Nikolas Motta (+240) vs. Tom Nolan (-298)
We’re wasting no time with our first play of 2023, jumping on a UFC newcomer in Tom Nolan who will be making his UFC debut Saturday. “Big Train” comes into the promotion with big hype, making a statement in his DWCS debut in August with a first-round TKO of Bogdan Grad. The win was his fourth straight in the first round, cruising through the Eternal MMA ranks before getting the call-up to the big leagues.
His opponent in this one will be Nikolas Motta, who comes in following a controversial no-contest in November vs. Trey Ogden. Ogden was dominating the fight, until a bizarre decision to stop the fight in the third round when he had Motta mounted, and an even more bizarre technical decision. Chalking that up to a loss, it was Motta’s third in his past four fights.
I don’t think Motta is UFC-caliber, and I like for Nolan to finish this early.
Farid Basharat (-278) vs. Taylor Lapilus (+225)
The undefeated Basharat is a guy I’ve had earmarked for a while, and the UFC is giving up another relatively easy fight here as I think they see the same. Joining the UFC in September of 2022 via DWCS, Basharat has cruised to two straight wins, with his most recent win a first-round submission vs. Kleydson Rodrigues in September.
Lapilus comes into this fight having won six straight, though has gotten it done decisively just twice. His last fight was against a UFC newcomer in Caolan Loughran, a fight he failed to put away and edged out a narrow decision.
Basharat is a different class, and a statement win here sets him up for a busy 2024.
Pick: Moneyline Parlay Nolan/Basharat (-120 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
Ricky Simon (-170) vs. Mario Bautista (+145)
Ricky Simon joined the UFC back in 2018 via a decisive third-round submission of Merab Dvalshvili, and if not for two losses in 2019, could very well be in bantamweight title discussions. Since those two losses, Simon had rattled off four straight wins before getting stopped in April vs. Yadong Song.
For Bautista, he also joined the UFC via a fight with a future star, suffering a first-round submission loss to Cory Sandhagen in 2019. He’s proven his place in the time since, going 7-1 since that defeat, most recently beating Da’Mon Blackshear in August for his fifth straight win.
With plenty of (Simon 11, Bautista 9) fights in the UFC, I’m leaning on the metrics here where I give Simon the edge. With 90% more knockdowns and 115% more takedowns per 15 minutes, I think Simon is better both on the feet and the ground. I grabbed some Simon on his way up at -140, and while we’re late on the line move here, I’d still take him at this price.
Pick: Ricky Simon (-170 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
Matheus Nicolau (+215) vs. Manel Kape (-265)
We’re on the right side of the line movement in our final pick, as I think the wrong guy has seen the majority of the action thus far.
Matheus Nicolau comes into this one on a discount, having lost his first fight since 2018 in April vs. Brandon Royval. Prior to that, he was on a six-fight winning streak, taking out the likes of Tim Elliot, Matt Schnell, and you guessed it, Manel Kape in the process.
As for Kape, he’s had the hot hand, winning four straight since that loss to Nicolau in 2021, at the time just his second fight (and loss) with the UFC. While Kape is much-improved, I still don’t think he is as well-rounded as Nicolau.
Coming into Saturday, Nicolau has edges nearly across the board but most notably on the ground. With 2x the submissions and 2x the takedowns per 15 minutes, Nicolau would be wise to get this one to the ground early and keep it there. If he follows that game plan, at more than 2/1 odds, I think this is great value.
Pick: Matheus Nicolau (+215 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
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