UFC 246 Round Up

UFC 246 Round Up

One year, three months and two weeks; it’s been a while since Conor McGregor last set foot in a UFC octagon. He’s made us wait for it, but the Nevada desert will once again turn green this weekend as ‘The Notorious’ one returns to his favoured stomping ground to make his grand return against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone.

As fight week enters its final stages, the level of hype will edge towards boiling point as the answer to several questions regarding MMA’s biggest phenomenon are set to be answered. A Conor McGregor fight week always feels unique.

Outside of a stellar main event, the UFC 246 card – in terms of depth – doesn’t quite meet the standards we’ve been spoiled with in recent months. Regardless, though, it still contains a number of bouts that make the pay-per-view price worthwhile.

As the first UFC event of 2020 closes in, we’ve taken a look at the top three fights to keep an eye on at the T-Mobile arena this weekend.

Andre Fili vs Sodiq Yusuf

There’s a good chance that many of you won’t have a clue who either of these fighters are, but those of you who follow MMA with a keen eye will know that this is a firm fight of the night contender.

With his sole loss coming via a contentious split decision, Fili – whose last fight produced performance of the night KO win – is 4-1 in his last five fights having made huge strides in his overall game since making a rollercoaster start to his UFC career. ‘Touchy’, as he’s amusingly nicknamed, has fought the likes of Max Holloway, Yair Rodriguez and Michael Johnson during his UFC career so he’s well versed to the challenge of elite-level competition. An aggressive front-foot fighter, Fili will be looking to build on what is currently his career-best form in the UFC. A long-time company employee who’s significantly refined his skill set these past two years, a win here would take Fili to a level that’s thus far eluded him.

Sodiq Yusuff, conversely, is one of the UFC’s most intriguing prospects and is touted by many to become a major contender in the UFC’s talent-rich 145lbs division in the near future.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, the 26-year-old represents another top-level UFC fighter emerging from the West African nation – Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya being the more renowned stars.

An athletic striker, Yusuff has shown both vulnerability and chaotic tendencies in previous bouts but with two first-round KO’s in his first three official UFC outings, the Nigerian has concussive knockout power and has already begun to establish himself as a must-watch fixture within any card he features on. Yusuff currently boasts a professional record of 10-1 and comes into this fight flaunting a five-fight win streak.

The oddsmakers appear to have this one about right, with Sodiq Yusuff coming in as a slight 8/11 favourite while Fili is slightly further out at 11/10. This is a highly competitive fight that could go either way. Fili represents a clear step up in class for Yusuff, however despite the fact that Yusuff can’t match Fili’s experience in the octagon quite yet, we think the Nigerian’s superior athleticism gives him enough value at 8/11 to place in a multiple. If you don’t want to pick a winner, Andre Fili has only been stopped once in his 26-fight career in spite of the fact he’s faced top-level power puncher’s such as Calvin Kattar. Based on that alone, backing the fight to go the distance at 6/5 also holds good value.

Anthony Pettis vs Carlos Diego Ferreira

Former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis will kick off Saturday nights main card against Carlos Diego Ferreira. The Brazilian, Ferreira, is somewhat of a late bloomer; the 34-year-old is currently on a five-fight win streak stretching back to 2015 when he fell to defeat at the hands of Dustin Poirier.

Ferreira has gone from strength to strength throughout this career-best run, claiming both a first and second-round KO in the lead-up to his biggest and most recent win against Mairbek Taisumov in Abu Dhabi last September.

Ferreira is backed by head coach Sayif Saud, leader of Fortis MMA. The Dallas based gym enjoyed a red hot 2019 in the UFC, accumulating a commendable 19-4 record for the year. Said record includes three wins for the outstanding breakout welterweight, Geoff Neal, who looks certain to challenge the elite members of the 170lbs division this year. Saud’s game plans were meticulous in 2019 and both he and Ferreira will be highly confident of a win this weekend. The Brazilian has significant momentum behind him entering this fight and a win would comfortably be his biggest achievement to date.

The same cannot be said for his opponent: Anthony Pettis. Pettis enters the contest off the back of a disappointing performance against Nate Diaz at UFC 244, where the 32-year-old was unable to find his rhythm and ultimately succumbed to the pressure of Diaz.

Pettis’ last two fights have taken place at 170lbs, where before his clash with Diaz, Pettis produced one of best knockouts in recent history by handing Stephen Thompson his first ever KO loss via Superman punch.

Despite ending the fight so spectacularly, Pettis looked to be struggling against ‘Wonderboy’ prior to the finish; specifically with the range of the larger Thompson. We consider the fact that the fight is back at 155lbs to be a positive for Pettis, primarily because he won’t be conceding much, if any, size to Ferreira.

The Milwaukee native has struggled for consistency since being the undisputed best 155er in the world circa 2013; he hasn’t won two fights consecutively since defending his belt against Gilbert Melendez in 2014.

Having said that, it’d be foolish to disregard Anthony Pettis’ chances, be it in the standup exchanges or on the ground. Pettis has a first class submission game on top of a level of flair that allows him to produce moments of brilliance at the snap of a finger. They don’t call him ‘Showtime’ for nothing, after all.

From a betting perspective, we don’t see much value in Ferreira at 2/5. We do think his forward pressure and high pace will likely see him wear down a version of Anthony Pettis with significant miles on the clock, but even so the former champion is no walk in the park and is comfortably Ferreira’s toughest opponent to date. The fight to go the distance at 4/5 seems the most sensible selection from our viewpoint.

Conor McGregor vs Donald Cerrone

I hope you’re every bit as excited as we are; Conor McGregor is back. Prior to his return to the octagon on Saturday night, McGregor’s activity within the sport has been sparse; his last MMA outing was in October 2018, with his last fight prior to that taking place in November 2016. This level of dormancy should provoke a feeling of scepticism for his fans; you can’t improve at a trade if you simply don’t do it.

Having McGregor on the sidelines for such an extended period makes it nigh on impossible to predict which version of the former ‘champ champ’ will turn up on Saturday night. What makes it even more difficult to gauge McGregor’s current level is that his most recent fight was against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nobody looks good against Khabib, elite or not.

Considering this, then, what should we expect from Conor McGregor? The Irishman and his team have done an excellent job of selling the image that he was unprepared, unmotivated and a shell of his former self throughout his last training camp and that this version of Conor is a new, matured and improved fighter. Listen to any of his recent interviews and his words are more than convincing.

In his first fight of what McGregor is labelling a ‘season’, the idea that we will immediately see the Conor McGregor who knocked out Eddie Alvarez in two rounds at MSG is overly optimistic and, in all honesty, unlikely. But the good news for McGregor fans is this: he doesn’t need to be that good to beat Donald Cerrone. McGregor is, on paper at least, a stylistic nightmare for Cerrone. Throughout his career, ‘Cowboy’ has always struggled with boxers – particularly those in a southpaw stance – who deploy a front-foot, high-pressure gameplan from the word go. A 36-year-old Cerrone should be no exception.

Fighting is never that straightforward, mind; Cerrone is an extremely well-rounded fighter who arguably has a more diverse set of weapons than McGregor, and if (big if) he can somehow weather the onslaught that Conor will inevitably bring in the opening 8-10 minutes, this fight will become very interesting.

In addition to being more effective in the later rounds than his opponent-elect, Cerrone possesses a powerful double-leg takedown, an abundance of submissions and fight-ending high kicks. The trouble for ‘Cowboy’ is that similar things were said of Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez. Conor McGregor has a healthy habit of hypnotising you into fighting his fight.

McGregor is a strong 1/3 favourite here which is, in our opinion, poor value on its own. With the fight taking place at welterweight, we think it’s potentially a more competitive contest than those odds suggest. A fight at 170lbs certainly favours Cerrone, who’s both more natural and more experienced at that weight class. Regardless of that, though, we do still fancy the Irishman to get back to winning ways. We’ve picked a 7/1 RAB for the main event which includes a Conor McGregor win by KO/TKO amongst other selections.

We can’t wait for events to unfold in Las Vegas this weekend and we strongly advise that you tune in if you can. Conor McGregor is back and there’s one thing the Irishman always guarantees; raw entertainment.