This article is part of our Handicapping the Octagon series.
After a couple of weeks with no action, UFC 247 kicks off eight straight weeks of cage fights on which to make money. This article features my first two dog plays of the series, as well as two fights where I believe distinct physical advantages will take things home for the slight favorite. 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.
Derrick Lewis (22-7-0, 1 NC) v. Ilir Latifi (14-7-0, 1 NC)
The Pick: Latifi +220
In my last article, I criticized Justin Ledet's decision to move down to light heavyweight, reasoning that his skillset would be much better suited for the heaviest division. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, then, that I would applaud someone like Latifi for making the opposite move a few weeks later. To be sure, Latifi will be the smaller man in the cage against Lewis (he wasn't all that big for 205) but with that will come a pronounced speed advantage, both in footwork and hand speed. He should also have a tremendous wrestling advantage here, as it's easy to see the single-leg takedowns he was trying on Volkan Oezdemir have much greater effect against the bigger, less agile Lewis. While all these things are marks in his favor, we must acknowledge that Latifi has been notorious for gassing out and looking lost in the Octagon. This remains a concern, but I think it's worth noting that not only should the move up put less strain on Latifi's body, but Lewis doesn't really push a pace, choosing instead to fight in well-timed explosions of power. Lewis can still connect, but all of Ilir's recent losses have come to fighters with much more diverse skill sets, and I just don't think the power will be enough if he is able to control the pace and get his wrestling game going.
Juan Adams (5-2-0) v. Justin Tafa (3-1-0)
The Pick: Tafa +200
It's not often I stake out one heavyweight fight, let alone two, but this is another matchup where a line this steep simply doesn't make sense to me. It may be difficult to remember much of Tafa's debut before he was sent to the canvas on the strength of a thunderous counter shot, but the Australian fighter was doing quite well in the opening minutes of his UFC debut against Yorgan de Castro in May, showing off his own counter punches while doing some mean work in the clinch. To be sure, leaping into range unprotected is a recurring problem for Tafa, and against most fighters in this division, it will lead to bad things. The reason I am not as concerned about that here is Juan Adams is one of the only fighters I can recall that throws arm punches at this level. His jab looks alright, but when he tries to branch out, what we see are lunging strikes that are without much power and leave him open to be hit. I think Tafa's power will shine in these exchanges, and the fact that we've seen Adams comfortable in the clinch before only adds to the good work that "Bad Man" can potentially do. Of course, Adams will bring his wrestling pedigree into the contest. While he is very good at control when he does get the fight to the ground, it should be noted that he has only managed to do so against Chris de la Rocha in his debut. Adams tired tremendously in that fight, and though he did look in better shape for his bout against Greg Hardy, we have still yet to see him effectively manage his gas tank for three rounds. Tafa is the very definition of a raw fighter, but Adams has done absolutely nothing to earn his status as a large favorite, and he will be in for a tremendously-tough scrap unless he has made rather large improvements to either his boxing or takedown game.
Andre Ewell (15-6-0) v. Jonathan Martinez (11-2-0)
The pick: Ewell: -125
I have always liked Ewell as a quick kickboxer who varies his targets nicely and has some sneaky power. The problem one consistently runs into when advocating for him, however, is his horrid takedown defense. While it sits at a respectable 61 percent right now, that number is a bit deceiving, as he has been taken down multiple times in all but one of his UFC fights. Enter Martinez, who has secured two takedowns in three UFC bouts for a TD average of well below 1.00 per 15 minutes of cage time. It should also be noted that while Ewell can be taken down, he often doesn't get beaten there, which we can chalk up to his great scrambling ability and submission defense. Once we have decided this fight will largely play out on the feet, I see a lot to like for Ewell, as he will be the much quicker, more varied, and powerful striker. The main thing to focus on is we have seen Martinez struggle to cut off the cage before, and Ewell enters this fight with a robust five-inch reach advantage. Add in the fact that Ewell is a dead-eye counter striker, and things begin to look not so great for Martinez, who will likely need to try and work his kicking game against the stronger kickboxer. The takedown is a threat that always looms over Ewell's head, but I think he has basically every advantage one could want on the feet, and I'll take those into battle against an opponent who hasn't shown himself to be a particularly committed wrestler.
Domingo Pilarte (8-2-0) v. Journey Newson (9-2-0)
The Pick: Pilarte - 123
The organization certainly hasn't done Newson any favors in his first two bouts. He took his UFC debut at a five-inch reach disadvantage against Ricardo Ramos, and will now yield six inches of reach (and five inches of height) to Pilarte. While Pilarte is far from a perfect fighter (he gets backed up too easily and hit too much) it's hard to do anything but pick him here after seeing how Newson struggled with the range and strength of Ramos. Newson is a BJJ brown belt in his own right, but the ground is where Pilarte really shines, as he is constantly looking for opportunities to create scrambles and find the back. This makes it fairly difficult to see a path to victory for the 30-year-old, who will need to close the distance and leave himself open to the counter knees and uppercuts of the much longer fighter. Ultimately, it should be noted that Pilarte likely didn't deserve the fanfare he received ahead of his UFC debut, but his grappling chops and long-range weapons should find him a win here, even if there is a scary moment or two baked in.