We’re halfway through the year and we’re going to open the second half with quite possibly the best UFC card of the year.

I don’t get the chance to say this often, but I’m truly excited for EVERY matchup on this card. The night will open with some ranked bouts on the prelims including a flyweight battle between Jessica Eye and Maycee Barber, two middleweight bangers between Uriah Hall and Andre Muniz, as well as Brad Tavares and Dricus du Plessis.

Then, closing out the prelims we go to lightweight for a brawl between Brad Riddell and Jalin Turner. For the OG UFC fans, UFC veterans Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone will face off against Jim Miller and Robbie Lawler opens the main card against Bryan Barberena. We’ll also see HUGE fan favourites return to the Octagon like ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley, Ian Garry and Jessica-Rose Clark. If that wasn’t already enough, the night closes with two title fights and a VERY interesting matchup between Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira. The night will finish with Israel Adesanya defending his belt against Jared Cannonier, but one of the greatest trilogies of all time comes right before: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 3. All of these matchups (plus more) are covered below and feature BLÜ’s predictions along with the Bet99 Sportsbook Odds. As a special bonus, the ninth episode of The Ultimate Fighter Season 30: Peña vs. Nunes (as seen on UFC Fight Pass) is also covered below.

Main Card (7:00 PM PST)

Robbie Lawler vs. Bryan Barberena

BET99 Odds

Lawler:  -117   Barberena:  -106

Over 2.5:  -217     Under 2.5:  +166

After a late, COVID-related cancellation from Lauren Murphy in her matchup with Tate, these two other UFC veterans will open the main card instead. The former champ, Robbie Lawler, hasn’t been all that active lately, but every time he gets in the Octagon it’s a show.  Since losing his belt to Woodley in 2016, his record has been an unfortunate 2-4, but don’t let that fool you. His losses have come to some of the best in the division: RDA, Askren, Covington and Magny. In his last outing he took another spot on a PPV main card and absolutely dismantled Nick Diaz. Barberena hasn’t had the same success in his career, but has always been one of the most active and game fighters on the roster. He’s struggled facing top tier opponents, losing to Randy Brown, Luque, Edwards and Covington, but is always down for a brawl.

Like most of the matchups on this card, either man has a chance of winning this fight. They’re both scrappy and love a bloody, all-out brawl. Based on what they’ve recently shown, I’d say that Lawler carries the edge. Of course he has all of his championship experience, but that aside, he’s the more precise striker and has unbreakable cardio. These two are sure to put on one hell of a fight, but Lawler should edge ahead when it reaches the judges’ cards.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Lawler by Decision

Pedro Munhoz vs. Sean O’Malley

BET99 Odds

Munhoz:  +233     O’Malley:  -300

Over 2.5:  -128     Under 2.5:  +100

In one of the best matchups on an already STACKED card, ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley is going to try and climb the rankings, taking on the 10th ranked Pedro Munhoz. The veteran Munhoz joined the UFC in 2014 and has been in the top 15 since. He’s grabbed wins over Font, Jimmie Rivera and Garbrandt, but has fallen in his last two to Aldo and Cruz. Ranked 13th, O’Malley is already one of the biggest superstars in the UFC. With a record of 15-1, with the loss coming from a self-inflicted injury though, he really hasn’t truly been tested in his fights yet. Since “losing” to Vera, he’s turned it around with three of the most dominant striking displays I’ve ever seen, absolutely destroying Thomas Almeida, Kris Moutinho and Paiva.

Munhoz is a great striker with LOTS of kicks, kicks that he’ll need to use against O’Malley to slow him down a bit. That being said, with Suga’s unreal striking ability, his movement, his speed and his power, I don’t think Munhoz stands much of a chance. Munhoz gets hit a LOT and he gets knocked down a decent amount. Considering ‘Suga’ has hit every single one of his opponents CLEAN, including Vera, it’s clear that the same thing will happen here. Interestingly, Moutinho was in the corner of Munhoz before. That tells me that Munhoz will employ a similar strategy. That strategy involved walking forward constantly to take some of O’Malley’s power away. Sadly, Munhoz doesn’t have the chin to stand up to that kind of damage. Munhoz has never been knocked out in his career… but I truly believe ‘Suga’ is going to change that.

BLÜ’s Prediction

O’Malley by Finish

Sean Strickland vs. Alex Pereira

BET99 Odds

Strickland:  -117    Pereira:  -105

Over 1.5:  -186     Under 1.5:  +145

Out of all the matchups on the card, this is the one that’s the most mysterious. With a 6 fight win-streak over top middleweights like Brendan Allen, Uriah Hall and Hermansson, Strickland has now found himself ranked 4th. On the other side is a world champion kickboxer, Alex Pereira, who only has an MMA record of 5-1. What’s interesting about that is he’s only got two fights in the UFC: Andreas Michailidis and Bruno Silva.

This fight is a complete mystery because there’s absolutely no way of knowing what Strickland’s approach is going to be and how this fight will go. Strickland prefers to brawl; he uses his incredible chin and his crisp, basic, technical striking to win his fights. But, that doesn’t seem like a strategy one would use against one of the best kickboxers of all time. Instead, he’ll likely use some grappling in between his strikes to nullify the power of Pereira. Considering Pereira’s minimal grappling experience, that’s probably the smartest approach. It should also be noted that Strickland trains with an incredible wrestler who’s also at the top of the rankings: Marvin Vettori. This is truly a coin toss with Almeida’s striking and power and Strickland’s defence and grappling. Thanks to that grappling ability, helped out by Vettori, plus Strickland’s relentless pressure, I think he should be able to edge ahead in a tight decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Strickland by Decision

Co-Main Event (Featherweight Title Fight)

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway

BET99 Odds

Volkanovski:  -200   Holloway:  +157

Over 4.5:  -267   Under 4.5:  +200

Once again, two of the greatest featherweights in combat sports history face off for the title. Up 2-0 in their series, Volkanovski is looking to continue his absurd 21 fight win-streak that includes Aldo, Ortega and the Korean Zombie. Holloway, after dropping the first two fights by decision to Volk, is looking to regain his title after two unbelievable fights against Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez.

In a trilogy like this, you really just have to look at what happened in the previous matchups. In the first, Volk won a fairly dominant decision thanks to his kicks and his precise striking. In the second fight, Holloway came back STRONG, dropping Volk twice, but ended up losing a TIGHT split decision because of Volk’s grappling. I think we’re going to see two things in this matchup. Just like the last time, Holloway is going to pressure forward, maybe even harder this time, and probably stun Volk. BUT, knowing how well the grappling worked last time, Volk is going to start using it sooner to control Holloway’s offence and win on the cards. Just like the other times, this one could go either way, but you’ve gotta give the advantage to Volkanovski. Not only has he won both of his fights against Holloway, but I actually think he’s gotten MUCH better since then. For the third time, I see a tight decision, edging in favour of Volk.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Volkanovski by Decision

Main Event (Middleweight Title Fight)

Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier

BET99 Odds

Adesanya:   -450    Cannonier:   +333

Over 4.5:  -123    Under 4.5:  -105

Unlike the other title fight, there’s a clear favourite here and his name is Adesanya. He may have taken his last couple of fights easy, not really gunning for a finish over Whittaker and Vettori, but he’s still one of the best strikers in the world. Cannonier has a unique background, actually joining the UFC at heavyweight, slowly making his way down here to middleweight. Since joining middleweight, he’s gone 5-1 with wins over top contenders,Hermansson, Gastelum and Brunson and his lone loss coming to Whittaker.

Cannonier has a lot of power and is a great striker, but in his recent fights he was dropped by the wrestler Brunson and dropped BAD by Whittaker. He also struggled with Whittaker’s speed and movement. The only way someone is going to beat Adesanya at middleweight is if they’re an absolutely sensational wrestler; he’s just too good at striking to be beat on the feet. Considering Cannonier was dropped by Brunson and almost finished by Whittaker, I’m predicting a TKO win for Adesanya… unless he decides to take it easy again and win by decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Adesanya by Finish

BLU’s Prelim Picks (Prelims begin at 3:00 PM PST)

Brad Tavares vs. Dricus du Plessis

BET99 Odds

Tavares:  +120    du Plessis:  -148

Over 2.5:  -112    Under 2.5:   -116

In one of the many dead-even matchups on this card, Brad Tavares defends his number 12 ranking against the rising South African contender Dricus du Plessis. Since joining the UFC in 2010 after the Ultimate Fighter season 11, Tavares has done well, earning a spot in the top 15 with wins over Jotko and Akhmedov and losses to the champ, Adesanya, and Shahbazyan. Du Plessis only has two appearances in the UFC so far, but made them count with two TKO wins.

As I said, this could go either way, but Tavares, being the more experienced man, likely holds the edge. Tavares is fairly large, quick, tough and has great striking with a little bit of grappling thrown in. Meanwhile, Du Plessis has clear power and uses a lot of kicks, but is a tad slow. The main difference is that Dricus struggled when his opponents pressured him actually won both of his fights the same way: he dropped both men with a punch they didn’t see coming and the ref stopped both of them pretty quick. He has the chance to do the same thing to Tavares, but with Brad’s extra speed, experience and striking skills, I think Tavares should win a tight decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Tavares by Decision

Jessica Eye vs. Maycee Barber

BET99 Odds

Eye:  +233    Barber:  -300

Over 2.5:  -286    Under 2.5:   +214

In the lone ranked women’s bout of the card, the 12th ranked Eye will try and stop the young, 14th ranked contender Maycee Barber. Since her title shot against Valentina that ended in one of the most brutal headkick KOs in UFC history, she’s gone downhill with a 1-3 record, losing to Calvillo, Joanne Wood and Maia. Barber was looking unstoppable, opening her career with an 8-0 record. She then stumbled with losses to Modaferri and Grasso, plus she had a split decision win over Maverick that had the MMA world questioning the sanity of the judges. She came back in her last though with a fairly clear win over another promising young prospect in Montana de la Rosa.

As you could probably guess, this is another dead-even matchup. Both women have a very clear chance of winning. The only things that have me leaning towards Barber is her size and her last fight. She’s clearly one of the biggest, strongest women in the division and used that size to shut down Montana in her last fight. Eye has good striking, but gets hit a lot and isn’t one of the best grapplers. Barber is likely going to try and bulldoze straight through Eye, push her against the fence and probably even take her down. With that strategy and her heavy punches, I think Barber will win a very tight decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Barber by Decision

Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller

BET99 Odds

Cerrone:  +154    Miller:  -189

Over 1.5:  -148    Under 1.5:   +114

After having his matchup with Lauzon cancelled not one, but THREE times in a couple months, the UFC has given ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone a matchup against a different veteran: Jim Miller. This is a matchup that’ll have all the OG UFC fans excited. Both of these men are at the top of the UFC in both appearances AND wins. ‘Cowboy’ splits his time between lightweight and welterweight, but has far more success against lightweight. Although he has some of the most wins in UFC history, he’s struggled quite a bit recently with a record of 0-5-1 in his last 6. It’s important to point out though that all of these were to top contenders like Pettis, Gaethje, McGregor and, most recently, Alex Morono. Miller has had much more recent success, going 3-3 in his last 6, but he’s also been fighting MUCH less experienced fighters, beating two debuting fighters in his last two fights.

With all the experience and skills in this matchup, of course it’s going to be a dead-even fight, but there’s one factor that has me leaning towards a much-needed win for ‘Cowboy’. He fights at 170 (where this fight takes place) and, although he’s lost a lot recently, competes well at that weight. You can’t forget that he’s got multiple HUGE head-kick KOs and is a very good grappler. I’d say they’re fairly evenly matched on the feet, but ‘Cowboy’ has the extra power and durability and a fairly clear advantage in grappling. Thanks to those advantages, Cerrone should be able to edge out a hard-fought decision and possibly end his career on a high note.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Cerrone by Decision

Brad Riddell vs. Jalin Turner

BET99 Odds

Riddell:   +122     Turner:   -150

Over 2.5:  +145     Under 2.5:  -186

At this point you shouldn’t be surprised, we’ve got another VERY evenly matched fight here, this time in the lightweight division. Brad Riddell comes into this week ranked 14th, opening his UFC run with 4 straight wins, but losing a dead-even brawl against Fiziev in his last. Turner got his start on the Contender Series in 2018 and lost his debut to none other than Vicente Luque at welterweight. From there, he decided to make his home at lightweight. Since making that switch, he’s used his unusual height and length to his advantage, going 5-1 with his most recent win coming against Jamie Mullarkey.

Both of these men have a distinct chance of winning this fight. Riddell is HUGE for this division and has a lot of power because of it. In spite of that size, he’s very quick. His speed primarily comes from the strikes he chooses to use; he’s very technical and crisp, meaning he uses a lot of straight shots and doesn’t waste energy. Meanwhile, Turner is quicker with his kicks and uses his length as a weapon. Both men are fantastic on the feet, but Riddell, training out of City Kickboxing with Adesanya, Kai-Kara France and Dan Hooker, has more skill on the feet. He had a close fight with one of the cleanest strikers of the division, Fiziev, and ate some pretty big shots until the final round. On the other side, Turner was almost finished in his last one against Mullarkey. Aside from the striking, Turner has been taken down and controlled fairly easily. While Riddell is definitely not a grappler, he can use his brute strength to control Turner and shut down his offence. It’ll be quite the fight, but I think Riddell will edge ahead in a decision.

BLÜ’s Prediction

Riddell by Decision

BLÜ’s Best Bets

Here I highlight some betting lines that you might want to take advantage of for UFC 276. These are odds that favour the bettor. Although some of them may conflict with my picks, they offer a fair reward for a slight bit of risk.

Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier Under 4.5 at -105

Adesanya’s been taking a fairly easy, boring approach to his fights lately, edging ahead in tight decisions. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s fully capable of finishing anybody. Cannonier was knocked down by Brunson and hurt BAD by Whittaker. If he got caught by a wrestler, Brunson, and was almost finished by Whittaker, it seems pretty likely that Izzy will grab a finish before the end of the 5th Round.

Jim Miller vs. Donald Cerrone Over 1.5 at -148

Both of these men are extremely durable guys who get into a lot of decisions. Cerrone doesn’t seem as though he’ll be able to finish Miller with either his standup or his grappling. Meanwhile, Miller isn’t used to fighting at welterweight and, because “Cowboy’s” size likely won’t be able to grab a finish either. At -148, this is an easy choice.

The Underdog Donald Cerrone at +154

Both of these men are VERY evenly matched. Even though he hasn’t had the best record recently, Cerrone still has all the skill, power and mindset to win this fight. With his well-rounded skillset, his extra pace and his extra size, he’s got a great chance of winning this fight. At +158, this is one of the best value bets around.

Parlay Opportunities

The Short Run

Muniz + O’Malley + Adesanya

The Long Run

Barber + Muniz + O’Malley + Volkanovski + Adesanya

TUF 30: Episode 9 Recap

For the milestone 30th season of the Ultimate Fighter, we’re following coaches Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes as they lead teams of heavyweights and flyweight women to find the next UFC superstars. In the last episode we saw the last quarterfinal of the season: a closely-contested flyweight fight between Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) and Hannah Guy (Team Peña) that ended somewhat unceremoniously. It seemed as though each woman had banked a round and that we’d see a final, sudden victory 3rd Round, but, as usual, the judges took it upon themselves to ruin the fun and end the fight, giving Brogan Walker the final spot. Dana White and BOTH coaches were confused and ready to start the 3rd Round, but that was it.

After some discussion, Dana provided the semi-final matchups. To open the semifinals, Dana went with two of Peña’s heavyweights: Jordan Heiderman and Zac Pauga. This is exactly what Peña requested and it makes sense because they’re evenly matched. That left Eduardo Perez (Team Nunes) and Mohammed Usman (Team Peña), the number 1 picks for each team, to fight in the other heavyweight semifinal. Then, for the flyweights, Dana matched up Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) and the alternate, Laura Gallardo (Team Peña), plus Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes) and Juliana Miller (Team Peña) in the other fight because of their fighting styles. These are looking like some fantastic matchups and it all started this week with two of Team Peña’s heavyweights: Jordan Heiderman and Zac Pauga.

At the start of the season, Zac Pauga (Team Peña) took on Nyle Bartling (Team Nunes) and won in a fairly dominant decision. As for Jordan Heiderman (Team Peña), we just saw him a couple episodes ago take on Chandler Cole (Team Nunes). Sadly for him, his fight didn’t go as well in the first two round where he was dropped by a stunning, highlight reel, spinning wheel kick. Amazingly, the judges pushed the fight into a 3rd Round where he ended up grabbing a comeback TKO win over Cole.

Interestingly, on her own season of TUF, coach Julianna Peña found herself in the exact situation, fighting a teammate who was sleeping in the same room as her. They both decided to handle it the same way with training on opposite sides of the gym. There may not have been drama between the two men, but drama did arise after it was found that one of team Peña’s flyweights, Helen Peralta, was drunk at practice. She then explained that she was just very emotional and upset because she was out of the competition and seeing the matchups the night before made her go over the edge. She then confronted teammate Laura Gallardo about the fact that she told the coaches about the drinking. It didn’t go too well, but they got through it with the help of their team.

This week the coaches finally had their first coach’s challenge: axe throwing! Sadly for Team Peña, Juliana had never done axe throwing, while Amanda was pretty confident in her skills. Both women started off slow with a score of 3-2 for Nunes in the 1st Round. Nunes looked like she was gonna pull away with a 7-2 lead, but on her last throw, Julianna managed to somehow hit the bullseye and tie it at 7. In Round 3, Nunes really pulled ahead, bringing her score to 15. Sadly, Julianna couldn’t quite get it and found herself down 10-15. Continuing on that trend, Round 4 ended 18-10 for Nunes, but there was still a chance for Peña to come back. That seemed to get out of reach though as Nunes brought the score to 24-10 after her turn. Sadly, her first axe bounced off the target and Nunes won the first coach’s challenge, bringing some great money to her team.

In other fun news in the house, it was actually Pauga’s birthday just before his fight. They ended up getting him some cake and made him a song and card. In a touching moment before the fights, both men got to call their families. Pauga had a nice call with his wife and kids while Heiderman got to talk to his girlfriend. Due to the fact that both men are on the same team, Peña didn’t like the idea of her or her other coaches cornering either guy. Instead, they were allowed to bring in their own coaches. Interestingly, this was the first time this had been done on the show. Both men in came almost physically identical with the same reach, same height and only a 3 pound size advantage for Heiderman.

Pauga grabbed the momentum early, picking Heiderman apart early with some CRISP jabs. After a few minutes Jordan had his first moment, pinning Pauga to the fence and almost taking him down. Unfortunately for him, Pauga got out of it and they went back to striking. This led to an easy first round on the cards for Pauga. Pauga kept that momentum going into the 2nd Round, landing BOMBS early, dropping Heiderman. With a couple more punches, that was it and Pauga punched his ticket in the finale, live on a future UFC card.

Now that the first heavyweight has made it to the finals, next episode we see which flyweight will do the same. First up is Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) and the alternate, Laura Gallardo (Team Peña).