I told you to buy the dip. I warned you if you decided to fade that I was due for a bounce-back and that’s exactly what happened. Alex Pereira’s fifth round knocked out solidified a positive UFC 281 card at 3.89u, and I’m looking to keep up the same pace to end the year. This card will admittedly be a little different than every other I’ve covered since we started back in May. I won’t be breaking down and analyzing every fight due to personal reasons that have taken precedence this week and hindered my ability/time to do the research I find necessary to give you all breakdowns and plays of the quality I expect. I’ll be providing a few of my best bets below, so let me know if you fade or follow, and regardless, let’s make some money this weekend!

Zhalgas Zhumagulov (+135) vs Charles Johnson (-165)

Right out of the gate I’m going to one of my favorite fights on the card. Charles Johnson might only be in the second UFC fight of his career, but he has ample experience to afford him a quality, long run in the promotion. He’s a former LFA champion with a background in boxing but his best assets are his cardio and grappling ability. Yes, he lost his UFC debut, but it was to the highly touted Muhammed Mokaev who is on the fast track to being a UFC champion. Even so, in that fight, he took little to no damage, and though taken down numerous times he showed fantastic grappling defense to avoid submissions and reverse at times.

Johnson welcomes Zhalgas Zhumagulov to the octagon Saturday. Zhumagulov’s UFC record might not be sexy – in fact, it’s misleading at 1-4 – but he’s shown quality in each of those fights. He lost his last fight against Jeff Molina by split decision, a fight I thought he won. When on the feet Zhumagulov plants heavily on his lead leg and loves a good hook, but where he loves to take the fight is to the clinch and implement his wrestling.

This fight is a stylistic nightmare for Zhumagulov because on the feet Johnson will throw leg kicks the entire fight and if Zhalgas tries to adjust and take the fight to the mat I expect Johnson to have a distinct, clear advantage there. Johnson might be a sizeable favorite in this fight, but it’s justified. Take the former champion to get it done.

Pick: Johnson -165 (1u)

Muslim Salikhov (-110) vs Andre Fialho (-110)

Skipping over the Jack Della Maddelena fight due to his -700 odds, we have the tightest fight in the oddsmakers’ eyes here in Fialho vs Salikhov. Prior to losing to Jingliang Li, Salikhov had won five fights in a row. The level of competition across those wins was low and it showed quickly in his fight against the Leech, with Salikhov’s best win coming 13 months ago against Francisco Trinaldo. Salikhov faces Fialho who is now in his fifth UFC fight although he made his debut early this year. The Portuguese fighter can’t get enough of the octagon even when his hype train was stopped in its tracks by Jake Matthews just a couple of months ago.

Stylistically this should be interesting, as Salikhov is 10 years older than Fialho at 38 years old and both fighters are strikers at heart, they just get it done differently. Salikhov got his nickname “The Kung-Fu Master” through the sheer amount of variety he throws with his legs. He truly has one of the most adept and versatile skill sets when it comes to his kicking game, but often he’ll abuse it to the point that it’s predictable. Fialho is a much more traditional boxer, not throwing many leg kicks but wielding insane power in both hands. If Fialho is able to keep this fight in the pocket he should be able to knock Salikhov out within a round, but if Salikhov is able to keep the fight at kicking range and potentially land a takedown (Fialho’s Achilles heel), he could win rounds relatively easily.

While Salikhov does utilize his grappling more than he should, I could see him using it here. However, I don’t think it’s imposing enough to dominate against a fighter like Fialho that has good cardio. Give me Fialho’s power to end the night of Salikhov well before the final bell.

Pick: Fialho -110 (1u)

Chase Sherman (+200) vs Waldo Cortes-Acosta (-240)

Undefeated and 7-0 Waldo Cortes-Acosta enters the UFC octagon for the first time to face someone on his way out in Chase Sherman who has lost for of his last five fights. While these two are very clearly trending in opposite directions, they do have fairly different skill sets. Sherman is a decent striker on the feet, but unlike most heavyweights, he’s “death by a thousand cuts” rather than massive knockout power.

Cortes-Acosta also uses jabs and hooks but at a much higher level. His jab is a true range finder and when he unloads his hooks moving forward he does so with violence on his mind. He throws in combination well and implements leg kicks at range well. If Vanderaa takes this fight into the clinch, Cortes-Acosta is no stranger to throwing slicing elbows as he creates separation. It’s clear that Vaneraa is on his way out and his lack of damage at this division will cost him once again. Expect Cortes-Acosta to end this fight before the end of the second round.

Pick: Cortes-Acosta ITD -115 (1.5u)

Derrick Lewis (+161) vs Sergey Spivak (-200)

At this stage in Derrick Lewis’ career, he shouldn’t be headlining the main event on any card. I love the ‘Black Beast’ as much as the next guy, but he’s clearly fallen off of a cliff. His cardio is non-existent and while he still has arguably the most power in the division with Ngannou, it’s sapped very quickly. Spivak will bring that out of him today and if there’s one thing I’m certain of it’s that we won’t go to the judges’ scorecards. That bet is -800 so that’s no wild take, but I will go with the over 1.5 rounds here.

Derrick Lewis’ best path to victory these days is to keep an absurdly slow pace and pick his shots, that way he can stick around for later rounds in fights. Even then, most of his fights don’t see the second round and if they do it’s for a short period of time. Most people you’ll see on social media will have Derrick Lewis to win or the under in this fight and I’m telling you that’s a mistake. Sergey Spivak has his fair share of early finishes, but he’s a slow, methodical animal in the Heavyweight division and will show just that tonight.

Spivak will fight defensively early, ensuring Lewis isn’t able to connect with either hook to knock him out. His best path to victory is waiting out the early storm from Lewis until he inevitably tires out, then finishing him quickly in the later parts of the second or third round. It’s the safest, most logical way to victory for Spivac and I see it happening no other way unless he’s knocked out. Give me o1.5 rounds.

Pick: o1.5 rounds -108 (2u)