After a month long hiatus, the Octagon returns on Saturday with tall guys fighting. Stefan Struve is tall. Alexander Volkov is also tall (but not quite as tall). Combined, they make the tallest fight in UFC history, beating out the epic battle between Tim Sylvia and Gan McGee by half an inch (but falling two and a half inches short of McGee and Semmy Schilt from PRIDE, for what its worth). Unfortunately, that tagline undermines how relevant and potentially important the main event of UFC Fight Night 115 is. This could rightly be positioned as a fight between the two youngest fighters in the top ten of the UFC’s heavyweight division. The victor will also hold a three-fight UFC win streak in a division where such things are hard to come by.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the opening odds for the UFC’s trip to Rotterdam and where there might be some value now.
Alexander Volkov (-175) vs. Stefan Struve (+135): This fight is virtually a pick em now, and I think the movement has been in the right direction. Volkov will have to adjust to being the shorter fighter at a reach disadvantage, but Struve is actually the better fighter inside in terms of his wrestling and submission game. Struve still has a tendency to let himself get controlled in the clinch, but it would be surprising if Volkov is able to exploit that. To win this fight, Volkov will have to find the range where he can reach Struve without getting too close, which is certainly possible given Struve’s still-porous defense, I just don’t think it’s as likely as Struve eventually dragging this to the ground and either controlling position or setting up a submission with his increasingly potent ground-and-pound. Because these are heavyweights, and particularly hittable heavyweights at that, the submission prop for Struve seems undervalued at nearly +500.
Siyar Bahadurzada (-150) vs. Rob Wilkinson (+110): I’m not quite sure what to think of this fight (other than it being a pretty terrible co-main event). On one hand, Bahadurzada hasn’t fought in 18 months, and has always struggled with anything beyond striking (aside from his bout with Brandon Thatch). On the other, Wilkinson hasn’t faced anyone of note and is taking this bout on short notice. If Wilkinson’s cardio is in order (not a given, as he’s only been out of the first round twice in his career), I give him a decent chance in this fight, but the current price of +120 isn’t nearly enough against a tested veteran. If anything, the line is a bit short on Bahadurzada here.
Marion Reneau (-300) vs. Talita de Oliveira (+220): I’ve never seen Oliveira fight, so I don’t have a real opinion on this contest. All but one of Oliveira’s wins have come by submission in the first round, and given Reneau’s generally good takedown defense and grappling game, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for success here. If Oliveira can pursue Reneau on the feet as aggressively as she pursues submissions, she could have success. However, without ever having seen her do that, I can’t assume she’s able to, and as such I have no interest in betting this fight.
Leon Edwards (-315) vs. Bryan Barberena (+235): Barberena is one of those guys who is tough, with good enough cardio and skills that he’s almost always tempting to bet as a dog. This is no different. Edwards will have him outgunned badly in the early rounds, but we have seen Edwards tire in the past and facing a guy like Barberena may only serve to exacerbate that issue. At +225 (or even better, at +420 by decision), a shot on Barberena to survive and come back to win the final two rounds doesn’t seem like a terrible idea.
Darren Till (-150) vs. Bojan Velickovic (+110): Till has seen decent action push him up to -200 at one point in this fight. While I can understand the movement, I also think it’s dangerous given the fact that this will likely be the first opponent who really tries to grapple with Till. Dalby had excellent success when he turned to his grappling in the third round against Till, and we’ve seen that Velickovic still has plenty of energy in the final round of his fights. I’m not overly interested in playing Velickovic here (although if the price keeps rising I may be persuaded to), but I think Till should be avoided in this matchup.
Mairbek Taisumov (-190) vs. Felipe Silva (+150): I thought Taisumov opening at -190 was one of the better lines on the card, and apparently plenty of people agreed, as it instantly moved to -260 and has remained there since. Taisumov is more dangerous on the feet than Silva, and can back it up with a solid wrestling game if need be. I’m not sure this fight ever gets to the point where Taisumov needs to use his wrestling, as anyone who has tried to strike with him recently (as Silva likely will) hasn’t survived long. I actually think Taisumov by stoppage at +140 still holds a bit of value, and wouldn’t fault anyone who plays that.
Michel Prazeres (-385) vs. Mads Burnell (+265): It seems that the days of Prazeres being an underrated cash cow are over (although who knows what he’ll be lined at when he faces a more known commodity in his next outing). As for this fight, the only real concern is if Prazeres goes for the kill like he did against Josh Burkman and Burnell finds a way to survive. Still, Burnell’s go-to skill-set is his grappling, and I’m not sure how much success he would have trying to take even an exhausted Prazeres down. The Tractor is pick, and I think he dominates. The points handicap might be worth a look when that prop comes out, but Prazeres straight up is one of the two safest picks on the card.
Rustam Khabilov (-210) vs. Des Green (+160): Green is a very good wrestler who would have more accolades to his name if he didn’t make choices that pretty much every college kid makes. Khabilov has also proven an excellent wrestler in an MMA context, but I think his style will make this a close fight. Normally Khabilov takes the first half of the round off — spending much of it out of range throwing little in the way of strikes — then he scores takedowns to control and win rounds. I don’t think those takedowns will come particularly easy against Green, if at all, and Khabilov’s pace on the feet won’t cause Green to tire. I could see 29-28 scorecards both ways from the twitter community heading to the judges, with no real idea of who will get the nod. To me, that makes Green a solid play at +245.
Aleksandar Rakic (-140) vs. Francimar Barroso (+100): The best thing we can all hope for here is that Rakic carries his fast finishing ways into this fight. Otherwise, we’re in store for a Francimar Barroso fight, and nobody wants that. I’m not necessarily making this play myself, but Barroso by decision at +375 would be a nice hedge if we’re forced to sit through another 15 minutes of him being him. Given Rakic’s lack of quality competition, that is a very real possibility too. Other than that, I wouldn’t touch this bout though.
Zabit Magomedsharipov (-400) vs. Mike Santiago (+280): Magomedsharipov is extremely tall and long for featherweight, which allows him to do some nice things striking, and slip his limbs in for submissions when fights hit the mat. He could be very good, but is still in need of seasoning. Santiago will certainly test him, as the first Tuesday Night Contender alum to fight in the UFC is ultra-aggressive and dangerous everywhere. Without much time to prepare, Santiago could be walking into Magomedsharipov’s counters and find himself in trouble early, but could also catch the Russian off guard in what may be a much more high-pressure situation for the more hyped prospect. I certainly wouldn’t be playing Magomedsharipov at -430, and I think I might be blinded by recency bias in regards to Santiago, so even at +345 I’m going to stay away from him.
Abdul-Kerim Edilov (-505) vs. Bojan Mihajlovic (+335): I mentioned that Prazeres was one of the safest picks of the card. Edilov is the other. The current price of -700 isn’t going to add much to parlays, but the Under 1.5 at -200 seems very likely given how dangerous Edilov is, and how out of his depth Mihajlovic has looked in the UFC. There isn’t much else to add here, as fights where the favorite is more than -400 to win inside the distance are generally pretty clear.
Andrew Holbrook (-185) vs. Thibault Gouti (+145): Gouti is another guy who simply seems like he’s not UFC-calibre, even by 2017 standards. The best thing to happen to Holbrook bettors here was him getting KO’d in 21 seconds by Gregor Gillespie last time out (and I suppose the 34-second KO against Joaquim Silva two fights before that), as aside from that he’s been competitive against solid fighters in the UFC. I suppose there’s some potential for him to get clipped early once again, but Gouti doesn’t have the athletic advantages Gillespie and Silva held over him, and hasn’t shown much power at any point in his career. Holbrook could actually be a decent play here at -175, and a submission isn’t out of the question either.