Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
*This was originally posted on February 10, 2022*
UFC 271 will be headlined by one of the most highly anticipated title fights and rematches of the year: the ‘Last Stylebender’ Israel Adesanya vs. ‘the Reaper’, ‘Bobby Knuckles’ Robert Whittaker. We’ve also got a matchup that will likely determine the next title contender for that belt: Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson. To make the card even more exciting, we’ve also got the matchup every MMA fan had on their bucket list: the ‘Black Beast’ Derrick Lewis vs. the master of the shoey, Tai Tuivasa. We’ve also got the return of future Hall of Famer, the ‘Pitbull’ Andrei Arlovski, the final appearance of Roxanne Modaferri and the return of exciting young prospect Kyler Phillips. All of these matchups (plus more) are covered below and feature BLÜ’s predictions along with the Bet99 Sportsbook Odds.
Main Card (7:00 PM PST)
Nasrat Haqparast vs. Bobby Green
Haqparast: +120 Green: -148
Over 2.5: -240 Under 2.5: +180
The main card opens with an exciting lightweight matchup between two men on the verge of the top 15. We saw Haqparast just a few months ago lose a decision to Dan Hooker. He looked good in the fight and tried to control the fight by grappling but Hooker was just too much for him to handle. Bobby Green also fought just a couple months ago but had a much better result as he took out Al Iaquinta in the 1st Round. It should be noted that that’s very unusual for Bobby Green. Before that fight he had 10 fights in a row ending in a decision. In that stretch (and even before that) he’d fought most of the people in the division including newer names like Fiziev and ‘older’ names like Barboza and Poirier.
Due to the way both of these men fight, it seems extremely likely that we’ll be seeing another decision. As for who’s going to take it, it really could go either way. Thanks to the level of competition that Green has been facing recently (Fiziev, Moises, Guida) as well as throughout his career (Poirier and Barboza), I think he’ll be able to edge ahead on the cards.
Green by Decision
Kyler Phillips vs. Marcelo Rojo
Phillips: -434 Rojo: +320
Over 2.5: +140 Under 2.5: -180
On paper, this is set up to be kind of a mismatch, but it should still produce some highlight reel action. Kyler Phillips is still young in his career but has shown great promise with a win over Song Yadong and a tight, majority decision loss over Paiva to fall out of the top 15. Rojo has been slightly less impressive with a loss in his lone UFC fight to one of our favourite Canadians: Charles Jourdain.
As I mentioned, this seems like kind of a mismatch, Phillips is one of the most dangerous young prospects in the division right now at only 26 years old and he was already ranked at one point. Phillips seems to end up in quite a few decisions, so I think that’s what we’ll likely see, but, because of the mismatch, we may just see Rojo get finished.
Phillips by Decision
Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson
Cannonier: -167 Brunson: +136
Over 2.5: -110 Under 2.5: -117
Before we see the best middleweights clash in the main event, this fight will likely determine who will get the next shot at the title. Cannonier is ranked number 3 and has been tearing up the top contenders in the division lately with wins over Anderson Silva, Hermansson and Gastelum. In that time he also had a heated battle against one of Saturday’s headliners Whittaker. Brunson, who’s ranked at number 4 has also been on a roll recently with a 5 fight win streak since his loss to the champ Adesanya. In those 5 wins he finished Shahbazyan and Till and had decision wins over Ian Heinisch and most recently Darren Till.
This matchup is tight in a lot of ways. Both their records are solid, they’re the same age and have the same height, but there’s one huge difference-maker here: Cannonier’s power. If you’ve been watching his last couple fights, everyone always mentions the fact that Cannonier has finishes in 3 divisions: heavyweight, light heavyweight and now of course middleweight. Brunson will try to use his grappling to avoid that power, but Cannonier will use his strength to take over those grappling scenarios and land some devastating blows with his heavyweight power. In the past, Brunson has been finished by strikes a few times. Thanks to Jared’s power, I think we may see another KO here.
Cannonier by Finish
Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa
Lewis: -193 Tuivasa: +154
Over 1.5: +140 Under 1.5: -180
As soon as this fight was announced, MMA fans everywhere stood up and cheered. These guys are two of the funniest, most electric and entertaining fighters in the UFC right now. Outside of the Octagon, they’re matched in their wit and entertainment; no matter what happens here we’ll be treated with some clips that will live in internet glory for generations. That being said, this is a slight mismatch in actual fighting capabilities. Lewis is ranked number 3 right now after his title loss to Cyril Gane while Tuivasa has just jumped into the rankings at 11 after getting 4 HUGE KOs over Struve, Hunsucker, Sakai and, everyone’s personal favourite KO, Greg Hardy.
I said this in Lewis’ last fight against Daukaus, when two heavyweight strikers clash, the heavier hitter is going to win almost every time, especially when he has a chin. While it’s impressive that Tuivasa has been finishing everyone, he’s just not on the same level as Derrick Lewis. Lewis is a KO machine with the 2nd hardest punch in the UFC (Francis of course being first), he knows when to make his move and he knows how to take a couple punches to give one back. I think we’re going to be seeing a finish and I think Lewis will be adding to his KO record.
Lewis by Finish
Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker
Adesanya: -300 Whittaker: +233
Over 4.5: -134 Under 4.5: +105
To close out this amazing card, we’ve got the two best middleweights in the UFC right now. The champ, Izzy, is undefeated at middleweight being that his only loss was in his light heavyweight title shot. Meanwhile Whittaker has looked almost unstoppable with only 1 loss since 2014 and that was, of course, to Izzy himself. A lot of people are saying Izzy is just going to go in there and prove that he’s easily the best middleweight around. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. Whittaker has improved quite a bit since last time and that’s saying a lot because he was already unbelievable before.
I’ve been going back and forth on this. While Adesanya has been winning all of his other middleweight fights convincingly, his fight against Whittaker was one of his closest. Then you consider the fact that Whittaker has been fairly easily outclassing all of his other opponents and has gotten better since his loss to Izzy. In the end, I’ll side with the champ because he won their last encounter, he’s undefeated at middleweight and he’s still one of the most unusual and powerful strikers in UFC history. BUT, from a betting standpoint, since this matchup is much tighter than people realize, there’s a lot of value in betting the underdog which is why I’ll be putting this in my ‘Best Bets’ section below.
Adesanya by Decision
BLU’s Prelim Picks (Prelims begin at 3:00 PM PST)
Alexander Hernandez vs. Renato Moicano
Hernandez: +137 Moicano: -172
Over 2.5: -109 Under 2.5: -118
This fight is one of the earlier prelims but could have easily been in a co-main slot on a normal card; that just tells you how great this card really is. Although not quite in the top 15 anymore, Hernandez is just as explosive and dangerous as ever, perhaps even more so than he was before. He’s gone 3-2 in his last 5 bouts with wins over Trinaldo, Gruetzemacher and Mike Breeden and losses to tough contenders Drew Dober and Thiago Moises. As for Moicano, he’s a UFC veteran at this point with UFC fights all the way back in 2014. Although his record has been a little spotty, all of his losses are to some of the best fighters in the UFC right now including Fiziev, the Korean Zombie, Jose Aldo and Brian Ortega. That being said, if you noticed, most of those would have been at featherweight while this is a lightweight bout.
This could very well go either way; both men are very dangerous. This comes down to style and history for me here. Hernandez is more of a striker, landing powerful shots, while Moicano is more likely to chase submissions. It should also be pointed out that all of Moicano’s losses (with the exception of Ortega) were KOs that happened fairly early in the fight. That should tell you he’s not great against powerful and precise strikers. So, keeping that in mind, I’ll be choosing Hernandez here, especially since he’s got lightweight power and Moicano was getting finished by featherweight power. Plus, I’ll also add on, I’ve seen Hernandez fight his last couple bouts and he seems to be getting better every time.
Hernandez by Finish
Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell
Perez: -400 Schnell: +300
Over 2.5: +108 Under 2.5: -138
This is another fight that could’ve been on a main card. Alex Perez is one of the most dangerous flyweights in the UFC right now. He’s gone 3-1 since 2018 and that loss was in his last bout to none other than the current champ, Figueiredo. He’s also no stranger to getting early finishes in the UFC with 3 in the first round and 1 in the second. On the other side is Matt Schnell who last fought up a division (and lost) at bantamweight. Before that though, he was back down here at flyweight. He wasn’t necessarily at the top of the rankings, but he’s beaten Tyson Nam and Louis Smolka.
This seems like a slight mismatch to me. Alex Perez is an absolute beast at 125 and just steamrolls through most of the men he fights. Schnell just doesn’t seem to be on that level. The one thing that Schnell has going for him is his reach; he’s got almost a 5 inch reach advantage which is substantial at flyweight. Even so, Alex Perez is fast enough and skilled enough to overcome that disadvantage and get a win. Because we’re talking about flyweights, the safe bet is a decision, but it’s not out of the question for Perez to get a finish.
Perez by Decision
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Casey O’Neill
Modaferri: +300 O’Neill: -400
Over 2.5: -193 Under 2.5: +150
Finally, we’ve got another exciting women’s matchup this year (it’s been a light year for the women so far). Modaferri has been for 5 years now, got her start on the Ultimate Fighter and has always been a fan favourite. Sadly, in terms of her record, it hasn’t gone so well. She’s lost her last 2 fights and has a record of 4-6 in the UFC. Not to mention, she’s nearing the end of her career at 39 years old. O’Neill is essentially the opposite of that; she’s 24 and undefeated at a record of 8-0. That includes 3 wins in the UFC so far, all by finish, most recently over Antonina Shevchenko.
You hate to see it, but this is lined up to be one of those fights where a young new contender is likely going to end the career of a beloved veteran. While I think O’Neill will certainly walk away with the win, Modaferri is as tough as they come and has NEVER been finished in the UFC. So I’d say there’s a very, VERY good chance we’re seeing a decision win for O’Neill.
O’Neill by Decision
Andrei Arlovski vs. Jared Vanderaa
Arlovski: -155 Vanderaa: +125
Over 2.5: -209 Under 2.5: +160
In the featured prelim we’ve got the return of an ageless wonder, one of the most experienced heavyweights in MMA history: Andrei Arlovski. With a record of 32-20, he’s been in the UFC since 2014. He’s had a couple of BAD streaks hitting 5 losses in a row in 2016-2017 and then went 1-4 in 2018-2019. But since then he’s gone 4-1 with impressive decision wins over Lins, Boser, Sherman and Felipe, all of whom are young, rising contenders. This time he’s matched up against another young(ish) fighter in Jared Vanderaa. He came into the UFC with a win on the Contender Series in late 2020 and had 3 fights last year. Sadly, he only won one of those. He lost the other two, getting finished by Romanov and Spivak.
Arlovski has turned his career around by using his experience to his advantage. He doesn’t jump in head first, diving into danger like he used to. Instead, he stays active, pushes his opponents to the fence and nullifies their offence. Sometimes it doesn’t make for an exciting fight, but it tends to end in a win. I’m sure if he does that once again, we’ll see Arlovski get yet another win.
Arlovski by Decision
BLÜ’s Best Bets
Here I highlight some betting lines that you might want to take advantage of for UFC 271. These are odds that favour the bettor. Although some of them may conflict with my picks, they offer a fair reward for a slight bit of risk.
Derrick Lewis vs. Tai Tuivasa Over 1.5 at +140
I think we all expect a KO in this fight; the question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. When two massive KO artists collide, there tends to be a trend where we see a stalemate. Neither man wants to make the first move in the 1st Round. That means that the real action tends to start in the 2nd Round. Even if that’s not the case in this bout, we have to keep in mind that both Lewis and Tuivasa know how to take a couple of punches to give one back. In the end, I don’t think Tuivasa can handle too many of Lewis’ missile hands BUT I think there’s a solid chance they’ll make it close to the end of the 2nd Round. Also, just from a betting perspective as well, +140 for Over 1.5 Rounds is extremely, extremely rare and should always be taken advantage of.
The Underdog Robert Whittaker at +233
I don’t think Robert Whittaker has been this big of an underdog in his entire career. I mentioned it in my analysis above, this fight is much closer than a lot of people realize. The last fight was close, Whittaker has improved a lot since their last encounter and he’s been out-classing every single one of his opponents ever since. While I’m giving Izzy the benefit of the doubt as the champ, at +233 this betting line is primed to be taken advantage of. I wouldn’t break the bank on this one, but it’s well worth sprinkling a little bit of money on because the payoff is HUGE and this matchup is tight.
Alex Perez vs. Matt Schnell Over 2.5 at +108
While Perez gets a lot of finishes for a flyweight, we still need to remember the statistics. I’ve said this in a lot of previous cards as well; if you see flyweights over +100 for over 2.5 rounds, it’s usually a good idea to take it. In fact, almost every time I’ve mentioned it in this section, it’s cashed in. Nothing is ever a guarantee, but statistically speaking, these lighter guys tend to go the distance.
The Short Run
Perez + O’Neill + Phillips + Lewis
The Long Run
Ulberg + Lawrence + Perez + O’Neill + Phillips + Lewis