You can tell a great deal about a UFC fighter's journey by his next opponent. Thiago Santos has 32 career fights, including a TKO victory over Jan Blachowicz three years ago. The win over the former champion earned him a title shot against Jon Jones. Santos went on to lose to Jones via split decision, but battling one of the all-time greats marked the pinnacle of his career. He quickly moved past the defeat, but physical scars from competing at the highest level still impact his career today. Santos spent the next 16 months recovering from various knee and leg injuries sustained in the bout with Jones and has since struggled to string together victories against the light heavyweight division's elite.
This Saturday at UFC Vegas 59, Santos is still fighting in main events, but now it's in a different role. Santos will square off against No. 10 ranked Jamahal Hill, a rising contender who turned heads with his highlight reel KO of Johnnie Walker. But again, the odds tell bettors everything we need to know. Hill is a -300 favorite, with Santos expected to serve as a litmus test for the promising title contender. As cold as it seems, it's the natural progression for both fighters' career arcs. And it's still a stiff test for Hill, who has yet to face a fighter of Santos' caliber, even if the former contender's best days are past him.
It's been one-way traffic with money backing the favorite, and here's why I think it's warranted.
Jamahal Hill (-300) vs. Thiago Santos (+240)
Everything is lined up for Hill to showcase his lethal power against the sixth-ranked Santos. Hill is coming off consecutive first-round knockouts and holds a massive statistical striking advantage. His 7.06 significant strikes per minute is impressive for the light heavyweight division, and his 3.35 striking differential (landed/absorbed) almost matches Santos' overall output of 3.71.
Hill is a southpaw with a three-inch reach advantage and a solid straight left. He uses his length well to land at distance, but he isn't just a fighter who loads up for the knockout. Instead, he has demonstrated the ability to work the body, inflict damage in the clinch, and pour on the volume while patiently waiting for an opening to end the fight. Santos' last loss was against another southpaw, Magomed Ankalaev, when his willingness to sit back and counter led to him falling behind on the scorecards. I wouldn't be surprised to see Santos try to get this one to the ground, but Hill's ability to scramble back to his feet should make any momentum shifts short-lived.
I will be backing Hill to get the job done Saturday night and earn a fight with a top-five opponent. Santos knows his recent low output approach will not be enough to sway the judges over five rounds, so I expect him to go out on his sword. Hill's chances of putting away Santos are better than the -165 odds imply (62% probability) and provide a bigger edge than the current moneyline price. Santos has made it to the scorecards in three of his last four losses but has still been finished in 60% of his career losses. Another option is to parlay Hill with two other big favorites. My two recommendations for the card's best parlay legs are listed below. Regardless of how you want to attack the market, get your money down on Hill if you are wagering on the main event.
The bet: Hill by KO/TKO/DQ/Submission (-150)
The parlay: Hill, Terrance McKinney and Michal Oleksiejczuk (-141)
Stephanie Egger (-135) vs. Mayra Bueno Silva (+110)
After losing her UFC debut, Egger stopped her next two opponents inside the distance via TKO and submission. However, it's unlikely she can do the same to Bueno Silva, who has yet to be finished in 11 career fights. Egger's path to victory will be picking Bueno Silva apart at range and using her aggression against her to secure takedowns. But Bueno Silva is a fireball who will force her entry into the pocket, landing the heavier shots in the striking exchanges.
Egger will lose trading on the feet, and I don't have much confidence in her getting the fight to the ground under fire. She only averages 1.69 significant strikes per minute compared to Bueno Silva's 4.25, and will have to rely on her Judo to break Bueno Silva's 69% takedown defense. Bueno Silva runs into trouble against the upper echelon of strikers when she is willing to take a shot to give a shot. I haven't seen enough from Egger's stand-up to show she can exploit her opponent's defensive liabilities. I see this one going to decision, with Bueno Silva's output and damage impressing the judges throughout three rounds.
The Bet: Mayra Bueno Silva (+110)
*Stats provided by ufcstats.com.