Aussie whose fighting is based in taekwondo with a purple belt in BJJ to supplement that striking. He’s three years younger, taller and longer in what sets up to be a toe-to-toe onslaught.

This will be Culibao’s fifth UFC bout. Being home and fighting in front of his peeps, the level of competition he’s faced coupled with his physical advantages be required to stave off the incoming Baghdasaryan.

By the time the dust clears on this brawl, Culibao’s experience, speed, footwork, movement and athleticism will be the determining factors.

Culibao +130 was released a few weeks ago on the ‘Bout Business Podcast, but at current pricing he is still a buy.

Finocchiaro’s pick: Culibao -105

Jimmy Crute (-205) vs. Alonzo Menifield (+175)

Light heavyweight (205 pounds)

Kuhn: Leading off the main card will be a light-heavyweight bout that promises plenty of raw power. Aussie fighter Crute has never seen a decision in his UFC career and is coming off his first back-to-back losses. With the extra motivation of his home crowd, hopefully he’ll unleash the full potential of his nickname “the Brute.”

On the feet, Crute has the power advantage, despite being less technical. He might eat some shots on the way, but he offers a real knockout threat against Menifield, who is eight years older.

There’s a bigger difference on the mat as Crute has more aggressive wrestling and a long career of submissions. Menifield’s takedown defense is high, but worrying about constant attempts could put him on the defensive early. Crute has multiple paths to victory but also a chance to go down trying. His sloppy defense adds to the overall finishing potential of the fight.

Kuhn’s picks: Crute to win (-205), Under 2.5 rounds

GambLou’s Bout Business Podcast drops Friday midday across all platforms. All of his final releases may be accessed there.