Best bets for UFC 287: Pereira vs. Adesanya

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UFC 287: Pereira vs. Adesanya II ​​provides an eerily similar scenario to the title trilogy fight we just saw between Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards. A familiar underdog knocked off a dominant champ, then grants the immediate rematch. Leon Edwards delivered in London, but will Pereira manage to fend off Adesanya’s shot a redemption?

 

This weekend’s card features thirteen scheduled bouts with ‘early’ prelim action starting at 3 p.m. PT, prelims at 5 p.m. PT, followed at 7 p.m. with the PPV offering.

The last few fight cards have produced better results for underdog bettors as after the first quarter of the year, favorites are 72-39-9 63.7%, which is down from last year but about where the rate has averaged the last several years.

Last year, in bouts over 155 pounds, finish rates were 57.5%, while in competitions 145 pounds and lower, finish rates were just 44.4%. So, from this perspective, there seems to be a reason this card is populated with larger, experienced, adroit combatants, each of whom has motivations to elevate their career by the performance Saturday night.

Alex Pereira +110 vs. Israel Adesanya -130

Middleweight (185 pounds) Championship | Main Event

Finocchiaro:  As far as MMA is concerned, this is the second fight for these two in just five short months. Pereira, now in control of the belt, is massive for the weight class and does amazing work to make weight and then rehydrate to 215 pounds for the battle itself.

A decorated, world-class kickboxer with a black belt in BJJ under the tutelage of Glover Teixeira, Pereira sits atop the middleweight mountain. He defends immediately against a kickboxing Muay Thai original in Adesanya who was pointing him up last November before Pereira, in a frantic fifth, found Adesanya with power strikes and clubbed him until the bout was rightfully stopped.

Adesanya likes to control space, strike in flurries and present a difficult target for opponents to flush. He’s complimented with a purple belt in BJJ and a degree of wrestling that may be an element of this bout.

This fight is a monumental moment in Adesanya’s legacy, as it’s going to take his absolute best performance to defeat Pereira. But win this bout, and all the titles that mean so little become his…. ‘pound for pound’ and ‘all-time this and that.’

From the end of that last bout until now, Adesanya’s handled himself with exemplary professionalism and focus. That said, these stakes are high for where shall he wander should he lose again? Is he returning too quickly after such a physical/emotional loss? These are legitimate concerns.

What will and can he change for this battle in but a few months, and how can Pereira present himself any differently for this bout? We do have almost a full five rounds of competition between the two, which is more than we often have for fights of this magnitude. Though both kickboxers, one man is gifted with speed, finesse and precision while the other delivers aggressive forward pressure striking which results in blunt force trauma.

Pereira is the imposing pursuer with profuse power and fight-ending ferocity. He’s determined to confront, engage and destroy. Pereira will arrive more confident, and I believe he’s willing to let it go against a foe in Adesanya who he knows he can finish. On the other hand, Adesanya must dictate this fight by controlling space, distance and time with his movement, strike evasion and angular precision striking.

Adesanya owns three/four rounds of effective work over Pereira, who really only won a single round, albeit the one that counted just months ago. Adesanya’s response since his defeat and his willingness to address this challenge immediately displays championship mettle, and I don’t put it past him and his team to come up with a wrinkle for this tilt, for Adesanya is the more well-rounded mixed martial artist. He displayed the ability to control from top position on the mat in the last bout.

The family that is City Kickboxing provides championship mentoring and the diverse competition Issy requires to compete against one of the scariest finishers in recent MMA history. All this after Adesanya cleaned the division from one end to the other.

I view Pereira as an ultra-dangerous charging bull who will look to immediately gorge Adesanya. In contrast, Adesanya will look to play matador and attempt to outmaneuver the aggressor, thus forcing him to spend precious energy chasing smoke.

It’s in relentless pursuit that counterstriking, as well as the takedown, are most easily executed. A focused, calculated approach will work in Adesanya’s favor.

Adesanya opened -200 in the first bout last November and closed -210. He opened -150 for this fight and has been bet down to current pricing. I feel there’s an opportunity on Adesanya, and will make him my release this week, but I’ll practice patience in pulling the trigger as this line continues to compress.

Total in this fight: 4.5 under -120

Pick: Adesanya -130 or better

Kuhn: As with the Usman-Edwards rematch, the former champ is still the favorite in the immediate rematch, despite having lost as a heavy favorite in the prior fight. Each time the former champ just became less of a favorite, but still the favorite. However, unlike the Usman-Edwards rematch, this time I’m siding with the former champ, rather than backing the repeat underdog.

In their prior title fight, Adesanya was up 3-1 unanimously on the cards heading into the final round. But Pereira stepped on the gas in the final minutes and seemingly caught Adesanya coasting, pouring on enough volume along the fence to get a stoppage.

But looking back at Adesanya’s performance prior to that, we’ll see he actually used effective grappling more than in his career to date. In a pivotal third round, he spent over three minutes in ground control, and he’d be wise to mix in this advantage on the ground again whenever Pereira pushes clinch work. Along the fence, Pereira outlanded Adesanya in all rounds, but closing that distance comes with the increased risk of takedowns.

Adesanya is still capable of standing in the pocket with Pereira, but now he also knows he has a backup plan when needed. Hopefully having learned he’s not invincible, Adesanya is still an elite talent who might even benefit from his prior defeat.

Pick: Adesanya to win -155.

Gil Burns -475 vs. Jorge Masvidal +380

Welterweight (170 pounds) | co-Main Event

Finocchiaro:  Here we have two relatively undersized guys for the 170-pound weight class.

Burns is a viable top-four welterweight, and he’ll look to earn a decisive win over a guy in Masvidal that moves the needle (puts butts in seats) anywhere he fights but most especially in Miami when he resides.

The fifth-ranked Burns in the division is a 3rd-degree black belt in BJJ so few are willing to go to the floor with him as well he’s an aggressive, effective power striker though one that is usually giving up reach.

Burns will look to press forward with power strikes before clasping onto Masvidal to smash him against the fence and transition onto the floor, where he’s able to dominate most any opponent.

For his part, Masvidal has played the game better and wiser than most. He’s been able to stack a few dominant knockout victories late in his career, using guile and intelligence. He’s been savvy enough to bank some money and transition into the business world where to this point, he seems to be doing quite well.

But while business opportunities abound, they bring distractions, Masvidal drives fancy cars, lives in a nice mansion in Miami, and is able to enjoy the spoils his fighting and business acumen have provided him. But as I learned from the great boxing trainer Angelo Dundee many decades ago, “silk sheets, champagne and pretty ladies are corrosive to championship fighters,” and Jorge is no stranger to those and possibly a few other more modern pursuits.

But make no mistake, Masvidal is no longer an elite mixed martial artist, though Masvidal as a potentially dangerous, beguiling, experienced fighter remains. Gil Burns best respect him because if he makes a mistake, Masvidal still has the ability to surprise. Just ask Ben Askren or Darren Till.

Total in this fight: 2.5 Rds. Under -140

Pick: Lean Under

Kelvin Gastelum -135 vs. Chris Curtis +110

Middleweight (185 pounds)

Kuhn:  The market is bullish on former title contender Kelvin Gastelum, having flipped his price from underdog to favorite since opening. But don’t expect the price to inflate much further. On paper, Chris Curtis is still a nasty striker, more than capable of finishing a fight. But he’s also been outworked in rounds where he didn’t land a big shot.

That could open the door for Gastelum, who has faced plenty of elite strikers and owns some sharp boxing of his own. And mix in Gastelum’s threat of wrestling, and that might force Curtis to be more reserved while trying to keep the fight standing.

This is a litmus step to see if the hype behind Curtis is real. But Gastelum’s experience is a big step up for Curtis, who is surprisingly the much older man. As an affordably mild favorite, Gastelum is a nice play if we bank on his motivation to stay relevant in the division and keep a roster spot.

Kuhn: Gastelum to win.

Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. PT, Lou Finocchiaro will jump on VSiN’s Follow the Money program with Mitch Moss and Paul Howard to break down UFC 287. Weigh-ins are that morning at 6:00 a.m. PT, and Lou plans to release official positions with Mitch and Paul.

The ‘Bout Business Podcast drops on Friday after 12:00 p.m. PT when Lou will include all of his final releases for UFC 287. 

Enjoy the fights and thank you for reading