The UFC is back for the first card of the year, headlined by Light Heavyweight contenders Magomed Ankalaev -526 and Johnny Walker +350 going head to head. This card also features a battle of top-ranked Flyweights in the co-main as Matheus Nicolau +200 and Manel Kape -263 face off again in a highly anticipated matchup. I went over every fight on this deep card and gave my picks and best bets, so let's get into it.
Odds provided by Stake.com accurate as of 1/9/2024 11:45 AM EST
A re-run of a bizarre first matchup between these two Light Heavyweights will see them go five rounds here in our main event. Magomed Ankalaev is a well-rounded monster with a powerful striking attack that includes good boxing and kicks and a wrestling game that saved him in a close fight with Jan Blachowicz where he was losing the striking. Johnny Walker is an explosive knockout artist with a weird style and a surprisingly improved ground game, although his durability has not been the best, with him suffering several knockout losses in brutal fashion.
Ankalaev should dominate this matchup, and I see him taking his time doing so either getting a mid to late stoppage or even a decision.
Pick: Ankalaev O/U: Over 1.5 -141
Rematch here at Flyweight after a close first matchup between these two went to Nicolau, although the decision is somewhat disputed. Matheus Nicolau looks to bounce back here after having his six-fight win streak broken by a first-round knockout loss to Brandon Royval; he has a good ground game and decent striking, although that was his third knockout loss, and Kape hurt him badly in their first matchup as well. Manel Kape has been on a roll of late with four wins since his first fight with Nicolau, each of which he has improved his game, including much better grappling and more aggression.
I've got Kape to get the knockout this time, as he had Nicolau badly hurt last time, and this time, I see him as more likely to get the finish based on recent performances.
Pick: Kape O/U: Under 2.5 +140
Lightweight veterans collide in this fun battle on the main card. Jim Miller is as battle-tested as they come in the UFC, and he is still going strong with three wins in his last four, including a vicious knockout in under half a minute his last time out. Gabriel Benitez returns to action here after a relatively long layoff, he has had a solid UFC run showing hard kicks, although it has mostly been at Featherweight, and anytime he faced solid opposition, he has been finished.
I like this matchup for Miller as he should have plenty of advantages to work with, especially in the grappling against a much less active fighter.
Pick: Miller O/U: Over 1.5 -143
The Bantamweight division shows its depth again as these two look to break into contention. Ricky Simon is a big and strong guy for the division with a smothering wrestling game and power in his hands; he has been tested against some of the best in the division and held his own, showing he is a solid test for any up-and-coming fighter. Mario Bautista has risen the ranks by winning seven of his last eight fights, showing a tremendous finishing ability with three submission wins in his last four fights and a knockout over Miles Johns on his resume as well.
I'll pick Simon here to grind out a tough decision, as it is hard to see an area where Bautista has a clear advantage.
Pick: Simon O/U: Over 2.5 -179
It's a Middleweight banger here that should not last very long. Phil Hawes is a tough fighter to get a read on as he has a very good skillset that earned him wins over Nassourdine Imavov and Jacob Malkoun, although his durability has been a serious issue, with him being knocked out three times in his last four fights. Brunno Ferreira burst onto the scene with a big knockout over Gregory Rodrigues early last year, although he would suffer a first-round loss his last time out against Nursulton Ruziboev, showing some questions about his defense and durability.
It is tough to trust Hawes to take a punch, especially against a big puncher, but there is a significant skill gap here, and Ferreira isn't super durable either, so I'll go with Hawes.
Pick: Hawes O/U: Under 1.5 -227
Another appearance for a former Heavyweight champion here taking on a prospect with plenty to prove. Andrei Arlovski has stayed around fighting much younger guys for a while now, using his relaxed pace style to drag guys into his kind of fight, and although it had worked for some time, he has been finished in his last two outings, and it appears father time may be catching up with him. Waldo Cortes-Acosta is a tough, hard-hitting boxer who has shown a big right hand that he loves to throw at a weird angle, although there is little diversity to his striking attack.
Cortes-Acosta should be able to take this one with his physical advantages and the potential for further decline from Arlovski, although at this price, I'll pass.
Pick: Cortes-Acosta O/U: Over 1.5 -135
Short notice replacement saves this fight at Welterweight. Matthew Semelsberger is a durable heavy hitter who has landed knockdowns plenty during his action-packed run. Preston Parsons is a high-paced grappler coming off a close loss to Trevin Giles.
I lean with Semelsberger here to land a big shot and get the knockout, but this is a very close fight that I could see going either way,
Pick: Semelsberger O/U: Over 1.5 -161
High pace action should be expected in this Bantamweight clash. Marcus McGhee looks to continue a fun UFC run with two stoppage wins; although not against the toughest competition, he did show both submission and knockout threats. Gaston Bolanos is a good kickboxer who throws dangerous and wild strikes, although his grappling has been weak, with most of his losses coming by submission.
I've got Bolanos here as the underdog as I believe this will be a striking match where I give Bolanos the edge, as I am not entirely sold on McGhee.
Pick: Bolanos O/U: Over 2.5 +165
This is an interesting matchup of Bantamweights who have yet to taste defeat in their UFC careers. Farid Basharat has shown to be a dangerous grappler in his two UFC fights, one of which is a victory over Da'Mon Blackshear, which has aged very well. Taylor Lapilus is a good kickboxer, although his wrestling is not great as despite getting the win, he was taken down by a debuting Caolan Loughran in his last fight.
Basharat has a clear edge in the grappling here, which I believe he will use to dominate this matchup and justify this steep price tag.
Pick: Basharat O/U: Over 2.5 -256
Featherweights looking to make a name for themselves face off here. Westin Wilson gets another shot after a tough first outing in the UFC, getting knocked out by Joanderson Brito; he is a decent submission grappler, although he has struggled when facing any solid competition. Jean Silva debuts here after earning a contract on the latest season of the contender series; he is an aggressive finisher who has never been finished in his professional career.
This price is completely unplayable, but I think Silva will win this fight as he is a well-rounded hard hitter, and I see Wilson having no answers.
Pick: Silva O/U: Under 1.5 -350*
Lightweight power punchers square off here early on the card. Tom Nolan is a tall and long striker who makes his debut here off an impressive showing on Dana White's Contender Series, where he earned his fourth straight knockout, maintaining his perfect record. Nikolas Motta makes a relatively quick turnaround after a disappointing performance against Trey Odgen late last year, where he was lucky to come away with a no-contest after the fight was stopped prematurely in the third round after domination from Ogden in the striking and grappling.
I like Nolan to get an early knockout in this one, as Motta has not looked good of late and is historically not very durable.
Pick: Nolan O/U: Under 1.5 -217
Young Flyweight prospects get the year started with this one. Felipe Burns makes his debut here as a good finisher with a dangerous submission game and some knockout power, although he has not had much success going the distance. Joshua Van has impressed me so far in his two UFC fights as a very young fighter he has shown an explosive striking game with the ability to land a wide array of strikes.
I'll pick Van here as he has looked like legit contender material in his young career, and I expect him to improve as he gains more experience.
Pick: Van O/U: Over 2.5 +115
Gaston Bolanos +225