A pair of high-profile bouts in the UFC lightweight and heavyweight divisions have been added to upcoming fight cards, and I’ll give my initial thoughts on these new matchups in today’s MMA odds and ends.
Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza, UFC Fight Night 148
An exciting lightweight bout between strikers Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza is being targeted for UFC Fight Night 148, which takes place March 23 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Farah Hannoun broke the news, although ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported the fight may take place at UFC Fight Night 149 the next week in Philadelphia. Either way, it looks like this fight is going to happen, which is good news for MMA fans as it pits two of the most dangerous and exciting strikers in the lightweight division against each other.
Gaethje (19-2) is 2-2 so far in the UFC but has become a household name to MMA fans due to his ability to put on an amazing show. He’s already racked up five bonus awards, including three “Fight of the Night” awards and two “Performance of the Night” awards, including a bonus for his KO over James Vick last August. He’s been prone to being knocked out in the UFC as he lost to Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez, but as he showed against Vick and Michael Johnson, he has incredible knockout power himself. Barboza (20-6) is 14-6 overall in the UFC and in his last fight he put on the 2018 “Beatdown of the Year” for his brutal TKO win over Dan Hooker. Barboza is known for his deadly leg kicks and incredible knockout power, but like Gaethje he has been prone to the knockout as well.
This looks like an amazing fight on paper, and the fact it’s set for five rounds is just tremendous. Both guys are terrific fighters and I’m expecting a close betting line. At this point, it looks like close to a Pick ’em fight, but considering how good Barboza looked in his last fight he may get more support from bettors due to recency bias.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Justin Willis, UFC Fight Night 148
A heavyweight matchup between Curtis Blaydes and Justin Willis is also set for UFC Fight Night 148. FloCombat’s Nolan King broke the news. Blaydes (10-2, 1 NC) is 5-2, 1 NC in the UFC and in his last fight suffered a brutal knockout loss to Francis Ngannou. He had won four straight fights before that, though, including a TKO over Alistair Overeem, and could easily get back into the heavyweight title talks with another couple of wins. Willis (8-1) is 4-0 in the UFC and in his last fight picked up the biggest win of his career to date over Mark Hunt. The problem with Willis has been that he hasn’t shown off much finishing ability in the UFC, and his wrestling is likely to be negated in this matchup against Blaydes. It’s heavyweight so you can’t ever count anyone out, but on paper this looks like Blaydes’ fight to win and I expect him to be a solid favorite when the odds come out.