Just a week into 2015 and one card under the belt, the UFC’s fight calendar continues to fill up. Here are my thoughts on some recently booked match-ups… Manny Gamburyan vs Aljamain Sterling I do not like this match-up; it just does not make sense for me, at all. I am assuming Bryan Caraway is injured, because Gamburyan vs Caraway is the fight I was expecting, as Gamburyan called him out while claiming that fight to be his reason for the drop down to 135 pounds. In his last outing at UFC 175, Gamburyan scored a guillotine choke submission over Cody Gibson with just four seconds remaining in the second frame. It was an impressive come-from-behind win for the Armenian in his bantamweight debut, and he will be looking to go 2-0 in the division at UFC on FOX 15 in April, though I think the undefeated Sterling is a stiff test for him. In fact, I think Sterling is the best fighter he has faced since fighting Jose Aldo for the WEC featherweight title in WEC. The Serra-Longo product last saw action nearly six months ago, where he took out Brazilian Hugo Viana via third round TKO, making him 2-0 inside the Octagon. I expect him to open as a heavy favorite over “The Anvil” in this bout of at least -300 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him close as double that (-600) by fight time. I think he will be heavily favored to win this bout and expect the public to back him with their wallet. With the fight being in his backyard, Sterling will also enjoy a hometown advantage. For Gamburyan, this will be an opportunity to score a big upset and arguably the biggest victory of his professional mixed martial arts career. For Sterling, it’s an opportunity to earn a victory over a proven veteran. Marion Reneau vs Jessica Andrade Coming off a dominant unanimous decision victory over Alexis Dufresne in her promotional debut at UFC 182 just a week ago, she has been quickly booked for another scrap against the Brazilian Jessica Andrade, who is riding an impressive three-fight winning streak inside the Octagon. The bout will take place at next month’s UFC Fight Night 61 in Brazil, giving Andrade the hometown advantage. I think this is going to be an excellent match-up in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division, as both fighters tend to give it their all and leave everything in the cage. This was going to be a match-up I suggested in my latest “matchmaking predictions” article before opting to make it a lightweights only piece. In any case, I am happy to know that UFC matchmakers and I think alike, as I was pleased to see this potential ‘Fight of the Night’ candidate booked and look forward to seeing it next month. As far as the betting odds for this one are concerned, I would expect Andrade to open as at least a 2-to-1 favorite for her edge in experience and having defeated tougher opposition; not to mention being a Brazilian in Brazil, which could benefit her in a closely contested bout when it hits the judges’ scorecards for a decision. Roy Nelson vs Alistair Overeem A heavyweight match-up that is expected to end in a knockout. This is a rare “winner vs loser” scrap, as Nelson is coming off a knockout at the hands of Mark Hunt at UFC Fight Night 52 over three months ago, while Overeem recently defeated Stefan Struve via first round knockout at UFC on FOX 13 in Phoenix. “The Reem” owns a victory over current UFC interim heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum, so it makes sense that he could earn a fight with Werdum if he gets past Nelson, should Velasquez fail to be ready by Summertime. I think Nelson vs Overeem will be a very exciting fight for however long it lasts. This is one of the few heavyweight fights that I would really be surprised to see go the distance. Nelson is gonna try to find Overeem’s chin while Overeem tries to put a hole through Nelson’s gut with his knees; one of them is going to hit their target spot on, and the other is going to go down hard. That is how I expect this one to play out, and as far as the betting odds are concerned, I think they will be near a coin-flip, possibly with Overeem being a slight favorite. He is the superior mixed martial artist but at underdog odds, there may be value with Nelson, as he is the heavyweight who sports the better chin. Edson Barboza vs Michael Johnson I expect this to be a phenomenal match-up in the UFC’s lightweight division and it will take place at next month’s UFC Fight Night 61 in Brazil. This bout immediately reminded me of Barboza vs Pearson, which was a very entertaining 155 pound scrap that also took place in Brazil and the Brazilian took home a very closely contested unanimous decision victory over the Brit. He finds himself pitted against another talented striker with a well-rounded skill-set in Johnson. The Blackzilian product last saw action 10 months ago at UFC Fight Night 37 where he defeated Melvin Guillard via unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards and sent him packing from the promotion. Barboza most recently took a unanimous decision over Bobby Green at UFC Fight Night 57, snapping his eight fight winning streak. I believe this fight has great potential of producing fireworks and it is one I very much look forward to seeing. As for the betting odds, I expect the Brazilian to open as a 2-to-1 favorite, but 3-to-1 would not surprise me. However, should he be a heavy favorite, I would personally eye Johnson for a value play. Lyoto Machida vs Luke Rockhold This is a match-up between two of the elite in the middleweight division and I expect this bout to be incredibly entertaining. They are both very well rounded mixed martial artists who are extremely dangerous on the feet, with all limbs. This fight could end in knockout at any time or be a war that goes the distance, but in either case, I don’t see it lacking in the fireworks department. I believe fight fans will have their eyes peeled during this one, as it has the makings of being an instant-classic. Machida recently bounced back from his unanimous decision loss to UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman with a first round knockout of CB Dolloway. Rockhold last saw action at UFC Fight Night 55 two months ago, submitting Michael Bisping via guillotine choke in the second stanza. The former Strikeforce middleweight champion now rides a three fight winning streak inside the Octagon and will look to extend it to four against “The Dragon” on his quest for UFC gold. I assume Machida will open as a favorite at the sportsbooks in this match-up, though I can’t even bring myself to guess what the line would be. I would not be surprised to see him open at -150 or -250, but I imagine if he opened at -250, the public would come in on Rockhold and the lines would get tighter.
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