This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
The number of heavy favorites strewn about UFC 267's 14-fight card is enough to want to just toss in a few parlays and forget it, but rather than decide which three or four wrestlers should get it done, I've decided to give prospective bettors four distinct plus-money plays to consider on Saturday. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Jan Blachowicz (28-8-0) vs. Glover Teixeira (32-7-0) Weight class: Light Heavyweight
The fact that this fight is happening at all is a testament to perseverance, as Blachowicz was considered an afterthought following an underwhelming start in the organization, and Teixeira looked to be nearing the end of his career due to hellacious knockouts at the hands of Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson. Both have rattled off impressive win streaks to get where they are today, but which of these two veterans will come out on top?
The first thing to note is that Teixeira seems to have gotten more durable with age, as he looked to be in serious trouble against Karl Roberson, Ion Cutelaba and Thiago Santos before rallying to get stoppage victories. Blachowicz may hit like a truck, but his shots tend to come either one at a time or in short bursts, which should help Glover deal with damage. It should also be pointed out that Glover will relentlessly pressure his opponents in an attempt to work his boxing game. Jan is comfortable keeping his back against the fence, meaning that Glover will likely be the one leading the dance for as long as the fight lasts. While Jan's takedown defense seems to have drastically improved, Glover will continue to make the fight dirty until he gets his way, and we saw in his fight with Israel Adesanya how tired Jan became after a few minutes of grappling.
To be clear, Blachowicz can certainly turn out the lights on Teixeira, but the Brazilian fighter's defense tends to be a bit underrated, as he often rolls with punches that seem to connect flush in real-time. I think we will see a typical workman-like performance from Teixeira here, in which he takes some damage early but hangs around and takes over the fight by always being in the champion's face.
The play: Glover Teixeira (+240)
Shamil Gamzatov (14-0-0) Vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (15-4-0) Weight class: Light Heavyweight
What do we make of the fact that Gamzatov is an undefeated fighter? The common understanding is that someone who has won 14 fights with a spotless record must be dominant, but the 31-year-old had what would best be described as a nip-and-tuck kickboxing match with Klidson Abreu in his organizational debut, which doesn't exactly scream "world-class fighter." This makes me wonder how much that shiny zero on his resume has to do with the quality of competition, and how much is down to Gamzatov being an excellent fighter.
A fight with Oleksiejczuk will go a long way to answering this question. The Polish fighter is incredibly fast, hits hard and does excellent work to the body, as we saw with his knockout of Gian Villante. Gamzatov may pack his own punch, but he is very willing to let his opponent have the center of the cage. While he is an Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu champion, Gadzimov has only five submissions among his 14 wins, with the last one coming back in 2014.
Oleksiejczuk hasn't dealt with submission grapplers well in the UFC, but all indications are that this fight will take place primarily on the feet, where "Lord" will have some real advantages. If Gadzimov decides to dust off his wrestling shoes, I feel confident that the much more agile fighter will be able to keep the range and land shots.
The play: Michal Oleksiejczuk (+105)
Albert Duraev (14-3-0) vs. Roman Kopylov (8-1-0) Weight class: Middleweight
It may be profoundly unfair of me to judge a fighter so harshly coming off of one loss, but I think there is something that needs to be said when a kickboxer like Karl Roberson (who had blurred vision due to an eye poke) can climb on your back and finish you via submission.
This is precisely what took place for Kopylov, who was on his way to losing his UFC debut via decision before being taken down and choked in the third round. Kopylov may have fast hands and power, but all the weight he puts on his lead leg makes it far too easy for fighters to get to his hips, which is exactly what Duraev will be attempting to do for as long as this fight lasts. The 30-year-old showed almost no ability to stop the back-take or fight the hands of Roberson after he was taken down, which should raise alarms as he steps into the cage with a man who has won nine of his 14 fights by submission.
Duraev may need to absorb some shots early, but I trust the 32-year-old to weather a storm before letting his relentless nature take over. Roberson had tremendous success with leg kicks against Kopylov early on, which Duraev could replicate in order to take the sting out of some of those punches.
The play: Albert Duraev by submission (+120)
Petr Yan (15-2-0) vs. Cory Sandhagen (14-2-0) Weight class: Bantamweight
It's a good thing for us that MMA math doesn't work, because we are about to predict that a man who was finished in less than two minutes by Aljamain Sterling will have the success that eluded "Aljo" for much of his bout with Yan. There is no doubt that "No Mercy" will be the stiffest test of Sandhagen's career, but what does he have that Sterling might lack?
For starters, Sandhagen is extremely tall for the weight class and will come in with a four-inch height advantage over his opponent. This will make it more difficult for Yan to get on the inside and let Sandhagen control the range. It should also be noted that "Sandman" can fight while going forward and backward, and has shown a knack for angling off after throwing strikes. All of this should make it harder for Yan to hit Sandhagen, while also increasing the chances that the 29-year-old connects with his shots.
Yan has bested a lot of different opponent types in the Octagon to this point but hasn't had to deal with anyone quite so explosive. All of Sandhagen's attributes together will present a puzzle that the Russian fighter has to solve. He may be good enough to do it, but it's certainly worth underdog money to find out.
The play: Cory Sandhagen (+180)