The main event of the UFC 178 preliminary card is a three-round bantamweight bout between Dominick Cruz and Takeya Mizugaki. According to the current betting lines available at 5Dimes Sportsbook, Cruz is a -400 favorite (bet $400 to win $100) while Mizugaki is a +325 underdog (bet $100 to win $325). MMA linesetter Nick Kalikas opened up Cruz at +350 and Mizugaki at +250, and so far the betting action has been in Cruz’ direction. While the long layoff for Cruz is certainly a huge concern, I understand why he’s a big favorite here as I believe he should win this fight. Here’s why. Cruz (19-1) was the UFC bantamweight champion but after suffering a string of injuries to his knees and delays in recovering from surgeries, he was forced to give up his belt and overall he’s missed nearly three years of action With a win over Mizugaki at UFC 178, he’ll likely get a shot at the champion TJ Dillashaw, but first he has to win, and this is no “tune-up” fight. Before his injury, the 29-year-old American was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Overall he is riding a 10-fight win streak which includes a 2-0 record in the UFC with wins over Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson in the Octagon and wins over the likes of Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall before that during his WEC days. Cruz was known for his amazing footwork and movement in the ring and his unorthodox striking style. He also had some of the best wrestling in the entire division. Overall, he looked unbeatable, but unfortunately for Cruz he suffered through a dark period due to injuries and now, after three years off, it’s so hard to say how he’ll look. Odds are he’ll be an effective fighter once again, but if the knee injuries took anything away from his ability to move inside the ring, he may not be able to implement his gameplan as well, and that’s what makes this fight so hard to bet. Cruz deserves to the be favorite, but at the current odds, it doesn’t look like there’s any value betting on a man who has so many question marks surrounding him. Mizugaki (20-7-2) is one of the top bantamweights in the world and a win over Cruz at UFC 178 would likely net him a title shot against Dillashaw. The 30-year-old fighter from Japan is 7-2 overall in the UFC and is riding a five-fight win streak at the moment over Francisco Rivera, Nam Phan, Erik Perez, Jeff Hougland and Bryan Caraway. Mizugaki is a very well-rounded fighter. He has excellent boxing technique (although he does lack in power) and his offensive wrestling is very solid too. He has shown some holes in his defensive grappling throughout his career but it really hasn’t cost him in the UFC so far. Mizugaki is definitely a tough test for anyone in the division and in this spot the UFC is using him as a gatekeeper to see what level the former champ Cruz is at. It’s likely Mizugaki doesn’t have what it takes to get past the former champ, but if Cruz has declined since the last time we saw him and if Mizugaki shows improvement once again, he could steal a decision here and at the odds seems like a live dog. If Cruz is anywhere near the fighter he was three years ago, then he easily beats Mizugaki, likely by decision. But if he shows up a different fighter, and if his knees don’t allow him the same movement and footwork he once had, then he could be in serious trouble against a top contender who is on fire right now in Mizugaki. This a great fight and the winner will deserve a title shot, and I believe the matchup is closer than the odds indicate. I am going to pick Cruz to win a decision in this fight, but I think he’s too risky to play and I will be staying far away from a bet on this one as I could see Mizugaki stealing it if Cruz isn’t the same fighter anymore. If anything, the OVER 2.5 rounds at -250 is probably the best play here as the fight is very likely to go the distance.
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