UFC 216 Underdog Picks
Saturday night, UFC 216 will take center stage at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The card features two title fights — one for the undisputed flyweight belt and the other for the interim lightweight belt — along with 11 other intriguing matchups to round out the event.
In an odd turn, company brass decided to make the flyweight title bout serve as the co-main event to the lightweight interim title fight despite the history-making implications it brings with it, as Demetrious Johnson would break the record he currently shares with Anderson Silva for most consecutive title defenses if he wins. It’s a head-scratcher for sure, but it doesn’t really detract from the card’s overall value.
The rest of the bout sheet features some great pairings with marvelous action potential, especially the Dariush-Dunham offering and the women’s strawweight contest between Pearl Gonzalez and Poliana Botelho. Tom Duquesnoy will also be returning to octagon action, which should be a real treat to watch.
Before I get way off track extolling the virtues of the event, I need to provide the goods you came here for in the first place — the underdogs. I’ve selected four athletes that I feel have the best chance to upset the favorites, the ones that could become a points windfall for your DraftKings fantasy teams. Let’s get started:
Tony Ferguson $8,900 / Kevin Lee $7,300
Tony Ferguson is a particularly well-rounded fighter with unorthodox, yet very effective striking, a nasty submission game and great wrestling. He’s on a nine-fight win streak, and his confidence level is through the roof. The problem with Ferguson is his defense and willingness to stand right in front of his opponent with his hands down (see Lando Vennata fight), and against Kevin Lee, who has been showing steady hand improvement, this might present an opportunity for an unexpected path to victory.
Kevin Lee is on a five-fight win streak with wins over some very talented guys (Chiesa, Mustafaev, Trinaldo). He’s got a nice striking game and real finishing power (see Jake Matthews fight). He absolutely shines on the mat where his grappling prowess has been on display numerous times and his submission game is rock solid, evidenced by eight career submissions.
This is my choice for Fight of the Night, as there is very little doubt that these two could put on any less than an “of the night” performance.
Kevin Lee via Submission
Fabricio Werdum $8,700 / Derrick Lewis $7,500
This is your classic striker vs. grappler contest with Werdum serving as the world-class grappler. Fabricio has been working on his striking and has managed to see some success with that, but his defense leaves quite a bit to be desired, as we saw on display in the fight with Miocic. His ground game is obviously his bread and butter, but like so many grapplers before him, he’s fallen in love with his hands and has chosen to stand when his path of least resistance is on the mat.
Lewis is a heavy hitter with crazy knockout power. He’s strong and fairly durable and has demonstrated on more than one occasion that he has the ability to overcome adversity (see Abdurakhimov and Browne fights). “The Beast” recently had a six-fight win streak broken, so you can guarantee he’s looking to get back in the win column in emphatic fashion. I believe that Werdum’s insistence on standing and trading could be just what he needs to get there.
Derrick Lewis via (Technical) Knockout
Pearl Gonzalez $8,400 / Poliana Botelho $7,800
Pearl Gonzalez had a fun UFC debut against Cynthia Calvillo, despite it being a losing effort. Her talent was evident, and her record illustrates her submission skill. She’s got crisp striking with a nice bit of pop on her punches, but Botelho’s striking is even better. And despite Pearl’s submission chops, she needs improvement on her wrestling.
Poliana Botelho is an aggressive knockout artist with a 5-1 record, and all five of those wins are TKOs. She’s got a two-inch height advantage and a great kicking game. She also needs work on her wrestling, but her advantages, particularly her sledgehammer hands, outweigh Gonzalez’. This is going to be a very fun scrap, but I see Poliana getting the W here.
Poliana Botelho via (Technical) Knockout
Brad Tavares $8,300 / Thales Leites $7,900
Brad Tavares is a tough, workmanlike striker with a solid kicking game and a tendency to grind. He’s on a two-fight run, with his most recent win being a unanimous decision over Elias Theodorou. Brad thrives at long range where he uses his height to land high kicks and combinations, but he tends to absorb quite a bit of punishment there, especially when matched against opponents willing to stand and trade. He’ll also be outmatched on the ground against the veteran BJJ black belt.
Thales Leites is a seasoned grappler with a decent striking skillset of his own and is coming off a hard-fought victory over Sam Alvey. He also has a grinding style, but he thrives in the clinch, landing short elbows and powerful knees to set up takedowns for submission attempts. His experience and ground game are the key factors here, and I believe they will see him to the win column.
Thales Leites via Submission
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