The first UFC card for 2019 seems to have plenty of good betting opportunities. One of the fights that caught my eye was a welterweight showdown between Geoff Neal and Belal Muhammad.

Geoff Neal

Fighting out of Fortis MMA, a team on the rise at the moment, Geoff Neal has looked excellent in his two UFC appearances. An extremely polished southpaw striker, Neal throws every shot with surgical precision. Against a solid veteran in Frank Camacho, Neal looked several steps ahead for the duration of the fight. Not only is Neal a fundamentally sound striker – his speed, athleticism and power are additional assets that make him a force to be reckoned with.

There are a few question marks however. While we’ve seen him shrug off sloppy takedown attempts from Camacho, he hasn’t faced anyone that can really wrestle (as far as I’m aware). This is the first time he’s going to have to stuff takedowns from a legitimate grappler – so it remains to be seen how good he is in that department. As an explosive athlete, I also question how Neal’s cardio will hold up later in fights. In a regional contest against Kevin Holland, he slowed down and eventually got finished. It’s important that Neal doesn’t punch himself out, even if he has his opponent rocked.

Belal Muhammad

Unlike Neal, there isn’t one aspect of Muhammad’s game that is phenomenal – but he’s proficient everywhere. He can wrestle, box and threaten with submissions. His fight IQ is excellent and he never runs out of cardio. We can assume that Muhammad will want to take this fight to the mat. I can’t imagine his game plan is to stand and bang with a ferocious hitter like Neal.

Against a much taller and longer striker in Randy Brown, Muhammad used low kicks to negate the reach difference and mixed in takedowns in order to win a decision. I think we’ll see a similar approach here. The fights where Muhammad took the most damage were against two technical strikers with power: Vicente Luque and Alan Jouban. In particular, Jouban (like Neal, a southpaw) found a home for his left hand.

Who Wins?

While Muhammad is a solid, well-rounded fighter – I don’t think we’ll ever see him in the title picture. Neal on the other hand looks to have a higher ceiling and if he can keep performing against tougher and tougher opponents, he’ll be a legitimate contender. It’s possible Muhammad gets his grappling going or that Neal gasses in the second half of the fight, but I think it’s much more likely Neal stuffs takedowns and dominates on the feet. I’m confident the hand speed differential will be significant.

If you’re looking for a safe bet, Geoff Neal NSC (scorecards = no action) at -245 looks good, since a finish by Muhammad seems unlikely. I also don’t mind Geoff Neal by KO at +165. Personally, I’ll probably stick with a moneyline play on the favorite.

Pick: Geoff Neal -170

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