Prime Picks: UFC 231

By Adam Martin Dec 6, 2018

UFC 231 is now available on Amazon Prime.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the place UFC President Dana White once called the “mecca of MMA” as UFC 231 takes place Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The UFC has always delivered stacked bills for the Toronto fans and this card is no different. Not only are there two title fights on the marquee, but as you’d expect there are a number of intriguing matchups featuring top Canadian talent. There are odds available at the sportsbooks for all 13 fights, and below are my top five plays for the event in this edition of Prime Picks.

Valentina Shevchenko (-360)

The co-main event of UFC 231 will crown the next women’s flyweight champion, and I fully expect that to be Shevchenko as I see her defeating Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Shevchenko (15-3) is 4-2 in the UFC and in her flyweight debut she absolutely demolished Priscila Cachoeira in what may turn out to be the Sherdog “beatdown of the year.” Other than two close losses to UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko has looked utterly unstoppable in the Octagon. Now at flyweight, she could be a dominant fighter for a long time to come as she’s incredibly well-rounded and supremely confident. Jedrzejczyk (15-2) went 9-2 in the UFC as a strawweight and was the champion at 115 for a long time, but back-to-back losses to Rose Namajunas meant a title shot wouldn’t be coming anytime soon for her. She deserves this immediate title shot at flyweight after everything she’s accomplished, but I don’t see her being successful as this looks like a really bad matchup on paper.

There are two things in particular that stand out to me here. The first is the size advantage for Shevchenko. She formerly competed as a bantamweight while Jedrzejczyk was a strawweight, and you can’t ignore the size difference. The second advantage that Shevchenko has is the mental edge as she holds three previous wins over Jedrzejczyk in muay Thai. MMA is a different sport, but Shevchenko is the better grappler and has shown she can outstrike Jedrzejczyk. The -360 odds may seem high, but considering the advantages Shevchenko holds she is going to be a very popular parlay piece this weekend, and for good reason.

Chad Laprise (-370)

Someone else to consider for your parlays this weekend is Laprise, who takes on Dhiego Lima in a welterweight bout. This is more of a straight fade on Lima as I don’t believe he’s a UFC-caliber fighter, and I would be very surprised if Laprise lost this fight. Laprise (13-3) is 6-3 in the UFC and has displayed both knockout power and the ability to stay active and win a decision. His chin has let him down a couple of times against power punchers Vicente Luque and Francisco Trinaldo, but he won’t face that sort of danger here against Lima, who is on the verge of being cut. Lima (12-7) is currently on a three-fight losing skid and overall he’s just 1-5 in the UFC. You have to wonder why he’s still under contract at this point. He has not finished a fight since 2013 and he himself has been finished in four of his UFC losses. There’s just no way you can expect Lima to beat a quality fighter like Laprise in front of his home crowd. I expect Laprise to dominate Lima here and finish him. At -370 odds, Laprise is parlay material.

Eryk Anders (+105)

In a battle between middleweight rivals, I see Anders taking care of business over Elias Theodorou. I have been nothing but impressed with Anders since he made his UFC debut in 2017. Anders (11-2) is just 3-2 in the Octagon but his record doesn’t tell the whole story. One of those losses was a controversial split decision against Lyoto Machida in Brazil, and if he had that name on his resume he would surely be a much bigger favorite here against Theodorou. In his last outing, Anders suffered a TKO loss to Thiago Santos, but keep in mind he moved up to light heavyweight on short notice for that fight, and he actually looked really good up until the knockout. Earlier this summer we saw him brutally KO Tim Williams with a head kick and we can’t forget the way he knocked out and essentially retired Rafael Natal. Anders is one of the top athletes in the middleweight division and he is still improving as a mixed martial artist.

Theodorou (15-2) has a solid 7-2 record in the UFC and being from Toronto he will have the crowd behind him. The problem with Theodorou is that he doesn’t finish fights. His last six fights have gone the distance, and he hasn’t won via stoppage since a 2015 TKO win over Roger Narvaez, who isn’t even in the UFC anymore. Theodorou is good at outpointing fighters who are older and slower than him, but that won’t work with Anders, who is the better athlete. I think Anders takes care of business here and the +105 odds on him are tremendous.

Alex Oliveira (+110)

The underdog I am most confident getting their hand raised is Oliveira, who takes on Gunnar Nelson in an important welterweight bout. Oliveira is one of the most underrated fighters at 170 in the UFC and he’s being undervalued here as an underdog. Oliveira (19-5-1, 2 NC) is 9-3, 1 NC in the Octagon and has been one of the most active fighters in the UFC welterweight division since making his promotional debut in 2015. Oliveira has won four of his last five fights and he’s coming off of back-to-back wins over Carlos Condit and Carlo Pedersoli Jr., who he finished via KO in just 39 seconds his last time out. Oliveira has proven he can finish fights on the feet and on the ground, making him one of the most dangerous fighters currently competing at 170. UFC 231 could be his breakthrough moment.

Nelson (16-3-1) is 7-3 in the UFC and six of those wins have come by submission. There’s no doubting he’s one of the most talented submission artists in the welterweight division, and his karate has been effective at times as well. The problem with Nelson is inactivity. He hasn’t fought in well over a year, and the last time we saw him he was brutally knocked out by Santiago Ponzinibbio. Like Ponzinibbio, Oliveira is a high-pressure fighter and is extremely durable as well. The oddsmakers must believe Nelson is going to get Oliveira to the ground and submit him, and while that’s certainly possible, to me the most likely outcome for this fight is the Brazilian keeping the fight on the feet and outstriking the Icelander. At +110 odds, there’s good value here on Oliveira to come through with the upset victory.

Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for as well as the lead staff writer for Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all time is Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua and he wishes Pride never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.

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