The main event isn't always the most anticipated matchup on the card, but it certainly is for UFC London. The headliner features two ascending heavyweights with title aspirations in a very intriguing stylistic matchup.
Tom Aspinall has blasted through his first five UFC opponents, finishing all but one in the first round. However, the man he will face, Curtis Blaydes, has paved a much different path to title contention.
In 2016, Blaydes answered the call to fight Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. After a TKO loss due to a doctor stoppage, Blaydes pulled together a six-fight unbeaten streak only to get stopped by Ngannou for the second time in 2018. Curtis Blaydes has only suffered three losses in 15 UFC fights, with two at the hands of the current UFC heavyweight champion. This Saturday, he takes Tom Aspinall as a +115 underdog. Here's how I bet the main event and a fight on the main card with everyone's attention.
Projecting a fighter's progression from fight to fight is one of the more challenging aspects of handicapping mixed martial arts. Fighters don't compete every week like in traditional team sports. Only once or twice a year they are in the Octagon showcasing the rapid development in their game.
Tom Aspinall has all the tools of a champion. He is one of the division's best athletes, pushes a high pace, and has impressive submissions for a heavyweight. However, his total fight time in the UFC is less than three full rounds. His early first-round finishes haven't given us any answers regarding his cardio or takedown defense against UFC-level competition.
If this fight goes the distance, Aspinall will have spent more time in Saturday's main event than his previous five UFC fights combined. And he will be spending it defending relentless takedowns from the division's best wrestler. Blaydes averaged over 10 takedowns per five rounds and secured 14 of 25 attempts in his unanimous victory over Alexander Volkov. If he is having success driving Aspinall to the mat, he will have no shame in doing it for the duration of the fight.
Blaydes isn't completely one-dimensional, but also doesn't want to spend Saturday boxing Aspinall. He has shown enough improvement in his stand-up to keep his opponents honest and make them pay for overcompensating to defend his shot. In his last three fights, he has out-landed his opponents 73-33 at distance. It's a developing element to Blaydes' game that enhances his chances of dictating where the fight takes place.
That's really what separates these two fighters. Blaydes is still evolving after being a top contender for years. He has been in there with the promotion's most feared strikers. Both fighters have elite tools capable of putting each other in danger, and I expect to see each in fight-or-flight mode more than once. I'm betting Blaydes can tap into his experience and fight through adversity to come out on top. His wrestling is the most dominant attribute in this fight. Banking Aspinall has the required cardio and technical defensive wrestling to survive five rounds is too big of a projection at this price. I will take Blaydes at plus money and won't look back.
The Bet: Curtis Blaydes (+115)
Paddy Pimblett (-275) vs. Jordan Leavitt (+220)
There are two types of people that will be watching UFC London. Those that want to see Paddy "The Baddy" knock out Jordan Leavitt, and those that want to see Paddy "The Baddy" get knocked out. Either way, people want to see Pimblett. Luckily for his supporters in the O2 Arena, his opponent doesn't pose much of a threat on Saturday.
"The Monkey King" Jordan Leavitt is a grinder who has one path to victory: Get Pimblett on the ground and suppress his offense. However, the fight starts on the feet, where Pimblett has a massive advantage. Paddy averages over six significant strikes per minute, whereas Leavitt lags at 2.49. He also doesn't have the technical striking to take advantage of Pimblett's defensive holes. Suppose Pimblett's aggression works against him and Leavitt puts him on his back. In that case, I am still confident he can attack with submissions and win scrambles to gain top position or get back to his feet. Seventy-seven percent of Paddy's career wins have come by finish, and the UFC gave him an excellent opportunity to add one more to his resume. However, Pimblett is still unproven at the UFC level. For that reason, I passed on playing the moneyline at implied odds of 73%, and instead put a small play on Paddy to finish the fight at -120 odds.
The Bet: Paddy Pimblett by KO/TKO/DQ or Submission (-120)
*Stats provided by ufcstats.com