UFC 249 prelims start time: 8PM, Eastern Time.
Uriah Hall (+108) vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (-128)
The first fight of the prelims will be an intriguing veteran match-up between Uriah Hall and Jacare Souza. Souza will be returning to 185 lbs after losing to Jan Blachowicz at light-heavyweight. Before that, the Brazilian lost a tough scrap at 185 with the very underrated Jack Hermansson, who was fighting up in the rankings.
As for Uriah Hall, the 35 year-old is riding a two fight winning streak with his last victory coming against Antonio Carlos Junior. That fight was a potential barometer for this scrap with Souza as Carlos Junior had a significant ground advantage and top tier BJJ. Much like this upcoming match with Jacare, the Carlos Junior fight was striking vs. grappling on paper and Hall was able to emerge victorious thanks to his boxing. Hall was very sharp and accurate with his punches, managing to injure Carlos Junior’s nose with one of many concise barrages.
On the negative side of the equation, Carlos Junior was able to dominate on the ground. While Hall demonstrated good take-down defense at points in the fight, he was ultimately taken down four-of-eight times and was held in a dangerous spot for almost the entirety of the third round. Carlos Junior also spent significant time on Hall’s back in the first round, highlighting holes in Hall’s game that could be exploited by Jacare.
Jacare is also a better striker than Antonio Carlos Junior and he also has a better chin. He’s not going to box with Uriah Hall, but he’s also not going to eat jabs and look for a take-down the whole fight either. As elite as Souza’s BJJ is, he has powerful punches and will take two to give one.
If Jacare wants to grapple Hall to a decision or submission he probably could. With that said, Hall could easily do enough in between to cruise to another decision win. His power is unquestioned but if his technical striking is anywhere near the level of the Carlos Junior fight, he can easily win here on that alone. Hall is also nearly five years younger than Souza and is the fresher fighter.
This fight is the definition of a pick em’, but I’m going to go with Uriah Hall. I just see it going similar to the Carlos Junior fight where he can defend submissions with brute strength while doing enough on the feet to rack up points. Gambling wise I’m staying away. There are just too many variables at play to make a definitive read on basically anything in this prelims opener, so I’m gonna leave it alone.
Prediction: Uriah Hall
Gambling Analysis: No Play
Michelle Waterson (+130) vs. Carla Esparza (-152)
The second fight of the UFC 249 prelims will be a women’s strawweight bout between Michelle Waterson and Carla “cookie monster” Esparza.
Esparza heads into UFC 249 following a solid victory over Alexa Grasso back in September. Esparza was able to slightly edge out Grasso in strikes while also going 4-for-11 on take-downs. All told, she was able to rack up 6:32 of control en-route to a majority decision.
As for Waterson, she lost her last fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk over five rounds in a main event. Before that she was riding a three fight winning strike. While surviving five rounds against Joanna is an accomplishment, Waterson was overwhelmed the entire fight and adsorbed 180 significant strikes. She was ultimately out-landed 226-71 en-route to a unanimous decision loss.
Ultimately, I see this one going to Esparza based on the grappling edge. I think she should be able to take Waterson down and cruise to a decision based on top control. Taking a beating like Waterson took against Joanna is always tough to come back from, and even though this is an entirely different fight it wouldn’t surprise me to see a more tentative Waterson. If Esparza could defeat Grasso, she should be able to get by Waterson.
Gambling wise I’m going to go with Esparza by points at (-105). It’s one of the outcomes I see most clearly laid out throughout the entire card and I’m feeling confident enough to officially lock it in.
Prediction: Carla Esparza
Play: Carla Esparza by points (-105)
Aleksei Oleinik (+260) vs. Fabricio Werdum (-330)
The second fight from the top on the prelims will be a bout between two veteran grapplers in Aleksi Oleinik and Fabricio Werdum. Oleinik is 42 years-old and most recently secured a submission victory against Maurice Greene at UFC 246. This grappling heavy fight earned Oleinik fight of the night honors while he emerged as the first MMA fighter to secure a submission in four different decades.
Werdum is also 42 and heads into UFC 249 following a two year layoff. His last appearance resulted in a fourth round KO loss against Alexander Volkov.
Both men are elite ground fighters who have secured submission victories against some of the division’s greats. Werdum is probably the best heavyweight BJJ practitioner in UFC history, with a legendary submission victory against Fedor in Strikeforce perhaps being his greatest MMA achievement.
For this fight, it’s tough to see Werdum losing and the line reflects that. Even with the two year layoff, Werdum has a massive striking edge over Oleinik. Oleinik mainly just throws slow, looping haymakers in hopes of getting in close and taking the fight to the ground. The problem is, Werdum is also elite on the ground.
Oleinik can never be counted out for a “weird” submission, but I really just don’t see it and the line reflects that. From a gambling perspective, this is probably the fight I’d most recommend staying away from. The moneyline is so extreme in favor of Werdum and I’m clueless as to just how he secures the win. Points would be my most likely guess, but I’m certainly not confident enough to bet it.
If you’re feeling bold, feel free to bet on an Oleinik submission at crazy odds and make the prelims intense. Far less likely outcomes have happened in MMA.
Prediction: Fabricio Werdum
Gambling Analysis: No play
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (+130) vs. Anthony Pettis (-152)
The last fight of the UFC 249 prelims will be another intriguing veteran scrap between Cowboy Cerrone and Anthony Pettis. Both fighters are in dire need of a win and are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. The two fought once before back in 2013, with Pettis winning by TKO in the first round.
The circumstances are much different this go around, with Cowboy losing his last three fights by TKO to Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje respectively. As for Pettis, he has lost two in a row with his last win coming against Stephen Thompson via superman punch. Pettis has been losing more often than he wins, but his losses are against the upper echelon of the UFC, as are Cowboy’s.
With that said, I don’t see Pettis losing this fight and “Showtime” winning is my most confident pick of the night. Cowboy has simply taken too much damage in his career and there is nowhere left to climb for him. He’s fighting just because he wants to at this stage. It’s easy to tell when he’s hurt and his reputation as a slow starter is not going to help against Pettis, who is a very high octane fighter.
As for Pettis, he may be just as much of a veteran as Cowboy but there is still time for him to get it together and go on a run. I don’t see him beating elite fighters at lightweight or welterweight anymore, but it’s also not impossible. It’s certainly not impossible in his eyes, as all Pettis will be thinking about is how a win here could keep him afloat in the UFC.
Pettis is going to bring the pressure from the rip in this fight and I just don’t see how Cowboy gets a win. Of course Cowboy getting in a striking rhythm and cracking Pettis can’t be ruled out, but I don’t see it. I also think the ground game of Anthony Pettis is underrated and I don’t see Cowboy being able to clinch Pettis to a decision. I’m not sure how he’s going to do it, but I’m confident that Anthony Pettis will win this fight.
Gambling wise, I’ll stick with the moneyline on this one. I’d recommend getting in early, however, as the line keeps sliding in favor of Pettis. I could see this being close to (-200) come fight day.