Former two-time bantamweight title holder Dominick Cruz returns home to San Diego for this weekend's UFC main event. His opponent, fifth-ranked Marlon "Chito" Vera, is a winner of three straight, including his most recent five-round butchering of Rob Font. Cruz has been in the Octagon with the best the division has ever had to offer, but still comes in as a big underdog against the more dangerous Vera. The fascinating clash of Cruz's cerebral approach vs. Vera's unrelenting acts of violence will surely have us all afraid to blink while we sweat this out. It's not the most straightforward fight on the card to handicap, but I am confident I am landing on the right side.
Marlon Vera (-225) vs. Dominick Cruz (+180)
Bettors get a little bit of sticker shock seeing a +180 price on one of the most dominant fighters in bantamweight division history. Cruz has strung together two straight wins, but neither fighter he faced is on the same level as Vera right now. Cruz has made a career using his elite footwork to frustrate his opponents. His unpredictable rhythm allows him to rack up striking stats that ultimately bury his opponents on the scorecards. However, if he is standing with Marlon Vera for five rounds, he better plan on wearing some damage.
Vera can beat Cruz at his own game because he is happy to trade volume for violence. His devastating arsenal of kicks and elbows is just as unpredictable as Cruz's unique stand-up. The difference between the two approaches is Vera's success moves him much closer to finishing the fight, which is an important aspect of the scoring criteria. Typically, if Cruz lasts all five rounds, he is money in the bank. But I'm not convinced that's the case if Chito is carving him up. In addition, Vera can use his kicks to cut off the former champ's mobility, slowing him down as the fight progresses.
That's the challenge I have with backing the underdog. If Vera is winning on the feet early, the only out for Cruz is his wrestling. If it gets to that point, it might be too late. There is a reason Cruz was 0-for-7 on takedowns in his loss to Cody Garbrandt. Mixing in wrestling off your striking is different than desperately shooting for takedowns because you are getting punished standing. Vera can time his shots and counter with kicks, knees, or uppercuts. That's how I see the later rounds unfolding in this one.
Vera looked remarkably fresh in his first five-round fight with Font, so the 36-year-old Cruz won't have the cardio advantage that separated himself from so many of his opponents in the past. However, both fighters are incredibly durable, so I can't blame bettors who prefer to play the decision props. Ultimately, I see Vera's explosive striking and finishing ability as too much of a factor not to bet him on the moneyline.
The bet: Marlon Vera (-225)
Ariane Lipski (-200) vs. Priscila Cachoeira (+165)
One of my favorite angles when betting MMA is fading the vulnerable favorite. I think Lipski fits that description perfectly this week. The "Queen of Violence" comes in with an underwhelming 3-4 record with the promotion. After failing to get medically cleared last week, it's hard to imagine we will see the best version of Lipski. However, despite the red flags, she comes into this fight as a big favorite. Fighters have bounced back after botched weight cuts in the past, but Lipski attributing her challenges to COVID-19 is a considerable concern.
Cachoeira wants to turn every fight into a war on the feet, so Lipski's cardio will undoubtedly come into play. As the more refined striker, Lipski must rely on footwork and hand speed to catch Cachoeira with counters. We haven't seen Lipski's punching power translate in the UFC, so she will surely lose if she allows Cachoeira to coerce her into a slugfest.
The problem with Lipski's path to victory is that it relies on her gas tank in both grappling and striking. Lipski hasn't landed a takedown since her UFC debut, and I am confident Cachoeira forces her to fight at a wild pace. After the first round, I can see Lipski's compromised cardio convincing her to fight Cachoiera's fight. And once she inevitably slows, Cachoeira will hunt her down, blasting her with enough damaging blows to persuade the judges.
The Bet: Priscila Cachoeira (+165)
*Stats provided by ufcstats.com, Richard Mann.