The lightweight bout between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush is easily the most fascinating and potentially most exciting pairing on the UFC 289 card Saturday. Oliveira lost his championship to Islam Makhachev in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in October and is fighting for the first time since. He’s a world-class grappler with elite striking. Dariush is also a world-class grappler whose striking has improved to the point that he’s become a legitimate title contender.
This bout should tear the roof off of the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia. Oliveira’s fights almost never go the distance. He’s 33-9 with one no contest. He’s finished 30 of his 33 wins, with 21 coming by submission and nine by knockout. He’s won only three by decision. Among his nine losses, he was knocked out four times, submitted four times and lost by decision once.
Dariush is a finisher, too, though not at the rate of Oliveira. He’s 22-4-1 and he’s finished 13 of his 22 wins, including eight by submission and five by KO. He’s been finished in all of his losses, having been kayoed three times and submitted once.
That’s why “No” is such a huge favorite on the “Will the fight go the distance?” prop bet. No is -330 and Yes is +225.
Oliveira’s experience against elite opponents gives him the slightest edge, and it’s why I like him to win. Dariush is a -145 favorite, so I’ll take Oliveira at +125. It feels like a steal to get an ex-champion who recently had an 11-fight winning streak ended at plus money.
This is the fight of Dariush’s life and there’s little doubt he’ll be prepared. They both are good at submission defense and so this might be a fight where it’s wise to go against the grain. Everyone and his brother is expecting a submission, and while it’s likely given their track records, you’ll have to pay for it.
But this is a three-rounder and not a five-round fight and that makes a difference. Over 2.5 rounds is +170 and while I think it’s going to go long, I’m going to go for better plus money. I’ll take Oliveira to win by decision at +700. I don’t expect either guy to freewheel it and go for broke with so much riding on the outcome, including a potential title shot.
So, I think Oliveira to win at +125 and Oliveira by decision at +700 is the way to go here.
‘Action Man’ a good-looking underdog
Chris “Action Man” Curtis is a +135 underdog in his bout with Nassourdine Imavov in the featured preliminary bout. Imavov is -155 and that seems way too high.
Curtis is coming off an action-packed loss in a Fight of the Night battle with Kelvin Gastelum, a fight he could have won. Imavov is coming off a shellacking by Curtis’ teammate, Sean Strickland.
Curtis is a more versatile and dynamic striker, and Imavov has been disappointing of late. I’ll take the plus money and play Curtis to win at +135.
Belbita has edge in critical match with Oliveira
Diana Belbita and Maria Oliveira open the show Saturday in a women’s strawweight bout which is critical to the future of both fighters. Neither have been impressive in their UFC stints and the loser will probably be cut. Oliveira is 1-2 in the UFC and coming off a unanimous decision loss to Vanessa Demopoulos. Belbita has lost three of her four UFC bouts, only winning over Hannah Goldy while losing to Gloria de Paula, Liana Jojua and Molly McCann.
Prior to her 1-3 stint in the UFC, Belbita was 5-1 in her last six on the regional circuit, and she’s faced the better competition.
Belbita is a -120 favorite, with Oliveira at even money. I’ll lay the 120 and take Belbita to win. I was tempted to play Belbita to win by submission at +900, but she’s too inconsistent and I’ll avoid that. But it’s something to look for in this bout.
Nunes should retain title vs. Aldana
In the main event, Amanda Nunes is a solid favorite over challenger Irene Aldana. Nunes is -320 to win and Aldana is +265.
While there is a growing sentiment that Nunes has gotten comfortable with her enormous success, I don’t get that sense from her. I think she’s eager to make a statement and will win this fight inside the distance.
The easy choice would be to take Nunes by KO, and you could get her at +110 there. But Aldana has a great striking game too and might force the fight to the ground. I think Nunes is the better fighter on the ground and though she doesn’t really chase submissions, it’s not out of the question she could find herself in a position to submit Aldana.
Nunes by finish is -500, so I’ll lay a half-unit on that and take her to win by finish.