Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UFC 299 predictions — Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera: Fight card, odds, preview, prelims, expert picks

Sean O’Malley is looking for revenge at UFC 299. O’Malley defends his UFC bantamweight title in Miami on Saturday against the only fighter to beat him, Marlon “Chito” Vera.

O’Malley sees himself as a superstar in the making. Pomp and circumstance can take you far in the fight game but you need the record to back it up. O’Malley looked every bit the real deal by vanquishing former titleholder Aljamain Sterling. O’Malley can begin carving a true legacy for himself against a hungry field of bantamweight contenders. He’ll first have to avenge his 2020 loss to Vera, a violent and ultra-tough fighter who hasn’t been stopped in 32 professional fights.

UFC 299 is loaded from top to bottom. Dustin Poirier and Benoit Saint-Denis will compete for up to five rounds in the co-main event and Kevin Holland welcomes longtime Bellator MMA standout Michael “Venom” Page to the UFC.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a complete preview of UFC 299 from Miami on Saturday night below.

With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 299 fight card, odds

  • Sean O’Malley (c) -280 vs. Marlon Vera +230, bantamweight title
  • Benoit Saint Denis -230 vs. Dustin Poirier +190, lightweight
  • Kevin Holland -130 vs. Michael Page +110, welterweight
  • Jack Della Maddalena -160 vs. Gilbert Burns +135, welterweight
  • Petr Yan -115 vs. Song Yadong -105, bantamweight
  • Curtis Blaydes -125 vs. Jailton Almeida +105, heavyweight
  • Maycee Barber -210 vs. Katlyn Cerminara +175, women’s flyweight
  • Mateusz Gamrot -430 vs. Rafael dos Anjos +330, lightweight
  • Kyler Phillips -260 vs. Pedro Munhoz +210, bantamweight
  • Michel Pereira -155 vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk +130, middleweight
  • Robelis Despaigne -360 vs. Josh Parisian +280, heavyweight
  • Assu Almabayev -500 vs. C.J. Vergara +375, flyweight
  • Maryna Moroz -230 vs. Joanne Wood +190, women’s flyweight

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of “Morning Kombat”), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 299 picks, predictions

Campbell Brookhouse Mahjouri Mormile Wise
O’Malley (c) vs. Vera O’Malley O’Malley O’Malley O’Malley O’Malley
Poirier vs. Saint-Denis Saint-Denis Saint Denis Poirier Poirier Saint-Denis
Burns vs. Maddalena Burns Burns Burns Burns Maddalena
Holland vs. Page Page Holland Holland Holland Holland
Yan vs. Yadong Yan Yan Yan Yan Yan

O’Malley vs. Vera

Campbell: O’Malley has long been criticized for routinely saying his lone career defeat, which came against Vera in 2020, doesn’t count because it was a fluke. Yet, if you look a little bit deeper, some of what he says is not that far off. So, first of all, does the loss count? Without question. Vera injured the foot of O’Malley, which compromised his movement and went on to score a TKO victory via ground and pound. But even though the injury to O’Malley was directly caused by Vera, there was a fluke element to how the fight played out. O’Malley, who said he believes he defeats Vera nine out of 10 times, is the better overall fighter from the standpoint of technique and skill. He’s also now riding the confidence of back-to-back wins over former champions Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling atop the sport’s deepest division. Vera, with his iron chin and violent finishing skills, will always have a striker’s chance and certainly carries no lack of confidence from knowing, nearly four years ago, he already broke the breakout sensation. But with added maturity and experience, this is still O’Malley’s fight to win and potentially one of his easier title defenses given the incredible depth to the division.

Brookhouse: Vera’s win in the first fight should not be discounted. Kicking a man in the leg and causing an injury that leads to a TKO is not illegitimate in any way. Luckily, MMA is not a sport where a lone loss damages a fighter’s legacy outside of extreme cases. Vera is tough as nails but O’Malley is purely the better fighter. In that respect, he should be expected to win the rematch. Combat sports history is littered with cases where a “worse fighter” simply has a better fighter’s number and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that this is the case with Vera and O’Malley. That said, I’m riding with the expectation that the better, more dynamic fighter will come out on top the second time around. That prediction is also boosted by the fact that Vera is too low in his offensive output, too often.

Mahjouri: Vera is not the most deserving contender at present but he presents interesting challenges. “Chito” has not been stopped in 32 professional fights and gets stronger as the fight progresses. That’s a tall task for O’Malley, who has never gone more than 15 minutes. Vera also holds a win over O’Malley despite the champion insisting otherwise. But O’Malley has improved more than Vera since then. O’Malley has shown tremendous growth in his fights against Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. Against Yan, he displayed a lion’s heart. Against Sterling, O’Malley was incredibly composed and executed his gameplan to perfection. Cory Sandhagen beat Vera by overwhelming him with output. I expect O’Malley to execute a similar plan to win via decision.

Poirier vs. Saint Denis

Campbell: For as much as Poirier is a living legend, future Hall of Famer and one of the most celebrated action fighters in UFC history, there has been a deep-seeded feeling ever since this fight was signed that he could be entering a matchup against the wrong red-hot fighter at the wrong time. His opponent, France’s Saint Denis, looks to be potentially even better than advertised as a rising star on the verge of breakout. After losing his UFC debut by disputed decision in 2021, BSD has rattled off five straight wins — all by stoppage — and is fresh off a head-kick knockout of Matt Frevola in the first round at New York’s Madison Square Garden. For whatever Saint Denis lacks in overall experience against Poirier, he makes up for with pinpoint striking, devastating power and a well-rounded skill set. The Poirier of a few years ago could likely still find a way to gut out yet another incredible victory despite absorbing heavy punishment. But with two stoppage defeats in his last three fights, including his own head-kick KO loss in Round 1 against Justin Gaethje last July, the growing fear that Poirier is nearing his exit only continues to grow.

Brookhouse: Poirier is the kind of fighter you just love as a fight fan. He’s a great guy and an action-first fighter who has gutted through an incredible career without ever winning a world title — coming closest with an interim lightweight title win before running into then-champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The clock is ticking on Poirier’s career and Saint Denis is a really poor stylistic match up for him. Saint Denis has a strong takedown game and Poirier has never excelled at stopping takedowns, with a defense rate of just over 60%, which is fairly low for a fighter who has achieved his level of career success. If Saint Denis avoids the risk of standing and trading and instead imposes his will through takedowns — he averages nearly five per 15 minutes — this should be a massive win for him.

Mahjouri: Saint Denis has huge potential but jumping from Matt Frevola to Poirier is a steep escalation. Saint Denis’ last fight only lasted 90 seconds. It didn’t give us a chance to see how much his striking defense has improved. The Frenchman gets hit nearly as much as he lands with striking defense south of 50%. Poirier is a savvy, elite striker who will capitalize on mistakes. Poirier is coming off a KO loss to Justin Gaethje — a fight where he was looking good — so going up against another big hitter is troubling. But Poirier has the tools and experience to outwit Saint Denis. He just needs to keep his head on straight in firefights.

Holland vs. Page

Campbell: As the 36-year-old Page sets out for his UFC debut after years of shining under the Bellator banner, he will follow the footsteps of those like Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler before him. Like those all-action lightweights, Page will get a stern test in his first walk to the Octagon in the form of Holland. From the standpoint of skills, this is a fight that the slight betting favorite Holland should win. But Holland’s history of playing down to the level of his opponents while straying from the gameplan could cost him should he decide to stand and trade with MVP. As creative a striker as anyone in MMA history, Page thrives on the unpredictable. Unless Holland commits to shooting early and often in hopes of exposing Page’s rudimentary ground defense, this fight feels like a pick ’em on the feet. And if MVP can lower the output of Holland due to the threat of his unorthodox striking attempts, a successful debut could be in his sights.

Brookhouse: You can’t really ask for a better UFC debut for Page than a fight with Holland. Holland is a “name” in the UFC but isn’t unbeatable. Page was given a lot of soft matchmaking in Bellator, but it’s hard to complain when that led to so many memorable moments. On the feet, this is a fairly competitive fight with either man being able to take advantage of the other’s vulnerabilities. On the ground, Page has almost nothing to offer Holland, who can be dynamic and dangerous on the canvas. With Holland having the strongest edge anywhere on the fight, he has to be considered the correct pick to win.

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