Another week, another UFC card, this time down in Mexico City for UFC Fight Night 159 or UFC on ESPN+ 17. This Saturday night fight fest is headlined by a featherweight matchup between Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens. In total, there are 12 fights scheduled for this UFC Mexico City event.
We’ll dig deeper into the five main card bouts, which does include women’s fights between Irene Aldana and Vanessa Melo and also Carla Esparza and Alexa Grasso. We’ll take a look at the odds and some cliff notes versions of the prelim matchups.
We start in the men’s lightweight division with Claudio Puelles as a -300 favorite against Marcos Mariano. This is Mariano’s second career UFC fight and he tapped out to Lando Vannata at UFC 234 in his debut. Mariano has a little bit of size and reach on Puelles, but is once again giving up an advantage on the ground. Puelles, who hasn’t fought since May 19, 2018, is still a big favorite, despite going 18 months between UFC fights. The total is also 1.5 here, so it looks like a stoppage outcome.
Sijara Eubanks is a -265 favorite in a fight expected to go deep into the third round against Bethe Correia. Correia is giving up some size and strength here and also doesn’t have the same level of ground game as her opponent, hence the big line. Correia returned from nearly two years off and lost by sub to Irene Aldana. Eubanks isn’t much of a finisher, so unless Correia can catch a few big shots, it looks like Eubanks by decision is the outcome here.
Vinicius Moreira wins the Name of the Night bonus as he prepares for his fight against Paul Craig. Moreira hopes to win this bout as a small favorite and get his first official UFC win. Moreira was a Dana White Contender Series find with a submission win over John Allan, but he may have just had a good night. Since then, he’s been knocked out by Eryk Anders and Alonzo Menifield. Craig is not a knockout artist, with just one in his career, but his ground game is top-notch with 10 sub wins. Moreira also prefers to be on the ground, so this is strength vs. strength. Give the nod to Craig with more experience at the top levels at +105.
Not much needs to be said about the fight between Sergio Pettis and Tyson Nam. Pettis is a -345 favorite against Nam, who was a contender for the flyweight strap in FNG. He was 2-0 in his X-1 tenure before catching the eye of UFC as a replacement for Alex Perez. That change happened on August 26, so Pettis had time to adjust to his new opponent and is a solid money line parlay piece this weekend.
Angela Hill now faces Ariane Carnelossi in the women’s strawweight division. Initially, Hill was slated to face Istela Nunes, but Nunes failed a drug test and now Carnelossi steps in. Hill is a -155 favorite against the UFC newcomer, who is 12-1 in her career. Carnelossi hasn’t fought at any notable levels of MMA, but she’s done what she’s had to do in order to pick up a 12-1 record and eight wins by knockout. Hill goes to a lot of decisions and took some punishment against Yan Xiaonan last time out. Carnelossi is a relative unknown, but a very live dog at +135 here.
There are some pretty balanced fights on this card and one of them features Kyle Nelson against Polo Reyes. Nelson is the small favorite at -115, but this line could surely swing back the other way at some point. Nelson’s back is against the wall here. He’s lost his first two UFC fights, both in stoppage fashion. Reyes is in a similar boat with losses in three of his last four. Is this a UFC eliminator fight? It very well could be. Nelson seems like the more rounded fighter, but Reyes has more UFC experience. The toss-up line seems very fair here and your guess is as good as mine.
Carlos Huachin is +120 against Jose Alberto Quinonez’s -140 price in the bantamweight division. Both guys would prefer to keep this fight upright. It does seem like Huachin has more striking power, but Quinonez has a lot more UFC experience. This is just the second UFC fight for Huachin, who lost to Raoni Barcelos in his debut. Quinonez is the safe pick here, so long as he doesn’t let Huachin get inside. He is four inches taller and that could play a role here in striker vs. striker.
Martin Bravo (-110) vs. Steven Peterson (-110); Total: 2.5 (-240/200)
We haven’t seen Martin Bravo in more than 15 months as he makes his return to take on Steven Peterson. Bravo is 0-2 since his win over Cesar Puelles in the TUF Latin America 3 finale. He has lost to Humberto Bandenay and Alex Caceres. Bravo won the TUF LA cycle as a lightweight, but returned to featherweight once he got his contract. This will also be at featherweight, where he is, again, 0-2 against UFC-level competition.
Peterson is making his fifth UFC appearance and it hasn’t gone well. He’s 1-3 in his UFC stint so far. He nearly locked in a sub against Alex Caceres, but Caceres got out of it and won by unanimous decision. Peterson has shown virtually no striking power in his four fights. Before he joined UFC, 13 of his 22 fights ended in stoppages. All four UFC fights have gone to the cards.
Ultimately, had it not been for the long layoff, Bravo would likely be the clear favorite here. Cage rust is a real thing, but Peterson is a fringy UFC fighter at best.
Pick: Martin Bravo
Vanessa Melo (+420) vs. Irene Aldana (-525); Total: 2.5 (-230/190)
Short notice is an understatement in this one. Vanessa Melo is stepping in for Marion Reneau, who pulled out of the fight on September 11. Melo has to overcome a size disadvantage and a talent level gap in this fight. She did well in Future FC, but she is likely to be overwhelmed badly here by Aldana. Aldana only has one stoppage win in her UFC career, but if you don’t want to lay the juice, giving the under 2.5 a shot makes sense.
Pick: Under 2.5
Brandon Moreno (+145) vs. Askar Askarov (-165); Total: 2.5 (-120/100)
Askar Askarov is the runner-up inn the Name of the Night ranks for this weekend. He’ll have to settle for being a favorite against Brandon Moreno. Give Moreno credit. After beating Maikel Perez at LFA 69 last time out, he got himself back in the UFC. It was his first fight since May 19, 2018. He is 3-2 in his UFC career, which began back in October 2016 against Louis Smolka. Still, against the undefeated newcomer in Askarov, he is an underdog.
Askarov makes the leap from ACB, which is a big jump to be sure, but he is 10-0 in his professional career with 10 stoppage wins. He is a very well-rounded fighter with three knockouts and seven sub wins. The 26-year-old is getting a spot in the spotlight and he is getting it against a once touted prospect that is now trying to hang on to a UFC future.
This feels like a match set up for Askarov to have an impressive debut. Now he just has to follow through.
Pick: Askar Askarov
Carla Esparza (+105) vs. Alexa Grasso (-125); Total: 2.5 (-400/325)
This is a huge opportunity for both fighters. Carla Esparza got back on track to some degree with a win over Virna Jandiroba last time out, but she needs a win over a bigger, better name. Alexa Grasso is that name. Esparza is not the title contender she once was or the fighter that once beat Rose Namajunas. In fact, she’s only 4-4 over her official UFC fights. She needs this one.
Grasso does, too. She needs to build off of the Karolina Kowalkiewicz win back in June. It was her first fight in over a year and she controlled most of it at UFC 238. She’s been really inconsistent in the UFC after coming over from Invicta with a good bit of hype. She wants to use her size advantage. Esparza wants to use her wrestling advantage. This contrast of styles is a tough fight to bet, especially with both fighters on something of a similar trajectory.
The -400 on the over is the safest bet here, but that juice is prohibitive. The lean goes to Grasso for the size advantage, but that is picking nits at best.
Pick: Alexa Grasso
Yair Rodriguez (-105) vs. Jeremy Stephens (-115); Total: 3.5 (110/-130)
If it feels like it has been a while since we’ve seen these two fighters, it has. Yair Rodriguez last fought on November 10 and Jeremy Stephens only has one fight since July of last year. Disappointing losses really hurt both fighters. Rodriguez lost to Frankie Edgar and took a lot of punishment in that fight back at UFC 211. He returned to the Octagon 15 months later and knocked out Chan Sung Jung with one second level on the clock in the fifth round.
Jeremy Stephens was getting fast-tracked, but then he lost to Jose Aldo and got knocked out for just the second time in his career. He stepped away from the cage for a while as he battled depression. His loss at UFC 235 wasn’t the return that he wanted against Zabit Magomedsharipov. Will he get the result he wants here against Rodriguez, who is dealing with yet another long layoff?
Like the previous fight, this is an extremely hard one to cap. Both fighters have flaws and have had extenuating circumstances of late. Flip a coin here.
Pick: Yair Rodriguez