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Fresh off its scintillating debut on the ABC network, the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
on Wednesday strikes while the
iron is hot with an ESPN card that is lukewarm at best from a name
standpoint. Cards derided often deliver greater relative to
expectations, so don’t sleep on this lengthy UFC Fight Night fare.
Unlike the bill a few days ago, this event brings several betting
favorites well above three-to-one odds. Let us navigate these
crowded waters with the
UFC on ESPN 20
edition of Prime Picks, with a slight underdog
in the headliner, a co-main event competitor who should run
roughshod on his opponent and a fight that has all the makings of a
15-minute affair.

This ESPN offering may not be what it once was, but the top-billed
matchup between Top 10 welterweights still brings some back for its
buck. Since moving up to 170 pounds in 2018, Chiesa has looked like
a new fighter, even if he has competed just once per year since
then. With an empowered takedown game in each of those bouts at his
new weight class, “Maverick” has gone from a fringe contender to an
actual threat in the division. Fifteen
combined takedowns
across those three bouts are nothing to
sneeze at, especially when two of the three opponents, Rafael dos
Anjos
and Diego
Sanchez
, have wrestling chops of their own. Neil Magny is
a talented striker with solid wrestling of his own, but like many
wrestlers, he does not like fighting off of his back. Chiesa is
just the fighter to put him there and take advantage of the
position, all while hunting for submissions.

A bout pitting skilled grapplers against one another can oftentimes
transform into an uncomfortable kickboxing match, or it can be an
excursion where one showcases his superior skill level over his
foe. When it comes to the ground game, where this fight will likely
go to for a non-zero amount of time, Chiesa appears to have the
edge. Even if Magny can ground “Maverick,” Chiesa can threaten off
of his back with sweeps and submission attempts. It is no accident
that the Washington native averages
over one submission attempt every bout through his UFC career
.
Even if he does not manage to secure one, Chiesa is the type of
submission specialist that will chain attempts together. Magny may
be able to survive the first and even the second, but as the
Sikjitsu fighter tightens his grip, he may find what he is looking
for.

Magny’s best bet for victory lies with his greatest physical
advantage: his reach, where he holds five inches over that of his
opponent. Additionally, Chiesa’s striking tends to be a means to an
end, punching his way into the clinch or closing the distance so he
can grab hold of his opponent. Keeping away from the more active
grappler will be key for Magny, who should look to stay at the end
of his jab. The “Haitian Sensation” found his best weapon was his
jab against another opponent who prefers up-close-and-personal
battles in Jingliang
Li
in March, as he kept the Chinese grinder at bay by doubling
and tripling up on it. Forcing Chiesa to backpedal and not close in
on him would work wonders, all while not allowing him to set up a
trip takedown by latching on to him like an Alabama tick.

This could be a two-outcome bout, where Chiesa manages to wrangle
Magny to the ground or Magny stays upright and in kickboxing range
to do some damage. Magny’s takedown defense will almost certainly
be tested as this 25-minute pairing persists, so it will be up to
him to keep his back away from the fence and, above all, off the
canvas. With Chiesa as a minor underdog, a narrower play like
Chiesa landing a submission (+350) or holding on to win a decision
(+390) is not necessary; if compelled to raise the stakes, it seems
more likely that Chiesa could snatch a submission and finish the
fight. The line on Chiesa winning inside the distance at +255 is
unnecessary, as “Maverick” has never finished an opponent with
strikes, and Magny does not appear to be the kind of man to be
pounded out on the ground.

The Warlley
Alves
that ran through Alan Jouban,
Nordine
Taleb
and Colby
Covington
in just over a year would be a fairly significant
favorite over Lazzez in the co-marquee billing. Instead, the
30-year-old Brazilian appears to have encountered his ceiling,
relying almost exclusively on a power-first game with
overaggressive winging fists and explosive moves that may not hold
up as the bout progresses. He will be facing a relatively unknown
in Lazzez, who surprised most by not only surviving everything
Abdul
Razak Alhassan
threw at him but by landing more successfully
and hitting several takedowns. “The Sniper” showed just how to take
on a rampaging striker who barreled down on him, and Alves may try
more of the same. As Lazzez is a big favorite at -230, the better
money may be on a narrow prop bet that he will finish the fight
with his strikes.

The Tunisian kickboxer displayed a well-rounded skill set as a
sizeable underdog against Alhassan, with only a few noteworthy past
performances on his ledger that showed what he was capable of. An
80 percent knockout rate, which does include a stoppage over recent
UFC acquisition Sasha
Palatnikov
, comes from a diverse variety of strikes, including
elbows, knees, head kicks and, of course, his accurate fists. With
cardio to go three hard rounds if needed, “The Sniper” can counter
takedown attempts with crisp knees and chain one strike into
several, making him a very dangerous striker. Even though Alves has
been put away just once in his career from a James
Krause
flying knee, on paper, Lazzez could be the most
dangerous pure striker he has encountered to date.

While sometimes reckless, Alves can do some damage if he lands on
his opponent. Just ask Sergio
Moraes
about the “Street Fighter”-esque uppercut he encountered
in 2019. In addition to the bricks in his fists, Alves thrived
partly because of his strong grip, with a wide majority of his
career finishes coming from his guillotine choke. While the
Brazilian was finished by Krause and Randy
Brown
, he was also largely nullified by Kamaru
Usman
and kept at bay thanks to the relentless assault from
Round 3 Bryan
Barberena
. The shortest distance between two points is a
straight line; Lazzez’s straight strikes and fast hands should
prove more effective than a wild Alves. The line on the fight not
going the distance is also tenable at -145, so that could be
suitable option if you think that Alves could spring the upset and
become the first man to stop the Tunisian.

This middleweight pairing matches gritty wrestler Akhmedov and
grappler-turned-striker Breese. The classic battle between a
Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and an International Master of Sport
in Sambo could prove to be a nullifying matchup when it comes to
ground fighting. Akhmedov would much prefer to drag the fight down,
where he can implement a heavy top game that has of late preferred
position over submission and riding time over damage. This
stylistic matchup could provide some grueling exchanges that shear
minutes off the clock and leave the fight in the hands of the
judges.

Breese started his career in the ranks of BAMMA and briefly Cage Warriors Fighting Championship, finishing
all seven of his first foes to earn a spot on the UFC roster. All
but one of those stoppage came by submission, but since joining the
roster, he has notched four wins inside the distance, all by
first-round knockout. Although Breese has only been put on his back
a few times through his UFC tenure, he has never once
landed a takedown of his own
. Far and away the best ground
specialist he has faced will be Akhmedov, and even though the
Brit’s takedown defense has largely held up, long stretches could
be spent fighting off double-legs that push him into the fence.

The lines between these two are fairly close, with bettors
expecting that Breese (-160) should be able to pull out the win
over Akhmedov (+140). A knock on Akhmedov that may give Breese the
upper hand is that the Dagestani fighter fades later on in the
fight; a couple of third-round losses and a miserable final frame
against Chris
Weidman
recently illustrates his cardio issues. While it is
possible that Akhmedov could control the first two rounds before
gassing and getting clocked, the more reasonable outcome is that
this match goes the full 15 minutes. “Wolverine” has gone the
distance in each of his last seven bouts, and this fight with
Breese should make it eight straight. If there were an alternative,
an outcome to bust up this play, it would be that Breese Wins by
TKO/KO (+254).

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