The co-main event of the TUF 20 Finale is a three-round featherweight bout between Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira. According to the current betting lines available at 5Dimes Sportsbook, Stephens is a -125 favorite (bet $125 to win $100) while Oliveira is a -105 underdog (bet $105 to win $100). MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened up Stephens at -125 and Oliveira at -115, and so far slight action has been in the direction of Stephens. This is a close fight on paper, but I lean towards the dog in Oliveira. Here’s why. Stephens (23-10) was a long-time member of the UFC lightweight division but made the decision to move to 145lbs last year and so far the results have been solid. The 28-year-old American is 10-9 in the UFC including a 3-1 mark at featherweight with wins over Estevan Payan, Rony Jason and Darren Elkins at 145 with his only loss in the division coming to Cub Swanson. Stephens is a heavy-handed puncher and has 15 career T/KO wins. He also showed against Jason that he is evolving his striking, knocking him out with a blistering head kick. As well as being a solid striker, Stephens also has very good wrestling both offensively and defensively. And at 145 he’s shown great cardio. So far I have been overall impressed by Stephens at the weight but having said that I was a bit disappointed by his performance against Swanson in a fight I think was winnable for him. And I can’t forget that before dropping to featherweight he was on a three-fight losing streak at 155, forcing a move down to 145 after the recently-retired Yves Edwards knocked him out. In general I think Stephens has a good chin but that knockout loss to Edwards is scary. On the flipside, Stephens was competitive in his fight against current UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, taking him to a split decision but losing. Against Oliveira, Stephens will be looking to keep the fight on the feet and land the knockout blow, and while that’s certainly possible, if this fight goes to the floor for any point of time he will be in trouble. Stephens has been submitted numerous times in the UFC and he’s going up against the top submission artist in the division in Oliveira, and that’s why I am perplexed why he is the favorite going into this fight, although of course he has a clear path to victory. Oliveira (18-4, 1 NC), like Stephens, was a lightweight fighter for a long time but make the drop to featherweight and looks like a contender at the weight class. The 25-year-old Brazilian is 6-4, 1 NC in the UFC including a 4-2 record at 145lbs with four submission wins over Hatsu Hioki, Andy Ogle, Jonathan Brookins and Eric Wisely. In his career Oliveira has 11 submission victories and I would argue he’s the best pure submission fighter on the entire roster. He also has underrated striking and knockout power, as his six TKO wins attest to, and overall is getting more technical on the feet with each passing fight. The biggest problem Oliveira has is his chin, which is weak, and also he’s a guy who traditionally tends to fold under pressure. In his last fight against Hioki, though, I believe we saw signs of a different Oliveira. He was arguably losing the fight by being outwrestled and being put in bad spots on the mat, but he somehow found a way to grab the neck of Hioki and become the first fighter to submit the Japanese featherweight. It was an outstanding victory, and it could give Oliveira the confidence to take the next step. I have always been high on Oliveira but now I think he’s ready to contend, and it starts with a win over Stephens. Based on the styles it’s not an easy matchup for him at all, but based on the improvements and based on his overall skillset, I think he has a good chance at claiming the upset win this weekend. I really like Oliveira in this spot. I know that Stephens might have stylistic advantages on paper, but I think when these two get into the cage we will quickly find out Oliveira is the better mixed martial artist and the more dangerous fighter. While Stephens’ path to victory is a knockout or a decision, I think Oliveira can win by submission, he can win by decision, and with improvements in his standup, he could even win by knockout. I have a feeling he is going to find a way to get this fight to the floor and sink in a highlight-reel submission. Heck, I could see him jump for a flying armbar and snatching it — and we’ve seen Stephens tap to armbars before. The betting line says Oliveira is the underdog but I think he should be favored here. So at a dog price, I think he’s worth playing as a straight bet.
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