UFC 213 Picks

MMA Fight: UFC 213
Key Matches: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko and Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker
When: Saturday, July 8, 2017
Time: 9:00PM EST
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: PPV

by Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Amanda Nunes, (-120), 14-4 (10 KOs, 3 Submissions) vs. Valentina Shevchenko, (+100), 14-2 (4 KOs, 6 Submissions)

Amanda Nunes defends her UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship against top contender Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC 213. This is a terrific matchup and a rematch from a March 2016 fight, when the 29-year old champion won a narrow 3-round decision over Shevchenko. It was Nunes’ last fight before she became champion in her very next fight with a first-round submission over Miesha Tate. For Shevchenko, also 29, it was her only loss in the UFC and subsequent wins over ex-champ Holly Holm and top contender Juliana Pena have earned her this shot.

The first fight was a well-contested and entertaining affair. As is her nature, Nunes started fast, combining her heavy hands and BJJ acumen to dominate the early action. The resilient Shevchenko braved the early rough passages and in the third round was doing damage of her own, even administering some ground-and-pound. She showed a lot of character in defeat and with Nunes more gassed at the end of the 3-rounder, one would be justified in taking an optimistic stance on Shevchenko in this championship match-up.

Nunes, however, keeps getting better and better. Her wins over Tate and Ronda Rousey were demolitions. Her punching is on another level and no female fighter is safe when Nunes is allowed to exchange freely with her fists. And her grappling gives her game an all-around nature that few can claim in the women’s 135-pound division. Since joining the UFC, she has submitted fighters like Tate and Sara McMann, while taking out the likes of Germaine DeRandamie and Rousey with ferocious elbows, kicks, and punches.

Always a dangerous competitor, Nunes seemed to really have her overall game click into gear over the past year-and-change. Again, the wins over Tate and Rousey were as emphatic as it gets, taking Nunes from the role of contender to perhaps the fiercest female fighter in the world. She was still incomplete when losing to Cat Zingano, who beat her on strikes back in 2014. Prior to that, she was TKO’d by Alexis Davis. But since, she’s been climbing steadily and has clearly peaked. To get a good idea of where she stands now, looking too far into the past will give a faulty picture. It’s what she is now that counts.

Shevchenko was a longtime standout in kickboxing and it shows with her highly-precise striking. Her kicks, punches, and combinations are thrown skillfully and with an innateness that comes with having a 58-2-1 kickboxing record, in addition to a few pro boxing matches, and an MMA career that has her on the precipice of a world title. She is very quick—both in her delivery of offense and on defense, as well. In addition to her technical superiority, she again showed how tough she was in avoiding being run over by the early Nunes rampage in their first fight. It’s critical that she has already shown she can withstand what the champion can administer.

The challenger may have fewer routes to victory. She is a bit outgunned on the ground. She had her moments in the first time when the pair went to the mat and was far from being completely lost, but it’s not her wheelhouse. And as far as a brawl goes, she is also a bit overpowered by the concussive shots of Nunes. Her best route to victory is a thoughtful approach where quick striking is complimented with slick movement. She is less-explosive, but has better stamina, so getting this into the later-rounds is critical. She needs to also show enough power to dissuade Nunes. Since joining the UFC, she hasn’t been able to knock out an opponent, so we’ll see.

If looking to determine Nunes’ weaknesses, the first fight offered a glimpse of it. She’s a fearsome early-rounds fighter, with a lot of her fights having ended in the first round, including her two title-fight wins. We saw in the first Shevchenko fight that she doesn’t necessarily get better as the fight carries on. And after finishing Tate and Rousey early, what happens if the challenger takes into the 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds?

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The UFC 213 betting odds are revealing. Despite two high-profile championship wins that both ended in the first round and a win over this very opponent, Nunes is the tiniest of favorites. That’s because a very salient case can be made for the challenger, who seemed to be surging as their previous three-rounder came to an end. Now in a five-rounder, Shevchenko could possibly take that momentum a step further. While betting against Nunes at this point takes a lot of moxie, I’m of the belief that Shevchenko can wear Nunes down and take a 5-round decision for the title.

Loot’s Pick to Win the Match: I’m betting on Valentina Shevchenko at +100.

Yoel Romero, (-160), 13-1 (11 KOs) vs. Robert Whittaker, (+130), 18-4 (9 KOs, 5 Submissions)

Yoel Romero will take on Robert Whittaker in UFC 213 in a pivotal 185-pound bout that will crown an interim middleweight title. It’s a fascinating battle between the explosive and feared Romero and the surging young contender Whittaker. Both are nice winning streaks and have been looking monstrous in spots. Fans should anticipate a high-paced and explosive fight.

Whittaker has been making a lot of noise lately, especially since moving up from the welterweight division. Still just 26, the Australian-based New Zealander has won 7 straight fights since losing to Wonderboy Thompson at 170. In his last fight, he was magnificent, making leading middleweight contender Jacare Souza seem almost amateurish in a 2nd-round TKO win. Since coming up to 185 pounds, he has also beaten Uriah Hall and Derek Brunson. Without having to cut weight, he seems to have developed more power. Against Brunson, he also showed he isn’t a frontrunner, overcoming being hurt to score a big first-round KO.

These fighters create a striking image. Since coming up to 185, Whittaker is almost pudgy, while Romero is cut from granite, with the scariest-looking physique in the division, if not the entire sport. But Whittaker has a few edges. One is youth, as he is 14 years Romero’s junior. And while Romero is certainly a fighter and used to combat after a long wrestling career, Whittaker might be the better fighter in the true sense of the word. He just has an instinctual fighter’s air, while Romero is more of a super-athlete who happens to fight.

The 40-year old Romero is really a freakish athlete. He looks like a comic book character and performs feats of extreme athleticism in the cage. He can fly through the air with precise knees or take his opponent’s back with shockingly little strain. This is one of the more internationally-decorated wrestlers ever. And since turning his attention to MMA, eleven of his 13 wins have been by KO, showing he has picked up the knack of turning people’s light off. And despite extreme muscularity, he’s not stiff, showing a full range of motion when in the ring.

All things being equal, Romero should have gotten a shot before now. With a previous bust for PEDs, maybe they were trying to keep him out of the title picture, making him take on beast after beast. He hasn’t lost since joining the UFC in 2013. He stopped two former champs in Lyoto Machida and Chris Weidman. He also beat Jacare, though not as decisively as Whittaker, and also beat Tim Kennedy and Brunson. When fighting at this level, it’s hard to keep winning without ever really getting the fruits for your labor. He’s 40 in a division with an inactive champ, forced to keep taking on dangerous contenders. He won’t get away with that forever.

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Whittaker is not as explosive as Romero, but I do believe he is the better fighter on an instinctive level. He is very quick, almost in a deceiving way. But make no mistake, the more physically-gifted fighter in Romero. I see Romero’s number coming up. And unlike what happened in the Kennedy fight, when he was able to lollygag in the corner after being hurt, I don’t think Whittaker is letting him off the hook. The only question is if this is coming too early for the still-young Whittaker, but I see him answering the call and getting the job done in UFC 213 with the big win.

Loot’s Prediction to Win the Fight: I’m betting on Robert Whittaker at +130.

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