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The Ultimate Fighting Championship posts up in the
Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday with a sold-out crowd in
attendance. Once worthy of rivaling some all-time great shows on
paper, this card has taken its licks but still keeps ticking. In
honor of Sherdog staff being live in the building covering
UFC 262
—the first event we have covered in person since before
the coronavirus pandemic began—it felt prudent to have a throwback
edition of Prime Picks.

A past betting odds series on Sherdog, with a nod to a friend, is
the inspiration for this dive into the somewhat surprising odds at
UFC 262. The promotion looks to move on from recently (formally)
retired Khabib
Nurmagomedov
, putting its lightweight belt up for grabs and
officially ending the reign of the man who may be the most dominant
155-pound champion in company history. No UFC lightweight king has
ever defended his title more than three times, and it will be an
uphill battle for the victorious heir apparent to hold on against
the fascinating parity in the division.

This 12-fight offering provides very intriguing lines practically
across the board, with only two fighters currently favored at
better than -200 or above. On the other hand, eight see favorites
at -150 or below, with a pair of pick-ems thrown in for good
measure. The lines may fluctuate wildly as the event grows closer;
for example, Beneil
Dariush
has blasted off to become one of the heavier favorites
on this otherwise narrowly matchmade event. To paraphrase a line
from the past, there is money to be made here, but it requires
navigating some tricky style matchups, which in many cases could go
either way. Look no further than the main event, which may be a
coinflip before it is all said and done. With all that out of the
way, let us learn from the past to guide our futures and make some
money at UFC 262.

Straight Up Cash

Michael
Chandler
(+115)

This headliner between the UFC’s all-time leader in finishes (16)
in Charles
Oliveira
—tied with Donald
Cerrone
—and Bellator MMA three-time champ and multiple
recordholder Chandler is a dream matchup most did not imagine until
it was put together. Realistically, the lightweight division—much
like featherweight at the moment—could pair two fighters in the Top
10 and it would almost certainly produce fireworks. It may feel a
little hollow that after Chandler smashed Dan Hooker,
he called out names like Conor
McGregor
and Nurmagomedov, only for him to be matchmade against
Oliveira. While Oliveira is far from a proven pay-per-view draw,
this battle is no less exciting, and one where every single member
in the 19,000-strong Houston audience will be on the edge of their
seat until it is over.

It is a bit surprising that a veteran of 27 UFC bouts has only
headlined a pair of events before now. His first almost could not
have gone any worse, resulting in one of the strangest finishes we
have seen when an apparent esophageal injury or re-irritation of a
neck problem reared its ugly head against Max
Holloway
. He made the most of a second attempt on the marquee
nearly five years later, tapping out Kevin Lee in
the last event the organization held before pausing to reassess
during the pandemic. A one-sided grappling clinic over Tony
Ferguson
placed “Do Bronx” in prime position to finally vie for
the throne after joining the roster over a decade ago. To get
there, he has leveled up everywhere, with his striking no longer a
liability or simply a means to an end to drag the fight to the
ground. If he wants to display his ever-improving hands, however,
he will be in serious jeopardy right from the start.

In terms of sheer punching power and vaunted striking ability,
Oliveira has not faced a striker of Chandler’s magnitude in years.
Paul
Felder
laughed off submission attempts to elbow Oliveira’s face
through the canvas, while Anthony
Pettis
worked him over to the body. On the current run for “Do
Bronx,” the most dangerous striker he faced is without question
Ferguson, whose power was never his strongest asset. Some fighters
have the power to sting opponents with their strikes and gain their
respect, while others have the kind of stopping power that stuns
and puts them down. Chandler is firmly the latter, and every moment
on the feet is a precarious one for Oliveira.

The book on how to beat Chandler is not entirely written, as the
counter right hand Patricio
Freire
introduced to the side of Chandler’s head could have
felled a bull moose. Otherwise, one could hope to chop his leg down
and deaden the nerve at the calf a la Brent
Primus
. Both stoppages, which came in under three minutes on
both occasions, are not blueprints by any means, and those are his
two setbacks dating back to 2015. While Chandler dropped two to
Will
Brooks
, and Oliveira tapped out Brooks in 150 seconds three
years later, both men have evolved a great deal since then. A
confident Chandler, who believes that Oliveira’s striking is not
sufficient to threaten him, could be unwise. When it comes to sheer
power and explosive ability, and the kind that can be maintained
for five rounds—Oliveira has never fought beyond the 15-minute mark
as a pro—Chandler has the edge that cannot be ignored. As “Iron
Mike” is a betting underdog that appears to be growing in the plus
territory, getting in on the extremely live dog is about as good as
you can hope for in this headliner. One way or another, this should
not last long.

Straight Up Pass

Beneil
Dariush
(-175)

The line for Dariush has shifted dramatically it opened, and even
though it has held relatively steady at anywhere from -160 to -175,
it is trending in the direction of Dariush becoming an even more
substantial favorite. On the other side, it has been ages since
Tony
Ferguson
has not clocked in as the betting favorite. Against
Rafael dos
Anjos
at UFC Fight Night 98, also known as the “The Ultimate
Fighter Latin America 3” Finale, Ferguson served as a +120
underdog, back in late 2016. At the time, Barack Obama was the U.S.
President, Conor
McGregor
was a week away from becoming the first two-division
champ in UFC history and this humble author was writing for a
different outlet than Sherdog.

The “pass” nature of this option comes into play for this fight due
to the lines as they are offered at this moment. It is not so much
a prediction that Dariush will not get his hand raised nor is it an
indictment of the confidence or lack thereof regarding Tony
Ferguson
. It is rather that at these odds, there are better
options on the table. It is not just because Ferguson’s only two
UFC bouts where he came in the underdog, he destroyed his foes in
the aforementioned dos Anjos and Ramsey
Nijem
before winning the Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
It is not even due to Dariush’s history of falling short at the
most inopportune time against foes like Michael
Chiesa
or the undermentioned Edson
Barboza
. Were the odds closer, and Dariush instead in the
neighborhood of -120 to -140, there might have been some value.

Ferguson, for all of his wrestling background, has landed exactly
as many takedowns inside the Octagon as he has submitted opponents,
with six
takedowns
and six successful submissions. The takedowns did not
necessarily lead to the submissions, but they have forced scrambles
where Ferguson either reversed position or ensnared his opponents
with his long arms. Nearly everything Ferguson does in the cage is
as if he read “Dune” like it was “The Art of War,” in that he had
plans within plans for every motion. Traps can get set up from a
long chain of strikes that lead into close proximity, where his
fabled “snap-jitsu” can get put to work.

Much of the gameplan of “El Cucuy” hinges on his cardio and ability
to do the things he sets his mind to, from his unorthodox footwork
to bizarrely effective striking salvos. Father Time is undefeated
in this sport, but subsequent setbacks to former interim champ
Justin
Gaethje
and current title challenger Oliveira are not worth
sounding the alarm yet. It is difficult to tell as of yet whether
the strategy of Oliveira can be duplicated by Dariush, spamming
takedowns while holding the defensive chops to not fall prey to any
of Ferguson’s trickery. Even if the best-case scenario for Dariush
comes to fruition, where he embraces the grind for 15 minutes while
taking as little damage as possible, it is not worth getting in
this high.

A Prop-ular Bet

Oliveira-Chandler Goes Under 2.5 Rounds (-155)

Even if the above pick does not bear fruit and Chandler’s
championship dreams come crashing down, this tasty prop option
practically jumps off the sheet. Both contenders are proven
finishers against elite levels of competition, with just eight
decision wins across 52 career victories—a terrifying combined
finish rate around 85 percent—and they can do so in a wide variety
of ways. It should go without saying that the least likely outcome
is that Chandler taps out Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard Oliveira
(+1100 and not worth a flier), even if the old adage of “punch a
black belt in the face and he becomes a brown belt” holds true
after Chandler gets off some shots. One way or another, this
lightweight championship affair will not go beyond the 2:30 mark of
Round 3.

As already mentioned, Chandler’s punching power is a sight to
behold in the division, and his places on the Bellator leaderboards
will stand for years to come. An oft-asked question about the level
of competition between promotions is a fair one, as a knockout of
Sidney
Outlaw
or David
Rickels
may not hold as much weight as their UFC counterparts.
Still, Chandler remained the big fish in a smaller pond largely
thanks to his killer instinct, which he still holds in spades even
as he passes the 35-year mark on this planet. Chandler should also
hold another important tool in his back pocket: his wrestling, as
“Iron Mike” celebrates NCAA Division I All-American status as a
wrestler. While Oliveira could take Ferguson down with astounding
ease, he will run into a brick wall in Chandler when trying to
pursue takedowns.

In just one of his last 14 bouts dating back to 2014 has Oliveira
hit this over of competing for at least 12:30. That came after
one-way traffic in a smart but safe performance against a deadly
adversary in Ferguson. Like his stellar 90 percent finish rate, “Do
Bronx” has seen just one bout go the distance in defeat, which came
against a man once impossible to stop in Frankie
Edgar
. The Brazilian could very easily show that there are
levels to this game when it comes to grappling, and even if he
cannot secure a more orthodox maneuver like a double leg, he has a
sneaky efficient way of getting the fight where he wants it. Both
lightweights have the firepower to get the job done inside the
distance, and at -155, the fight concluding before its midpoint
should be money in the bank.

An Unprop-ular Bet

Edson
Barboza
Wins by TKO/KO (+385)

Up to his last fight with Josh Emmett,
the jury was still out on Shane
Burgos
’ ceiling. Tight, crisp boxing fell away to a willingness
to engage in brawls, and as he and his foe threw caution to the
wind, they let the chips fall where they may. A thriller with
Calvin
Kattar
did not go his way after he went all-offense to his
detriment, and he has tightened up some of those holes. Emmett
still was able to draw out a firefight, but the battle was so
tremendous that neither man’s stock fell after the dust cleared
from a whirlwind of the pages of “Andy Capp” comics. More
importantly, it speaks volumes about Burgos’ ability to take
damage, and the only concern some might have is that absorbing
nearly
100 significant head shots
and coming back from two knockdowns
will have repercussions for his next fights. Against Barboza, a
fighter who does not exclusively headhunt or always follow Thanos’
instructions from “Avengers: Infinity War” to go for the head,
Burgos may come up against a wood chipper for three rounds but
maintains the fortitude to come out intact.

Two fights into his move to featherweight, it is still tough to
tell exactly how far Barboza’s power can translate down to this
division. The weight cut depletes the man known as “Junior” to a
frightening degree, with the Brazilian emaciated and seemingly
trying to emulate Christian Bale’s character from “The Machinist”
to get there. Still, he clocked Dan Ige in the
first round with a right hand to put “50K” down, and the same right
hand dropped Makwan
Amirkhani
twice in their meeting in October. “Hurricane” will
need to mind his Ps and Qs when wading into the fire, but his hands
are notably sharper than the two and should keep Barboza from
setting up these lethal strikes. Without traversing too far down
the MMAth rabbit hole, Burgos was able to achieve what Barboza
could not: put Amirkhani away, as Burgos battered the breadbasket
with a brutal barrage of bombs to the body. Burgos’ boxing, both
offensively and defensively, will be the difference maker in this
contest, and Barboza scoring the knockout is not the best way to
try to call your shot a la Babe Ruth.

An Accumulation Contemplation

Burgos (-140)
Ronaldo
Souza
(-110)
Gina
Mazany
(-210)
Total Odds: +383

Following the logic about why Barboza by knockout—his preferred
method of victory, historically—is not a good play, this matchup
should fare well for Burgos as long as he does not play the
ferocious kickboxer’s game. Even though Barboza is considered by
some to be on a three-fight win streak—razor-close fights with Ige
and Felder aside—this may be the rude awakening where Barboza tries
to crack into the top 10 only to find himself on the wrong end of
youth and speed. Burgos, a pressure fighter who will come at you to
put his hands on your face, has developed a great deal since
Calvin
Kattar
mollywhopped him in Boston in 2018. No longer is Burgos
the kind of fighter to throw naked leg kicks and get clipped with
easy counters, and his chin can no longer be questioned after
Emmett threw everything and the kitchen sink at him last year.
After years of time in the Octagon, Barboza’s strengths and
weaknesses are out in the open, but the clock is ticking on the
Brazilian that has taken a great deal of damage over the years.
Burgos, with a good gameplan and pressure for all three rounds, can
take Barboza out of his element and box him up to win this fight as
a slight favorite.

Many are calling “Jacare” a spent force at 185 pounds after
eye-opening defeats to Kevin
Holland
and Jack
Hermansson
that bookended an ill-advised trip to light
heavyweight against future champ Jan
Blachowicz
. In some ways, Souza is taking on what could be a
version of himself ten years younger, with far less punching power
but the same desire to drag the fight to the mat and rip a limb
off. Unless the bottom has completely fallen out, Souza will have
the wherewithal—and more importantly, punching power—to outlast and
take out his fellow countryman. This step up in competition is too
much, too soon for the budding Andre Muniz,
who should find himself outgunned across the board even against a
relatively depleted “Jacare.” A pick-em for this fight is too good
to pass up, and it will boost the accumulator significantly.

Rounding out this three-fight parlay and structural trip down
memory lane is a women’s flyweight clash between Mazany and
Priscila
Cachoeira
, with the latter making the most of a lucky fourth
fight after a rough losing streak by cold-cocking Shana
Dobson
with a hellacious uppercut in early 2020. Since
Cachoeira last competed, her opponent Mazany has made major changes
to her career after a humbling defeat to Julia Avila
by dropping down to flyweight. It is difficult to tell just how
meaningful a shellacking from “Danger” over the sub-.500 Rachael
Ostovich
means in the greater scheme of this division, but this
is a very winnable fight for the Xtreme Couture fighter. Mazany,
who prefers to use strength and wrestling, will have this advantage
over her Brazilian foe, as the latter wants to stand and trade with
her. Mazany as a favorite around 2-to-1 is a solid, safe way to
close out this accumulator and take home the prize.

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