Heavyweights Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis will headline this weekend’s UFC on ESPN+ 43 card at the Apex Training Facility in Las Vegas. This will be 19th Vegas event since the pandemic started and it will go down in the books as Fight Night 185.
There are 15 fights scheduled for this card, so it could be a long one. A lot of fighters feel more comfortable now with the pandemic seemingly winding down and there are a lot of fighters that will be making their UFC debuts or coming off of long layoffs for a match on Saturday night, so there are a lot of things to look at.
We’ll look at those things with the help of odds from BetOnline Sportsbook for the battles on February 20.
Jared Vanderaa (+200) vs. Sergey Spivac (-235); Total: 1.5 (-240/190)
We’ll start with heavyweights and end with heavyweights on Saturday. Sergey Spivac can be spelled a lot of different ways, but all you need to know is that he is the -235 favorite against Jared Vanderaa in the lid lifter matchup for the fight card. Vanderaa was victorious on November 4 on the Dana White Contender Series to earn a contract with a KO of Harry Hunsucker. Spivac is 2-2 in his UFC matchups, with the most recent a majority decision against Carlos Felipe. The 26-year-old Moldovan is 11-2 with 10 career finishes. Vanderaa has 10 finishes in 11 fights as well. Spivac’s last two fights have gone the full 15, though. Tough fight to call here, but live betting opportunities will be there. Spivac would seem to have a better ground game, so if this fight is going to the mat, look for Spivac. If not, look for Vanderaa.
Aiemann Zahabi (+156) vs. Drako Rodriguez (-181); Total: 2.5 (-205/165)
Drako Rodriguez is another recent winner on the Dana White Contender Series with a submission win over Mana Martinez. His only career loss came against Tony Gravely in KOTC deep in the fifth round. Now he gets his UFC shot at the ripe age of 24. Aiemann Zahabi’s UFC appearances have been disappointing with a 1-2 record and he hasn’t fought since May 4. Rodriguez is a good straight wager here or a money line parlay piece. He looks like a legit prospect in the bantamweight division.
Chas Skelly (+195) vs. Jamall Emmers (-230); Total: 2.5 (-200/160)
Chas Skelly is one of those guys coming off of an elongated absence. Skelly hasn’t fought since 9/14/19 as he takes on Jamall Emmers. Emmers fought three times last year, including a loss in his UFC debut to Giga Chikadze. He bounced back with a nice win over Vince Cachero, but this is a step up in class for Emmers against a much more experienced fighter. Skelly could be a dangerous underdog here. Though he’s 35, he’s proven to be a good wrestler and fighter on the mat. Emmers would rather stand and throw. He’s a good striker for a featherweight and should win, but the price looks a touch high.
Shana Dobson (+135) vs. Casey O’Neill (-155); Total: 2.5 (-260/200)
Shana Dobson ended a three-fight losing streak with just her second career knockout win over Mariya Agapova. It was the biggest UFC upset victory since Holly Holm beat Ronda Rousey. Dobson improved to 4-4 in her career with the win and could very well have saved her UFC life because she won on the chopping block. She draws 23-year-old Casey O’Neill here, a highly-touted prospect from Australia. The UFC has done well getting young, exciting fighters into the women’s divisions. Certainly this is an upgrade in competition and Dobson is long for a flyweight, but this feels like a match made for O’Neill to shine. She’s a good bet at -155.
Patrick Sabatini (+150) vs. Rafael Alves (-175); Total: 1.5 (-210/170)
Money has hit the board on Rafael Alves for this one against UFC debutant Patrick Sabatini. Sabatini has spent most of his time in CFFC, including a title shot last January that he lost in 46 seconds. The 30-year-old now gets the biggest chance of his career with his first UFC shot. This will be the second UFC fight for Alves, who was another Dana White Contender Series find. Alves beat Alejandro Flores by submission on 8/25/20. It was a boring fight up until that point and Flores connected on more strikes and was the more active fighter. This looks like a fairly boring fight as well. The over 1.5 is juiced to -210, but that looks like the play, as neither guy is a big striker and there should be a feeling-out period early.
Julian Erosa (-102) vs. Nate Landwehr (-118); Total: 2.5 (-115/-115)
Julian Erosa lost three straight fights and found himself in CageSport looking for a win to get his confidence back. That was February 22, 2020. He won that fight and then beat Sean Woodson in his UFC return. Now he runs into Nate Landwehr. Landwehr has taken the early-week money despite a size disadvantage against the much taller Erosa here. Landwehr, the former M-1 champ, lost to Herbert Burns in his UFC debut, but nicely bounced back against Darren Elkins. Landwehr probably has the higher ceiling as a fighter, but Erosa has the size advantage and more UFC experience. Tough fight to call here and I don’t even have a pick in this one.
Eddie Wineland (-105) vs. John Castaneda (-115); Total: 2.5 (-180/150)
John Castaneda has been the more popular pick between these two fighters at 135 pounds. Castaneda is in his second career UFC scrap after a loss last July to Nathaniel Wood. It was a pretty thorough unanimous decision win for Wood, who was far more active and accurate in the fight. Wineland has been disappointing with losses in three of his last four fights. He is only 4-6 over his last 10 UFC fights. This is a step down, though. Some of his losses have been to guys like Sean O’Malley and John Dodson. Castaneda isn’t on that level. But, it is hard to go against the early money, which is usually very sharp in nature. I’d lean Wineland here, but not one of my favorite picks.
Luis Pena (+149) vs. Drakkar Klose (-174); Total: 2.5 (-245/195)
Luis Pena slots in for Jai Herbert here against Drakkar Klose in the lightweight division. Pena fought twice last year and split his matches with a win over Steve Garcia and a loss to Khama Worthy. Klose only fought once, right before the pandemic hit, and lost to Beneil Dariush. Klose was the better striker in that fight, but Dariush was likely ahead because he was controlling the ground. It was only the second career loss for Klose. Pena popped a positive test for cannabis after his fight, which he took on short notice. You have to think he’s amped for a chance at redemption, but Klose is just the better fighter in all likelihood.
Jared Gordon (+126) vs. Danny Chavez (-146); Total: 2.5 (-200/160)
Danny Chavez looked good in his UFC debut at UFC 252. He had great success getting TJ Brown to the ground and controlled the fight enough to take down a 29-28 unanimous decision. Now he’ll get his second opportunity in the UFC with this matchup against Jared Gordon. Chavez has been the more popular of the two fighters in the market, as Gordon has dropped three of his last five, all in KO fashion. Gordon isn’t much of a knockout artist, though, as this total line implies. Gordon is 8-0 in decisions in his career. Doing just enough to win seems like a skill in the UFC. Gordon by decision or Chavez by decision should leave you with a mini arbitrage play that allows you to freeroll the fight. That would be my preferred course of action here.
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Andrei Arlovski (+205) vs. Tom Aspinall (-240); Total: 1.5 (-175/145)
The 50th professional fight for Andrei Arlovski is this matchup against Tom Aspinall. The 42-year-old looked somewhat good going 15 minutes with Phillippe Lins and Tanner Boser in victories last year. The Boser decision was a bit iffy, as Boser landed a lot more strikes and was a much more active fighter. When you consider Arlovski’s age and the mediocre volume in his last two fights, you can see why Aspinall is the heavy favorite here.
Aspinall has not fought a guy of Arlovski’s pedigree yet, but he’s scored five straight first-round knockouts. One of Aspinall’s losses was a DQ for an illegal elbow. All nine of his wins have ended in finishes. It sure looks like the 27-year-old is the guy to take here. He’s going to be the aggressor because that is his style. Arlovski just doesn’t have the gas tank to punch and strike for the length of his fights.
Pick: Tom Aspinall
Nassourdine Imavov (+108) vs. Phil Hawes (-128); Total: 1.5 (-115/-115)
Nassourdine Imavov will make his second career UFC appearance when he steps in the Octagon against Phil Hawes. Imavov was a winner over Jordan Williams in his UFC debut. It was a nice win for Imavov, who fought in a lot of extremely small regional promotions on his way up. The 32-year-old Hawes had stops in WSOF and Bellator. He even got a Dana White Contender Series shot in 2017, but lost to Julian Marquez, who is actually a pretty strong fighter.
Hawes beat Jacob Malkoun in just 18 seconds at UFC 254 about six weeks after beating Khadzhi Bestaev for redeption on DWCS. Hawes landed the only seven shots of the fight. Imavov’s debut took the full 15, but four of his previous fights ended in the first round. I’d expect a quick finish in this one.
Pick: Under 1.5
Alexey Oleinik (+142) vs. Chris Daukaus (-162); Total: 1.5 (120/-150)
Saturday’s card is a big one for heavyweights. We have another older big man on the card here in Alexey Oleinik. This will be the 75th pro MMA fight for the 43-year-old when he takes on Chris Daukaus. Oleinik has been knocked out by most of the younger, stronger fighters he has faced lately, including Derrick Lewis back in August and then Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem in 2019, not that Overeem is that much younger.
What Daukaus will have to watch out for here is the submission game of Oleinik. Daukaus is a striker. He’s not a grappler. This is a big step up in class for him after beating Rodrigo Nascimento and Parker Porter in his first two UFC fights. I actually like the much more experienced Oleinik here. The longer this fight goes, the worse it could be for Daukaus. We know very little about his gas tank.
Pick: Alexey Oleinik
Darrick Minner (+160) vs. Charles Rosa (-185); Total: 2.5 (150/-180)
Charles Rosa and Darrick Minner square off at 145 pounds in this one. Minner split his UFC fights last year with a loss to Grant Dawson and a win over TJ Laramie, who was a Dana White Contender Series find in his first match against a roster fighter. Rosa also split his fights, as he lost to Bryce Mitchell, but then came back just 35 days later for a split-decision win over Kevin Aguilar.
Rosa was terrible in that loss to Mitchell. In fact, he was beaten 30-24 or 30-25 on all three cards. His bounce back effort was impressive, but which is he at this point? A guy getting dominated or a guy giving a workmanlike effort? He’s a pretty big favorite here against Minner, a guy that doesn’t have the most impressive list of opponents, but he does have 22 career submission wins. Rosa has never tapped. The paths to victory for Minner seem to be too few to bet on him here.
Pick: Charles Rosa
Yana Kunitskaya (+230) vs. Ketlen Vieira (-270); Total: 2.5 (-335/260)
Remember when Yana Kunitskaya had a title shot? That was a first-round loss to Cris Cyborg just under three years ago. Since then, she’s gone 3-1 and mostly taken care of business, but it would appear that she will be no match for Ketlen Vieira. Vieira is the big -270 favorite here in a fight extremely likely to go the distance. It is a little surprising, at least in my purview, to see Vieira as such a big favorite. She beat Sijara Eubanks, who hasn’t been impressive lately. She lost to Irene Aldana at the end of 2019. She beat Cat Zingano by split decision at UFC 222 when Zingano has mostly been away from the sport except for when she’d like to grab a paycheck.
This seems like a pretty big line. I have no doubt that Vieira, who is 11-1, is the better fighter, but she hasn’t really lived up to that billing lately. Kunitskaya got some title shots in Invicta and hasn’t really done anything wrong at the UFC level. She was in a very close fight with Aspen Ladd before Ladd got the KO win. This line looks too steep for my blood.
Pick: Yana Kunitskaya
Derrick Lewis (+350) vs. Curtis Blaydes (-450); Total: 1.5 (-185/155)
Not much of a main event here, at least according to the odds. Curtis Blaydes is a -450 favorite for his matchup against Derrick Lewis. Lewis is one of the most entertaining personalities in UFC and a very good fighter, but Blaydes looks like a bad matchup for him. Lewis is a striker, through and through. It’s really his only go-to move. Blaydes, however, is one of the better wrestlers in the division.
Lewis would need to catch Blaydes with something here. The only person to do that has been Francis Ngannou. The two losses for Blaydes have both come against Ngannou. Otherwise, he’s beaten most everybody else in the division aside from Lewis and champion Stipe Miocic. He hasn’t run into Jairzinho Rozenstruik yet, but that could be coming.
Lewis has beaten older fighters or smaller guys lately. Blaydes is neither.