Another early fight card is on tap as the UFC continues its international tour by returning to Paris on Saturday.
Hometown heavyweight Ciryl Gane headlines the main event in a clash with No. 7 Sergey Spivac. In fact, the top three fights on the main card each feature some of France’s fastest-rising talents.
Local fighters, and judges, always give an interesting twist to handicapping fights overseas. Some fighters thrive off the energy of the home crowd, while the additional pressure can be too much for others. Interviews leading up to the fight week can produce a few nuggets of valuable information, but more times than not, it’s just another layer of variance for bettors to navigate through.
I will certainly have action on the main event, but I’m going to steer clear of the local talent for my first bet. Instead, I targeted a light heavyweight matchup between UFC veteran Volkan Oezdemir and newcomer Bogdan Guskov.
Oezdemir (18-7, 6-6 UFC) was originally supposed to provide a litmus test for the undefeated Azamat Murzakanov, but he was recently forced to withdraw. The change of opponent is certainly a more favorable one on paper, but overlooking Guskov could have dire consequences. The 30-year-old has massive pop in his hands, finishing each of his last four opponents by first-round knockout. Guskov has a huge opportunity to punch his ticket into the promotion with a win, while Oezdemir is under pressure to avoid his fourth loss in his last five fights.
There are levels to the game
A good starting point when handicapping a fight is recognizing the most stark differences between the fighters, and how they can impact the result. The biggest one by far is the level of competition each fighter has faced. Gustov (14-2 MMA) has battered fighters that are far from UFC caliber, while Oezdemir has recently struggled while facing some of the best fighters the organization has to offer. A little over five years ago, Oezdemir fought former two-division champion and Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight championship at UFC 220. Let’s take a look at the fighters Oezdemir has lost to in the UFC:
Daniel Cormier (2018)
Anthony Smith (2018)
Dominic Reyes (2019)
Jiri Prochazka (2020)
Magomed Ankalaev (2021)
Nikita Krylov (2022)
Outside of his most recent defeat, the previous five have all come at the hands of fighters who have fought for the light heavyweight title. Two of the opponents (Cormier and Prochazka) went on to become champions.
Fighters have openly spoken about how fighting in the UFC is different. The schedule, the media responsibilities and the crowd on fight night are all very big adjustments for newcomers. It’s common for fighters to suffer an “adrenaline dump” in their debut, causing their cardio to diminish quicker than normal due to their emotions getting amplified by the environment. That’s significant when taking Guskov’s fighting style into account. When glancing through his resume, Guskov has a typical KO-or-bust profile. Whenever strikers string together several finishes in a row early in the fight, their cardio goes untested. More times than not, it doesn’t end up passing the test the first time a fighter has to truly rely on it. I expect Guskov to come out very aggressive in trying to end the fight early, emptying his gas tank with his first initial storm. That’s when a veteran like Oezdemir will take over.
Will Oezdemir’s experience outweigh his recent struggles?
There are two sides to experience, and one of them can get ugly fast in the fight game. We can’t dismiss the fact that Oezdemir's skills are declining. He doesn’t have the same pop on his punches and he has failed to record a knock down in his last five fights. His footwork also seems to be slowing down a notch, which resulted in him being taken down several times in his last fight.
Taking that into consideration, Oezdemir still has enough veteran experience to properly defend himself against an opponent with such a limited win condition. Less than two years ago, he survived for three rounds against one of the best in the division in Magomed Ankalaev. In his most recent fight, he had a lot of success answering Krylov’s forward pressure by connecting with several clean combinations while holding his ground in the center of the Octagon. I’m betting Oezdemir’s left hook will find a home, taking advantage of Guskov’s tendency to let his hands drop during exchanges. If he is not able to put away Guskov, winning Rounds 2 and 3 after Guskov slows is a very likely outcome.
Oezdemir opened as a -165 favorite at BetMGM, and bettors immediately reacted, pushing his current odds to -190. I agree with the line move and consider the favorite a solid play. At 65.5% implied probability, there is still value on Oezdemir to get back in the win column. Bet: Oezdemir ML -190