The UFC returns this weekend with a 12-fight card that showcases the promotion's best Korean fighters and will crown its "Road to UFC" tournament winners for four separate divisions. The event occurs at the Apex in Las Vegas, with a later start time that aligns with local time in Korea. That means it will be a much later night for us in the states than a typical fight night or pay-per-view card. The first set of fights is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. ET, while the main event participants — Derrick Lewis and Sergey Spivak — will touch gloves after 3 a.m. ET. So whether it's a pot of coffee, an energy drink or an afternoon nap that helps you prepare, make sure you get ready for a late night of fights.
The good news is this weekend kicks off two straight months of consecutive events, including next weekend's UFC 284 that features a champion versus champion bout between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski. For now, we have to find some good spots to keep building our bankroll, which shouldn't be that hard, considering we previously handicapped the main event in November. Unfortunately, the UFC abruptly scrapped the original bout the night of the fight when Lewis contracted COVID-19. I remember being disappointed that my bet was voided (it always feels like a winner before the fight), but now the time has come to finally cash in on the fight, even though it's at a more expensive price.
Derrick Lewis (+185) vs. Sergey Spivak (-225)
A 10-year age difference in mixed martial arts should always get your attention, especially if the older fighter has been knocked out in three of his last four fights. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we have here with Lewis. "The Black Beast" has been one of my favorite fighters to watch, but bets don't get graded on entertainment value. That's not to say Lewis doesn't have a path to victory. His hands still put Curtis Blaydes to sleep two years ago, but ending up on the wrong side of these slugfests usually signals that reaction time is also slowing down.
Closing the distance against Lewis is always risky with a razor-thin margin for error. Still, Spivak can carefully time his entries and tie up Lewis in the clinch without turning into another highlight. Once inside, Spivak can use sweeps or trips to get Lewis on the mat, where Lewis is highly vulnerable for multiple reasons. Spivak should be able to wear on Lewis from top control and open him up while hunting for submissions. It's also possible Spivak decides on a less-aggressive approach, opting to lean heavily on Lewis for the round to ensure he maintains his position and drains Lewis' stamina. Spivak's path will likely impact the round props more than the result, but nobody will argue that it's not his fight once it hits the mat.
Based on an Instagram photo, Lewis has reportedly dropped some weight, but I have seen far too many veteran athletes try to use fitness to hold off Father Time. Unfortunately, the results are rarely successful. At 37 years old, with a knockout being his only way to win the fight, I am betting this is the beginning of the end for Lewis.
The bet: Sergey Spivak (-225)
Just because there is no football on Sunday doesn't mean those on the East Coast want to stay up until the wee hours to see a fight that might last less than a minute. Unfortunately, these early fights aren't packed with household names, but I did enough homework to feel comfortable with this wager. So let's pair Tatsuro Taira, the biggest favorite on the card at -1200, with Jun Yong Park to get the odds down to -167 (62.5% implied probability).
Taira is an emerging prospect who has the potential to be a top-15 fighter by the end of the year. He made quick work of C.J. Vergara in October to move his record to 2-0 in the UFC. Taira has advantages everywhere in this matchup with Jesus Aguilar, as he is the much more technical fighter on both the feet and the mat. It's fair to look at inside-the-distance props to further shorten our parlay odds.
The second leg is Park over Denis Tiuliulin. Park has to avoid the big shot from Tiuliulin, but overall I think he will be able to grind the Russian down with his clinch work, wrestling and cardio. Tiuliulin will recklessly bring the fight to Park, but I see that aggressiveness allowing Park to find openings for takedowns. If Park can get Tiuliulin on his back, it will cause Tiuliulin to exert a ton of energy without the technical grappling to combat Park's top control.
The bet: Parlay Tatsuro Taira and Jun Yong Park, -167
Stats provided by ufcstats.com.