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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday
carries on with a card that has been hamstrung with withdrawals and
odd reasons for fights getting scratched. It brings together an
event topped by two fights cobbled together on short notice, but it
still has a great deal to offer from both action and financial
perspectives.
UFC on ESPN 24
, which currently features no betting favorite
above -250, sees some solid action in the headliner, an old vet
that may finally get back on track and a pair of intriguing upset
possibilities with decent style matchups.

In this unexpected flyweight headliner, both Rodriguez and Michelle
Waterson
find themselves thrust into a position of fighting up
a weight class on short notice. Neither woman had a fight
scheduled, and therefore neither of them will have that particular
disadvantage relative to their opponent. When it comes to the bout
itself, the UFC has elected to schedule it at flyweight instead of
their standard strawweight class due to the short notice. This
particular facet massively plays into the hands of the presumptive
favorite Rodriguez, who was already expected to be larger than her
opponent inside the Octagon. At a full-framed 125 pounds, likely
having to cut weight to reach that number, as well, she may look a
weight class larger than Waterson come fight night.

Despite that her nickname is “The Karate Hottie,” Waterson has
excelled in large part through her UFC career not due to her
striking but from her grappling. The Jackson-Wink MMA rep has
triple the number of submissions compared to knockouts through her
career, and she has not put an opponent away with her hands or feet
since joining the promotion in 2015. On the other hand, she has
tapped a few women out along the way, although she is currently
riding a seven-fight decision streak, win or lose. When she has
won—outside of a recent matchup with Angela Hill
that a fair number of analysts believe she lost—she has done so by
imposing her grappling on the likes of Karolina
Kowalkiewicz
and Cortney
Casey
. When she has lost, it has been because she has been
bullied. Rodriguez is very much a bully in the fight sense.

The Brazilian’s kryptonite to date has been her wrestling defense,
although she has only lost once—to Carla
Esparza
. The former champ performed at her suffocating best,
dumping Rodriguez on her back multiple times and not letting the
heavier-handed striker get off. Waterson could play this foil, but
her offensive grappling is not likely at that level to be able to
outmuscle a powerful, well-hydrated Rodriguez for long periods of
time. Cardio can play to Waterson’s advantage, but Rodriguez’s
striking power is not to be ignored. Waterson can tend to stay in
the clinch for extended periods of time, like when she met Joanna
Jedrzejczyk
, and this is dangerous territory for her. Rodriguez
put Amanda
Ribas
away with a stunning elbow and several big punches her
last time out, and Waterson may be surprised at just how hard the
once-beaten Rodriguez hits.

Unless Waterson can embrace the grind for 25 full minutes, there is
little margin for error against a much more powerful Rodriguez. It
may be a safe play to bring in Fight Goes to Decision at -205 as a
parlay option, as it would be surprising from both a results and
betting perspective if she pounds out Waterson. If Waterson does
win, it will also likely be on the scorecards.

The line may be somewhat surprising that Cerrone is nearly a 2-to-1
favorite against a short-notice replacement in Alex Morono,
as “Cowboy” is on a five-fight stretch without a win. His last
appearance was a potentially hopeful one for faithful fans, as he
went toe-to-toe with the hard-charging Niko Price
and came out with a draw. If not for a pair of eye pokes in the
first round, Cerrone was on his way to losing the decision, and it
is impossible to tell how well Cerrone would have performed had his
eyes not been probed repeatedly. Cerrone fares best when he gets
into his own rhythm and worst when an adversary charges at him and
pressures him. Although Morono can play the bull to Cerrone’s
matador, the short-notice nature of this co-headliner should favor
“Cowboy” by a wider margin than the lines indicate.

Morono had a chance to break through into the upper echelon of the
division against Anthony
Pettis
in December, but a solid first round led to two
subsequent rounds in which he was outstruck and outgrappled. “The
Great White” did surprise Pettis by taking the ex-champ’s back
early on after “Showtime” whiffed on a spinning strike. Pettis rode
out the round, gathered himself and put the screws to him. The
Houston native is a fundamentally sound fighter with a variety of
ways to win a fight, but his well-rounded skillset might fall short
to either the still-sharp kickboxing of Cerrone or the underrated
ground game. Morono’s best chance of success is to come out like
his hair is on fire and try to put his man away quickly, but this
is a huge risk because his potentially hindered gas tank will run
out fast. This is a bounce-back opportunity for Cerrone, who should
show the UFC that he is not quite finished yet. As long as his line
remains under the -200 mark, he is worth placing money on.

It is striker-versus-grappler in this heavyweight contest, as two
big men far away from the rankings take a higher position on the
billing than a pair of Top 15 lightweights. The reason for this
might be because of the potential for something silly and/or
violent to take place in this 500-pound-plus slobberknocker. In
Greene, it is unclear whether he possesses specific knockout power
of his own or if it is the result of his size, but he has been
shown to crack. On the other hand, his chin is rapidly becoming a
liability, and he should look to put the much shorter Marcos
Rogerio de Lima
on his back and take away the Brazilian’s power
punches.

When strikers take on grapplers, the grapplers can largely succeed
by being able to put the fight where they want it, whether that
means in the clinch or on the canvas. Strikers largely need to keep
the battle upright in order to get off their shots. Rogerio de Lima
does have the kind of shocking power that can put you away in a
flurry, and that power translated well from light heavyweight to a
large-framed heavyweight. His submission defense is an extreme
liability, as all five of his UFC defeats have come by submission
within two rounds. Greene should exploit that by wading forward,
pressing Rogerio de Lima into the clinch and dragging him down any
way he can. If there is a potential for a bust in this play, it is
the intangible that “Pezao” has alternated wins and losses in his
last nine bouts, and he is due for a win following that pattern.
Otherwise, this pairing is tailor-made for Green to record a
stoppage win—this line is +280, should one be expecting he gets the
job done inside the distance—and allow “The Ultimate Fighter”
Season 28 standout to remain on the roster.

In his run up the lightweight division, Ferreira has feasted on
several different types of opponents to amass a six-fight winning
streak, as he has beaten grapplers and strikers at their own games.
It is easy to write Gregor
Gillespie
off as a ground specialist thanks to his litany of
wrestling credentials, and it has been largely forgotten that “The
Gift” has scored multiple knockdowns in his UFC career. There is no
question that Gillespie’s striking can be opened up thanks to the
takedown or simply the threat of the takedown, and he would vastly
prefer to be on top raining down blows and fishing for his
preferred arm-triangle choke. When he is not able to get the fight
to the ground against a better striker like Kevin Lee, he
finds himself like a fish out of water. He found flashes of success
against “The Motown Phenom” until he was put down by a booming head
kick. Ferreira may not possess that one-shot power, but he can
fight off takedowns and make Gillespie pay for every attempt.

Even though Beneil
Dariush
took Ferreira down at will, he was able to do so not
just because of pure grappling but by setting up shots with
powerful punches and forcing him to play the scramble game. For as
effective as Gillespie is at pure wrestling, his setups have worked
for lesser opponents but may not be as effective against the
battle-tested Ferreira. There is a real possibility that Gillespie
spams takedowns and grinds for 15 minutes, but Ferreira holds an
impressive ability to threaten no matter where the fight takes
place. It remains anyone’s guess how a fighter comes back after his
first loss, let alone being on the receiving end of a
highlight-reel finish. This factor, coupled with a layoff of over
18 months, will play to Ferreira’s advantage. Should Ferreira get
complacent against the fence wall or on his back, it will be a long
night for him. His work against sambo specialist and vaunted
grappler Rustam
Khabilov
can be a blueprint for how to fight off bad positions
to get his hand raised.

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