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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will return to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for UFC Fight Night 164, closing the books on a 12-week stretch with at least one UFC event. All 12 fights on the card feature at least one Brazilian fighter, and most of them are odds-on favorites. Está na hora for the UFC Fight Night 164 edition of Prime Picks.
Jan Blachowicz (-165)
A former KSW champion, Blachowicz made an emphatic UFC debut in 2014, finishing Ilir Latifi with a nasty body kick in less than two minutes. From there, he dropped four of his next five fights, all by decision, and appeared to be on his way out the door. Instead, he enjoyed a career resurgence that started with a tapout of Devin Clark in 2017 and has rarely slowed since. He defeated Jared Cannonier, won a firefight with Jimi Manuwa and submitted Nikita Krylov, putting him in prime position for a title eliminator. There, the heavier-handed Thiago Santos put him down in Round 3, but Blachowicz managed to bounce back by making Luke Rockhold quite unwelcome at 205 pounds in July.
Once one of the premier middleweights in the sport, Souza has perhaps surprisingly alternated wins and losses in each of his last six appearances dating back to 2017. His finishes of Tim Boetsch, Derek Brunson and Chris Weidman may have been impressive, but his losses to Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum and Jack Hermansson sent him tumbling down the rankings before he could earn an elusive title shot. This move to light heavyweight is something that likely should have been done years ago, as he follows former opponents Weidman and Rockhold in the 20-pound jump. The talented grappler will turn 40 in less than a month, a fact which is not lost on anyone.
Although known and feared as a deadly submission artist, “Jacare” has only tapped one fighter in the last five years, and that was Boetsch. The Lincolnville, Maine, fighter has an Achilles heel in his submission game, as he is the only competitor in UFC history to submit to multiple kimuras: He has done so three times, including once against Souza. Since that win over Boetsch, however, Souza has only attempted one submission, doing so against Gastelum in the first round and failing to land it when time expired. In his last three fights, Souza has absorbed more significant strikes than practically any of his bouts dating back to his 2011 clash with Rockhold for the Strikeforce middleweight belt.
Souza’s recent appearances have seen him show less interest in taking the fight to the ground, choosing instead to stand and bang it out with his opponents. Rebuffed by Hermansson on all three of his takedown attempts, Souza had no choice but to keep the fight standing and slug it out with the longer, rangier fighter. “Jacare” struggled at times with the reach advantage of his opponent, and Blachowicz has an extra inch on his punches that Hermansson did not and wields a wingspan six inches greater than Souza. As long as he thwarts any takedown attempts from the multiple-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships gold medalist and keeps the fight on the feet, Blachowicz should find a way to keep Souza on the end of his punches and kicks to take home a win. If you feel the 36-year-old Pole can force a stoppage, Blachowicz Wins Inside Distance sits at +123. If you believe that no matter who wins the fight ends before the final bell, Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision is a sizeable -265 -- and for good reason.
Mauricio Rua Wins by TKO/KO (-160)
If this fight reaches the scorecards, something likely went wrong along the way for these two finishers. Rua has won four of his last five fights, with the lone blemish since 2015 coming against top contender Anthony Smith. He bookended that loss with knockouts of Gian Villante and Tyson Pedro, and Paul Craig is just the kind of fighter who can be drawn into a risky exchange in which he gets cracked. Rua will turn 38 in a little over a week, so the clock is ticking on how much he and his chin have left to give. Considering a whole 92 percent of Craig’s wins have come by tapout and that he has been outstruck in five of his eight UFC bouts, we do not expect that the Scottish fighter can win out on the feet.
Craig has been known to take astonishing amount of punishment and pull off a comeback victory, as “Bearjew” has done so on two separate occasions, first against Magomed Ankalaev with a literal last-second triangle choke and then after 14 minutes against Kennedy Nzechukwu, also by triangle. The submission danger is clear and apparent for “Shogun,” but other than unexpected tapouts to Forrest Griffin and Chael Sonnen -- along with a guillotine choke loss to Renato Sobral prior to joining Pride Fighting Championships -- Rua’s submission defense has largely held up over the years.
Craig has demonstrated time and time again that his chin is there to be tested, and “Shogun” still has the power to shut off someone’s lights. If Rua hurts Craig and follows him down to the ground, he will still need to remain cautious of the Scot’s offensive guard. If you believe the “Bearjew” can indeed elicit the tap, Craig Wins by Submission sits at a significant +450. Either way you choose, keep in mind that Rua has now been a UFC fighter far longer than his legendary Pride tenure: three years and four months across 13 bouts (12-1) in Pride, compared to 12 years and one month with 19 scraps (10-9) inside the Octagon.
Charles Oliveira Wins by Submission (-135)
This matchup might seem puzzling on its face, as Oliveira is riding a five-fight finish streak with none going beyond 3:22 of the second frame. In that span, he has secured and extended the record for the most submission wins in UFC history with 13. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Oliveira currently holds the third-most submission attempts in promotional history with 30. This raw number of attempts without context may be misleading, because this translates to an incredible success rate of over 43 percent whenever he aims for a submission. Oliveira has attempted at least one in each of his last eight fights and has secured a remarkable five tapout victories in that span.
Opponent Jared Gordon rebounded from back-to-back knockout losses with a decision win over Dan Moret in June. In that performance against Moret, “Flash” stayed calm when under fire. Gordon outworked Moret to take a decision due to his grappling prowess and submission defense. However, he found himself in a dangerous position early on when Moret briefly secured full mount in the opening frame. His takedown defense rate of 50 percent does not quite paint the entire picture, as only three of his five opponents have even attempted to get Gordon to the canvas, and the last two -- Moret and Joaquim Silva -- succeeded.
Gordon has staved off all four official submission attempts in his short UFC career and will certainly not be pursuing any against Oliveira. It would be in Gordon’s best interest to keep this fight standing, where his varied striking can have an effect. He has eclipsed 60 significant strikes landed in three of his five Octagon outings, while connecting with 100 against Silva and Hacran Dias. Although Gordon has repeatedly taken down all but one of his UFC opponents, he should not try to employ a similar game plan when facing such a skilled grappler with a dangerous guard. One of the few fighters to effectively do some damage against Oliveira while on top was Paul Felder, and he was the last man to defeat the Brazilian. Consequently, Gordon trains with Felder at Roufusport, so it is possible that he can pick up some tips on how to attack and what he should avoid.
“Do Bronx” is the highest favorite on the card (-410), but if you feel that winning by submission pigeonholes him with his grappling and ignores his steadily improving striking skills, Oliveira Wins Inside Distance may be a safer -195. This fight has the makings of one that ends before the final bell, as Oliveira has only reached the scorecards three times in 36 fights. Meanwhile, Brooks has never lost in any way other than by stoppage. We expect that within two rounds Oliveira will earn a tap of some kind and cash in on a narrow prop bet that is only in favorite territory because of his reputation. While bets selecting the exact method of victory impose significant risk because the fight game can be volatile, historically speaking, “Shogun” by knockout and Oliveira by submission are rarely bad plays.
Bobby Green (+120)
The way Green has presented himself in the past tells a tale of two fighters. When motivated and seemingly interested in the fight, Green can beat most fighters in the division. When playing and dancing around, pretending that vicious strikes from Edson Barboza do not hurt, he can cruise to a disappointing loss. Green hung up the gloves in December after a decision defeat to Drakkar Klose, but as many retirements in this era go, he did not stay away for long. Even so, his 1-4-1 record across the last five years does not inspire a great deal of confidence. A pure volume striker by trade, Green is part of a small number of lightweight fighters throughout company history who land an average of over five significant strikes per minute.
Francisco Trinaldo has also seen better days since 2017, with wins over Jim Miller and Evan Dunham spread between defeats to Kevin Lee, James Vick and a puzzling performance against Alexander Hernandez in his last fight. Against Hernandez, the two largely stared at one another for 15 minutes, with two judges awarding controversial 30-27 scorecards for the American that showed the fire may be fading in the Brazilian's eyes. Having turned 41 in August, the man they call “Massaranduba” -- or bulletwood, also in reference to a goofy muscular Brazilian television character named Carlos Massaranduba -- appears unfazed by his relative advanced age compared to many others in the division. Eventually, all runs come to an end, and conventional wisdom says that “time and tide wait for no man.” Eight years his junior, Green can simply win by being more active inside the cage, utilizing his unorthodox movement and sharp boxing and exploiting a likely speed advantage. As a bonus, we also expect that this fight will likely go three full rounds (-265), and if you believe that Green takes home a decision win, the line rests at a decent +195.
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