UFC Fight Night: St. Louis was a lot of fun, but the 2018 UFC calendar starts in earnest this Saturday (January 20th) with UFC 220. Stipe Miocic defends his heavyweight belt against Francis Ngannou, the hottest name in MMA at the moment, while Daniel Cormier, once again the light heavyweight champ, steps back into the cage to defend his title against breakout fighter Volkan Oezdemir.
It’s going to be a thrilling, and potentially very quick, night. With two titles on the line, the UFC is going big with their first pay-per-view event of the year. There’s a ton of hype surrounding the event, meaning bettors need to shut out the noise and take a cold, hard look at the facts. Odds below provided by Bet365 on January 18, 2018 [go to Bet365 review].
Stipe Miocic (+150) vs Francis Ngannou (-175)
This is the most exciting heavyweight fight in a very, very long time. Stipe Miocic (17-2) seeks a record-breaking third successful title defense against Francis Ngannou (11-1), a rising star with unbelievable power. The division has stagnated in recent years, cycling through a handful of aging champs long past their prime. This could be the fight to thrust the heavyweight class back into the limelight.
Let’s start with the contender, Francis Ngannou. At 31 years old, he’s no spring chicken. But by heavyweight standards, that’s still pretty young. He’s only been in the MMA game for four years and has never seen the third round of a fight, meaning the public is in the dark about much of the Cameroonian-Frenchman.
What we do know is that the man can hit like none other. The UFC claims he holds the record for the strongest recorded punch, and you only have to watch his most recent fight against Alistair Overeem to see how devastating his fists can be. Ngannou stopped The Reem with one of the most brutal knockouts in UFC history. He stopped Andrei Arlovski in similar fashion and overwhelmed Anthony Hamilton before that. He’s ended his last four fights within the opening two minutes.
We’ve seen Ngannou dominate on his feet, but we don’t know how he fares on the ground. So how will he handle a five-round fight against an experienced wrestler?
Those backing Ngannou believe he’ll stop Miocic early, just like he has all of his other UFC fights. All he needs is a single opening and he can end the fight in a flash. He stands level with Miocic at 6”4’, but he’s a far bigger fighter in every other department and packs way more power.
Miocic knows that if he can take the fight to the ground, he’ll have the advantage. Ngannou originally dreamed of being a professional boxer, and that’s reflected in his fighting style. He’s only been practicing MMA for four years, so his grappling isn’t quite up to par.
This leaves Miocic with two glaring advantages. He’ll have the upper-hand if he can take the fight to the ground, and he’ll have the edge if he can drag the fight into the later rounds. If Miocic can avoid having his switch flicked early in the fight (a giant if), he’ll be in good standing for a win.
Ngannou is an unknown quantity with enormous potential but limited experience; Miocic has done it all and has proven himself to be an elite heavyweight. I believe Ngannou has an extremely bright future ahead of him, but the heavyweight title is still just out of reach. Bettors are getting great value on Miocic at +150.
Pick: Stipe Miocic (+150)
Daniel Cormier (-300) vs Volkan Oezdemir (+250)
Daniel Cormier (19-1) and Volkan Oezdemir (15-1) square off in the co-main event, fighting for Cormier’s light-heavyweight title. Cormier is, by far, the better and more well-rounded fighter, while Oezdemir is a limited fighter with a single gift: extraordinary knockout power.
“No Time” Oezdemir had a breakout year in 2017, knocking out his last two opponents, Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov, in under a minute. But you know who else had extraordinary knockout power? Anthony Johnson. And Cormier was able to withstand his punches and submit him — twice. Oezdemir is a less powerful and less dangerous version of Johnson.
The only thing Cormier has to worry about is himself. The former Olympic wrestler is on the cusp of 40 and endured a beating against Jon Jones in his most recent fight. The champ is known for his iron chin, but that often leaves with age. The late stoppage against Jones may have had a huge impact on him and he could be a severely diminished fighter because of it.
That’s all just speculation, though. Let’s stick to what we know: Cormier is the second-best light heavyweight of all time and among the best fighters in the game today. He has faced the very best of the division, and succumbed only Jones. Oezdemir is an impressive but largely unaccomplished fighter. The payout isn’t spectacular, but stick with the champ on this one.
Pick: Daniel Cormier (-300)