LAS VEGAS — On paper, the middleweight title bout between champion Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero that headlines UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday is the classic MMA match that pits a boxer versus a wrestler.
Adesanya compiled a sterling 75-5 record as a kickboxer before committing full time to mixed martial arts. Romero won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, placed fourth in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and has five victories over gold medalists in his career.
But wrestling is such a minute part of Romero’s MMA game that this bout is really more of a striker-vs.-striker matchup.
Romero doesn’t look to use his wrestling nearly as much as would seem to make sense, though with the power in his hands, it’s understandable at some level.
But this may be the fight in which Romero might want to consider wrestling more. Adesanya’s footwork, angles and range are extraordinary, and without having to worry much about defending the takedown, he figures to see everything coming.
If he sees a punch, chances are good he won’t get hit by it and will counter Romero repeatedly.
Adesanya is a -304 favorite at BetMGM’s New Jersey site, with Romero a +215 underdog.
Unless Romero changes dramatically and goes to a wrestling-heavy style, all signs point to an Adesanya victory, so I’m going to lay the -304 and take Adesanya to win.
There are several interesting prop bets on this fight, but I’m going to lay -189 and say the fight will not go five full rounds. Only nine of their combined 35 bouts — five of Romero’s 17 and four of Adesanya’s 18 — have gone the distance. Each man has gone five rounds twice.
So I say the fight will not go five full rounds. If you believe it will, you can get it at +135.
I like two other plays on this fight, which are correlated. I am going to take Adesanya at +150 to win by KO/TKO or disqualification, and I’m going to take Adesanya at +1200 to win in the fourth round.
My rationale for those plays is that Romero tends to come on down the stretch after struggling in the early rounds to a degree. But if he’s struggling early against Adesanya, he’s going to be taking the kind of strikes he’s never felt before.
Romero has tired in fights, as well, and if he is taking an early beating, it stands to reason he’ll tire again. Adesanya fights a high-risk style, and he can be caught at any moment and that would render all of this moot. But he’s got by far the superior footwork, and that will enable him to control the range and use his advantages in height and reach.
I’m going to go with Adesanya by fourth-round knockout. Thank me later if you drop $100 and walk away with a $1,200 profit.
The co-main event is the bout that UFC president Dana White has said he’s most interested in seeing. Zhang Weili is a -200 favorite at BetMGM in New Jersey as she makes the first defense of her strawweight title, while former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is +200.
There is a concern about how the impact that all of the traveling Zhang has done to avoid the coronavirus could impact her. She left her native China on Feb . 1 to go to Thailand, but on Feb. 7, had to leave Thailand when the coronavirus showed up there. She went to Abu Dhabi and then left there on Feb. 22 to come to Las Vegas.
But she looked to be in magnificent shape, both at the open workouts and at the weigh-in, when she hit the division limit of 115 with a smile on her face.
This is another battle of strikers, but there are a number of reasons to side with Zhang in this fight. She’s the more powerful striker and has the more diverse arsenal. She’s also coming into her prime and seems to be the quicker fighter.
Jedrzejczyk is as durable as they come, and she’s been finished only once in 19 MMA fights, by Rose Namajunas in 2017.
Zhang has the ability to stop her, but Jedrzejczyk is in excellent condition and knows this could be her last crack at the crown, so she figures to be fully prepared.
I’ll lay the money and take Zhang to win. I’ll take a flyer on Zhang by decision or technical decision at +250.
Lay -400 to take Sean O’Malley over Jose Quinonez, who is +275.
Take the +175 on Austin Hubbard to defeat Olympic wrestler Mark O. Madsen, who is a -239 favorite.
Lay -154 on Deron Winn to defeat Gerald Meerschaert, who is +115.
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