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UFC 290 tips: Featherweight unification and flyweight redemption potential in Las Vegas

The festivities for international fight week are in full flow, with UFC 290 set to follow Thursday's Hall of Fame ceremony.

The main event of UFC 290 sees a title unification bout between current champion Alexander Volkanovski and interim champion Yair Rodriguez.

After a brief trip to lightweight to challenge Islam Makhachev, the champion returns home to face a dangerous Mexican striker who is always adding tricks to his game. 

The co-main event also features a title fight, this time at flyweight. Brandon Moreno's run in the UFC has been nothing short of a fairytale, but one consistent villain in that tale has been Brazil's Alexandre Pantoja, who now gets his chance to play spoiler on the biggest possible stage.

But before the titles go on the line, contenders square off on a packed main card, including a number one contender fight at middleweight, a pair of lightweight giants looking to get back on track and the potential for one of the biggest betting upsets in UFC history.

Bo Nickal vs Valentine Woodburn

A truly dominant amateur wrestler, Bo Nickal has a collegiate wrestling career that anyone would be jealous of, finishing college with a 120-3 record. Nickal carried on his dominance to the freestyle wrestling circuit and when he announced he was making the transition to MMA, it was a question of "when" rather than "if" we would see him in the UFC.
When that time came Nickal looked as impressive as ever, dominating Jamie Pickett from the opening bell to secure a first-round submission via arm-triangle choke. Now in his sophomore outing, he will look to continue his success against short notice replacement Valentine Woodburn.
Woodburn is an unheralded prospect training out of Fusion Xcel performance in Florida, a camp that hosts the like of Mike Davis and Phil Rowe amongst its stable of fighters. The 29-year-old Woodburn was due to compete on Dana White's Contender Series later this year but jumped at the chance to make his UFC debut early and face Nickal.
Competing exclusively for Combat Night Pro in Florida, Woodburn has a record of 7-0 with his first five fights all ending by knockout. Time spent in the cage is vital for an up-and-coming fighter to gain experience and Woodburn's previous two fights going all three rounds could prove crucial when Nickal decides to push the pace.
A mega prospect and a virtual unknown squaring off always leads to one of two outcomes, a dominant victory for the prospect or a stunning upset for the unknown, and whilst you should never count a man out before the fight starts, Bo Nickal should be too much for this late notice replacement.

Key stats

2:54 is the longest fight time of Bo Nickal's MMA career.
60% of Woodburn's knockout wins have come in the first round.

Suggested bet

Bo Nickal to win by first round submission

Dan Hooker vs Jalin Turner

The UFC's lightweight division is a shark tank where only the strongest survive, and for lightweight contenders Dan Hooker and Jalin Turner this bout could be sink or swim in their quests to reach the top of the division.
Hooker has been a UFC lightweight for six years now, after making his promotional debut at featherweight "The Hangman" went 3-3 at 145 before moving up to lightweight. He found instant success going on a four-fight finishing streak defeating the likes of Jim Miller and Gilbert Burns along the way.
Problems began when he faced the elite of the division, first losing a fight to Edson Barboza by knockout before winning another three against perennial top 15 contenders such as Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder. It was that extra step that proved to be Hooker's problem as he was defeated by each future title contender he faced including current champion Islam Makhachev.
Turner's UFC career began with an unexpected call from the matchmakers, on two weeks' notice Turner was given the opportunity to face Vicente Luque at welterweight on the Khabib vs McGregor undercard, an opportunity he couldn't turn down.
Despite a first-round knockout loss, Turner rebounded to go 6-1 in his next seven bouts at his natural weight class of lightweight, before he ran into Polish grappling standout Mateusz Gamrot and lost by split decision.
Turner's improvements were evident but that loss to Gamrot has called into question whether he is in the upper echelon of lightweight fighters or merely just a gatekeeper to the top rankings.
Both men have plenty to prove and will want an impressive performance to remind fans and matchmakers alike of their abilities, neither man knows how to put on a boring fight so this one will be a war for however long it lasts, but I would give the edge to Turner due to his strong grappling credentials.

Key stats

Jalin Turner has finished all of his professional victories before the final bell.
Dan Hooker's last loss at lightweight came by submission to Islam Makhachev.

Suggested bet

Jalin Turner to win by submission

Robert Whittaker vs Dricus Du Plessis

Robert Whittaker is the scourge of the UFC middleweight division. The former champion has won 11 of his 13 fights in the division and has looked dominant throughout his run, defeating Jacare Souza, Yoel Romero and Kelvin Gastelum during his dominant reign in the division.
The only man to defeat Whittaker is the only man that matters unfortunately, current champion Israel Adesanya appears to be the puzzle "The Reaper" cannot figure out, so whilst he is champion all Whittaker can do is continue beating ranked contenders and hope he gets a third title shot.
Enter into the conversation, Dricus Du Plessis.
A man who entered the UFC as the former KSW welterweight champion, a man whose awkward style and heavy breathing made him look miles away from ever being a championship contender, a man who couldn't stop winning.
Du Plessis is now on a five-fight winning streak since entering the UFC, finishing four of those opponents including Derek Brunson and Darren Till, and now is in an official number one contender fight against one of the greatest UFC middleweights of all time.
Stylistically this matchup is massively favourable for Whittaker, his crisp and tight boxing whilst being able to mix in head kicks works perfectly against Du Plessis' tendency to throw single strikes and keep his hands low when he gets tired.
But throughout his UFC career, everyone has doubted Dricus Du Plessis, and every single time he has proved his doubters wrong, his power and submission threat is absolutely legitimate and losing your focus for one second can cost you against this man.
Whittaker is the favourite for a reason and I'm picking him to win the fight, but never count out a man who has a history of upsetting the odds and with a potential UFC Africa card on the horizon, it could be written in the stars for an all-African war on home soil for the middleweight title.

Key stats

Robert Whittaker's last UFC finish was against Jacare Souza back in 2017.
Dricus Du Plessis has only been to a decision once in his 21-fight career.

Suggested bet

Robert Whittaker to win by KO/TKO

Brandon Moreno vs Alexandre Pantoja

Brandon Moreno's career has been a story of overcoming the odds.
The last seed on the Ultimate Fighter series which would have seen him fight for the UFC title if he had won, he rebounded from a loss to Pantoja to make his UFC debut on short notice and go on a three-fight win streak.
He then dropped two fights in a row including another loss to Pantoja which saw him unceremoniously cut from the UFC and needing to start again. After a trio of fights in combat jiu-jitsu and winning the LFA flyweight title, Moreno returned to the UFC in his home country of Mexico and fought to a draw against another top prospect in Askar Askarov.
Since his return to the organization, Moreno has lost only one fight (the third in his quadrilogy with Deiveson Figueiredo) and has shown massive improvements since arriving at the Ultimate Fighter house as a fresh faced 22-year-old.
Pantoja was also on that season of the Ultimate Fighter and despite being the number one seed and defeating Moreno in his opening bout, fell short at the semi-final stage losing to Japanese fighter Hiromasa Ougikubo.
His UFC career has had some stutters since then losing fights to the likes of Dustin Ortiz and Deiveson Figueiredo at the wrong times stalled his potential momentum, but now on a three-fight winning streak with finishes over Brandon Royval and Alex Perez, Pantoja looks ready to challenge his old foe once again for the flyweight belt.
There are no glaring holes in either mans ability, both their striking and grappling are excellent whilst neither have had issues with stamina in the past either so a five round fight will be no issue for either man.
Moreno's ability to rise above adversity has been remarkable, and his past two wins over Figueiredo and Kai Kara-France have made him look like a destroyer at flyweight, but Pantoja has beaten him twice before and there is no more vital skill than that when you're fighting in the octagon.
Get yourself comfortable for this fight as these to men will go to war for however long it lasts.

Key stats

Brandon Moreno hasn't won a fight by submission since his 2017 win over Dustin Ortiz.
Alexandre Pantoja is the only man to have ever defeated Brandon Moreno twice before.

Suggested bet

Fight to go the distance? Yes

Alexander Volkanovski vs Yair Rodriguez

Undefeated at featherweight in his career, snatching the featherweight title from Max Holloway and becoming the greatest of all time at featherweight in the process. Its fair to say that Alexander Volkanovski is a menacing foe for anyone in the UFC, but after a failed bid to become the champion at 155 he may have something to prove against Yair Rodriguez.
Losing a fight to Islam Makhachev is nothing to be ashamed of, but Volkanovski's failed attempt to capture the lightweight title gave all of his future opponents something crucial, a gameplan on how to beat him.
Volkanovski is supremely confident in his abilities (as he should be) but showing that there is a way to beat him does give hope to future contenders, after seeing all previous efforts come up short against him, its good to remind everyone that Alexander Volkanovski is beatable.
Unfortunately for Yair Rodriguez he could not have a more different striker to Islam Makhachev if he tried, where Makhachev is a Dagestani wrestler with all of the accomplishments that possess, Rodriguez is a flashy striker with some of the most enthralling punches and kicks in the entire UFC.
A two-fight win streak against Brian Ortega and Josh Emmett is what brought Rodriguez the interim title, and his submission win over Emmett marked his first since his opening bout of the Ultimate Fighter Latin America 1 back in 2014.
Rodriguez continues to evolve in his game and is dangerous until the very last second, knocking out Chan Sung Jung at 4:59 of round 5 in their bout, but the question remains how will he deal with the smothering top pressure of Volkanovski?
The champ is back with a point to prove, he isn't done kicking ass at featherweight just yet, a dominant performance will put him back on track but standing in his way is a Mexican master of movement and striking, who will strike like a viper if given the chance to take the belt back to Mexico City.

Key stats

Four of Alexander Volkanovski's last five fights have gone to decision.
Yair Rodriguez has finished three of his five UFC finishes in the second round.

Suggested bet

Alexander Volkanovski to win on points

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