UFC on ESPN 2: Barboza vs. Gaethje - Event Picks & Preview
Saturday March 30th 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Main Card: from 7pm ET on ESPN
Prelims: from 5pm ET on ESPN
Early Prelims: from 3:30pm ET on ESPN+
We went into UFC: Nashville with low expectations, but we came out with a few fun fights and another main event shock-upset at the hands of an Anthony “Showtime” Pettis Superman-punch!
This week the UFC rolls into Philly, for a night of fights that promises action and with a main event bout that MMA fans have had circled on their calendars for months now! Let’s jump into the picks for this weekend’s UFC: Philadelphia!
Undefeated Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alumni - Kennedy Nzechukwu makes his UFC debut this weekend against Scotland’s Paul Craig in a fascinating light heavyweight bout.
Nzechukwu enters the organisation with a level of intrigue to his name. He’s finished four of his six pro bouts via KO/TKO and he poses as a competent striker who can mix it up on the feet. Outside of his striking he’s relatively untested and this in large part is down to his physique. The Nigerian stands at a lofty 6’5”, with a lengthy 83-inch reach, to go with his well-built frame. His strength gives him power and eradicates some of his technical grappling deficiencies, although it can also slow him down and prove to be very fatiguing.
Paul Craig is now 2-3 in the UFC and has shown middling durability and a never quit mentality, as displayed in his last-second win over Magomed Ankalaev. The Scotsman has got a strong and well versed submission game and he’s a very aware fighter, that actively adjusts when he recognises his game plan isn’t working. What I like about Craig in this one is that if he can survive Nzechukwu’s early onslaught, he has the grit and knowhow to pull his opponent into deep-waters, where we’ve seen the younger and less experienced fighter struggle before. We’re taking what looks to be the value side of this line, on the more experienced Paul Craig @+175.
1u – Paul Craig @ +175
Main Event – Lightweight (155lbs): #6 Edson “Junior” Barboza (20-6-0) vs. #8 Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje (19-2-0)
Philly’s main event will see carnage unfold, as Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje goes to war with Edson Barboza, in a showdown that will establish the winner as a top contender in the lightweight division.
Justin Gaethje is only 2-2 in the UFC, but after entering the promotion at 17-0, he’s been afforded no easy fights, having only fought ranked opponents, including one former UFC champion in his four outings. “The Highlight” has lived up to his moniker as he’s recorded seventeen stoppage victories out of his nineteen wins, equalling a finish rate of 89.5%. His success is rather extraordinary given that he absorbs an almost unheard of 10.54 significant strikes a minute, whilst delivering a lessor number (although still insanely high) 8.53 strikes per minute. He’s got a strong wrestling background that is pretty much unseen during his time in the UFC as he thrives on his kill or be killed mentality, which he demonstrates with his variety based striking offense, combined with less impressive striking defence.
Barboza now has twenty bouts and almost nine years of experience within the UFC. He’s battled with the best of the best in the LW division but every time he’s about to eclipse a title challenging opportunity he falls just short. Surprisingly this will only be his second main event, whereas Gaethje has already racked up three in the promotion, with a further six in the WSOF – totalling 9 five-rounders in his last 11 bouts. This disparity of five-round fight experience could be troubling for Barboza, especially given that his stamina has failed him in some of his three-round fights. Typically, the cause of this is his love for throwing hard punches and flashy kicks, both of which can seriously drain stamina when blocked, or missed entirely.
Gaethje will begin almost immediately by marching Barboza down and trying to pin him on his back foot, something which the Brazilian has had issues with in the past. Once he has him back-pedalling it could be hard for Barboza to change the momentum of Gaethje, whose peak performance is when he piles forward and distributes strikes from head to toe on his opponent. Gaethje’s endurance is another conundrum for Barboza as he’s never looked like a fighter who slows down or takes a back step. This may sound like I’m making a case for Gaethje, but it’s simply impossible to not mention the kind of problematic fighter he can be.
My pick however, is going to be Barboza @-125. He may well have difficulty with the stylistic match-up, but he’s never been one for wilting under pressure, nor quitting once fatigued. I see him winning this one due to Gaethje’s susceptibility to receiving damage. Edson’s offense is only ineffective when his opponents become illusive and savvy to his exuberant high-energy striking. The Highlight doesn’t necessarily suffer from poor fight IQ, but the style he’s renowned for typically works against him when facing someone who has durability and precise one-shot knockout power. It may take Barboza a little while, but in this game it only takes one. The leg kick battle will be key, both have phenomenally fast and snapping low kicks that can slow down their opposition and keep them contained within a limited distance. Edson should be quick enough to check and avoid Gaethje’s and land them in return. I expect this to help him nullify the game plan and help withstand the pressure of Gaethje, ultimately leading to Barboza delivering a shot to end the fight.
1.25u – Edson Barboza @ -125
All the best of luck with this weekend's MMA! Now we have a two week break, then we're onto the much anticipated UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2!