The UFC is set to hold a rare Wednesday night event tomorrow evening as the promotion seeks to get back on schedule following several pandemic related cancellations. UFC Jacksonville will take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, the same venue that hosted this past Saturday’s star studded UFC 249 card. UFC 249 ultimately sold over 700,000 pay-per-views and the company will be seeking to further capitalize on the added spotlight with a quick turnaround.
While not as stacked of a card as 249, this is a fairly decent slate of fights. There are a-lot of crossroads fights and a very entertaining main event between Anthony Smith and Glover Teixeira.
In my opinion, the highlight of the card is a lightweight scrap between Drew Dober and Alexander Hernandez. The winner of this one should solidify themselves amidst the top 15 of one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC. Another intriguing fight is a heavyweight match-up between Ben Rothwell and Ovince Saint Preux. Saint Preux will be making his first appearance in the heavyweight division while Rothwell is coming off a bizarre win against Stefan Struve, a bout that included two insanely powerful kicks to the groin of Struve.
As far as gambling goes, I’ll admit that there are far better cards. There’s always something, however, and this card is no different. Here are three full fight breakdowns and betting picks for UFC Fight Night 171: Smith vs. Teixeira. All odds referenced can be found at FanDuel.
Update: With the cancellation of the Vettori – Roberson fight, I have added a fourth breakdown and pick.
Karl Roberson (+150) vs. Marvin Vettori (-178) (CANCELLED)
The fifth fight from the top at UFC Jacksonville will be a middleweight bout between two promising fighters. Roberson is 4-2 in the UFC outright with victories against Jack Marshman, Darren Stewart and most recently, a very impressive submission win against Roman Kopylov in Moscow. Roberson – now 29 – is riding a two fight winning streak, with his last loss coming against Glover Teixeira in January of last year.
As for Vettori, the Italian is also riding a two fight winning streak with his last loss coming against current division champion Israel Adesanya in 2018. Vettori lost by split decision in a close fight in which he was never getting dominated by any stretch. Adesanya was winning the striking exchanges, but he certainly wasn’t running away with them.
Vettori was then suspended for six months following a positive test for ostarine and wasn’t eligible to fight until February of last year. Following the suspension, Vettori has secured comfortable, unanimous decision wins against Andrew Sanchez and Cezar Ferreira.
I would not at all be surprised if both of these fighters find themselves ranked at some point in the next few months or years.
As for this fight, I have to give the edge to Vettori. He has looked very impressive following the suspension with great movement and an excellent chin. His cardio is top notch and he should have a ground advantage over Roberson.
Karl Roberson will have the edge in power but I don’t think it will be enough to put down Vettori. “The Italian Dream” has never been finished despite facing strikers with similar to that of Roberson. With that said, I also do not believe that Vettori will be able to finish Roberson. I see Vettori out-landing and possibly out-grappling to a unanimous decision win.
Prediction and play: Marvin Vettori by points (+140)
Alexander Hernandez (-102) vs. Drew Dober (-114)
This is the fight I’m most looking forward to at UFC Jacksonville and as the line reflects, it’s not the easiest fight to analyze. Both fighters will be vying for a definitive slot amidst the top 15 in a stacked division. Each is coming off a win, with Hernandez winning by decision against Francisco Trinaldo in a fight that lacked much action. Dober on the other hand has won each of his last two fights via first round knockout. His last victory came against Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 246, a fight in which Dober was a fairly big underdog.
For Alexander Hernandez, Drew Dober will be the third opponent he is contracted to face since his initial bout with Islam Makhachev was cancelled. Hernandez spent significant time training for the fight with Makhachev and said that he has felt like he’s been in camp for “almost four months” at the UFC’s virtual media day.
I believe that this will have an effect on Hernandez and his game-plan. In the press conference, Hernandez seemed happy that Dober is a pressure fighter. He wanted to counter in the Trinaldo fight and if what he’s saying is to be believed, he wants to do it here as well.
If that’s what Hernandez wants to do, I think he loses. Drew Dober is going to come out throwing bombs and I can’t see a repeat of the Trinaldo fight for Hernandez. His best path to victory would be to out-clinch and grapple Dober, which is what earned him a victory against Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Dober has struggled with grapplers in the past and Hernandez should have an edge there.
With that said, Dober is much bigger for the weight class than Hernandez, who has talked about moving down to featherweight. I also wonder if the length of Hernandez’s training camp will take a toll on him, something Tony Ferguson alluded to after the Gaethje fight.
Hernandez has a path, but I don’t think he’ll use it. I see Dober out-striking Hernandez and earning a decision victory, though I don’t rule out a knockout. For this reason, I’ll stick with the moneyline.
Prediction and play: Drew Dober moneyline (-114)
Gabriel Benitez (+140) vs. Omar Morales (-166)
Another lightweight scrap, this match-up will feature the undefeated Omar Morales (9-0) and Gabriel Benitez, who will be making his lightweight debut. At 34 years old, Morales has only racked up 9 professional bouts. He has looked impressive in them, however, with sharp, patient striking and promising fight IQ. He is 1-0 in the UFC outright along with a Contender’s Series TKO victory against Harvey Park.
As for Benitez, UFC Jacksonville will mark his lightweight debut. He last lost to surging featherweight prospect Sodiq Yusuff back in August. Benitez landed some great kicks on Yusuff but was ultimately knocked out at the end of round 1.
While Benitez may have seven losses, his last three are to very well regarded featherweights. Before losing to Yusuff, Benitez has won two in a row, with his last loss coming against Enrique Barzola. He also lost to Andre Fili back in 2015.
Sodiq Yusuff described the kicks of Benitez as the hardest he’s faced, which is relevant for multiple reasons. For one, Yusuff is big for the featherweight division and he has talked about moving up to lightweight. He says he can do it at any time, which is a potential barometer for how Benitez could fare at lightweight. If a future lightweight in Yusuff is speaking so highly of Benitez, what does that say about his future?
Gabriel Benitez is a solid fighter with very good kicks. He has been somewhat lost in the shuffle of a stacked featherweight division and isn’t the most active fighter either. With that said, I expect him to win as an underdog and don’t quite understand these odds. As good as Morales has looked, Benitez has twice as many victories as he’s had professional MMA fights.
Although Morales is going to have size advantages, Benitez should be landing some heavy kicks from the southpaw position. His fight IQ has gotten a-lot better over the years and I expect him to take over this fight as Morales fails to adjust to the power.
With the plus odds, I’ll stick with the moneyline once again.
Prediction and play: Gabriel Benitez moneyline (+140)
Brian Kelleher (+170) vs. Hunter Azure (-200)
Hunter Azure (8-0 overall, 1-0 UFC) is another undefeated fighter set to appear at UFC Jacksonville. Azure will be looking for his second UFC victory against seasoned veteran Brian Kelleher, who lost secured an underdog submission victory at UFC 246. Before that he lost fights with very respectable opponents in John Lineker and Montel Jackson.
Needless to say, Kelleher has plenty of professional MMA experience while Azure is just getting started. With that said, the Montana born Azure beat SBG Dublin’s Brad Katona by unanimous decision in his UFC debut. He was a step ahead on the feet and managed to stuff relentless take-down attempts from Katona. Ultimately, Katona went 3-for-12 on take-down attempts for 6:13 of control to Azure’s 30 seconds. Katona looked exhausted by the end, however, while Azure’s striking edge was noticeable both statistically and by the eye test.
As far as this UFC Jacksonville match-up goes, Azure is coming in with a 6.5 inch reach advantage and is the bigger fighter overall. It’s going to be tough for Kelleher to push the action if Azure is half as accurate as he was in the Katona fight. He’ll be taking too much damage if he wants to come forward and box and I don’t see him being able to take down Azure and secure a sneaky submission. It’s never a sure bet when you’re taking an up and comer against a veteran, but I don’t see a path to victory for Kelleher here.
With that said, Azure has won six of his eight wins by decision. It’ll be tough to KO a seasoned veteran in Kelleher and I’m not sure that Azure’s fight finishing abilities have been fully refined. For these reasons, I like Azure by decision at (+105).