Welcome to my betting breakdown for UFC Vegas 35: Barboza vs. Chikadze, which goes down Saturday night in front of a small crowd at the Apex facility in Las Vegas. After a solid fight card last weekend, the promotion returns with a 12-fight offering headlined by a featherweight bout that can only be described as a striker’s delight between two kickboxers in Edson Barboza and Giga Chikadze.
This week’s card also features six fighters coming off The Ultimate Fighter show who are making their UFC debuts. In addition to TUF and the main event, there are a couple of matchups that I believe are flying under the radar and should be entertaining.
Additionally, I think there are some strong betting spots on this card. While it isn’t looking like a massive week in terms of volume for myself, I anticipate having bets on at least five of the 12 scheduled bouts and am planting my flag on a few multi-unit plays which I will outline shortly.
You can find all my plays free in the FTN Bets Tracker. I’ll be writing this best bets article weekly with extended breakdowns for up to three of my best bets and occasionally some leans if I don’t have three plays. I will be in the FTNBets Discord for about two hours before the early prelims this weekend to answer any questions that readers have. We'd love to continue building the community through Discord.
Lee enters this fight coming off surgery to deal with damage in both of his ACLs and has not fought since March of 2020, in what was the last fight before the UFC took a hiatus due to the pandemic. Lee lost to current lightweight champion Charles Oliveira in that bout via submission but was coming off of a KOTY contender win over Gregor Gillespie in his previous fight. Lee has underachieved in terms of results relative to his skill level recently. This is a guy who everybody loves to hate because of his tendencies to fall apart in the middle of fights but has fought for an interim title and has competitive fights against former champions at age 28. Stylistically, Lee has always had a strong wrestling base which has led to him landing over a takedown per round in the UFC which allows him to unleash a hellacious top control game. The knocks on Lee are well known at this point: his cardio has let him down several times before in five round fights against Tony Ferguson and Rafael Dos Anjos and he has the tendency to find himself in bad positions once fatigued.
Rodriguez is stepping up to take this fight on relatively short notice, replacing Sean Brady in what figures to be the toughest test of his career by far. Rodriguez is a southpaw boxer who lands a massive number of strikes (8.07 per minute) and is extremely reliable to move forward and take the fight to his opponent. Rodriguez is 5-1 in the UFC with his only loss being a controversial decision to Nicolas Dalby where if he had gotten the nod, he would be undefeated in the promotion. Rodriguez is a fun action fighter because his best defense is his offense, as he often walks through punches and has a pretty poor striking defense but is able to kind of hide behind his offensive output and overwhelm opponents before getting seriously hurt.
This is a fairly binary fight in terms of how to handicap it, where we will see Rodriguez winning the fight during stand-up exchanges and Lee winning during grappling exchanges, so the main thing we need to project is how likely is Lee to land takedowns in this spot, and how likely is he to maintain dominant positions in this spot. To me the answers to those two questions are relatively clear: very likely and very likely. My main reasoning behind this handicap is there seems to be a narrative going around that Daniel Rodriguez is a really good defensive wrestler, and while he has an 83% takedown defense in the UFC, if you go back and watch his fight against Mike Perry, he has some very concerning tendencies during grappling. Rodriguez loves to use his guillotine choke to defend takedowns and oftentimes holds on to it for too long, allowing opponents to advance position, and in addition to that tendency, Rodriguez is very consistently giving his back when taken down both on the regional scene and in the UFC. Lee is one of the best back-takers in the UFC and is the type of guy who isn’t going to lay in your guard once he takes you down. It’s not like Rodriguez has awful takedown defense and is just going to topple over anytime Lee shoots, but this is the first legitimate wrestler who is going to be able to chain takedown attempts together that Rodriguez has faced. I expect Lee to come out here and get this fight to the ground and accumulate a serious amount of damage down there before securing a finish.
Bet: Kevin Lee (Have not bet yet, waiting until the best number) 2x until -150, 1.5x until -165, 1x until -185.
Turcios is currently lined as the betting favorite to win The Ultimate Fighter in the bantamweight division, and watching his tape and full body of work I think this is a fairly well-rounded fighter with a lot of tools in his game, but a few concerning patterns that have shown up in a number of his fights. Professionally, Turcios is 10-2, which does not include his 2-0 record on TUF, and he’s 28 years old fighting out of Team Alpha Male. Stylistically, Turcios has fantastic cardio and a skillset that involves striking output along with a solid ground game and scrambling ability. His standup is full of blitz attacks where he rushes forward at opponents and usually throws in two or three strike combinations that feature a lot of body kicks. The one thing I’ve seen on Turcios’ tape that worries me is his tendency to accept takedowns and try and play offense off his back while showing off his BJJ. Turcios oftentimes tries to use strikes to defend takedowns and against strong wrestlers he’s going to end up on his back for long periods of time unless he can force scrambles.
Hiestand also went 2-0 on TUF including a win over perhaps the most accomplished fighter on the show in Josh Rettinghouse. Hiestand is only 22 years old and the first thing I’ll say while discussing his skillset is you can clearly see his age in his fights. He is clearly a pretty green fighter, especially in the striking realm where his offense is extremely basic, and his defense is worryingly bad. However, he seems to have a very impressive fight IQ for a kid his age (he’s literally a year older than me, by the way) which has been shown off by his consistent takedown attempts very early in fights. Hiestand is pretty much solely a grappler at this point, and he knows it. He is training out of Sikjitsu in Washington, which is a gym not known for breeding strikers, but instead grinding grapplers such as Micahel Chiesa. Hiestand is looking to grab you, hold you against the fence, take you down and then submit you. The best way to not get exposed in the striking aspect of fights is to limit time spent at distance, and that’s something that Hiestand does extremely well.
I’ve heard people all week trashing this season of TUF, talking about how there aren’t many solid prospects on the show, and I think this fight will prove a lot of people wrong. While I agree that the 185-pound guys on the show were less than impressive and we have to acknowledge that 135 pounds is a tough ladder to climb, both Turcios and Hiestand are going to win a bunch of UFC fights in my opinion. To me, this is about as coin-flippy a fight as we can get. Turcios should win the striking by a wide margin but doesn’t have much fight ending power, and Hiestand should be the one landing takedowns due to Turcios’ lackluster takedown defense. I think this fight likely comes down to how long it takes Turcios to get-up off his back or force a scramble into a new position on the ground, because Brady is going to start almost every grappling sequence in a dominant position. If I can get +155 on a coinflip I’m taking that every time. This should be a fun fight.
Bet: Brady Hiestand +155 1.5x until +140, 1x until +125. (Placed Monday on DraftKings)
Edson Barboza vs. Giga Chikadze betting odds
Odds: Barboza -120 vs. Chikadze +100
I feel like this is a relatively easy fight to break down and one that has been kind of regurgitated both in our subscriber Discord, and The Undisputed Show, and other content in this space so I’m going to try and keep things relatively concise when breaking down Barboza and Chikadze.
Let’s just start off by saying that I don’t doubt Giga Chikadze is an elite kickboxer at all. He is not some sort of finishing machine that puts his opponents to sleep with one shot often, but he has a very sophisticated knowledge of striking both in an offensive and defensive sense. I had originally wanted to fade Chikadze with a wrestler of some sort because of the tape we’ve seen of him defensively grappling against Austin Springer on Contender Series and Jamall Emmers last March. However, we are getting the next best thing outside of a wrestler in Edson Barboza, who is an elite kickboxer in his own right and has fought the absolute best in the world at 155 pounds for the majority of his career.
I simply give Barboza a massive edge in terms of his strength of schedule, which features names like Beneil Dariush, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kevin Lee, Dan Hooker, Justin Gaethje and the list goes on. Barboza has been there and done that in this sport, while this is by far the toughest test of Chikadze’s career. I also give Barboza an edge cardiovascularly, which has never been a massive asset in Barboza’s game, but he has been to the championship rounds before in fights that were fought at a hellacious pace, as opposed to Chikadze, who we’ve seen struggle to keep pace in slower fights over the course of three rounds. Lastly, I don’t really expect either man to attempt takedowns in this spot, so I’ve mostly tried to ignore this factor, but Barboza has all the grappling upside in this spot. He is the better positional and submission grappler over Chikadze.
Ultimately, I believe the first couple of rounds of this fight are going to play out relatively competitively on the feet assuming neither man is knocked out. However, Barboza should pull away down the stretch and has more data points to suggest that he is truly an elite fighter at 145/155, whereas Chikadze’s best win is over Cub Swanson in a fight that only lasted 63 seconds. I’ll take the veteran here who’s looked great at his new weight class and should make it 3-0 at 145 pounds.
Bets: Edson Barboza +100 2x until +100, 1.5x until -110, 1x until -125.
A student at the University of Colorado and +EV bettor, Jonah will be contributing both MMA betting and DFS content at FTN. He’s studying journalism and sports media at CU, and this is his first job in the betting industry. Jonah is the MMA Dog of The Night Challenge champion amassing a 90% ROI in the contest and has been a profitable MMA bettor with tracked results. He is known for betting early lines and getting out ahead of the betting market, and looks forward to helping subscribers do the same!