UFC Saudi Arabia headliner Ikram Aliskerov.
UFC Saudi Arabia headliner Ikram Aliskerov. | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC Saudi Arabia goes down this weekend (Sat., June 22, 2024) with former Middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker, taking on dangerous late replacement, Ikram Aliskerov. Checkout all the odds right here …

UFC Saudi Arabia comes at us this weekend (Sat., June 22, 2024) from Kingdom Arena in Riyadh. This is UFC’s first foray into Saudi Arabia, with the promotion walking in the footsteps of Francis Ngannou, Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk and other big-name boxers who have been drawn to the desert by the riches offered by the House of Saud. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has intensified its sports program in recent years as it tries to transform itself into MENA’s entertainment capital (while also obscuring its reputation for human rights violations).

The main event for this one was supposed to be Robert Whittaker vs. Khamzat Chimaev, a fight that could have produced a Middleweight title challenger. However, Chimaev fell off the card last week with an undisclosed illness. Since then Ikram Aliskerov has been drafted in as his replacement. Aliskerov has two UFC fights under his belt and was supposed to fight Antonio Troccoli in UFC APEX last Saturday.

Funny how all that worked out …

The co-main event for this one has top Russian Heavyweights Sergei Pavlovich and Alexander Volkov going at it. Pavlovich will likely want to prove his knockout loss to Tom Aspinall last time out (here) was a fluke and that he deserves to jump back into the title picture. Also on the main card is Johnny Walker vs. Volkan Ozedemir and Kelvin Gastelum vs. Daniel Rodriguez.

The “Prelims” are headlined by Shara Magomedov — who was supposed to tangle Joiltin Lutterbach — but now gets the aforementioned Troccoli (details here). The “Prelims” also feature Nasrat Haqparast vs. Jared Gordon.

Let’s checkout the moneylines on “Whittaker vs. Aliskerov” and all the other bouts on the card …

UFC 298: Whittaker v Costa
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
UFC Saudi Arabia headliner Robert Whittaker beat Paulo Costa last time out.

UFC Saudi Arabia Main Card Money Line Odds

Robert Whittaker (-155) vs. Ikram Aliskerov (+130)

Robert Whittaker has only lost to current or future champions in the Middleweight division.

Let that sink in for a second.

He’s 10-3 at 185 lbs. with the only blemishes being the title losing TKO he suffered at the hands of Israel Adesanya (see it here), the decision loss in their rematch, and finally the TKO he lost to Dricus Du Plessis in a number one contender bout last year (see that here).

Ikram Aliskerov is 15-1, his lone loss coming to Khamzat Chimaev in 2019. But only three of those wins have happened in a UFC Octagon. His first win was on the Contender Series in 2022. The guy he beat by kimura there then went on to fight in Brazil’s version of Misfits Boxing. His other UFC wins are stoppages of the chinny Phil Hawes (here) and the spent Warlley Alves (here). Of course Aliskerov can only beat who he’s been put in front of, but this resume doesn’t give me much confidence of his chances against someone who has fought (and mostly beaten) a who’s who at Middleweight.

It’s hard to put too much stock in the stats here, since Aliskerov only has stats recorded for his three appearances inside the Octagon. The limited amount of stats point to how hittable he is, though. His significant strike defence is just 36% and that number owes a lot to how many times Hawes was able to catch him with punches before he had his lights turned out. Hawes landed 17 or 28 sig. strikes in that fight (60%). Against Roman Dolidze, Hawes was only able to land 11 of 26 sig. strikes (42%).

Whittaker, on the other hand, has a much larger body of work that we can draw numbers from. His sig. striking defense is 59%, which is one of the best percentages in his division (Sean Strickland predictably leads the way there with 62.3%). In his last fight Paulo Costa landed 67 of 151 sig. strikes (44%) on him. Costa has a career 58% sig. strike accuracy.

Whittaker is also in the top ten for best takedown defense percentage in the division (79.6%). So it seems unlikely that Aliskerov could easily pivot to a ground battle if he struggles to impose his will on the feet.

In general, I’d rather pick someone based on what we know than what we don’t know. We certainly don’t know Aliskerov’s ceiling and this might be like T.J. Dillashaw coming in on short notice to blast through Renan Barao and announce himself as a serious player. But what we do know is that Whittaker is one of the finest Middleweights of his generation and remains an extremely dangerous and well-rounded fighter. That’s why he’s the favorite here and that’s why I’d pick him to beat Aliskerov, probably by unanimous decision.

UFC 295: Prochazka v Pereira
Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
At UFC Saudi Arabia Sergei Pavlovich will be hoping to rebound from his loss to Tom Aspinall.

Sergei Pavlovich (-230) vs. Alexander Volkov (+190)

My initial reaction to this match-up was simply, Alexander Volkov won’t be able to withstand Sergei Pavlovich’s power.

But after some study, I think this is actually a closer fight than I had initially given it credit for. Volkov is actually in the top ten for least sig. strikes absorbed per minute in the Heavyweight division (3.22). Pavlovich on the other hand absorbs 4.61 strikes a minute.

Volkov is also the more accurate striker, landing 57% of his sig. strikes versus Pavlovich’s 48%.

These numbers paint the picture of these two fighters rather well. Pavlovich is more than willing to take a punch to land one and he loads up with power when he does (83% of his 18 wins are by K/TKO). Whereas Volkov is more of a sniper who will patiently chip away and not drop his guard often while doing so. He does have stopping power, too, though (65% of his 37 wins are by K/TKO).

For me it’s a little up in the air about who is going to find more success on the feet (and this entire fight will likely be contested on the feet). Pavlovich clearly doesn’t need to land as many punches as Volkov does to win the fight. But in just a three round fight, Volkov might be able to limit those opportunities enough that he can win a decision with his counter punching.

Pavlovich’s four inch reach advantage might prevent Volkov from being able to manage the range in this fight, though (unless he tries the en vogue repeating front kick defense, which could actually work quite well here).

If the bout does go to the ground, Pavlovich is a terror with his ground and pound. However, Volkov is no slouch when it comes to Heavyweight grappling.

With the odds being what they are, I’m tempted with the underdog here.

UFC Fight Night: Brady v Gastelum
Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Kelvin Gastelum will be making his 23rd Octagon trip at UFC Saudi Arabia.

Kelvin Gastelum (-245) vs. Daniel Rodriguez (+200)

It feels like Daniel Rodriguez has hit his ceiling, after his lacklustre losses to Ian Machado Garry and Neil Magny. He’s also 37 years old. Kelvin Gastelum has been fighting at this level a heck of a lot longer and he’s remarkably still only 32-years-old.

Rodriguez has a size advantage over Gastelum (four inch height, three inch reach), but Gastelum is very used to fighting taller and longer guys and he’s rarely been exposed because of those metrics alone.

Rodriguez brings a crazy amount of volume with his striking. He’s top in the division with 7.55 sig. strikes landed per minute and second in sig. striking differential (2.42). However, his sig. striking accuracy is just 50%, well outside the top ten in his division. The reason Rodriguez has been able to rack up so many strikes in his fights might be down to a lack of power. In ten UFC bouts he’s gotten just two stoppages via strikes, a 2020 win over Dwight Grant and a 2021 win over Preston Parsons (see that here).

Rodriguez landed 120 significant strikes on Kevin Lee in 2021, but couldn’t get the finish.

Gastelum has never been stopped in his pro career. And he’s very good at not getting hit. His sig. striking defense is third highest in the division (65.7 percent). In his second to last fight he was able to limit Chris Curtis to just 34 percent success on sig. strikes (well below Curtis’ career average of 51 percent).

I just don’t see Rodriguez finding success on the feet against Gastelum and I don’t know how else he can win a fight with him. Gastelum should be able to avoid Rodriguez’s striking and win the positional game for a decision victory. Gastelum is still young enough that his experience is a benefit and not a detriment. Rodriguez isn’t super battle worn, but at 37, I don’t think he will be able to match Gastelum for pace in clinches and any wrestling that might go down.

UFC Fight Night: Ankalaev v Walker 2
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
At UFC Saudi Arabia Johnny Walker will be hoping not to repeat his last trip to ‘the desert’.

Johnny Walker (-108) vs. Volkan Oezdemir (+112)

Things got weird the last time Johnny Walker fought in the middle east, with a strange no contest opposite Magomed Ankalaev going down at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi. In their rematch, Walker was melted by an Ankalaev uppercut (see it here). That loss broke Walker’s four fight undefeated streak, which included wins over Ion Cutelaba, Paul Craig and Anthony Smith.

The KO loss to Anakalaev was Walker’s fifth K/TKO loss.

Volkan Oezdemir’s most memorable losses have both been stoppages due to strikes. However, those are the only K/TKO losses in his career. In 2018 was pounded out by a prime Daniel Cormier when he challenged for the belt. And in 2020 he met Jiri Prochazka in Prochazka’s UFC debut. Prochazka starched Oezdemir in less than a minute (check it out here).

Since the Prochazka loss Oezdemir has lost decisions to Ankalaev and Nikita Krylov and beaten Paul Craig and Bogdan Guskov (who looked pretty good against Ryan Spann a few months ago).

Walker will have a huge seven inch reach advantage over Oezdemir. But he had that over Ankalaev, too.

Ultimately, I think Oezdemir is the pick here in this pick ‘em. I believe his striking output and defense are better than Walker’s and I don’t think Walker can take too many clean shots from Oezdemir before going down.

UFC Saudi Arabia ‘Prelims’ Under Card Odds

UFC 294: Makhachev v Volkanovski 2
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Shara Magomedov will be making his second UFC appearance at UFC Saudi Arabia.

Shara Magomedov (N/A) vs. Antonio Troccoli (N/A)

Shara Magomedov will make his second UFC appearance at UFC Saudi Arabia on Saturday. He debuted last year, taking a unanimous decision win over Bruno Silva. This victory did little to overshadow what Magomedov is most well known for … sucker punching a guy in a mall in Dagestan because the guy was kissing his own girlfriend in public. Magomedov also earned some notoriety for trying to throw down after he got miffed in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu bout.

The hot-headed Magomedov had a lot of hype when he was outside UFC thanks to his undefeated record, which included 10 (technical) knockouts and just one decision. However, against Silva, he just looked okay. He out-struck Silva, but was taken down a few times and didn’t look very well rounded for a supposed super prospect (who just turned 30, by the way).

In Riyadh he gets a short-notice replacement opponent in the form of Troccoli. I don’t think Magomedov will walk over Troccoli here, but I think he’s got the better mixed martial arts (MMA) striking game out of the two. Given Magomedov’s temperament, I wouldn’t bet on him to win anything, but I do think he will be a worthy favorite in this fight.

Nasrat Haqparast (-238) vs. Jared Gordon (+195)

Nasrat Haqparast is one a nice run, having won three on the trot. Last time out he scored a Performance of the Night win with his stoppage over Jamie Mullarkey. Jared Gordon has been inconsistent in his UFC career, but has suffered from some tough match-making, losing to Paddy Pimblett (supposedly) and Grant Dawson.

I think the oddsmakers are being a bit ageist here, giving the 35-year-old Gordon such long odds against his 28-year-old opponent. Gordon has better sig. striking accuracy than Haqparast (57% vs. 44%) and absorbs way fewer sig. strikes per minute (3.4 vs. 5.25). His takedown average per 15 mins is also over six times higher than Haqparast (1.95 vs. 0.31) and his takedown accuracy is 40%. However, Haqparast’s takedown defense is a very good 78%.

I think this is a close fight, but I also think Haqparast’s improvement over his last few fights should carry him through this one, albeit not spectacularly.

Muhammad Naimov (?) vs. Felipe Lima (?)

No odds for this late match-up have been released at this time of writing.

Rinat Fakhretdinov (-355) vs. Nicolas Dalby (+280)

Nicolas Dalby is on a four fight winning streak and coming off a TKO win over the previously undefeated Gabriel Bonfim (see it here). He was at plus odds on his last three wins and was a +455 dog when he beat Bonfim. Prior to that he was +160 when he took a unanimous decision over Muslim Salikhov.

Last time out Rinat Fakhretdinov drew against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. Prior to that he got Kevin Lee with a guillotine choke (see it here).

This is pretty good match-making here and I think it’s another close fight despite what the oddsmakers say.

Fakhretdinov is the pick because he should be able to take down Dalby and control the fight from there. However, Dalby does have a 60% takedown defense and Fakhretdinov was only 1 of 9 on takedowns in his fight with Zaleski dos Santos (who has a 68% takedown defense).

Muin Gafurov (-162) vs. Kang Kyung Ho (+136)

Both these guys have losses to John Castaneda in recent showings. Gafurov is yet to win in the UFC, also losing to Said Nurmagomedov and Chad Anheliger. Kang Kyung Ho has been with the UFC since 2013. His first UFC fight was on Fuel TV for Pete’s sake. He recently choked out Cristian Quinonez for his 12th career submission win. The 36-year-old Korean is the slight underdog here, but his size and experience might give Gafurov some trouble.

Magomed Gadzhiyasulov (-310) vs. Brendson Ribeiro (+250)

We’ve seen very little of both these guys in the UFC. Magomed Gadzhiyasulov got a decision win on the Contender Series last year. He fights for Bahrain royalty owned KHK Sports and he has a legitimacy red flag on his tapology record. Brendson Ribeiro got a TKO win on the Contender Series and then lost his proper debut to Zhang Migyang (in quite devastating fashion) in February.

Xiao Long (-115) vs. Lee Chang Ho (-105)

Xiao Long and Lee Chang Ho will be battling to win Road to UFC season two Bantamweight tournament here. Lee is a grappler and Xiao is a striker. Neither have done much outside of small promotions in their respective nations of China and South Korea.

UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich v Blaydes
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Sergei Pavlovich’s power might be too much for Alexander Volkov at UFC Saudi Arabia.

UFC Saudi Arabia Prop Bets And Parlays

Here’s a couple of things that look interesting for this Saturday’s UFC Saudi Arabia card …

Robert Whittaker to beat Ikram Aliskerov via decision (+250)

Whittaker is a generational fighter. Aliskerov is, right now, the movie of the week. I have way more faith in Whittaker doing what he’s done throughout his career than I do Aliskerov repeating his flashy wins over someone levels beyond Phil Hawes and Warrley Alves. Whittaker hasn’t gotten many finishes as of late, but I think he will be able to outclass Aliskerov over five rounds. Aliskerov, whose total UFC cage time is six minutes and 26 seconds, might also struggle to keep up when he get past the first two rounds.

Sergei Pavlovich vs. Alexander Volkov – Over 1.5 rounds (-124)

I think this fight will go the distance because I respect Volkov’s defense. Having suffered a quick and humbling loss last time out, Pavlovich might also favor a more cautious approach this time.

Two fight parlay: Kelvin Gastelum to beat Daniel Rodriguez and Nasrat Haqparast to beat Jared Gordon (+102)

These two were separated at birth, but I think they will be united in getting their hands raised in Riydah. Both Rodriguez and Gordon are on the wrong side of 35. Gastelum is a terrible match-up for Rodriguez and Haqparast should be too dynamic for Gordon.

Shara Magomedov vs. Antonio Troccoli – Point to be deducted during the fight (+2000)

Magomedov is a head case. And if you’re going to throw a dart at this prop bet, you couldn’t find a better candidate on this card.

1930s 1940s MAN’S HAND...
Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

UFC Saudi Arabia Poll Time

Which of the earlier props and parlays do you like the look of the most?

Got something better than those? Well, don’t be stingy. Hit us with them in the comments.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Saudi Arabia fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 3 p.m. ET (also on ABC/ESPN+).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Saudi Arabia: “Whittaker vs. Aliskerov” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Staff
Author: Staff

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