LAS VEGAS — The middleweight fight Saturday between Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira on the main map of UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena may fly under the radar of casual fans, but hardcore fans know that this fight should be the favorite for Fight of the Night.
Pereira is in a prime position on the map as the final game before the title fights, due to its history with middleweight champion Israel Adesanya† Pereira is only 2-0 in the UFC and 5-1 in his MMA career. However, make no mistake that he is a veteran of fighting games.
He was a world champion in two weight divisions as a kickboxer and has two victories over Adesanya in that sport, including one by violent knockout.
Adesanya, who fights Jared Cannonier in the main event, has become one of the world’s elite mixed martial artists and ranks second on the Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound ratings† A win from both on Saturday would put Pereira in Adesanya’s path for a fight at some point.
So Pereira must not only win but also look good against Strickland to show that he is capable of fighting at Adesanya’s level in MMA. And the UFC gave him a match that will allow him to leverage his strengths as a striker.
Pereira has yet to attempt to take him down in his two UFC fights. Strickland is primarily a striker, although he has a more well-rounded game at this stage and only two fights ago in a win over Uriah Hall did Strickland go 4-for-6 on takedowns.
Pereira is a slight favorite at BetMGM and comes in at -120, with Strickland at even money. That’s a great nod to Pereira’s battle, as Strickland was on a roll, winning six in a row and seven of his last eight.
Strickland has fought much better competition in MMA, beating Jack Hermansson and Hall in his last two fights. He lost a decision to current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 210.
The fight may come down to Pereira’s ability to hold the fight. He has been knocked down four times in 15 tries in his two UFC fights, a respectable figure. If Strickland can take him out, the odds of Strickland’s win by ground-and-pound finish increase.
But when they’re essentially having a kickboxing match, the pendulum swings to Pereira.
I’m going to put the -120 on Pereira as the more purebred athlete and take him to win. The potential for a finish is there, but both guys take a good chance and Pereira rises in class to the opposition in MMA. So I bet the fight will reach the three lap distance at +125.
In the co-main event, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will meet ex-champion Max Holloway for the third time after Volkanovski won by decision at UFC 245 in 2019 and at UFC 251 in 2020.
Volkanovski is betting on a -200 favorite at BetMGM, with Holloway at +165. Holloway is one of the elite strikers in MMA, as well as one of the best overall fighters in the sport. It’s hard not to be next to him for that money.
That said, Volkanovski showed in his previous two fights that he has many ways to win. In the first, he hit Holloway’s legs with calf kicks. In the repechage, he fell behind early on and used his struggles to win.
He also improves his hands, as he showed in beating Chan Sung Jung the last time out.
This fight is a coin flip and that should lead me to Holloway with the plus money. But I think Volkanovski’s wrestling could be crucial here and I’ll put the -200 on him to win.
In the main event, Adesanya is now down to a -450 favorite at BetMGM. I think he’ll win the fight, but that’s too much to impose, especially against a knockout opponent like Cannonier. Cannonier is attractive at +325, but not enough to make me bet on him.
So I pass to the sides and I bet the fight ends in a knockout. BetMGM has the fight ending in a KO/TKO/DQ on -105, a submission on +900 and a decision on -120.
Since both guys have pop, I like KO on -105. I also feel that Adesanya has something to prove and will try to make a statement. If he catches Cannonier clean, he will kill him.
Other bets for UFC 276
• I take Pedro Munhoz as a value game at +250 to win Sean O’Malley (-300). O’Malley will control the fight if it’s fought at a distance, but if Munhoz bridges the distances and gets close to him, it changes the match.
• I take on Brad Riddell at +115 to beat Jalin Turner (-140).