The UFC returns to Las Vegas for Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 9 card at its Apex facility.
Handicapper Lou Finocchiaro has three plays for the event, which is headlined by a welterweight bout between Tyron Woodley (19-4-1) and Gilbert Burns (18-3).
Woodley (-160) over Burns
Former UFC welterweight champion Woodley is looking to redeem himself after last year’s loss to Kamaru Usman.
“He laid the biggest egg of his career against Usman. He never looked poorer than in his last fight,” said Finocchiaro (@GambLou). “That, coupled with the recency on Burns, is creating some great value on Woodley, who I think has got a chip on his shoulder.
“I handicapped Woodley at -240 or -250 for this fight. Anything under -200 is good.”
Burns began his career at 155 pounds before moving up to 170, where he’s won his last three fights, albeit the last two against fighters who are mostly grapplers.
“I give Burns great credit for his momentum, but he’s stepping into a completely different strata of opponent in the weight class that I think he’s undersized for,” he said. “I also believe that Burns believes he can strike with Woodley and that will be a terrible mistake on his part.
“Burns needs to get Woodley against the fence and down on the floor, but he is undersized and Woodley sports a 92 percent takedown defense. Woodley has been in there against far superior 170-pound talent.”
Blagoy Ivanov (-110) over Augusto Sakai
Finocchiaro believes the fact that the fights at the Apex will be inside a 25-foot cage instead of the 30-foot cage used at most UFC events will help Ivanov in his heavyweight bout on the main card.
“Sakai’s game plan is to stick and move and keep Ivanov at a distance. But he’s at a deficit because he’s going to be in a phone booth fighting a big guy who wants to get ahold of him,” he said. “Ivanov is a world-class Sambo grappler. The opportunity for him to clinch, get ahold of and drag Sakai down will become greater and the small cage will allow him to engage a little easier.”
Katlyn Chookagian (+115) over Antonina Shevchenko
Chookagian is coming off a loss to Valentina Schevchenko, Antonina’s more talented younger sister.
“This is one of those fights that has me a little perplexed. I think the wrong gal is favored,” he said. “Schevchenko needs to fight close and engage Chookagian. But the difference is for 125-pound ladies, the small cage is still roomy. The dynamics are a little different.
“Chookagian wants her on the outside to pick and peck. I look for a tightly contested match but I think she’s up to the task as an underdog.”
For a long shot, Finocchiaro recommends a smaller play on Brok Weaver (+290) over Roosevelt Roberts in a lightweight bout on the main card.
“Roberts is unusually long and tall for the division at 6-(foot)-2 (inches). He’s the kind of fighter that really needs space to operate. If he doesn’t get the space, he really has to fight on the floor,” he said. “Weaver has way less skill. He’s in there because he’s unbelievably tough and dedicated.
“This is a great example of where the smaller cage will allow Weaver more opportunities to engage Roberts close. I think that’s bad news for Roberts.”