This article is part of our Handicapping the Octagon series.
UFC 248 may be top-heavy in terms of star power, but that doesn't mean we can't find a few fights to bet. What makes this card so interesting from a betting perspective is we have several bouts that are lined closely, which can be beneficial if we can make a strong read. As before, I have limited my looks to lines below (-200), as I feel that anything more expensive is supposed to come in, and doesn't really require a writeup. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article. Without any further ado, let's get to it.
Gerald Meerschaert (30-12-0) v. Deron Winn (6-1-0)
Weight Class: Middleweight
I am genuinely surprised that Winn has chosen to stay at middleweight after his loss to Darren Stewart in November. The former Collegiate All-American wrestler has been at a massive height and reach disadvantage in both of his UFC fights, and this matchup will be no different, as he will be ceding six inches of height and seven inches of reach to Meerschaert. While he has shown himself adept at getting takedowns, Winn's inability to control his opponent and lack of BJJ was a real problem in the matchup against Stewart. This makes one wonder if he will even try to take down Meerschaert, who has a whopping 22 submission wins in his career and has shown himself to be quite comfortable working off his back and looking for sweeps.
So, what would a standup battle between these two grapplers look like? Winn has some power, but generally relies on simply winging big hooks. While Meershcaert is far from a polished striker, he has shown a nice jab in the past, as well as decent evasiveness against a more varied attack in his last outing against Eryk Anders. This doesn't mean he can't be hit, but it's worth noting that the Roufusport product has shown enduring toughness throughout his career, having only been finished by strikes once in a whopping 42 fights.
Perhaps most importantly, though, "GM3" is once again squaring off against an orthodox fighter, which means the left body kick that folded up previous Winn opponent Eric Spicely will very much be in play. Put simply, I think Meerscaert is capable of winning this fight just about anywhere it goes, as Winn hasn't displayed the ability to do enough with the one excellent tool at his disposal.
The Pick: Meerschaert +120
Giga Chikadze (8-2-0) v Jamall Emmers (17-4-0)
Weight Class: Featherweight
Chikadze busted into the UFC in the same mold as a fighter like Gokhan Saki: an accomplished kickboxer who is likely vulnerable to wrestling and grappling. While he was taken down multiple times by Brandon Davis in his UFC debut, however, there are reasons to believe that he is working to round out his game. We saw in the Davis fight that Chikadze was very good at getting his back to the fence in order to stay safe and return to his feet. He also seemed to do a better job of grabbing underhooks and breaking his opponent's posture as the fight wore on.
I chose to open this review focusing on his weaknesses, because there can be little doubt that Giga is a better kickboxer than Emmers. The Pinnacle MMA product is quick and athletic, but tends to struggle with range and get wild with his shots, which leaves him open to be countered. We have seen Emmers be an active wrestler/grappler in the past, but it seems clear that what he wants to do is strike, which should put Chikadze at a sizeable advantage.
At the end of the day, I guess you could say I'm doing a bit of speculation with this pick. My hunch is that the awareness for how to deal with takedowns (and being taken down) that we saw in Giga's first fight will have led to significant improvement six months later, particularly with the coaches at Kings MMA at the helm. It must also be noted that Chikadze took this fight on just a few weeks' notice, but he actually had a fight scheduled against Mike Davis that was canceled at the end of February, so there is every reason to believe he will be in fighting shape. The matchup isn't a perfect one, but I will happily take plus money when there is such a noticeable gap in what can arguably be called the most important phase of the fight.
The Pick: Chikadze +135
Emily Whitmire (4-3-0) v. Polyana Viana (10-4-0)
Weight Class: Women's Strawweight
Viana is coming off three consecutive losses, and while that seems to have scared the betting community somewhat, I think it makes for a great opportunity to take the better fighter at close odds.
Whitmire may have the makings of a decent grappling game, but seems incredibly stiff on the feet, opting for flurries of shots that either miss the target or don't have much effect when they land. By contrast, Viana has a very clear idea of what she wants to do in the standup game, which is to keep her range and fire hard body kicks before eventually working her trip and clinch takedowns. Viana may have been submitted by Veronica Macedo after getting the fight to the floor, but Macedo is nothing if not tricky off of her back, and Whitmire has only scored one submission win in her seven professional fights. All three of her losses have come by submission. She has been able to pick up a couple of wins in the organization, but it's not exactly clear to me where Whitmire's strengths are, save for some decent wrestling and grappling, which I don't believe will be enough to overcome Viana's impressive sub game.
While neither fighter exactly inspires confidence, I will gladly take the side of the one who has a clearly defined skill set, as well as a plan when they step into the cage.
The Pick: Viana -115
Max Griffin (15-7-0) v. Alex Oliveira (20-8-1)
Weight Class: Welterweight
I am a big fan of Oliveira's all-action fighting style, but these days it feels very much like any fighter who can keep their composure and ride out the wave of frantic offense in the first round is a favorite to defeat him. Griffin seems likely to be one of those guys, having only been stopped twice in his 22 fights. Factor in a nice, fundamental kickboxing game, and what you get is a fighter who is hard to hurt. He should be able to stem the tide of offense of Oliveira with his pressuring and footwork.
For all of his tools on the feet, Oliveira has looked particularly lost lately when he can't get the fight to the ground. One might look at Griffin's 63 percent takedown defense and think this makes for a bad matchup, but it must be said that six of those came from the veritable takedown machine that is Colby Covington. In his seven other UFC fights, Griffin has been taken down a grand total of two times. He also has a wrestling game of his own he can try to employ, as "Brazilian Cowboy" comes into the contest with just 61 percent takedown defense.
Oliveira is the kind of fighter who can knock anyone out at any time, but if he doesn't do that, can he beat a solid, technical fighter like Griffin? I am willing to take plus money to find out.