This article is part of our Handicapping the Octagon series.
The UFC 255 card has a couple of dog plays I almost consider too good to be true, but I managed to shake off the conspiratorial thinking long enough to recommend them as part of five targets this week. We also take the plunge to declare "AND NEW" in one of the two title fights on the card due to the juicy odds on what should prove to be the champion's toughest test to date. As always, I have limited my looks to lines below (-200), as I feel that anything more expensive is supposed to come in, and doesn't really require a writeup. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article. Without any further ado, let's get to it.
Tim Means (30-12-1) vs. Mike Perry (14-6-0) Weight class: Welterweight
Means may not have had a full camp, as he is taking the fight on short notice after the withdrawal of Robbie Lawler, but I can't see how that justifies making him any kind of underdog against someone like Perry. Not only will Means have the edge in every technical aspect of the fight, but he also carries four-inch advantages in both height and reach into the contest. If things are so cut and dry, why was the line set this way in the first place?
One of the reasons may be a concern for Means' durability, having been recently stopped cold by Niko Price and club-and-subbed by Daniel Rodriguez. That sounds bad until we remember that Price is one of the most dedicated finishers in the organization, having only gone to decision once in 14 wins. Rodriguez has been a bit less lethal in his career, but you wouldn't know it by his stint in the UFC, as he has finished two of his first three opponents and only the superhuman chin on Gabriel Green prevented him from making that a perfect 3-for-3. Perry, by contrast, seems to have regressed after knocking his opponents cold early in his career, as he hasn't finished any of his last three wins, and carries a 3-5 record in his last eight fights.
Perry will still stalk forward and look for big shots, but his lack of professional cornering of late has to make one wonder what kind of training he is getting, as he basically just threw big, looping shots at Mickey Gall until he got tired and relented. Means is unlikely to fade down the stretch and has the craft, wrestling and BJJ to control this fight anywhere it goes. I'm always a bit uneasy picking public darlings (as Means is sure to be) but the price is too good to pass here.
The Pick: Means +125
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (27-11-1) vs. Paul Craig (13-4-1) Weight Class: Lightheavyweight
I ran down all the reasons I think this fight is strange in my FanDuel MMA breakdown, but in sum: there is no reason for the odds to swing so wildly toward Craig after the two fought to a draw in a bout that "Shogun" arguably won. Beyond the obvious value, though, it must be said that Craig's path to victory here requires him to do something outside of his comfort zone.
Believe it or not, Craig was taking it to "Shogun" on the feet in Round 1, using his range kicking game and sticking Shogun against the fence to unload a flurry of punches. The problem is that Craig isn't a comfortable striker, so he eventually went back to what he knows and tried to take the fight to the ground. To the surprise of no one, "Shogun" was the better jiu-jitsu player when the fight hit the ground, effortlessly passing whenever Craig would try to throw up his legs for a triangle or armbar. I expect "Shogun" will close down the space a bit earlier this time, as he can be a committed wrestler in spots where it's advantageous. "Shogun" may still be chinny against a decently hard-hitting opponent, but Craig does not qualify as such a fighter, as we clearly saw the power on the side of Rua in the first bout.
The key point here is that even if Craig could get the better of "Shogun" on the feet again, he loses this fight in the area where he is strongest, and I can't trust a guy who got the majority of his pre-UFC wins by pulling guard and snatching submissions to be a composed kickboxer for long enough to win this fight on points. The odds shift to Craig seems completely arbitrary based on their first encounter, which should seem warm and inviting to prospective bettors.
The Pick: Mauricio Rua +150
Brandon Moreno (17-5-1) vs, Brandon Royval (12-4-0) Weight class: Flyweight
What would a fight card be without a little prop bet? There is evidence to suggest that a smaller cage encourages finishes, and that may be more than enough for someone like Royval, who has only been to decision once in his 12 wins. We should also note that neither of his fights in the UFC have made it out of the second round. This is fine for Royval's part, but how does Moreno factor into the equation?
While not quite a finisher on the level of Royval, Moreno has ended 12 of his 17 professional wins early. There may be some concern that Moreno won't be able to submit a BJJ black belt of Royval's caliber, but the relative newcomer tends to hang his head high in striking exchanges, and Moreno has shown crisper kickboxing since returning to the organization. Likewise, Moreno tends to be brash and enter the pocket with his hands down, which should result in the "Assassin Baby" eating hard shots.
This is by no means a risk-free bet, as neither man has ever been finished in their respective careers. However, the pace these two are sure to keep – combined with defensive liabilities on both sides – tells me that we are likely to see furious action until someone falls or taps out. At even odds, I will bet on one of these finishers who have never been finished to finish the other.
The Pick: Fight does not go the distance +100
Ariane Lipski (13-5-0) vs. Antonina Shevchenko (8-2-0) Weight class: Flyweight
Lipski has disappointed DFS players and bettors alike for the majority of her UFC career, as her come-forward aggressive style doesn't quite have enough nuance to take over fights at this level. Even against someone she was clearly better than in Isabela De Padua, Lipski spent a decent portion of that fight on her back due to her opponent's ability to time takedowns off of her rote, wide punching combinations. What does this mean for Shevchenko?
While she may not be much of a wrestler, Shevchenko is an accurate and powerful striker and uses a nice kicking game to complement her frame. Lipski may be the "violence queen" but that has only proven true in specific instances in her UFC tenure thus far, specifically when her opponent is willing to get backed into the fence and overwhelmed. I think Shevchenko will assert herself early in this one, keeping Lipski at bay with kicks and using her two-inch height advantage to force Muay Thai clinches when Lipski tries to close her down. Antonina is by far the most physical fighter Lipski has fought at this level and that physicality should pay dividends in the small cage, particularly.
It's not always comfortable to take a relatively unproven fighter at these odds, but I see a clear style and depth-of-skill advantage here, which swings this bout comfortably in favor of Antonina for me.
The Pick: Antonina Shevchenko: -169
Divesion Figueiredo (19-1-0) vs. Alex Perez (24-5-0) Weight class: Flyweight
This is (if memory serves) the first installment of this article series to include a fifth play, but I just couldn't ignore such a live dog. Figueiredo is seen as a hulking figure in this division after two memorable wins over Joseph Benavidez, but it wasn't all that long ago that he dropped a decision to Jussier Formiga. As someone who picked Formiga to win that fight, I'm here to tell you why Perez should succeed, too.
We've seen how powerful Perez's leg kicks have been, as they stopped the aforementioned Formiga during their fight in June. Those kicks should be doubly effective against someone like Figueiredo, who stands flat-footed in the cage and simply tries to walk down his opponent. He may have difficulty corralling Perez, though, as he is athletic and always on the balls of his feet. There is no doubt that the power advantage goes to the champion here, but we've already seen movement and a solid wrestling game best Figueiredo once, and I'm willing to bet it can happen again.
To take me off this pick, you'd have to tell me of a time when Perez was either caught out or beaten by someone who wasn't a solid mover in the cage. Failing that, I think Perez can pick his opponent apart for the better part of the fight with enough power to keep him honest in case he wants to go HAM.
The Pick: Alex Perez +240.