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UFC 241 on Saturday in Anaheim, California, had a little for everybody and a lot for some savvy bettors. Six of the 12 underdogs scored upsets, including four of five on the main card. Meanwhile, Sabina Mazo, initially the slightest of underdogs against Shana Dobson in our Prime Picks breakdown, closed as a favorite and picked up a win. With so much to discuss, let us dive right into this edition of Beating the Books.
Khama Worthy (+650)
Normally, the top slot is reserved for the highest-billed underdog to win, but Worthy makes for a worthy exception. Taking the fight on about four days’ notice, Worthy replaced Clay Collard, who in turn was subbing for John Makdessi against Devonte Smith. A massive -1000 favorite, Smith came into the fight with plenty of momentum, having finished each of his last six opponents, including two in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Worthy had earned his opportunity, beating each of his last five adversaries.
As the two men are friends and former training partners, neither was willing to engage seriously as the opening round played out. Worthy tried to find his range with a few kicks and Smith did much of the same; the UFC debutant took an eye poke early on. From there, Worthy tried to sit on counterstrikes, hoping to catch Smith on the way in. After going tit-for-tat for another minute or so, “The Deathstar” blasted away with a left hand in a short exchange that sent Smith crashing to the canvas before following up with punches for the finish. It ranks as one of the most substantial upsets in recorded promotional history, eclipsing Holly Holm (+525) and her knockout of Ronda Rousey but falling just short of T.J. Dillashaw (+710) and his unexpected stoppage of Renan Barao.
Stipe Miocic (+125)
Much like any great heavyweight battle, it can incredibly difficult to predict the victor due to the fact that anyone with that kind of body mass can turn around a fight in an instant. Think of the legends who were stopped by opponents most predicted they would to beat, from Antonio Silva battering Fedor Emelianenko and Gabriel Gonzaga giving Mirko Filipovic a taste of his own medicine to Stefan Struve getting the best of Miocic. What Miocic did was nothing short of miraculous, completely transforming his plan of attack after dropping at least the first two rounds in the main event.
Daniel Cormier experienced success at practically every stage of the fight. On the feet, he tagged Miocic with quick, sharp combinations, and in the first round, Cormier planted the Ohio native on the canvas and did not let him up until mere seconds were left on the clock. “DC” outlanded Miocic at a sizeable clip, with a significant strike accuracy approaching an unheard-of 70 percent. In the fourth round, Miocic changed his game plan and almost exclusively targeted Cormier’s liver with a nasty left hand, scoring with more than a dozen of them, each one more damaging than the one preceding it. Miocic ultimately followed a big body shot with a thunderous right hand that expedited the finish and his second heavyweight title reign.
Nate Diaz (+100)
To quote the Prime Picks piece analyzing UFC 241: “With seemingly never-ending cardio and the ability to push the pace on almost any fighter, Diaz could follow in the footsteps of recent [Anthony Pettis opponents] with similar aggressive styles, like [Tony] Ferguson and [Max] Holloway to pick up a win over ‘Showtime.’” Diaz did not let Pettis implement his game plan and instead returned to form after a nearly three-year layoff while looking as if he had never taken a break at all.
Somewhat surprisingly, Pettis opened as a minor underdog. The betting community saw the line and quickly moved to exploit it, bumping the Roufusport mainstay to favored status. Being the underdog did not even faze Diaz, and it seems entirely possible that he was not even aware of this development. He went in with a simple strategy: tire out Pettis any way he could. Having seen Pettis fade in several of his recent fights, Diaz poured on the pressure and rarely let up on his way to a clear-cut decision. At one point in the third round, Diaz cracked Pettis with multiple knees that caused the former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion to spin about, but “Showtime” survived, avoided a few submission attempts and rode out the adversity to the final bell. The smallest underdog to prevail on the card, Diaz used his moment in the spotlight to shine, as he nailed down a huge win and took aim at an equally huge prospective opponent: Jorge Masvidal.
Paulo Henrique Costa (+140)
Before analyzing what happened in this middleweight brawl, it should be noted that two of three Sherdog.com judges awarded the fight to Yoel Romero and media outlets were equally split on the result, with 11 scoring the battle for Romero and the other 11 for Costa. As predicted in Prime Picks, both men were well above 200 pounds when they entered the Octagon: Costa weighed 213.8 pounds on fight day compared to Romero’s 207.2. With the weight, height and age advantages all on his side, Costa used everything at his disposal to walk through most of Romero’s best shots and land effectively.
Unlike the main and co-main events, the strike totals were quite close. In fact, the final totals gave Romero a slight advantage in terms of significant strikes landed, 125 to 118, but throughout the fight, Costa’s blows appeared to be somewhat more significant in terms of velocity and impact. Both men had their moments, as each scored a knockdown in the opening stanza. Perhaps due to Costa’s aggression, he wore out Romero and captured the unanimous decision. Even though each of his prior three outings were scheduled for five rounds, Romero appeared to be the more fatigued of the two as the fight progressed. Costa recorded the most significant win of his career and in doing so sprang his first upset in the UFC, as he had been favored in each of his previous four appearances.
Derek Brunson (+140)
Following the trend of breaking down incorrect predictions in Prime Picks, Brunson scored an upset against Ian Heinisch by more effectively managing his pace and aggression. Not only did Brunson’s cardio hold up over three rounds, but Heinisch was the fighter who pursued an early stoppage and grew tired as the fight progressed.
“The Hurricane” unleashed as soon as the fight began, hammering Brunson with a head kick and nearly netting the finish in the opening seconds. Brunson survived, largely thanks to his wrestling chops, and slowed down the fight to a more manageable level. While Heinisch easily took the first round, Brunson stayed composed while throwing more strikes and sprinkling in a few takedowns, all while staving off every attempt Heinisch threw at him. Taking a fairly straightforward 29-28 score from all three judges, Brunson won his first fight as an underdog since he defeated Chris Leben at UFC 155 in 2012.
Casey Kenney (+150)
Kenney overcame a massive size discrepancy to hand Manny Bermudez his first career loss. The bout was originally scheduled at bantamweight, but the promotion decided to move it to a 140-pound catchweight to accommodate the fighters. As such, Bermudez ballooned up to 164.8 pounds on the day of the fight, gaining almost 25 pounds after weighing in; Kenney was much lighter -- 145 pounds -- when they met. Despite giving up 20 pounds to his undefeated opponent, Kenney avoided any traps and showed repeatedly that he could hang on the ground with a seasoned grappler like Bermudez.
“The Bermudez Triangle” made his name by pulling off triangle chokes. Eleven of his 14 victories have come by submission, five of them via triangles. Over 15 minutes, Kenney was rarely in any submission danger and in fact mounted the more significant threat when he hunted a rear-naked choke in the second round. In what was an exciting ground battle for three full rounds, Kenney outmaneuvered the larger man to score what would have been the greatest betting upset of the event if not for Worthy’s unlikely display of power.
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