The first 2023 Ultimate Fighting Championship event has finally come together. After several fights were canceled, including the main event, the UFC organized 12 intriguing bouts for January 14 at the UFC Apex.
A middleweight bout between former interim UFC Middleweight Championship challenger and The Ultimate Fighter: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen middleweight winner Kelvin Gastelum and Nassourdine Imavov was scheduled to be the main draw. But Gastelum withdrew earlier this week due to a mouth injury.
Sean Strickland has replaced Gastelum, and the fight will now be at light heavyweight. Fans can watch every fight on the card via ESPN+, with the preliminaries starting at 4 p.m. (ET) and the main card (7 p.m.).
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Sean Strickland, light heavyweight
I expect this main event to be highly competitive as both fighters are ranked in the middleweight division. Imavov (12-3) enters the octagon at No. 12 in the class and Strickland (25-5) at No.7. Strickland is a late replacement and last fought less than a month ago.
Imavov is 4-1 with the UFC, having won three straight fights. The 27-year-old Frenchman defeated Joaquin Buckley via unanimous decision the last time out on September 3.
Strickland is 12-5 with the UFC, losing his last two bouts. The 31-year-old North Carolina native, entering the octagon for the fourth time in less than a year ago, lost a split decision to Jared Cannonier on December 17.
I very much liked Imavov over Gastelum. However, this match is more of a toss-up.
Strickland is a true professional and experienced in short turnarounds. This is the seventh time Strickland, a far different fighter than Gastelum, has fought with less than three months of prep time. He is undefeated in these situations, winning via finish three times and decision three times.
Imavov is a slight favorite at -115, while Strickland is at -105. I lean toward taking Strickland to win, although the best bet is for the fight to go the distance.
Pick: Strickland to win -105.
Best Bet: Fight to Go Distance +110.
Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson, Featherweight
This featherweight bout is also exciting. Ige (15-6), ranked No. 13 in the division, has lost three straight and four of five fights after starting his UFC career with a 6-1 record. Jackson (22-4-1) has won four straight and five of six with the promotion following a knockout victory over Pat Sabatini on September 17.
I expect this to be a very competitive and entertaining fight. Like Imavov-Strickland, there is no clear-cut favorite, with Ige to win listed at -125 and Jackson to come out victorious at +100.
I like Jackson here as he enters the octagon in good form. More importantly, I think Jackson’s fighting style is too much for Ige at this stage of his career. While the 34-year-old Oklahoma native may not get a submission, he should be to get Ige to the ground and keep him there to win via points.
Pick: Jackson to win +100.
Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov, Middleweight
This middleweight battle could be explosive as both competitors are known for their hard-hitting. Soriano (9-2) snapped a two-fight losing streak by stopping Dalcha Lungiambula 28 seconds in the second round for a KO/TKO victory on July 16, improving to 3-2 as a member of the UFC. Kopylov (9-2) also ended a two-fight losing streak with a third-round knockout victory over Alessio Di Chirico for his first win in three bouts with the promotion.
Soriano is the better fighter here. While Soriano (-155) is my straight-up pick here, Kopylov is gifted enough to win via finish. Therefore, I will use the fight to stay within the distance (-200) in a parlay.
Pick: Soriano to win (-155)
Best Bet: Fight not to go distance -200.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington, Bantamweight
This women’s bout may be the fight of the night. Both combatants are in good form and ranked in the top five of the division. Vieira is No. 2 in the division and Pennington is No. 5.
Vieira enters the octagon with a 13-2 career record, including going 7-2 in the UFC. The 31-year-old Brazilian has picked up victories in the last two outings via decisions against Miesha Tate and Holly Holms. Seven of her fights in the promotion have gone the distance, including the previous two, which were five-rounders.
Pennington (14-9) has won the last four times she entered the octagon and is 10-5 with the UFC. The 34-year-old Coloradan defeated Aspen Ladd via a unanimous decision in April. Pennington holds several women’s bantamweight records.
This fight is a coin toss. I lean toward picking Pennington but would not be surprised if Vieira is victorious.
Therefore, my best bet is for the fight to go the distance (-330). Fifty percent of Vieira’s fights have ended via decision, with an average fight time of 15:27. Sixty-seven percent of Pennington’s bouts have gone the distance. With an average fight time of 14:06.
Pick: Pennington (+100) to win.
Best Bet: Fight to Go Distance (-330).
Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos, Bantamweight
Can Nurmagomedov remain undefeated? Nurmagomedev (15-0) improved to 3-0 in the UFC with a unanimous decision over Nate Maness on June 25. Barcelos (17-3) defeated Trevin Jones on October 1 to snap a two-fight losing skid and improve to 5-2 with the UFC.
Nurmagomedev (-950) is my pick here. However, there is no value in betting him straight up, so I will use the pick in a parlay.
Pick: Nurmagomedov (-950) to win
Other Best Bets
3-leg Parlay (+115): Umar Nurmagomedov Win (-950) with Vieira vs. Pennington to go the distance (-330) and Soriano vs. Kopylov fight to not go the distance (-200).
Javid Basharat to defeat Mateus Mendonca via Knockout, Submission, or DQ (+130).
Read more about UFC 67 here.
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