How the turn tables….. have turned. With all major U.S. sports and European soccer cancelled, people have nothing to watch or bet on except the UFC. For the time being, the promotion plans to go ahead with events but intends on holding them at the UFC apex in Las Vegas. The UFC apex is a state of the art facility that will host future seasons of TUF and is also the home of the Contender’s Series.
For MMA fans who have watched contender’s series fights, you know how cool fights in this arena are. The sound is perfect and it truly highlights how hard elite fighters hit. For new and casual observers, future events here are going to be a very unique viewing experience. The current card will be held in an empty arena in Brasilia, Brazil, though future fights will be held at the apex.
As for the card itself, this is a very, very good card for an ESPN+ event. It features several high profile Brazilian fighters and plenty of bouts with divisional relevance. I like the line a-lot for Johnny Walker (-150), but Krylov is no slouch and I have the same questions about Walker as anyone else. If he returns to the same form he had before the Anderson KO, (-150) is a fairly solid money-line. If you’re going to take Walker, I recommend simply taking the line, because the KO prop is barely any more value. Moicano and Trinaldo are also solid leans for me as well.
That said, here’s what I’ve got this week after going 3 for 4 with a tough decision loss last go around.
Rani Yahya (+155) vs. Enrique Barzola (-190)
This prelim bout will be the fourth fight of the night and has had some significant line movement. Since major sports cancellations, the line on Barzola has gotten a little out of hand. He opened at (-172) on Fanduel and now sits at (-210).
To me, this is the way it should be. Enrique Barzola has demonstrated that he has an iron jaw and an ability to take one to give two early in his UFC career. His ground game is solid (though he may be the lesser wrestler here) and his striking volume is relentless and accurate. Given his wrestling base, Barzola’s improvement in the striking game has been fun to watch. At just 30 years old, Barzola is 6-3 in the UFC with wins over Bobby Moffett, Brandon Davis and the very underrated Gabriel Benitez.
The thing I like about Barzola is that his losses are “good losses” so to speak. He lost to Kevin Aguilar because he got into a boxing match with a boxer, but he was in that fight from start to finish. Against the undefeated Movsar Evloev, Barzola also battled until the bell and was able to steal round 3 despite getting tossed around a-lot during the fight. Basically, Barzola has never looked completely overpowered in the UFC and strikes me as a fighter who just needs to up the finishing ability just a tad.
Rani Yahya is a very talented fighter and is actually the favorite on Tapology, but I don’t see him getting it done. If it does happen, it will likely come via submission. Barzola has great speed and if he can scramble out in time, I think he lands enough volume on the fight to cruise to a decision win.
Prediction: Enrique Barzola
Alexey Kunchenko (+105) vs. Elizeu Zaleski (-130)
This is another great prelims fight between former M1 Global champ Alexey Kunchenko and Elizeu Zaleski. Kunchenko was undefeated until his last bout, a decision loss against Gilbert Burns. As for Zaleski, he was riding a 7 fight win streak before a tough loss to Jingliang Li in China. Both fighters will be looking to hopefully crack the official rankings with a win here.
This is a great match-up, as reflected by the line, and it could really go either way. Zaleski is a very well rounded fighter with high take-down IQ and vicious spinning kicks. He has solid wins over Lyman Good, Max Griffin and Omari Akhmedov as well as quick stoppages over Sean Strickland and Curtis Millender.
That said, I like Kunchenko in this fight and I especially like this play with plus odds. In the Burns fight, Kunchenko had him limping and avoiding contact after a barrage of heavy leg kicks. The Russian ate several himself, but ultimately did far more damage. He lost the fight because Burns secured rounds one and two, but as a fighter with championship experience, he looked as though he could easily go another two. Burns on the other hand, was lucky Kunchenko didn’t up the urgency earlier, because he was hurt.
I see Kunchenko making the adjustment and upping the intensity much earlier in this fight. Zaleski is a fast starter, so he’ll have to be careful and could very well lose round two. However, I just think the game-plan will be the right one here. With a solid muay Thai base and physical advantages for Kunchenko, I don’t see him being bullied on the ground.
If Kunchenko brings it, he should win.
Prediction: Alexey Kunchenko
Brandon Moreno (+125) vs. Jussier Formiga (-155)
I enjoy relevant flyweight fights and this one is certainly that. After weight issues ruined the flyweight title fight in Norfolk two weeks ago, many are looking at this bout in Brasilia as an unofficial title fight. It is at the very least a #1 contender fight between two insanely well rounded fighters.
Both are very similar in style with elite BJJ, accurate striking and great scrambling. With a very solid UFC pedigree, Formiga is probably better in most aspects. As far as power and BJJ goes, Formiga gets the nod.
However, I like Moreno in this fight. I see him piecing up Formiga with volume on the feet while not allowing himself to be bullied on the ground. If he can move the way he did in the Kara-France fight, he should have no trouble. A common knock on Moreno is that he’s quite hittable, but his ability to trade 2-3 for one is among the best in the division, if not the roster entirely.
If “the assassin baby” – an elite nickname – can avoid power shots, I see him getting this done. With the line where it currently sits, this could be a steal.