The UFC travels overseas to the O2 Arena in London for Saturday’s Fight Night card. The main event pits heavyweight’s Tom Aspinall against Marcin Tybura. It will be Aspinall’s first fight since suffering a gruesome knee injury in his bout with Curtis Blaydes this time last year. I’m excited to see if England’s rising heavyweight contender can pick up where he left off, as there are some very intriguing matchups awaiting at the top of the division.
I’m always pumped up to see the fights back in London. You can count on the atmosphere at the O2 Arena being loud and energetic, regardless of whether it’s a pay-per-event or a Fight Night card. It’s a fun crowd that shows up for its fighters, and having some of the area’s biggest names on the same card brings a different dynamic.
The most underrated benefit is the early start time. The first fight is scheduled for noon ET, with the main card getting underway at 3 p.m. If you are like me and want to get the blood flowing early, there are a few live underdogs on the preliminary card that are worth a look.
We have been successful grabbing early line value the past two weeks, and it paid off last Saturday, when Alexander Munoz got the best of Carl Deaton III.
This week we turn to the women’s bantamweight division as No. 4 Ketlen Vieira faces No. 6 Pannie Kianzad as a -160 favorite at BetMGM. Here’s why I’m backing the underdog, and I expect the odds to shorten as we get closer to Saturday.
Ketlen Vieira (-160) vs. Pannie Kianzad (+125)
Vieira (7-3 UFC) shot up the rankings after consecutive wins over Holly Holm and Miesha Tate, only to get pushed out of the title conservation after dropping a decision to Raquel Pennington in January. The loss to Pennington was concerning on a few different levels. Vieira doesn’t have the fastest hands in the division, but she can make up for it against most opponents with her power. However, we don’t see the aggression from Vieira that power-reliant fighters tactically employ to give themselves the best chance to win. Instead, Vieira starts slow offensively and gets in these lulls where she is far too content to compete at range.
Pennington has flaws like everyone in the division, but she has that dog in her. Pennington fought with much more urgency, and Vieira let her take the fight from her. A fighter of Vieira’s size and power shouldn’t be getting outstruck 22-8 in the clinch in the biggest fight of her career. Vieira’s lack of volume makes it difficult to control fights and win rounds. In 10 fights with the UFC, Vieira only outlanded one opponent (Ashlee Evans-Smith). She is 2-2 in her last four fights, and her wins over Tate and Holm aren’t as impressive as they initially looked.
Kianzad (6-3 UFC) will take the center of the Octagon and make this an ugly fight for Vieira. She will put pace on Vieira while looking to exploit her in the clinch, similarly to what we saw out of Pennington. Kianzad has a solid enough fight IQ to know she has to close the distance to minimize Vieira’s length and avoid getting taken down. Neither fighter will fare well with the other on top, but I’m confident Kianzad can avoid that fate in a three-round fight. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kianzad attacked the legs early, compromising Vieira’s ability to drive for those takedowns in an effort to steal a close round late. Keep an eye out for when the odds for Kianzad to win by decision open at BetMGM. Her last eight fights all went to the scorecards, and she hasn’t finished an opponent since 2014. She grinds out wins, almost always by decision, and I am betting that’s exactly how this fight plays out given Vieira’s recent form. We are getting a solid price at +125 for the fighter who has all the tools to exploit her opponent’s weakness. I will bank on her aggression getting her the nod. The bet: Pannie Kianzad (+125)