MMA history will be in the balance on Saturday night, as the only flyweight champion the UFC has ever known looks to set a new bar for most UFC title defenses. While he has never become a box-office star, Demetrious Johnson is undoubtedly one of the greatest fighters to ever compete in the sport. In a fashion that has become typical of his reign, his record-setting defense will come against Ray Borg, a fighter who has received virtually no promotion from the organization and is relatively unknown to the casual fan. Even still, Johnson alone is worth the price of admission for Edmontonians getting their first taste of the UFC.
The flyweight title is not the only belt at stake on UFC 215. Women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will put her title on the line against Valentina Shevchenko (unless the sniffles rear their ugly head again). If Nunes has pay-per-view points in her contract, she’s been one of the most fortunate fighters in the UFC over the past couple of years. Appearing on UFC 196 (McGregor/Diaz), UFC 200, and opposite Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 has certainly helped Nunes’ bottom line, although this will be the first time she has to chance to prove if she is actually a draw.
Those two fights are expected to provide vastly different levels of competition if betting lines are any indication. Johnson is a massive favorite, which has become typical for him. Unless a rash of money comes in late on the challenger, Johnson (currently -1250) will close in excess of -900 for the fifth time as a champion. Normally big plus-money draws MMA bettors in (there was this guy named Conor McGregor who got bet down to the +200’s against Floyd Mayweather recently), but Borg’s line has done nothing but climb since opening at +400 in July at 5Dimes Sportsbook. It now sits at +800.
Nunes and Shevchenko tell a different story. They were priced near a pick ’em in their first meeting at UFC 196, and the fight played out that way. The line was tight for their ill-fated UFC 213 matchup as well, and it is again here. Shevchenko currently has the slight edge as a -130 favorite, with Nunes at +110. So what do these numbers mean for those looking to bet UFC 215? MMAOddsBreaker’s Brad Taschuk takes a look:
Editor’s note: Johnson vs Borg is off the card due to illness
Demetrious Johnson (-600) vs. Ray Borg (+400): Anyone who knows me, knows that I love hunting for big plus numbers when it comes to MMA. Whether it be an underdog or a prop, I don’t really care. That said, even with his line up to +800, I have zero desire to bet Ray Borg. He has shown good athleticism, wrestling, and an excellent scrambling top game during his UFC tenure, but he’s also shown that if he doesn’t get the type of fight he wants that he’s not particularly effective. This is the same guy who three fights ago looked befuddled against Justin Scoggins (it’s hard to even comprehend a world where a Scoggins/Borg fight doesn’t end with Scoggins allowing, nay, helping Borg choke him out… but it happened), and arguably lost rounds on the feet to Jussier Formiga in his last outing. This is the guy to end the most historic title reign in UFC history? Nope. He might score a takedown or two early, but he’s not going to accomplish much as Johnson quickly gets back to his feet, processes, and breaks Borg down over the remainder of the fight. I actually expect Johnson to find a submission at some point, as Borg has struggled to make 125 in the past, has never fought 25 minutes, and will have to deal with the pace of a guy who never gets tired. That combination should lead to mistakes in the fourth or fifth, and few fighters capitalize better than Mighty Mouse.
Valentina Shevchenko (-130) vs. Amanda Nunes (+100): Here’s what I wrote about this fight when it was scheduled to take place at UFC 213:
“The big questions in this fight are of strategy and conditioning. Nunes is the bigger, stronger fighter, and a more capable wrestler. She showed that in the first fight between these two, in addition to the fact that she can dominate from top position. However, after two rounds of employing that strategy, she was spent, and Shevchenko took over. A similar pattern also took place in the previous fight where Nunes employed her grappling (against Cat Zingano). So that begs the question, does Nunes grapple here, or strike with a more technical striker? If she does grapple, will she even find the success she found last time? Is she capable of pacing herself to prevent gassing? Altogether, I think there are too many questions Nunes has unanswered heading into this bout. Despite winning their first meeting, she seems to require more adjustments heading into this fight to emerge victorious in a five-round affair. Shevchenko is my play in is what is now basically a Pick’em fight with the current odds, but I’m not sold on a bet with the public leaning that way.”
All of that still holds true, except Nunes didn’t open the favorite this time. Also, however trivial it may seem, I think Nunes pulling out of 213 tells us a couple things. 1) She feels she needs to be at 100% to beat Shevchenko, so there could be a confidence issue if she has any nagging injuries or issues coming into this fight; and 2) She doesn’t expect to get Shevchenko out of there early. Factor it all together, and I like Shevchenko to edge a decision based on her late work, and I really like the O2.5 (currently at -135).
Rafael dos Anjos (-150) vs. Neil Magny (+110): If Magny wins this fight, it won’t be by sticking a jab in dos Anjos’ face for 15 minutes. The former champion is too good at pressing forward to allow that to happen. Magny will have to take advantage of his size, step into the clinch as dos Anjos closes the distance, and either control from there or score trips and maintain top position. It is possible, but I don’t think it’s the most likely scenario. Instead I see dos Anjos landing big shots on Magny and putting him away. The line moved above -200 for quite a while, but is now back at -190, and I don’t hate it as a parlay piece.
Ilir Latifi (-140) vs. Tyson Pedro (+100): Whether or not Pedro wins, the light heavyweight division NEEDS him to win. 205 is starving for young talent to break through, and there aren’t a ton of options. The problem for Pedro here is that his game relies so heavily on takedowns and top control, and he’s essentially facing a fire hydrant. Have you ever tried to take down a fire hydrant? Ryan Bader and Gian Villante tried to, and they couldn’t. And they’re both better wrestlers than Pedro. This fight either shows that there’s more to Pedro’s game that we haven’t seen, or he simply needs more seasoning. I’m expecting the latter.
Jeremy Stephens (-135) vs. Gilbert Melendez (-105): Melendez has seen some betting support in this one, and the line is currently exactly a pick ’em at -110 each way. I have to disagree with that movement though. How often do we see 35-year-old featherweights have success? On top of that, Melendez is coming off a year-plus layoff which was preceded by another year-plus layoff due to a suspension. Oh, and Melendez is cutting to 145 for the first time since 2005. He’s also been talking about getting into a war with Stephens. All those things factor together to make me think that Stephens could be the first guy to stop Melendez with punches. If I decide to get risky, Stephens by TKO is +450, or I could be conservative and go with Stephens (Scorecards = No Action) at -175, which to me seems almost like a freeroll.
Sara McMann (-265) vs. Ketlen Vieira (+185): Thus far, Vieira has used her strength and altheticism to get by in the UFC. Unfortunately for her, she’s facing a stronger, more athletic opponent in McMann. McMann is also a significantly better technical wrestler and boxer. Vieira might be able to stay off her back early, but she tends to tire and get even sloppier, and McMann will put her on her back and I think there’s a very good chance we see a stoppage here. Still at -270, McMann is one of my three most confident picks on this card, but priced way better than the other two.
Henry Cejudo (-475) vs. Wilson Reis (+325): In my mind, the flyweight division breaks down like this: Demetrious Johnson is on his own plane of existence; Joseph Benavidez and Cejudo are the next tier; Everyone else. Reis is not Johnson nor Benavidez, and on top of that I think Cejudo might even be a worse style matchup for him than either of those guys. Reis is not getting takedowns here, and even Cejudo’s output on the feet is several levels significantly higher than his. Unless Cejudo shows up unmotivated and in terrible shape, I just don’t see how Reis wins this fight. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment, although the line dropping all the way down to -320 tells me that many expect Reis to find a way.
Ashlee Evans-Smith (-245) vs. Sarah Moras (+175): Moras has defended takedowns successfully 14% of the time. Fourteen. That’s terrible. That’s almost worse than zero, because at least if it was zero you could argue that she’s not trying to defend takedowns. She is, but she’s really bad at it. That means in order to win fights she needs to rely on her opponent being an absolutely terrible defensive grappler, or just gassing incredibly hard. I don’t think either of those things apply to Evans-Smith, so she wins. Am I betting it? No. The O2.5 is still reasonable at -240, but Evans-Smith did get bulldog choked in the UFC, so it’s hard to be incredibly confident.
Gavin Tucker (-190) vs. Rick Glenn (+150): Tucker will be at significant height and reach disadvantages in this fight. They vary depending on where you look, but they’re certainly apparent. Glenn is also a pretty competent striker, so we should find out just how good Tucker is in this fight. I think he’s good enough defensively and accurate enough that he still lands regularly on Glenn while avoiding return fire, but I’d be somewhat surprised if he scores a finish. And with the price now at -300, there’s no way I’m betting Tucker.
Alex White (-170) vs. Mitch Clarke (+130): White has now moved up past -200, and while I lean his way to pick up a victory, I wouldn’t be touching him at this price. Clarke’s big downfall is that he’s not a good enough wrestler to get fights to where he has an advantage, but White hasn’t shown the greatest takedown defense in the UFC (it does seem to be improving though). The most likely scenario here is White avoiding takedowns and winning on the feet, but if Clarke can create a scramble or two and end up on top, White could be in trouble. The room for error from White — who hasn’t historically had the best gameplans or corner advice — is small enough that if the line keeps moving in this direction, I might take a flyer on Clarke.
Arjan Bhullar (-190) vs. Luis Henrique (+150): So we’ve got a guy in Henrique who can take a bunch of punishment and only really possesses a top game as his offense. He’s facing a guy who is undefeated (but struggled to stop even regional-level heavyweights) and wrestled in the Olympics. Seems like Henrique is gonna be stuck on his back and Canadian-Indian Rosholt is going to top control him to death. #FGF isn’t enough to describe how this one is going to play out. When a heavyweight over is set at 2.5 and it still goes over, we call that UBERFatties, and that’s what we’re in store for. Bhullar by decision is an absurd +268 as of this writing.
Adriano Martins (-230) vs. Kajan Johnson (+170): This one moved. A lot. Martins is now -485 and Johnson is +385. The only concern with Martins in this one is if he comes out and throws zero punches. If he throws, he might knock Johnson’s jaw clean into Connor McDavid’s lap (for you non-Canadians, McDavid is the only Connor we care about. He also spells his name correctly). Martins could choose to wrestle here and win as well. He has so many advantages that he just has to choose one. Congratulations to anyone who grabbed the -230 (or -260, -280, etc.) because you got a great line.