Fight Island will go out with a bang. The fourth and final event at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi features a much-anticipated main event between Darren Till and Robert Whittaker. That is just one of 15(!!) fights slated to go off on this fight card. A lot of recognizable names are on the card for this one, as the UFC shifts its focus back to Las Vegas for the next several fight cards, including Miocic vs. Cormier 3 at UFC 252.
This fight card will be on ESPN+ and ESPN and will start bright and early in the United Arab Emirates so that it can be shown in primetime in the Eastern US.
Odds will come from BetOnline Sportsbook for this card and we’ll take a little bit of an extended look at the main card fights when we get to that point.
For now, we start with the first fight of the night between Nathaniel Wood and John Castaneda. Wood was originally set to face Umar Nurmagomedov, but his uncle, Abdulmanap, who is Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father, passed away earlier this month. Castaneda slots in as the replacement and faces extremely long odds as a +401 underdog. Wood is -526 to improve to 4-1 in the UFC and he should do so. Wood lost to John Dodson last time out in a brutal fight that left Dodson bloodied on the right side of his face.
It doesn’t look like we’ll get a very competitive fight between Ramazan Emeev and Niklas Stolze. Emeev is the -415 favorite, though this fight is extremely juiced to -265 on the over .5. We’ve seen some odd judging over in the UAE to this point. This is the UFC debut for Stolze, which is part of the equation for the big price. Emeev, formerly the champ in M-1, is 3-1 in his four UFC fights, but did just lose to Anthony Rocco Martin. Emeev has gone 15 minutes in each of his last five fights.
Bethe Correia and Pannie Kianzad square off in the first of two women’s fights on the card. This one in the bantamweight division sees Kianzad as a -150 favorite with +130 on the takeback for Correia. This one is juiced to -450 on over 2.5, we are very likely to see scorecards in this one. Correia is just 1-2-1 in her last four UFC fights. She split last year with a win over Sijara Eubanks and a loss to Irene Aldana. Kianzad, who lost in the TUF 28 finale to Macy Chiasson, is 1-1 in her UFC career with a win over Jessica Clark last time out. These two fighters are pretty similar overall, as both prefer to stay upright and strike and both are pretty active. This should be a good fight, but Kianzad is likely to be the one that dictates the action.
Tanner Boser heads into his fight against Raphael Pessoa on short notice. Boser is filling in for Justin Tafa, who withdrew on July 15. Boser is the -250 favorite, so maybe he picked a good spot here against Pessoa, who is +210 on the underdog side. Pessoa’s only loss is to Ciryl Gane and there is no shame in that. Boser also has a loss to Gane on his UFC resume, but he at least went the distance with the big man. Boser is a more polished fighter and the line reflects that.
Two guys unaccustomed to losing will meet at 145 pounds when Movsar Evloev puts his 12-0 record on the line against Mike Grundy, who has not lost in over five years. Grundy’s lone loss in 13 fights came against Damian Stasiak back at BAMMA 19 on March 28, 2015. He beat Nad Narimani in his UFC debut, which happened more than 16 months ago. Evloev, the M-1 champion with a few defenses, is 2-0 in the UFC with wins over Seungwoo Choi and Enrique Barzola, both by unanimous decision. Evloev is -200 to stay unblemished and Grundy is +170 for the upset. Evloev is only 26 and could be a legit prospect in this division, including a win here.
Nobody will ever accuse Tom Aspinall of being boring. The heavyweight will make his UFC debut in this one against Jake Collier on a run of three straight first-round knockouts. Aspinall needed less than a minute in his most recent Cage Warriors fight to beat Michael Ben Hamouda. One of his two losses came via DQ. Collier has typically fought as a light heavyweight, but he’ll be listed as a heavyweight here. Aspinall is -220 to take care of business. He should do so as the bigger striker and with Collier shaking off over 2.5 years of cobwebs to return.
In another fight with a sizable favorite, Nicolas Dalby is -240 for his fight against Jesse Ronson. This is the UFC debut for Ronson, who was victorious in BTC just before everything shut down to snap a two-fight losing streak. Dalby won his UFC return against Alex Oliveira back in September with a big flurry at the end. Had the fight gone longer, he may have scored the KO win. He should score a win here over the 34-year-old Ronson. He’s a good money line parlay piece with somebody like Evloev.
Even in a pandemic, Francisco Trinaldo finds a way to fight twice a year. He was part of the final UFC card before the shutdown on March 14 and now he’ll be on the final Fight Island card. The 41-year-old is also the favorite at -142 against Jai Herbert. This is the UFC debut for Herbert, who is 10-1 and most recently was the champion in CW with the belt win and one title defense. Nine of his 10 wins have come via stoppage. Trinaldo has won three of his last four and has a superior fight resume to Herbert, so even though the kid looks solid, Trinaldo should do what he does best.
Rhys McKee (+900) vs. Khamzat Chimaev (-1300); Total: 1.5 (185/-225)
It is easy to see why Dana White wanted to get Khamzat Chimaev out there again as quickly as possible. The 26-year-old took virtually no punishment in his win over John Phillips. Now he’ll head into the Octagon as a massive favorite against Rhys McKee. McKee has 10 career stoppage wins and was a strong competitor in BAMMA and CW before getting this UFC shot.
Unfortunately for him, Chimaev might be one hell of a find. He outstruck Phillips 124 to 2 and that isn’t a typo. The fight was a bloodbath, as Chimaev was stunningly accurate and won by submission. There really isn’t any way to bet the side here with Chimaev at -1300. Maybe the total has some interest, but even that is a stretch.
Pick: Khamzat Chimaev
Peter Sobotta (+155) vs. Alex Oliveira (-180); Total: 2.5 (-135/105)
Alex Oliveira beat Max Griffin by split decision just before everything got shut down. That UFC 248 win on March 7 was the first in over a year and a half for Oliveira. He hasn’t had a three-fighting winning streak since 2015, so this would be the second step in that quest as he takes on Peter Sobotta.
Sobotta is something of an unknown here since he hasn’t fought in over two years. The German-born 33-year-old most recently lost to Leon Edwards, but that was back on St. Patrick’s Day in 2018. Sobotta has 10 career submission wins, but his last one came five fights ago. That ground game would be a good asset to have against Oliveira, who has tapped four times in his career. If we had a better idea where Sobotta was, the underdog price would look more appealing here, but we just don’t.
Pick: Alex Oliveira
Gadzhimurad Antigulov (+113) vs. Paul Craig (-133); Total: 1.5 (101/-131)
Aside from the main event between Darren Till and Robert Whittaker, this is the closest-lined fight on the card. It will be now favorite Paul Craig and Gadzhimurad Antigulov. Craig is only 4-4-1 since joining the UFC, so he hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype and the hope. That much was clear when he lost to Tyson Pedro and Khalil Rountree Jr. in his second and third fights.
Antigulov has also been a disappointment. He’s 2-2 with losses to Ion Cutelaba and Michal Oleksiejczuk in his last two fights. Each of the four UFC fights for Antigulov have ended in the first round, which is why the total is so low for this one. Craig has had issues getting early finishes in the UFC, though. Four of his last six fights have gone into the third round. This total looks a little bit optimistic on the low side.
Pick: Over 1.5 (+101)
Carla Esparza (+151) vs. Marina Rodriguez (-176); Total: 2.5 (-425/325)
Carla Esparza is in a nice, little groove with three straight wins, but that streak could come to an end here with a matchup against undefeated Marina Rodriguez. Rodriguez is 12-0-2 in her career. She is 2-0-2 in the UFC since impressing Dana White in the Contender Series matchup against Maria de Oliveira Neta. Rodriguez was not at her best last time out against Cynthia Calvillo, but escaped with the majority draw.
Rodriguez did win on one of the three cards, but that may have been a gift, as Calvillo was pretty clearly better across the board. Calvillo, though, stands 5-foot-4 and Esparza is only 5-foot-1. Rodriguez has a clear size edge here and Calvillo is also one of the better fighters in this division. This line should probably be a little bit higher.
Pick: Marina Rodriguez
Fabricio Werdum (+280) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (-340); Total: 2.5 (-105/-125)
Alexander Gustafsson’s retirement didn’t last long. After losing in the main event to Anthony Smith on June 1, 2019, Gustafsson took part in a grappling match in Sweden and won. That seemed to rekindle a little bit of passion for the 33-year-old. Either that or maybe he’d like a pay check once again. Whatever the case, Gustafsson returns and returns as a heavyweight to take on Fabricio Werdum.
The 42-year-old Werdum has lost two in a row, though he did show well in the split decision loss to Alexey Oleinik. Werdum did get tired as the fight went along in what was his first fight in over two years. This is his first fight in just two months, so we’ll see how the shorter layoff goes for him. Based on the odds, it doesn’t appear to be all that favorable of a spot for him.
The underdog actually seems worth a shot here. Gustafsson’s heart wasn’t in it before and Werdum is still fighting as a point of pride.
Pick: Fabricio Werdum
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (+160) vs. Mauricio Rua (-185); Total: 1.5 (-125/-105)
Speaking of retirements, 44-year-old Antonio Rogerio Nogueira has said that this will be the end for him. He is 23-9 in his career and fights for the first time since May 11, 2019 against Mauricio Rua. These two have quite a history, having fought twice before. Rua won by unanimous decision back at UFC 190 and did the same all the way back on June 26, 2005 when the two were fighting in PRIDE together.
The 38-year-old Rua, better known as Shogun, fought to a split draw with Paul Craig back in November. Otherwise, his only non-win since that most recent Nogueira fight was against Anthony Smith, who is one of the best in the light heavyweight division. Retirement fights are always tricky, but the fact is that Nogueira has not fought regularly for a little while now and has lost seven of his last 11 fights.
Pick: Mauricio Rua
Darren Till (+102) vs. Robert Whittaker (-122); Total: 4.5 (105/-135)
This is a fight worthy of a pay-per-view card, but it will instead serve as the headliner of UFC on ESPN 14. We have not seen Robert Whittaker since he lost to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243. He is back now and has another title shot on his mind. He’ll have to get through Darren Till first.
Whittaker vows that he has improved while away from the UFC, from both some time off and the pandemic. Till, whose only losses have come against Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal, is not an easy return fight at all. The 27-year-old Till lost to Woodle and Masvidal as a welterweight. He beat Kelvin Gastelum in his return to middleweight. Making weight has been an issue for Till, but he seems more content at middleweight.
Till has losses to two world-class fighters. Whittaker’s loss to Adesanya was his first since 2014. This should be a great fight. There are better betting options on the card, but Till at a slight underdog price might not be a bad look here. He’s back at a weight he likes and Whittaker has only fought once in the last 25 months.
Pick: Darren Till