The UFC heads to TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, this weekend, bringing pay-per-view action headlined by Aljamain Sterling -244 looking to defend his Bantamweight title for a fourth time against young superstar Sean O’Malley +210. That is not the only title on the line this weekend as Strawweight champ Weili Zhang -323 takes on dangerous finisher Amanda Lemos +270 in the co-main event. I gave out my picks and best bets for the entire card, so let’s go over it.
Odds Provided by Stake.com Accurate as of 8/17/2023 3:45 PM EST
This highly anticipated Bantamweight title fight goes down here in our main event. Aljamain Sterling has defended this title more than anyone using his high volume and creative pressure striking to set up his dominant ground game, which includes a signature back take that has earned him the title "human backpack." Sean O’Malley is a tall and long striker for the division with heavy power in his hands and kicks; his management of distance is also some of the best in the entire sport as he uses his switch stance jab to keep opponents at his range.
I'm taking O'Malley here as too many factors point to his side for him to be left at this price; whether it be size or youth, he has the advantage. I think he can find a knockout shot or even win rounds at range and take a decision if his defense is on point.
Pick: O'Malley O/U: Over 3.5 +114
This Strawweight title fight features two of the most dangerous finishers in all of women's MMA. Weili Zhang is an absolute monster, as she has vicious striking, a dominant ground game, and tremendous cardio, the only slight concern is the early loss to Rose Namajunas, but aside from that, I love everything I've seen from Zhang. Amanda Lemos is very big for the division, and she had power in all her strikes; her volume is not the highest, but she has very good killer instinct and hunts the finish well.
I'm on Zhang in this one as she is levels above in terms of skill, and barring an early knockout from Lemos, I see Zhang getting a finish of her own, whether early or late.
Pick: Zhang O/U: Over 3.5 +155
Short-notice opponent change at Welterweight grants Ian Garry his wish as he takes another step up in competition here. Neil Magny is a long grappler who has been a good test for prospects in the past, although he has not looked his best of late, coming off a close win over Phil Rowe. Ian Garry has been one of my favorite prospects to bet on for some time now as he has a very diverse striking attack that I love, and although his grappling remains a question mark at the highest level, I am very confident it will hold up.
I've got Garry by knockout in this one as Magny has been on a decline for some time now, and Garry is entering his prime; I do not see Magny being able to handle the speed and power of Garry for three rounds.
Pick: Garry O/U: Under 2.5 -149
A clash of Bantamweight prospects here with a chance to make a big statement here. Mario Bautista has all the tools and is putting it together with three straight first-round finishes, all coming by submission, although that is not to undermine the power in his hands. Da’Mon Blackshear makes an insane turnaround here after scoring the twister submission just a week ago; he is a very athletic grappler who clearly has a crafty submission game.
I'll go with Bautista here as I think he has a very high ceiling, and it is difficult to see Blackshear performing his best, given the circumstances.
Pick: Bautista O/U: Over 2.5 -137
Bantamweight battle of the iron chins goes down here to open the main card. Marlon Vera is a very hard hitter who sets traps for his opponents very well; he starts slow but is near unfinishable with great cardio. Pedro Munhoz comes into this off a great showing over Chris Gutierrez, where he displayed his well-rounded game; he has excellent calf kicks, although he is still rather small for the division.
I like Vera to get a decision here as both of these men are very durable, but Vera is much longer and could give Munhoz trouble closing distance.
Pick: Vera O/U: Over 2.5 -370
The return of a former Middleweight goes down here in the featured prelim. Chris Weidman looks to make a historic comeback here after breaking his leg several years ago; his wrestling has been a staple of his game for many years now, although it is worth noting all of his losses have come by knockout, and he is getting older. Brad Tavares is a solid veteran with good boxing and very strong defensive grappling; he is coming off a knockout loss to Bruno Silva but has bounced back from knockouts several times in his career.
This matchup heavily favors Tavares as he has good grappling defense and should be able to outstrike an older Weidman off a layoff.
Pick: Tavares O/U: Over 1.5 -217
Middleweight firefight featuring the return of a fan favorite here. Gregory Rodrigues has become one of the most entertaining fighters to watch in the sport as he is incredibly skilled in both striking and grappling, although his style is insanely aggressive, and he has some durability concerns, making all of his fights must-see. Denis Tiuliulin is a solid striker, although his grappling has not held up at the UFC level, with him being dominated by Jun Yong Park in his last fight.
Rodrigues should dominate this fight wherever it goes, as he has the grappling to end this whenever he wants, but he should also win the striking unless his durability is even worse than I think it is.
Pick: Rodrigues O/U: Under 1.5 -189
The Ultimate Fighter Lightweight finale goes down here. Kurt Holobaugh looked much better than I expected on the show, with high-volume striking and scoring a submission as well; he had no wins during his UFC run, leaving questions about how he performs against solid competition. Austin Hubbard was expected to be one of the best in the competition, and he has looked at using a well-rounded attack to earn a good win over Roosevelt Roberts in the semi-finals.
I think Hubbard should take this one, as he has a more well-rounded game that is more effective at this level; I also trust his defense a lot more.
Pick: Hubbard O/U: Over 2.5 -164
A great matchup of high-skill fighters who deserve to be here in the Bantamweight final of The Ultimate Fighter. Cody Gibson is a long and dangerous fighter who hunts the finish from the start; he has both knockout power and a good submission game as well. Brad Katona looks to become a two-time show winner here and will attempt to do so using his strong grappling base that helped him beat Timur Valiev in his last matchup.
This is a fantastic matchup, and I like Cody Gibson at this price as he is the longer of the two, and he has the finishing upside with his power and aggression.
Pick: Gibson O/U: Over 2.5
Middleweight grapplers square off here in a veteran vs. prospect-style matchup. Gerald Meerschaert has proven his game can cause problems with his awkward striking and high-level submission attack, although he can be in trouble when he does not have a clear grappling advantage. Andre Petroski is a very athletic and strong prospect who has impressed me so far in the UFC, showing a dangerous submission game and powerful hands.
I like Petroski here as he is good enough to defend the submission attack of Meerschaert and finish him.
Pick: Petroski O/U: Under 1.5 +103
One of the brightest prospects in the Flyweight division gets a big step up here. Andrea Lee is a battle-tested veteran who has fought many of the big names in the division, showing her strong striking, although her grappling has been an issue against good competition. Natalia Silva has become one to keep an eye on during her dominant UFC run, where she has shown a very well-rounded game that has allowed her to dominate grapplers on the ground and knockout strikers.
I am very high on Silva and think her grappling upside is massive here, making the steep price on her justified in my mind.
Pick: Silva O/U: Over 2.5 -208
An intriguing rematch opens the card here at Flyweight nearly a decade after the first clash between these two. Maryna Moroz is a veteran who has shown a solid game and competed with a high level of competition, although she has been relatively inactive over the last few years. Karine Silva lost in the first matchup between these two but has been on a very impressive run since, including two first-round finishes in the UFC.
I lean with Moroz here as she has competed with the much higher competition and should have the cardio edge.
Pick: Moroz O/U: Over 2.5
Ian Garry by KO/TKO
Andre Petroski Inside The Distance
Marlon Vera + Over 1.5 Rounds