This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
The UFC is preparing to take another short break, but not before presenting us with 12 betting opportunities in the form of UFC 270. We'll take a look at three underdog plays and a slight favorite, including a disrespected champion, and a newcomer who will try to bleed dry a fan favorite's gas tank. 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 write-up. 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
Jack Della Maddalena vs. Pete Rodriguez Weight class: Welterweight
It's not always fair to judge an undefeated fighter by a sparse or padded record. After all, you can only beat who is put in front of you, and just because someone is light on experience doesn't mean they haven't shown promise. While all this could be true for Rodriguez, it should set off a few alarm bells to learn that all four of his fights (which have finished inside of the first round) have occurred in less than two years.
By contrast, Della Maddalena has had 12 professional fights in a career that dates back to March 2016. He has fought into the third round twice and has logged eight of his wins by knockout. This makes him a veteran in comparison to Rodriguez, who likes nothing more than to stand in the pocket and throw hands until his opponent falls over. The problem is he has taken for granted that his opponent can't hurt him, which has saddled him with bad defensive habits. Maddalena is equipped with many more tools, including body shots, combination punching, and lateral movement. He may not be the next world-beater, but Della Maddalena has shown the makings of a coherent MMA game. Rodriguez looks as though he knows how to move his feet and slip his head off the center line, but like most brawlers, this mindfulness ends when he puts strikes together.
When attempting to cap a fight like this we have to ask ourselves what Rodriguez will do against a fighter like Della Maddalena when he doesn't go away after the first big shot. It's never a good idea to put your trust in a fighter who will have to learn on the job, particularly if they are fighting someone as put together as Della Maddalena.
The play: Della Maddalena wins via KO/TKO: (-125)
Matt Frevola vs. Genaro Valdez Weight class: Lightweight
While fans and bettors alike have grown skeptical of the fighters coming off of the Contender Series, I find myself wondering what Frevola has done to warrant a booking as a sizeable favorite. "Steamrolla" has amassed a 2-2-1 record in the UFC, and one of those wins came against a fighter (Luis Pena) who is no longer with the company. These are the kinds of lines that make me sit up and take notice, as I detect a bias against the unknown commodity.
In this case, that unknown commodity is an undefeated fighter who likes to brawl in the pocket en route to finding takedowns. The quality of competition hasn't been particularly high for Valdez, but we have seen Frevola get overwhelmed by fast starters in the past, forcing him to fight his way back into the contest. While most haven't tried to wrestle Frevola, Arman Tsarukyan was able to take him down a whopping 10 times on 12 attempts, while possessing just a 40 percent accuracy rate overall.
There is always a danger that Valdez can get clipped in a wild exchange, but it may surprise some to learn that Frevola counts just one KO/TKO among his eight victories. If Frevola can't get Valdez out of there, he is going to keep coming. I expect the debutante to impose his will on Frevola before breaking him in the later rounds.
The play: Genaro Valdez: (+165)
Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane Weight class: heavyweight
This is a tough fight to call, as we are watching two skilled athletes coming into their respective primes. This means they are likely to improve from fight to fight, leaving us to wonder how much of what we see on tape can be trusted. While I have no doubt that both men are improving, I can say with confidence that the most drastic improvements we have seen have come from Ngannou.
It's important to point out that Ngannou was always more than the windmilling power factory bettors saw in the Jair Rozenstruik fight. Even as early as his first fight with Curtis Blaydes, Ngannou had excellent timing on his counter punches, dug for underhooks to thwart takedowns, and showed an ability to get up off of his back using technique. Not only did he build on all of these skills ahead of the second fight with Stipe Miocic, he added in feints to disguise his entries into the pocket, as well as leg kicks to diversify his attack. Gane has displayed some cleaner technique and more patience as his career has gone on, but much of his game still relies on being more athletic than his opponents. While Ngannou can't quite match his athleticism, he is certainly more apt to keep up with the French Fighter than were Junior dos Santos, Alexander Volkov, or Derrick Lewis.
Ngannou has always shown the seeds of an A-level fighter, but his game appears to have reached new heights, particularly in terms of his wrestling and boxing. Gane is talented enough to make anyone in the division look foolish, but I can't pass on underdog odds from a champion who has been this dominant.
The play: Francis Ngannou (+130)
Michel Pereira vs. Andre Fialho Weight class: Welterweight
Michel Pereira has cut out much of the acrobatic activity from his in-ring routine and seemed to turn a corner following his loss to Tristan Connelly. That is until he fought another pressure fighter in Niko Price and had to backpedal for the better part of five minutes in the final frame just to survive. It seems that the book to beat the Brazilian fighter has been written, but can Fialho apply its lessons?
While there isn't much nuance to Fialho's game, he does appear able to carry his gas tank into the later rounds, having gone 2-1 in 15-minute decisions. He has also showcased tremendous power, finishing his last four wins by KO/TKO. We have seen Fialho walk through punishment to corner opponents on the regional scene, and he can put punches together well enough that we won't have to worry about the 27-year-old landing the perfect shot. That doesn't mean that he won't have to mind his defense, as Pereira can leap into the pocket with hard counter shots, but the veteran isn't as much of a knockout threat as his size might suggest, having finished just 10 of his 26 wins via strikes.
There is no universe in which Fialho is currently better than a replacement fighter at this level, but the Price fight has reopened the conversation regarding Perriera's cardio, and Fialho has a style that is tailor-made to exploit such a weakness if he can survive an early onslaught.
The play: Andre Fialho via KO/TKO: (+400)