Photo Credit: Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
*This was originally posted March 24, 2022*
After a HUGE night in London, the UFC takes it back to the USA; this time moving it to Columbus. The night is headlined by two exciting heavyweights: Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus. Those aren’t the only ranked fighters squaring off tonight. We’ve also got matchups between the flyweights Joanne Wood and Alexa Grasso, Askar Askarov and Kai-Kara France, Jennifer Maia and Manon Fiorot as well as David Dvorak and Matheus Nicolau. Finally, we’ve also got the return of veterans Matt Brown, Bryan Barberena, Aleksei Oleinik and Neil Magny as well as the impressive rookie Viacheslav Borshchev. All of these matchups (plus more) are covered below and feature BLÜ’s predictions along with the Bet99 Sportsbook Odds.
Main Card (4:00 PM PST)
Marc Diakiese vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Diakiese: +128 Borshchev: -158
Over 2.5: +125 Under 2.5: -160
Opening up the main card is an interesting one between one the most promising rookies of the year so far, Borshchev, and the veteran Diakiese who’s been here since 2016. Diakiese came into the UFC with a 9-0 record but has since fallen to 14-5 with two losses in his last two fights. He’s never been finished by KO/TKO but has 2 submission losses and has struggled against high level strikers like Fiziev. As I just said, Borshchev, also known as ‘Slava Claus’ is in his rookie year and was a contender for my Rookie of the Month BLÜ Bonus in January after he got a devastating body shot TKO in his debut. In 5 of his 6 wins he’s ended by KO/TKO; needless to say, he’s got power and technique on his side.
It may be close on paper because of their experience, but if you’ve seen ‘Slava Claus’, he’s got something special about him. Not too many people can claim they have a body shot TKO in the UFC, especially in their rookie year. Diakiese has a slight 4 inch edge in reach, but I just think ‘Slava’ is just more skilled; he should be able to dominate Marc to win a decision with relative ease or even give him his first TKO loss.
Borshchev by Finish
Aleksei Oleinik vs. Ilir Latifi
Oleinik: +166 Latifi: -209
Over 1.5: -167 Under 1.5: +130
This one’s for all the long-time UFC heavyweight fans; it’s a bout between two men that have been in the UFC for a combined 17 years. Oleinik is the most prolific MMA fighter I’ve ever seen with a mind-blowing record of 59-16-1. Although he’s almost always fought some of the toughest heavyweights in the division, things haven’t gone his way most of the time with a record of 2-5 in his last 7 bouts. It should be said that all 5 of those men are currently in the top 15 (except Overeem who has retired from MMA). Although Latifi has been in the UFC for a year longer than Aleksei, he has a much more modest record of 15-8. He’s had a similar history recently though, going 1-3 in his last 4, also to fairly tough contenders.
This one could truly swing in either direction, especially at heavyweight where one punch can change everything. Unlike most heavyweights, both of these men have a substantial number of decisions on their record. I’m going with a matchup of styles for this bout. Oleinik is well-known as one of the most dangerous heavyweights on the ground and is also one of the toughest heavyweights you’ll see. I think that because of all that, Oleinik will finally get a win to break his losing streak.
Oleinik by Decision
Askar Askarov vs. Kai Kara-France
Askarov: -400 Kara-France: +300
Over 2.5: -225 Under 2.5: +171
This is the top matchup of the night for me; you’ve got an undefeated, 2nd ranked contender on the one side and one of the most exciting young contenders on the other. Askarov is only 4 fights into his UFC career and hasn’t fought for a year. The craziest part is that in those 4 fights he’s beaten Benavidez, Pantoja and Elliott and had a draw with Moreno. Kai isn’t undefeated, but he’s got a decent record with six wins and two losses in the UFC. Of course, most recently, he’s made highlight reels after finishing Garbrandt in the 1st Round of his last fight.
This matchup isn’t just exciting because they’re both incredibly skilled; it’s exciting because either man could win this AND this will surely determine who will fight for the belt next. Immediately, the edge is likely in favour of the undefeated Askarov; he hasn’t lost and he’s fought some of the best in the division. What makes it interesting though is that since Askarov has been out, Kai has won himself two 1st Round TKO wins and seems to be rapidly improving. In spite of that, I’ll still have to go with the undefeated man who seems to be more well-rounded: Askar Askarov.
Askarov by Decision
Matt Brown vs. Bryan Barberena
Brown: -109 Barberena: -113
Over 2.5: +128 Under 2.5: -163
In this matchup we’ve got two men that are among some of the most active fighters in the UFC and have been around for years. Matt Brown has been entertaining for over a decade now after joining the UFC following the Ultimate fighter season 7 in 2008. At one point, Brown was on a 7 fight win streak; sadly, now he’s gone down to a record of 4-7 in his last 11 bouts. Barberena has been around for almost a decade himself with an up-and-down record since he joined the UFC in 2014. Seems like we’re in store for yet another coin toss here.
With both men struggling to put wins together against anyone impressive, either man could have a good night and take the win. The only difference that I’ve been seeing is that Brown has been collecting some finishes recently while Barberena’s either been winning by decision or getting knocked out in the process. If that trend continues, there’s a decent chance that we may see Brown finish Barberena. To give him another slight edge, Brown also has a small 4 inch edge in reach.
Brown by Finish
Joanne Wood vs. Alexa Grasso
Wood: +200 Grasso: -250
Over 2.5: -334 Under 2.5: +250
In the co-main tonight we’ve got ANOTHER fight between two high-ranked women. This time it’s the 7th ranked Joanne Wood, formerly known as Calderwood, facing off against the 9th ranked Grasso. Like many of the other fights on this card, this one seems to be a coin toss. Wood has been around the UFC since joining the Ultimate Fighter season 20 all the way back in 2014. Since then she’s mostly been fighting the division’s toughest contenders and has about as many wins as losses here. Sadly, she’s hit a rough patch recently with two losses in a row last year: a 1st Round loss to Taila Santos and a close split decision loss to Lauren Murphy. Grasso is much younger but has also been in the UFC for a while after joining all the way back in 2016. She’s had a few losses as well, but her record stands at a respectable 13-3 after winning her last two to Ji Yeon Kim and Maycee Barber.
The odds and the recent history of both women suggest that Grasso is an easy favourite. I think it’ll be a lot closer than those factors may suggest, but you can’t argue that Grasso seems like an easier choice to make in this case. I’m choosing Grasso, but there’s no reason why Wood can’t put together something special and take a win.
Grasso by Decision
Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus
Blaydes: -434 Daukaus: +320
Over/Under: Not Available
Closing out the night is a thrilling bout between two of the top contenders in the heavyweight division. Blaydes has had one of the most impressive runs in recent heavyweight history going 10-3-1 since he joined in 2016. It should also be said that all 3 of those losses came by KO/TKO and that two of them actually came from the current champ, N’Gannou. Daukaus has also been impressive in the UFC with a record of 4-1; his last fight of course ending in a quick KO loss to Lewis in December. This is an intriguing matchup with Blaydes coming in as an extremely dangerous grappler with quite a few KO wins, while Daukaus is strictly a striker… but a very dangerous one.
As I mentioned before Blaydes’ last fight with Rozenstruik, he made a simple mistake with Lewis and paid the price. He followed up that loss with a win over another knockout artist in Rozenstruik. To me, Rozenstruik and Daukaus are VERY similar, so I’d say that if Blaydes comes in and executes the exact same strategy, he’ll be beating Daukaus in a decision or perhaps even getting some kind of finish. But, bettors beware, with this much power flying around, you could see a finish coming from either side.
Blaydes by Decision
BLU’s Prelim Picks (Prelims begin at 1:00 PM PST)
David Dvorak vs. Matheus Nicolau
Dvorak: -129 Nicolau: +105
Over 2.5: -240 Under 2.5: +183
It’s early in the card but already we’ve got a clash between two explosive, ranked flyweight contenders. Dvorak is currently ranked 10th after going 3-0 in his first three fights here in the UFC. After getting kicked from the UFC in 2019, Nicolau came back last year and beat Kape and Elliott to rise into 7th in the division. As far as ranked fights go, this is intriguing because both only have a couple of fights in the UFC. Dvorak is currently on a 16 fight win streak, but again, only three of those have been in the UFC and none of them over someone who’s currently ranked. Nicolau, on other hand, only has two wins since his UFC return last year, but they were over the fiery, currently ranked contenders Manel Kape and Tim Elliott.
This should be an extremely close and entertaining three-round slugfest that could head either way. Physically speaking and in terms of their records, they’re essentially identical. The only difference comes down to the people they’ve fought in the UFC. While Dvorak hasn’t competed against anyone noteworthy, Nicolau’s recent wins have come over the veteran Elliott and the young, rising Manel Kape. Thanks to that edge in competition, I’m going to give the slight edge to Nicolau.
Nicolau by Decision
Jennifer Maia vs. Manon Fiorot
Maia: +350 Fiorot: -500
Over 2.5: -260 Under 2.5: +200
It’s still early in the night but we’ve got ANOTHER ranked fight, this time with the flyweight women. Just like the flyweight men before them, this is another extremely close one. Maia is a veteran of the UFC, fighting the most dangerous contenders since 2018. She’s beaten the likes of Modaferri, Wood and Eye. Although he’s had a few losses here, they’ve all been by decision to the toughest women in the division; this includes Chookagian TWICE and the champ, Valentina Shevchenko. Fiorot is much newer after joining the UFC just last year. Although she may be new, her record speaks for itself; she’s 8-1 with three wins in the UFC, all in her rookie year of 2021. The odds are VERY much in favour of Fiorot, likely due to her record, but I think people are overlooking the fact that Maia has only lost to the champ and the number two contender since 2019.
Maia’s last performance was earlier this year against Chookagian. If you go back and read my analysis of that fight, I distinctly remember saying that Chookagian looked okay… but nowhere near good enough to beat Shevchenko or Andrade and that Maia didn’t really do much to threaten her. Fiorot doesn’t have the experience, but she has the momentum and the hunger to make a move towards a title shot. It’ll be close and could go either way, but I’ll lean towards Fiorot. That being said, with those odds, it may be an idea to throw just a couple of dollars at Maia.
Fiorot by Decisio
Sara McMann vs. Karol Rosa
McMann: +180 Rosa: -220
Over 2.5: -200 Under 2.5: +154
Here we’ve got yet another fight between two ranked women’s bout, this time in the bantamweight division. McMann is ranked 9th right now after a loss to the current champ, Julianna Peña. She’s been in the UFC since 2013, but has had quite the shaky record, sitting at 6-6. Rosa is much younger and newer to the UFC, sitting at 4-0 here since she joined in 2019. She doesn’t have the experience, but with a record of 15-3 at the age of 27, she’s got an impressive run going.
On paper, this is another tight matchup, but this may be a case of the young, rising contender overtaking the seasoned veteran. Being that she’s 14 years younger, has the more impressive record at 15-3 and hasn’t lost in the UFC, I’m going to lean towards Karol Rosa.
Rosa by Decision
Neil Magny vs. Max Griffin
Magny: -260 Griffin: +200Over 2.5: -234 Under 2.5: +180
Closing out the prelims is the perennial ranked contender Neil Magny defending his 9th spot against a dangerous rising contender in Max Griffin. Magny is very well known to UFC audiences at this point after competing on the Ultimate Fighter all the way back in 2012. Since entering the UFC at a record of 7-1, he’s not found himself with an incredible record of 25-8. Amazingly, since the start of 2020 he’s fought 5 times with a record of 4-1. These include wins over impressive fighters like Li, Lawler and Neal and a loss to Chiesa. This man is a decision machine, controlling all of his recent opponents with overwhelming grappling. Griffin has also been entertaining UFC fans for a while since his debut in 2016 against none other than Colby Covington. He may be on a 3 fight win streak, but before that he struggled with a record of 3-6 here. Incredibly, the last 10 of those have ended in a decision.
Both men almost exclusively end their fights in decisions, the question is… who is going to edge the decision. Although Griffin will put up a decent fight, Magny will be able to control Griffin’s offence with his grappling and use his extreme length to land while he’s at a distance.
Magny by Decision
BLÜ’s Best Bets
Here I highlight some betting lines that you might want to take advantage of for UFC Columbus. 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.
The Underdog Matheus Nicolau at +105
In matchups this tight, statistically speaking it’s better to go with the underdog. That aside, Nicolau seems to hold a slight edge in terms of the people he’s fought recently. While Dvorak hasn’t fought someone who’s currently ranked, Nicolau’s two fights since his return have been wins over Kape and Elliott. Thanks to that edge in competition, there’s no reason why Nicolau can’t win against another ranked fighter.
Aleksei Oleinik at +166
Oleinik is one of the most experienced MMA fighters in history with almost 80 fights on his record. They’ve both got a similar record lately with a few losses, but the difference here is in the quality of opponents and their individual fighting styles. All of Oleinik’s losses recently have come from top 15 contenders; not only that he’s one of the toughest fighters on the roster. He’s got no quit in him and he’s an extremely gifted submission artist and grappler. With that kind of background, anyone would have a problem with him, especially another unranked veteran like Latifi.
The Short Run
Fiorot + Khizriev + Askarov +Blaydes
The Long Run
Fiorot + Khizriev + Rosa + Magny + Askarov + Grasso + Blaydes