Will Dean previews this weekend's UFC 286, which sees Leon Edwards return to home soil for his fight with Kamaru Usman.
1pt Leon Edwards to win at 2/1 (General)
1.25pts Jack Shore to win in round 2 at 4/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)
0.75pt Jack Shore to win in round 3 at 8/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)
UFC 286 marks the organisation’s first pay-per-view show to be held on UK soil since Michael Bisping defended his title against Dan Henderson in 2016. The British fans have proven themselves to be some of the loudest and most passionate in the world in recent years, and a successful 2022 for the likes of Paddy Pimblett, Leon Edwards, Tom Aspinall, Arnold Allen and Molly McCann helped convince Dana White and the UFC brass to invest in the growing British market and reward fans with an high calibre event.
It's unfortunate that scheduling conflicts and injuries will mean that Edwards is the only aforementioned fighter to feature on Saturday’s card, but it instead paves the way for the next wave of UK MMA stars to capture the country’s attention.
Muhammad Mokaev seems primed to enter the Flyweight title conversation with a win, Wales’ Jack Shore looks to improve his record to 17-1, and Scotland’s Casey O’Neill can break into the top 10 rankings with an eye-catching performance on the main card.
LEON EDWARDS has always been somewhat of an unsung hero in the eyes of UK fans. The Birmingham-based fighter quietly put together a nine-fight winning streak between 2016 and 2021, but has never come close to reaching a level of popularity similar to Paddy Pimblett, Michael Bisping or even Darren Till – despite being arguably the brightest prospect the country has ever seen.
Things all changed in August when, in the final minute of his title fight with Kamaru Usman, Rocky lived up to his nickname and connected flush with a headkick that sent the Nigerian to the canvas – snapping a 19-fight winning streak and bringing a dominant three and a half year title reign to an end.
No one can argue that Edwards was less than a minute away from suffering his second career loss to The Nigerian Nightmare before the fateful kick landed, but to simply count him out of this fight as a result seems quite shortsighted.
Immediate title fight rematches have always come with a degree of uncertainty, where normality seldom resumes after an upset takes place. In fact, of the 14 immediate rematches that have been scheduled in the UFC, the original loser has only fought back to win the following encounter on three occasions (with Amanda Nunes defeating Julianna Pena as the most recent example).
The reason for this is believed to be mostly psychological. When the cage door closes, Usman will be stood face-to-face with the man who put an end to his legacy and rendered him unconscious just seven months ago. Additionally, the former champion is now 35-years-old and is rumoured to have ever worsening knee issues after a career of wrestling. As if the those three limitations weren’t enough, Usman will have to compete in enemy territory as he walks out to a chorus of 20,000 die-hard British fans unanimously supporting their countryman.
While it’s not impossible for Usman to perform an incredible feat of mental fortitude and overcome the aforementioned adversities, they will all contribute to the Edward’s ever growing confidence. For that reason, I think there is a significant amount of value in backing the underdog to retain his title. LEON EDWARDS TO WIN at 2/1 is surely the best bet for UFC 286’s main event.
Wales’ JACK SHORE makes his long awaited Featherweight debut as the preliminary headliner, returning after a first career loss that ended a 16-fight unbeaten streak. Tank is a formidable grappler with a high level of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ability, having scored a finish in 12 of his victories.
Finland’s Makwan Amirkhani has become a regular fixture on London based UFC cards, having competed on both of last year’s O2 Arena events. With 12 submissions to his name, Mr Finland is an equally talented grappler, which makes this fight an exciting inclusion to the card for educated MMA fans.
Unfortunately for Amirkhani, an opponent that can compete with or even match his wrestling and grappling prowess is one that has a significant chance of beating him, as the Finnish fighter has notoriously suffered from endurance and pacing issues throughout his career. Amirkhani’s trajectory in a fight often sees him start incredibly strong, before suddenly plateauing in the second and third rounds.
Given that Mr Finland has not won a fight outside of round one since 2019 (eight fights ago), the blueprint to beating him is certainly common knowledge – an opponent just needs to survive the early onslaught and win the war of attrition.
Shore has been a reliable fighter across all three rounds in his career, with six finishes in the opening round, and a further six in the second or third stanzas. Considering Amirkhani should be more than capable of staying safe whilst he is fresh, it seems that the Welshman’s best chance of finding a finish will be in the latter half of the fight.
For that reason, splitting your stake across JACK SHORE TO WIN IN EITHER ROUND 2 OR ROUND 3 is the smart way to go, equating to total odds of around 12/5 should the Welshman be successful.
Posted at 1030 GMT on 17/03/23
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