Tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, the UFC will put on its 244th numbered event, and it is the best matched card of the year to date. Stacked from the bottom to the top, nearly every fight is a must-see. The bout sheet is so good, you almost forget the made-up BMF title is just that — made up. It doesn’t matter, though, because if that’s the way the brass needed to justify putting this fight atop a PPV, I’m all for it. Two BMFs fighting for a one-and-only BMF custom belt.
And speaking of BRING IT, The Rock (whose regular hashtag on social media is #TEAMBRINGIT), will be awarding the winner of the main event with that aforementioned BMF belt. Talk about putting on a show! Add in that there are a couple title eliminator bouts in there, and you’ve got yourself an epic event in the making.
But, I digress. Let’s take a look at the underdogs I’ve selected that I feel have the best chance at upsetting the favorites. Who will be upsetting the apple carts on Saturday?
Gregor Gillespie $9,100 vs. Kevin Lee $7,100
Gillespie is an outstanding wrestler with heavy hands. He’s got sensational takedowns and the speed and footwork to work his opponents over before offering them a seat on the canvas. He’s a pretty small lightweight, though, not that he’s had problems with larger fighters. He pushes an intense pace and is incredibly submission savvy.
Lee is an excellent wrestler also, with superb takedown defense and constantly improving standup. He’s come a long way in that regard, considering what it looked like when he first entered the octagon. Lee has had cardio issues — we all know that — but he’s not a complete gas guzzler and has been able to keep up a good pace (see Edson Barboza fight), as well. He’s out at Tristar with Firas Zahabi, so I have to hope that discipline will be a new tool in his war chest.
It’s quite possibly the most “coin toss” fight on the entire card, but I’m banking on three rounds (as opposed to five) being the better fit for Lee in this contest.
Prediction — Kevin Lee via Decision
Blagoi Ivanov $8,200 vs. Derrick Lewis $8,000
Lewis is not the most athletic or skilled guy in any aspect of MMA, but what he lacks in technique, he makes up for in ridiculous, turn-your-lights-off power. He doesn’t do well on the scorecards since it’s fairly easy to outwrestle or outstrike him. But, he’s the king of the come-from-behind win, landing haymakers that shut down power plants, and that’s what counts.
Ivanov is a very good wrestler and technical striker. He can get Lewis down and work towards submissions or land some ground-and-pound, of that, I have no doubt. It’s whether he can keep him down that’s in question. This is where his standup and extraordinary chin come into play. Ivanov is a crafty striker and perfectly willing to play it relatively safe and outpoint his opponents.
An important factor to note is that Lewis had major knee surgery to repair a years-old torn ACL injury this past March. It’s a pretty risky pick, but I think Ivanov can get the win with crafty striking and well-timed takedowns.
Prediction — Blagoi Ivanov via Decision
Stephen Thompson $8,500 vs. Vicente Luque $7,700
Thompson’s karate style has worked out very well for him throughout his career. He’s one of the few fighters that actually knows how to use his reach and height advantage, employing a range kicking strategy and working a stiff jab and crisp combos in concert with those kicks. Then there’s his chin, and that’s become problematic over his past few fights.
Vicente Luque is an aggressive striker with a keen understanding of how important putting together a combination is, and he does this extremely well. He’s got vicious ground-and-pound and tons of volume anywhere the fight goes. He can take a punch, too, having been tested against the heavy-hitting Mike Perry.
This is more a test of where Thompson sits in the pecking order than where Luque is, and I think Vicente will send Thompson to the back of the line.
Prediction — Vicente Luque via (T)KO
Jorge Masvidal $8,800 vs. Nate Diaz $7,400
Masvidal has come a long way in his career, but even in those infamous backyard brawls, he showed what a gritty, durable and hard-hitting fighter he was, and he only has gotten better since then. He has sensational power and explosiveness, and that flying knee he treated Ben Askren to was a thing of beauty. He once was a very slow starter and often allowed his opponents to set the pace of the fight, but he since has shored up that weak spot. He’s got excellent boxing technique and is a seasoned grappler, too. He’s made great strides in all aspects of his game and has an excellent team behind him in ATT.
Diaz is an outstanding grappler and a very good boxer, as well, using volume striking to make up for a lack of true knockout power. He wears his opponents down with a barrage of punches and he mixes up those strikes incredibly well, going upstairs then to the body and back up again. He employs a good kicking game, aiming to take the legs out as well as rattle the grey matter. Diaz is remarkably effective both in the clinch and at range, so no matter where the fight goes, he’s there to punish.
Both men have an excellent chance to walk away with the once-ever BMF title, but I’m thinking Diaz has the volume and pace to notch the win.
Prediction — Nate Diaz via Decision
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is crooklyn949) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.