This is an incredibly busy time of year in the sports world and the UFC calendar just keeps rolling right along. We’ve got a pay-per-view event on tap this week with UFC 244 at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City. The main event features Nate Diaz against Jorge Masvidal after there were some questions as to whether or not Diaz had popped a positive test for a banned substance.
As of now, the match is on as scheduled and we should have a good set of competitive fights at MSG. We’ll be breaking it down with odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook, but be sure to shop around for the best odds in your jurisdiction or in the offshore market.
We’ve got 12 fights on the card, beginning with the featherweight fight between Julio Arce and Hakeem Dawodu. This bout will be on ESPN+ to start the show and Dawodu will be in search of his 11th win in 13 fights. He is -130 to get it. Dawodu lost his UFC debut to Danny Henry, but has three victories since, including a knockout in his most recent fight at UFC 240. Arce, one of many Dana White Contender Series finds, is 3-1 in his UFC career, including a win earlier this year over Julian Erosa. These are two good fighters, but Dawodu seems to have the higher ceiling here.
Chance Rencoutre and Lyman Good meet at 170 pounds in the next scrap. Good, now 34, is the favorite at -135. His most recent fight was a loss to Demian Maia, which happens pretty often. This is the first time since 2015 that he has fought twice in a year, but he lost in the first round against Maia and knocked out Ben Saunders in the first round last November, so he should be plenty fresh. Rencountre has a size advantage here and has never been stopped in 17 fights, but there could be a first for everything here. This is a step up in class and that 14-3 record looks like to drop to 14-4, perhaps with his first career KO or sub loss.
This card is light on women’s fights. In fact, the only one is Jennifer Maia vs. Katlyn Chookagian. The 5-foot-9 Chookagian has a big side advantage on Maia and she is a -160 favorite. Don’t underestimate Maia, who is 2-1 in her UFC career, but Chookagian has a lot more experience at this level. This one is likely to go to the cards and Chookagian is 9-2 in her career in decisions because of being an aggressor. That’s the expected outcome here.
The heavyweight fight between Andrei Arlovski and Jairzinho Rozenstruik that opens up the ESPN2 portion of the card is quite a fight. Arlovski is the seasoned and grizzled vet, but Rozenstruik has two knockout wins, one in 3:54 and one literally in nine seconds in his UFC career. The 31-year-old has a golden opportunity against a 41-year-old with a big name and a declining skill set. The last person to knock out Arlovski was Francis Ngannou. We could add another name to that list this week with the -155 favorite in Rozenstruik.
Brad Tavares is +110 with -130 on the favorite Edmen Shahbazyan at 185 pounds. The last time we saw Tavares, he took an outstanding fighter the distance in Israel Adesanya. But, that was July 6, 2018. It’s fair to have some worries about him here against Shabazyan, who is 3-0 since joining the UFC, including two first-round stoppage wins. This is a huge opportunity for the 21-year-old. This is a litmus test sort of fight. It’s also a step up in class. Shahbazyan will have to prove the doubters wrong and you can put this author among those doubters. Tavares at a plus money price is worth a look here.
The biggest favorite on the UFC 244 card is Shane Burgos. He’ll take on Makwan Amirkhani in the featherweight division. Burgos and Amirkhani have both won four of their last five fights, but the favorite in this fight has been the more active fighter, with all of those fights coming in the last three years. Amirkhani has fought once a year since 2013. He has 10 career submission wins, but Burgos has a good ground game as well. The favorite will likely prevail here, but the price is a touch high.
The final fight on the prelim card will be Corey Anderson against Johnny Walker. Walker is a -155 favorite with four first-round knockouts in his last five fights. Anderson has been knocked out in three of his four career losses. Anderson swept the card in 2018, winning by unanimous decision in all three of his fights. If Walker can’t finish him early, the balance of power in this fight may swing to Anderson, whose cardio is among the best in the division. The problem is that we haven’t seen a finisher like Walker too often in this division. Walker by knockout or Anderson by decision are ways to get a little arbitrage in this one once props are posted.
Kevin Lee (+150) vs. Gregor Gillespie (-170)
Kevin Lee has dropped three of his last four fights and each of his two most recent fights, so we’ll have a desperate fighter full of urgency in this scrap against Gregor Gillespie. Lee is only 27, so a career renaissance is hardly out of the question, especially when his losses are Rafael dos Anjos, Al Iaquinta, and Tony Ferguson. It sure seems like the odds are gambling a little bit on Gillespie, who has looked great, but hasn’t fought competition like Lee has.
Gillespie is 13-0 and that includes five stoppage wins in six UFC fights. He has three knockout wins and two submission wins. He’s as well-rounded of a fighter as it gets in this division because he’s comfortable on the ground and upright. It is interesting to note that each of his last three wins have come late in rounds. His pressure wears opponents down. On the other hand, Yancy Medeiros, Vinc Pinchel, and Jordan Rinaldi are not on Lee’s level or the level of Lee’s most recent opponents.
Pick: Kevin Lee
Derrick Lewis (+100) vs. Blagoy Ivanov (-120)
We haven’t seen world-class interviewee Derrick Lewis in a while. He’s lost his lost two fights to Junior dos Santos and Daniel Cormier. He draws Blagoy Ivanov in this one and we’ve seen more support for Ivanov in the betting community. Lewis is what he is. He’ll stand and throw and brawl and muck it up in search of a win. It’s fair to say that Ivanov is more of a technical fighter, especially considering the fact that his last four fights have all gone to a decision.
That’s what you worry about with Lewis – the gas tank. We know he can strike. We know he can win that way. Can he go the distance and win? He did it against Francis Ngannou at UFC 226. Can he do it again here against Ivanov, a more technically-sound fighter? That’s the big question that you have to answer in this one. Lewis has fought stiffer competition, so that is an angle to consider as well.
Pick: Blagoy Ivanov
Vicente Luque (+110) vs. Stephen Thompson (-130)
It has been a hot minute since we’ve seen Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. He lost fought back on March 23 and lost to Anthony Pettis by second-round knockout. That makes three losses in four fights for Thompson. That’s why he is only a -130 favorite against Vicente Luque. Luque has not fought the level of competition that Wonderboy has, but he’s bested all comers except for Leon Edwards, who is a terrific fighter.
All you can do is fight the guys in front of you and Luque has beaten most of them. It is a tad worrisome that Mike Perry nearly topped Luque in the split decision back in August. That would be a concern going into this fight, but Luque needed to be tested after five straight stoppage wins. He should be better for it.
Pick: Vicente Luque
Darren Till (+165) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (-190)
Is it fair to say that Kelvin Gastelum has been a little out of sight and out of mind? Gastelum lost to Israel Adesanya at UFC 236, a fight he was thrown into against Adesanya after Robert Whittaker withdrew. Gastelum’s last fight prior to that was May 12, 2018 at UFC 224 against Jacare Souza. Have we forgotten how good he is? On the other hand, he’s now lost two of his last four fights and had to survive a split decision over Jacare.
Darren Till has two career losses. One to main event fighter Jorge Masvidal and the other to Tyron Woodley. This line seems to be doing Till a disservice. He wasn’t very good in either of those fights and lost in the second round in both, but this is a guy that has a decent size advantage on Gastelum and certainly profiles as the bigger striker. This is kill or lose by decision in all likelihood for Till. You can lower the juice on Gastelum by going the decision route and also increase the reward on Till by going the KO route. That’s what I’d look to do here.
Pick: Till by KO/Gastelum by DEC
Nate Diaz (+145) vs. Jorge Masvidal (-165)
Nate Diaz’s appearance on the UFC 244 card was in serious jeopardy, but the state of New York Athletic Commission says he can fight and the main event is on. There has been a lot of smack talk for this fight, as there always is when Diaz is involved. Let’s see if he can back it up. He had a nice win in a great fight against Anthony Pettis back at UFC 241. It was his first fight in nearly three years. Now he’s back with a short turnaround, which seems to be priced into the line.
Jorge Masvidal’s win over Ben Askren was something of an outlier with the knockout five seconds in. After last weekend, we’ve come to find out that Askren isn’t all he was cracked up to be. Is Darren Till? What does that win from March mean? We’ll find out more this Saturday in that Gastelum fight. Both guys have questions here. Because of the short turnaround for Diaz and the drama he has already faced leading up to this fight, Masvidal, who should be in better form anyway, is the one here.
Pick: Jorge Masvidal