This is the third UFC event of the year but the first on pay-per-view, and, therefore, it will be the first that really counts in the eyes of many. Taking advantage of the wildly-popular Super Bowl weekend in Vegas, the event will be held at Mandalay Bay on Saturday night, Feb. 2. The highlight of the card is the return to action of Featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Due to a variety of circumstances — mostly his injuries — he has been sidelined since January of last year. Against former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar we’ll find out in a hurry if he’s still the dominant fighter he was, or if time and rust of robbed him of his edge.
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Beyond that there is a lot to look forward to here — the return to action of disgraced heavyweight Alistair Overeem, an Evans-Nogueira match that could have been even better a few years ago, and strong fighters like Jon Fitch and Joseph Benavidez. Here’s how the main card breaks down (all odds are from Sportsbook.ag):
Featherweight championship - Jose Aldo (-200) vs. Frankie Edgar (+160)
The only fight that could happen this year that would be more interesting than this one is if Anderson Silva faces St. Pierre or Jones. This fight is that intriguing. Edgar was a surprising-but-legitimate champion as a lightweight. Now he moves down to face one of the great champions in the sport. Aldo is a legend, but he’s also coming off a long, disastrous layoff.
Edgar doesn’t necessarily come to this new weight class by choice. He had lost twice in a row to Benson Henderson, so his path at lightweight was blocked. This was the only way he was going to get a title shot in any hurry. He has a size advantage moving down, but Aldo is a bigger featherweight who will likely have to move up at some point, so that advantage shouldn’t be the story here.
The layoff really concerns me for Aldo. So does his vulnerability if he gets to the ground. Edgar can ground-and-pound like a star, and he has superior stamina in this one. He’ll want it to go long. Edgar’s biggest problem, though, is that Aldo is just plain better than him. The Brazilian has a potent attack with his fists and his feet, and Edgar has shown that he has issues with both. I expect this one to go the distance, but the champ will still be the champ at the end of the day.
Pick: Jose Aldo
Light heavyweight - Rashad Evans (-500) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (+350)
This could, and should, be a last stand at this weight for Evans. He was destroyed by Jon Jones so convincingly that it seems unlikely he can be champion here. He is far from the heaviest of light heavyweights, so a drop down likely makes sense. To make any move worthwhile, though, he needs to win here. And he should. Nogueira gets little credit from me for beating Tito Ortiz last time out, he had looked bad in two losses before, and he is coming off a long layoff. His best days are long behind him.
Pick: Rashad Evans
Heavyweight - Alistair Overeem (-450) vs. Antonio Silva (+300)
I won’t spend much time on this one. Overeem’s biggest challenge here is going to be passing the drug test after the fight. He could be vulnerable in later rounds because his stamina is a big question mark. That won’t matter, though, because Silva will be unconscious long before then.
Pick: Alistair Overeem
Welterweight - Jon Fitch (-200) vs. Demian Maia (+160)
Both fighters here are coming off nice wins at UFC 153. The more impressive, though, was Fitch. Erick Silva was supposed to be a fighter on the rise — and he still likely is — but Fitch won a decision that most guys wouldn’t have secured. Maia is a very good fighter who I like. The problem, though, is that he doesn’t have knockout potential. Fitch wears fighters down — and bores the crowd at the same time in most fights. To do that he needs to be able to get inside, and he will be able to do that here because he doesn’t have to fear Maia’s big punch. This one will go the distance, and Fitch will secure a hard-fought victory.
Pick: Jon Fitch
Flyweight - Joseph Benavidez (-225) vs. Ian McCall (+175)
Both of these guys have lost to title holder Demetrious Johnson, so a loss here would be a massive blow to their title aspirations. The winner will be tough to deny another title shot, though. That means that these fighters should be particularly sharp. McCall is a solid all-round fighter, but Benavidez is just better. He’s one of my favorite fighters, and he has the real potential to be a champion. His weaknesses don’t match with McCall strengths, so he has a clear edge.
Pick: Joseph Benavidez
On each card we make $500 in mythical bets. With a chalky card this time around parlays are, as usual, going to be the way to go:
$250 parlay — Take Benavidez, Fitch, Overeem, Evans. Potential profit of $544.44.
$250 parlay — Take Benavidez, Fitch, Overeem, Evans, Aldo. Potential profit of $941.67.
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