Barring a major setback, UFC 249 appears to be going forward in Jacksonville, Florida. No fans will be in attendance for what looks to be a stacked card from the early prelims through to the main event. The main card will feature two title fights; one being for the bantamweight crown and the other being the interim lightweight title. Dom Cruz will be making his return to the octagon in hopes of snatching the bantamweight belt off Henry Cejudo while Justin Gaethje will be stepping forward to face Tony Ferguson in Khabib’s absence. The main card will also include a highly anticipated heavyweight clash between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. This fight will almost certainly be for at least a #1 contender’s slot and possibly a chance at an interim title fight depending on outside factors.
The Ngannou – Rozenstruik clash was initially slated to headline a UFC on ESPN event and is now the third fight from the top on a card. This speaks to the depth of this event, which in all honesty doesn’t have a bad fight on it.
The early prelims are no exception when talking about how stacked the UFC’s return is. Hardly anything like typical early prelim fights, the opening fights for UFC 249 are all co-main material on a fight night. Due to to the unprecedentedly stacked nature of this card, I’ll be breaking down every fight from the early prelims through to the main card.
I’ll also provide gambling analysis and will be picking a little bit more freely due to the fact that there’s obviously nothing else going on. I’m 10-for-17 as for as straight pick em’s go in 2020 with plenty of split decision losses in between. As far as picking plus odds goes, I’m a comfortable 5-for-8 on the year. There is plenty of opportunity to expand on that with UFC 249 as there are several intriguing underdogs from the early prelims on up.
For analysis of the rest of the card, click below.
Sam Alvey (+310) vs. Ryan Spann (-390)
The first fight of the early prelims will be a light-heavyweight scrap between Ryan “superman” Spann and Sam Alvey. The two fighters find themselves at radically different points in their careers ahead of this bout, with Spann riding a 7 fight winning streak while Alvey has lost three in a row.
Spann is 3-0 in the UFC outright with his last loss coming against Karl Roberson on the Contender’s Series back in 2017. Spann – a Fortis MMA product – has some significant size advantages over Alvey. With nearly a five inch reach advantage over his opponent, I envision Spann being able to work off his jab with relative ease. There is also a sizable speed advantage in favor of Spann.
As for “smilin” Sam, the respective trajectory of each fighter speaks for itself. Though one of his recent losses involved a controversial stoppage against Jimmy Crute, it goes without saying that Alvey is in dire circumstances. Four fights in a row leads to a release more often than not in the UFC and Alvey has personally confronted this reality. “If I lose, there’s no way the UFC keeps me around” he said to MMACrazy’s Louise Greene.
A fighter with his back up against the wall can never be counted out and Alvey certainly is that. To win he’d have to do a good job of managing distance, which is a tall order against Spann. Alvey has powerful hooks, but Spann shouldn’t have to be putting himself in danger of them too often. The ground advantage also has to go to Spann, who has demonstrated solid submission offense and an ability to drop devastating, lightening fast elbows from guard.
If there was a lock for the early prelims, Ryan Spann would have a solid case for it.
Gambling wise, the line makes this one parlay or bust. Spann by KO/TKO is tempting at +175 but I can see Alvey dogging this out and avoiding the KO. No play for me on this one.
Prediction: Ryan Spann
Charles Rosa (+156) vs. Bryce Mitchell (-184)
Fresh off only the second body twister in UFC history, Bryce Mitchell will be facing a step up in competition against Charles Rosa on the early prelims
Mitchell (11-1), is favored in this one largely due to the presumptive ground advantage. While Rosa is no slouch on the ground, he isn’t quite on the level of Mitchell. Rosa is coming off an arm-bar submission victory against Manny Bermudez in a fight where he was eating ground and pound until he wasn’t. Rosa demonstrated great patience and fight IQ in the face unrelenting pressure, which is a good sign when facing a top tier grappling prospect in Mitchell.
With that said, the best path to victory for Rosa is on the feet. Even if this turns into a scramble-fest, it’s tough to see Mitchell not being able to hold top position if Manny Bermudez could get it done. “Thug Nasty” isn’t the most technical striker, but he’s also far from an easily sleep-able fighter. He has brawler tendencies and really just needs a route to the ground for a victory. Could be a close one, but I’m going with Bryce Mitchell.
Prediction: Bryce Mitchell
Play: Bryce Mitchell moneyline (-184)
Niko Price (+220) vs. Vicente Luque (-270)
The final bout on the early prelims portion of the card will feature a second clash between Niko Price and Vicente Luque. Luque won the first match-up between the two via D’Arce choke back in 2017. Many are expecting Luque to cruise to a victory again and the line certainly reinforces that opinion.
With that said, Niko Price absolutely cannot be counted out in this one.
On paper, Luque should win again. He is the unquestionably superior fighter and employs heavy leg kicks. Price has had trouble with leg kicks in the past, due in part to his unconventional movement. Leg kicks played a role in the last match-up between the two and if Luque can get in a rhythm, he should win.
Vicente Luque is also at a more advanced stage of his UFC career than Niko Price at this point. The Brazilian is coming off a main card loss to Stephen Thompson, a fight he lost handily. While the result wasn’t quite what he was hoping for, the wonderboy fight was a major step up in competition for Vicente Luque. Before that, he won a close decision against Mike Perry while flattening Perry’s nose in the process.
Luque is an upper-echelon welterweight, that isn’t disputed. What is being overlooked headed into this fight is the development of Niko Price since the pair’s last match-up. Since 2017, Price has found himself winning fights via some uncommon methods, to say the least. This includes a backwards hammer-fist knockout from the bottom and most recently, an up-kick knockout against James Vick.
Before the up-kick KO, Price lost a violent scrap between very highly regarded contender Geoff Neal. Price was able to knock Neal down in the fight and rock him more than once. He also demonstrated the brawler tendencies that make him a very tough fighter to sleep.
Stylistically, Price is great at fighting while moving backwards and seeks to lure his opponents in for a big shot. He has plenty of raw power as well, as evidenced by the Tim Means KO.
Of course, there are downsides to this style. Luque was able to exploit these in the first fight, pressuring Price while landing heavy leg kicks. Eventually Price found himself cornered, got rocked more than once and ultimately submitted when he had nowhere left to go.
While the first fight obviously needs to be evaluated and considered, I can’t see it going down the same way this time. Price has demonstrated much more creative, volume based striking since the first match-up. There wasn’t much volume out of the Floridian then, but there certainly will be now. Expect wild combinations that include head kicks and elbows thrown while moving backwards.
I also just think that Niko Price needs this victory more than Luque does. As good as Vicente Luque is, I truly don’t think that Niko Price is that much below him in terms of skill. I certainly don’t think that this line represents the skill gap in any way, shape or form. Beating Luque here would transform Price’s career while a win here is merely a stepping stone for Luque. It’s impossible to measure intangibles, but they need to be considered.
Lastly, the amount of damage Vicente Luque has taken over his last two fights is troublesome. He barely won the Perry fight and were it not for the nose flattening, who knows what would have happened. He got pieced up during the wonderboy fight and this just feels like a trap fight. Call it a hunch, but I’m going with Niko Price on this one.
Gambling wise it may be a little bit bold, but I like the play here. Price TKO/KO is tempting, but given the unpredictability of his style, I’ll stick with the money-line. As I said earlier, this line is quite absurd and the potential for it to get even more absurd is quite high. So, there’s value in betting on Niko Price for that alone.