This Saturday (January 28, 2017) will see what is traditionally one of the higher rated UFC events, TV-wise. Piggybacking the NFL playoffs, the January UFC on FOX card has been the most-viewed event on the network for each year except for 2016. That means there should be plenty of eyeballs on the women’s bantamweight contender bout between Valentina Shevchenko (13-2) and Julianna Pena (8-2). Shevchenko has made her mark in the UFC by facing top competition each time she’s stepped into the Octagon. On short notice back in 2015, she defeated Sarah Kaufman by unanimous decision. Next, she gave current champion Amanda Nunes a test that many felt Shevchenko would have won had it been scheduled for five rounds. She rebounded from that defeat with a dominant decision over former champion Holly Holm, which put her right at the top of the list of contenders. The first-ever female Ultimate Fighter Julianna Pena has been perfect since she entered the UFC. Since defeating Jessica Rakoczy in the TUF 18 Finale, she’s picked up increasingly impressive victoies over Milana Dudieva, Jessica Eye and former title challenger Cat Zingano. That four-fight winning streak has her on the cusp of a title shot. UFC on FOX 23 also features a fantastic welterweight bout between two fighters who have discarded the traditional concept of MMA weight-cutting. Both Donald Cerrone and Jorge Masvidal are capable of fighting at lightweight and did so successfully for many years. Recently, however, each has been plying his trade at 170 and looking better than ever. Cerrone has won four straight since permanently moving up to welterweight, all by stoppage. Masvidal has gone 3-2, with the losses both being close split decisions (to Benson Henderson and Lorenz Larkin). The main card also features rapidly-ascending heavyweight Francis N’Gannou facing the stiffest test of his career in former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. In a division which rarely gets an infusion of new blood, this is a prime opportunity for N’Gannou to break through to the upper echelon of the division. Finally, the featherweight division will kick things off on big FOX, as the surprising Jason Knight takes on Alex Caceres in a fight that could take place absolutely anywhere. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas had previously opened the betting lines for all four main card bouts, as well as the top two prelims, Sam Alvey against Nate Marquardt and Raphael Assuncao versus Aljamain Sterling. Today, he completed the full slate of odds for UFC on FOX 23, adding the remaining six preliminary bouts. Those include “Frank Waisten” Luis Henrique da Silva looking to bounce back from his first career loss against debuting top prospect Jordan Johnson, and a pair of flyweight up-and-comers from the latest season of TUF, Eric Shelton and Alexandre Pantoja. Keep reading for the full opening odds released at Several Bookmakers… ——————– UFC on FOX 23: Shevchenko vs. Pena JANUARY 28, 2017 Pepsi Center | Denver, Colorado MAIN CARD (FOX, 8pm ET) Julianna Pena +130 Valentina Shevchenko -170 Over 4.5 -140 Under 4.5 +100 – Jorge Masvidal +140 Donald Cerrone -180 Over 2.5 -165 Under 2.5 +125 – Andrei Arlovski +200 Francis Ngannou -280 Over 1.5 +130 Under 1.5 -170 – Alex Caceres -120 Jason Knight -120 Over 2.5 -180 Under 2.5 +140 – Nate Marquardt +145 Sam Alvey -185 Over 1.5 -110 Under 1.5 -130 – Aljamain Sterling -120 Raphael Assuncao -120 Over 2.5 -190 Under 2.5 +150 ——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1, 6pm ET) Bobby Nash +100 Li Jingliang -140 Over 2.5 -165 Under 2.5 +125 – Luis Henrique da Silva +125 Jordan Johnson -165 Over 1.5 -195 Under 1.5 +155 – Eric Spicely +115 Alessio Di Chirico -155 Over 1.5 -180 Under 1.5 +140 – Jeremy Kimball +130 Marcos Rogerio de Lima -170 Over 1.5 +100 Under 1.5 -140 ——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 4pm ET) Eric Shelton +100 Alexandre Pantoja -140 Over 2.5 -215 Under 2.5 +165 – Jason Gonzalez +125 J.C. Cottrell -165 Over 1.5 -180 Under 1.5 +140 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: Nash brings big power into the Octagon, and it’s a good thing. Seven of his eight wins have come by stoppage, and in many cases he’s needed that stoppage after being down on the cards. Nash can sometimes fall into the trap of not throwing because he knows he has power in his back pocket, but that is not his only woe. Defensively, he’s hittable on the feet, and prone to being controlled in grappling and clinch situations. Against Jingliang, who has never been stopped by strikes, I think Nash runs into a very unfavorable UFC debut. Jingliang will have a higher output than Nash, scoring more points, and he should only get stronger as the bout goes, whereas Nash has faded a bit in the past. I like ‘The Leech’ pretty big in this one, and will probably look to play him in some fashion. I remember my thoughts on Frank Waisten (he will always be Frank Waisten to me) originally being that he was tough but not particularly skilled. Then he went out and showed that toughness in his UFC debut, overcoming early adversity to pick up a win. In his second UFC bout, he showed off more grappling chops than I thought he had, and it looked like he turned a corner. However, his last performance validated everything I thought about him originally. I don’t think this one goes much better. If Frank Waisten struggled with Craig’s submission game from the bottom, he’s really going to have a tough time with Johnson on top of him, and I expect that to be where much of this fight takes place. Maybe Johnson doesn’t get the finish in his debut, but he should controlling virtually all of the grappling exchanges en route to a victory here, and I’ll bite if it’s near even. Michael Bisping’s miraculous title victory aside, Spicely scored one of the biggest upsets of 2016. Very few thought he had a chance against Thiago Santos, but he landed early to throw the Brazilian off, and then quickly went to what he knew, securing the first-round submission. This obviously wouldn’t present the same shock, but it would be another solid win for Spicely. The only problem is, I don’t think it happens. Di Chirico seemed to take a step back in his sophomore UFC outing, but I think physically and tactically, Spicely is a winnable fight for him. Di Chirico is the better striker and wrestler, and as long as he’s not overaggressive, he should be able to use those tools to pick up a win. I’m not terribly confident in that outcome, as he was taken down twice by Garreth McClellan, but I still lean slightly towards the Italian. I feel like I’ve been watching Kimball for way too long for him to only be 25. Perhaps that’s because I first saw him beat Chidi Njokuani as a 22-year-old. He’s never been the most imposing physical specimen, but he’s tough, has a decent grappling game and is able to put pressure on opponents consistently. His striking has also improved markedly in recent years. It’s possible none of that matters, and De Lima melts him in the opening minute here. But I feel like Kimball survives the opening minutes, and we see the same quit in de Lima that rears it’s head every time he doesn’t get that immediate finish. Kimball hasn’t won by sub since that bout against Njokuani in March 2013, but I think he picks one up here against a tired de Lima looking for a way out. The great thing about the flyweight division is that there is still excellent talent that hasn’t made its way to the UFC. Shelton and Pantoja are two examples, and they make for one of the better bouts between a pair of debuting fighters that we’ll likely see in 2017. Shelton is the better athlete but more raw as far as his skills go. Pantoja’s grappling game has really become dangerous over the past couple of years, but his striking isn’t to be overlooked either. This one is tough to call for me, as Pantoja is the more likely to win striking exchanges, and he has the better chance of catching a sub, but Shelton will spend more time in top position. Unless Pantoja can find his way to Shelton’s back early and dissuade him from wrestling too much, I think Shelton grinds out a decision, but I’ll just be sitting back to watching this one unless the line seems way out of whack. Neither Cottrell nor Gonzalez made particularly noteworthy or good UFC debuts. Cottrell showed very poor positional awareness, as he often threw strikes that left him wide open for takedowns. Gonzalez, on the other hand, just seemed wide open for whatever Drew Dober wanted to throw. At least when Michel Prazeres landed on Cottrell, he would move laterally and was able to eat the shots. Gonzalez backed straight up and then got put away in short order. I think Cottrell might be able to navigate Gonzalez’ reach (especially since he won’t be threatened with a takedown on every kick he throws), and put the tall guy defense to the test once again. Until I see that defense and chin pass the test, I have to assume it can’t. I’ll take Cottrell, but not looking to bet it.