We’ve got a good one in the Land Down Under this weekend with a main event between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya to unify the middleweight title at UFC 243 in Melbourne. In total, there are 11 fights on the card, as Holly Holm backed out of her fight the week prior due to a hamstring injury.
As always, we’ll take a look at all of the fights, but pay special attention to those on the main PPV card. Odds will come from 5Dimes for this weekend’s set of matches. This is technically a Sunday card in Australia to put it on Saturday night for the North American crowd.
Action starts on UFC Fight Pass between Bruno Silva and Khalid Taha. Taha is the -240 favorite for this scrap, one that is the UFC debut fight for Silva. Taha, who is 1-1-1 in his UFC career, knocked out Boston Salmon in just 25 seconds back at UFC 236. Silva, who is something of a decision machine, hasn’t fought in about a year. Taha’s price may be a little short here, especially because Silva doesn’t seem to have a lot of striking power to counterpunch.
The other UFC Fight Pass matchup is in the women’s flyweight division. Ji Yeon Kim is a -200 favorite over Nadia Kassem, with +170 on the takeback. Kassem, an Australian-born fighter, is only 23 and this will already be her third UFC fight. She last fought in February when she tapped out for the first time in her career against Montana De La Rosa. Kim hasn’t fought in 10 months since losing to Antonia Shevchenko, but she is 2-2 in her UFC career. The heavy betting action on Kim suggests that this opening line was wrong and does make it tough to back Kassem, even with some perceived value based on the line move.
Another Australian female fighter will be in the Octagon as six-footer Megan Anderson takes on Zarah Fairn Dos Santos to open up the ESPN2 portion of the show. This fight is tailored for Anderson to look good. Zarah is making her UFC debut with a 6-2 record and no fights since December 15, 2017. Anderson could use the bounceback after falling to Felicia Spencer last time out. She took Holly Holm the distance in her UFC debut when Holm was a different fighter than she is now and Anderson is a money line parlay piece for this card.
That is it for the women’s fights, as we’ll see Jamie Mullarkey at +130 against Brad Riddell at -150. Mullarkey did face Alex Volkanovski once upon a time and got knocked out in the first round in AFC. This is the UFC debut for both of these fighters, so we don’t have an extensive book on either guy. Mullarkey has only fought twice in the last 24 months and this will be Riddell’s fourth fight of 2019, so he should be in better rhythm.
Dana White Contender Series find Maki Pitolo will take to the Octagon for his first official UFC fight this weekend. He’ll do so as a -330 favorite against Callan Potter. Potter was a KO victim in the first minute of his UFC debut back in February. Pitolo was a titleholder in VFC and made a brief cameo in CFFC before getting in front of Dana White and impressing enough for a chance. He’s giving up a little size and experience here. This line may just be a tad too high. After all, Jalin Turner, the guy who knocked out Potter, is a decent prospect.
Jake Matthews has a great opportunity at UFC 243. He lost his last fight to Anthony Rocco Martin in Adelaide. He is a regular when UFC goes to Australia and he had a lot of success earlier in his career, but that last loss was a stinger. He’s -340 to get back on track in this one against Rostem Akman. Akman, who debuted in the UFC back in June and lost to Sergey Khandozhko, was impressive in very small promotions. This is a get right fight for Matthews and the line agrees.
Yorgan De Castro (+105) vs. Justin Tafa (-125)
Two heavyweight fights are on the main card at UFC 2434, including this one between Yorgan De Castro and Justin Tafa. De Castro was another Dana White find on the Contender Series, as he knocked out Alton Meeks in the first round. That is a perfect 5-0 record with five knockouts for De Castro. The 31-year-old Cape Verde native is about as much of an unknown as his opponent here. De Castro won via a vicious leg kick in his debut.
Tafa heads into this fight 3-0 with three knockout wins of his own. All three of his fights have been in XFC. Tafa has studied under longtime UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt, so we’ll see how he does here in this one. We’ve got the one fight of good film on De Castro, but the first round didn’t last long and he won in sort of a fluky way. When it comes to Tafa, we don’t know much, under than Hunt’s tutelage.
Usually, the underdog is a starting point in a heavyweight fight like this, but with short prices all around, you’re better off finding something else.
Pick: Justin Tafa
Luke Jumeau (+130) vs. Dhiego Lima (-150)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Luke Jumeau. He hasn’t fought because of injury since UFC 221 way back in February 2018. That fight was in Australia. His UFC career started in his native New Zealand. He’s 13-4 for his career and 2-1 in UFC going into this fight. It’s fair to wonder what we’re going to get from him here. He was a pretty good prospect once upon a time, but he signed a contract with UFC well over two years ago and has only made three appearances. All three fights went to decision.
So it’s pretty easy to like Dhiego Lima here. Lima is the -150 favorite, even though he hasn’t been in UFC for long. He was on TUF 25 and lost to Jesse Taylor in the finale. After a loss to Yushin Okami to start his first UFC contract, he beat Chad Laprise and Court McGee. Lima’s last fight was back in April, so he shouldn’t have much cage rust to shake off. That is not true of Jumeau.
Pick: Dhiego Lima
Sergey Spivak (+320) vs. Tai Tuivasa (-390)
This fight is lined as it should be and it’s hard to see the favorite losing. Tai Tuivasa, a Sydney native, is a fan favorite. He’s set up with a fight to win. That’s not to say that he couldn’t win on his own merit, but after losses to Junior dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov, this is a fight to get him back on track and to do so in a very important part of the world for him.
Pick: Tai Tuivasa
Al Iaquinta (+160) vs. Dan Hooker (-185)
Dan Hooker is off of a fairly stunning first-round knockout of James Vick back in July. He’s been bet into a pretty big favorite here against Al Iaquinta. Iaquinta is coming off of a disappointing loss to Donald Cerrone back in May. Iaquinta has had a solid UFC career to this point, but that loss to Cerrone, who is very much in the twilight of his career, is a lot to overlook going into this one.
Hooker is far from a perfect fighter, but he’s had some good recent success. He hasn’t fought anybody as good as Khabib Nurmagomedov, who Iaquinta went 25 minutes with last year, but he’s fought solid guys like Jim Miller and Edson Barboza, to go along with that win over Vick. I’ll have to acknowledge to the line move here, as this fight looks closer than a 160/-185 line, but the markets have spoken loudly. Still, I think Iaquinta is more of a live dog than this price would suggest.
Pick: Al Iaquinta
Robert Whittaker (-105) vs. Israel Adesanya (-115)
This fight goes one of two ways. There is an early knockout or we have a Fight of the Year candidate. Robert Whittaker is the champ. Israel Adesanya is the interim champ. The middleweight belt will be unified this weekend. Whittaker has not fought since he went 25 minutes in a rematch with Yoel Romero in June 2018.
Whittaker was supposed to fight Kelvin Gastelum last November, but the bout was canceled the day of the fight because Whittaker was rushed into emergency surgery. In Whittaker’s absence, Adesanya moved to 17-0 by defeating Gastelum for the strap.
Whittaker is on home turf here with his 21-4 record, but Adesanya is a white-hot prospect for UFC. He’s also shown the ability to win decisions. When he joined UFC, he was a knockout machine. He’s had to go 25 minutes twice in UFC, including his win over Gastelum.
This is a step up in class for Adesanya, but he does have a size advantage in this fight and his athleticism and gas tank are both off the charts. Whittaker does have more prowess on the ground, so there is that. We’ll have to see if Adesanya can keep this fight upright. If he can, he is one of the division’s best and most accurate strikers. This feels like something of a torch-passing fight.
Pick: Israel Adesanya