LAS VEGAS — The UFC returns Saturday night with a fight card at its new APEX facility here after presenting three cards over eight days in Florida.
The main event on ESPN is a welterweight match between Tyron Woodley, the -180 favorite at William Hill, and Gilbert Burns (+160). This will be a stellar clash of fighting styles between combatants seen moving in opposite career trajectories.
Sixth-ranked welterweight Burns rolls in with the momentum of having won his last five fights. However, only the last three have been at welterweight. His time at lightweight indicates he is a tweener who’s a bit too large for the 155-pound division, but perhaps not physically structured enough for the elite welterweight level (170 pounds).
Burns’ expertise lies in jiu-jitsu, as he is recognized as a world-class BJJ practitioner. This will be his first five-round main event, and I expect the extra 10 minutes will be a factor for a somewhat undersized fighter against a wrestler of Woodley’s ilk.
Burns has looked strong on his feet in his last three fights. But two were against Gunnar Nelson and Demian Maia, grapplers lacking in effective striking. He also defeated a solid fighter in Alexey Kunchenko, who is more a lightweight-sized fighter than a welterweight. Burns’ striking has improved. He possesses power, but in a war waged on the feet against most top-tier welterweights, he’ll be outgunned.
Woodley, an ex-champion and current No. 1 contender, lost his welterweight title to Kamaru Usman in March 2019 and looked sluggish, deliberate, lethargic and distracted. That impression combined with Woodley’s overall reluctance to defend the welterweight belt and his dubious decision to launch a rap music career led pundits and fans to wonder where his head might be. Now, he’s a more focused, mature man realizing exactly what he is at his core — a championship-level mixed martial artist.
Woodley will hold a vast experience edge and has faced better competition. He’ll own 3-inch advantages in arm and leg reach, though Burns is five years younger.
The fight opened Woodley -150 and has slowly risen to Woodley -180. I handicap Woodley -250. Burns is getting the benefit of some recency. But Woodley’s experience in championship-level bouts, his physical advantages and especially his motivation make me believe Burns is stepping up for a world-class whipping.
The pick: Woodley -180.