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UFC 215 Picks

MMA Fight: UFC 215: Johnson vs. Borg
Key Matches: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg and Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
When: Saturday, September 9, 2017
Time: 9:00PM EST
Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Canada

by Loot, MMA Handicapper,

Demetrious Johnson, (-900), 26-2-1 (5 KOs, 10 Submissions) vs. Ray Borg, (+540), 11-2 (1 KO, 6 Submissions)

Demetrious Johnson defends his UFC Flyweight Title against challenger Ray Borg in the UFC 215 main event from Edmonton on September 9. Johnson is vying to break the UFC record for title defenses, with this being the 11th time he has fought as champion. With a supposed matchup with TJ Dillashaw having fell through, Johnson gets back to taking on the UFC's 125-pound rank and filers, with the Jackson-Winkeljohn product Borg getting the call. Can Mighty Mouse claim the record for defenses with 11 or can Borg spark the upset of the decade?

When the gulf is skills is as apparent as in this fight, sometimes you have to look off-the-grid to find daylight for the underdog. And truth be told, there could be some of that at play with Johnson. Granted, it's all speculation and wishful thinking for potential Borg backers at this point, but history shows us longtime champions can go stale. Johnson has been champ at 125 pounds for over five years and has barely been challenged. Maybe going for the UFC record for most title defenses will give him a little extra wind in his sails. It's also not as if we've seen him allow complacency to narrow the gap between him and his peers.

At the same time, one could at least understand some bad feelings setting in for Johnson. Despite being perhaps the best fighter in the world, the 30-year old's popularity lags behind other prominent fighters. The UFC itself seems to treat him with less-than-premium care and you can sense some bad feelings setting in between him and the organization. He has spoken up in the press recently on that topic. At the end of the day, you have a champion who feels unappreciated. With those feelings setting in, one could see his form being compromised or his focus being not what it once was. It's not as easy as it looks taking on a never-ending stream of opponents who are at long odds. His prime has been spent taking on fighters with almost no hope. It's not really ideal and fighters have seen their form slip in the light of such conditions.

Still, when you find yourself only projecting about a fighter's mental state, it often shows how hard the task is for his opponent. Borg needs to catch Johnson on an off-night. While certainly a solid contender and an up-and-comer at just 23, Borg fails to fulfill the traits you would ideally like to see from an upset candidate of this magnitude. In other words, he has no compelling standout trait. With his last 4 fights having gone the distance, he has shown iffy finishing ability in the UFC. He has neither the finishing striking ability or submission acumen you'd like to see with a fighter who has a quixotic task at his feet. His size is unexceptional, matching Johnson at 5'4." In this spot, you'd be more-inclined to take an underdog with one dynamic trait, rather than just a solid all-around guy like Borg.

Borg lost his UFC debut, before going on a three-fight win streak. A decision loss to Justin Scoggins in 2016 gave way to wins over the tough Louis Smolka and Jussier Formiga, which set up this title fight. He has dropped out of a few fights late and missed weight before. He hasn't been the most reliable guy. But as we have seen before, young fighters can rise to the occasion. He's still developing and the dye hasn't been cast yet. A fighter's MMA journey is filled with different trajectories and we might not fully know just exactly what we have with Borg. But make no mistake, he is really up against it in this matchup.


As is usually the case, the betting appeal for a Johnson fight is fairly minimal. The odds on Johnson are usually about as chalky as the -900 quote he is receiving for this defense. And if you were thinking of betting Borg, a +540 return seems like not nearly enough for correctly predicting an upset of this level. About half of Johnson's title fights have gone the distance. Borg has never been stopped and appears to be a very durable guy. At the same time, he has only scored one KO in his career and that was at a lower level of competition. I think we could see a little staleness in Johnson, who probably isn't feeling that wonderful about his station in life as far as the UFC is concerned. I think things shake out here reasonably enough to forecast a distance fight.

Loot's Pick to Win the Match: I'm betting on this fight lasting over 4.5 rounds at -140 odds.

Amanda Nunes, (-105), 14-4 (10 KOs, 3 Submissions) vs. Valentina Shevchenko, (-125), 14-2 (4 KOs, 6 Submissions)

UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes defends her title against Valentina Shevchenko in the co-main event of UFC 215. This fight was supposed to headline the UFC 213 card, before a late cancellation by Nunes because of an illness. While that was a letdown for all involved, fans can expect a good fight in the co-main event in a rematch from a March 2016 fight that Nunes won by a close 3-round decision.

It's unclear how to process Nunes dropping out at the last minute against Shevchenko in UFC 213. While cleared by doctors, she felt unwell due to a flared-up condition apparently that was outside of the doctor's realm of examination. UFC president Dana White wasn't happy with it, suggesting something else could have been at play, like nerves or problems with the weight-cut. But why would she be so nervous about an opponent she has already beaten? Maybe the weight cut left her in a compromised position. It can also be exactly what she claims it is—an illness that flared up at the wrong time.

Still, the odds have dipped for Nunes since the first fight and it's likely because of the unclear conditions of her 18th-hour pullout. One could justify that on certain levels, as what happened leading up to UFC 213 wasn't a positive thing. Then again, at least Nunes backers know if she gets in the cage, it won't be in an overly-compromised state. It's still hard to imagine her pulling out late again for this fight, a move that would definitely land her in the doghouse. The bottom line might be that we just need to break this fight down the way we did the first one and assume we'll see something close to a peak version of each fighter.

Since losing the first fight with Nunes, 29, Shevchenko, also 29, has beaten Juliana Pena and ex-champ Holly Holm. The close 3-rounder was her only loss since joining the UFC. As is her wont, Nunes started fast and had Shevchenko holding on. Nunes was letting it fly with her heavy strikes and BJJ skills. Shevchenko, however, braved the stormy passages and was coming on late, making one wonder what might happen with this fight being a five-rounder.

Still, Nunes is a scary fighter, a big 135-pounder whose biggest wins look like demolitions. When the shots start flying, she is capable of doing major damage. Her striking is on another level than most females. She is also a skilled grappler and an all-around fighter. She has submitted fighters like Miesha Tate and Sara McMann, while knocking out the likes of Ronda Rousey and Germaine DeRandamie. She was a dangerous contender who had been through some ups and downs. At one point, she was losing on strikes to fighters like Cat Zingano and Alexis Davis. She stuck to it and when given her chance, she dispatched of big names Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey with startling ease. Her pullout of the fight in UFC 213 notwithstanding, she is a fighter who appears have peaked and found her groove.

Still, Nunes' toughest fight in this most-recent period was to the accomplished Shevchenko. The challenger lost just twice in a kickboxing record that spanned 61 fights and is a natural fighter who fights on an innate level. With a few pro boxing matches and an MMA career added to her long kickboxing career, she's a woman who knows what she's doing in this context. She is very technical in the striking department and cat-quick. And the resilience she showed in braving the early Nunes onslaught the first time should have her in good stead in this fight.


Shevchenko's paths to victory, however, are less-numerous than the champion's. That might paint a direr picture than what reality suggests. While it's true that Shevchenko will need to execute a highly-technical and practically mistake-free approach, she is in some ways the more reliable fighter. Nunes has gotten pretty far blasting out opponents, but Shevchenko has already shown she can withstand it. And with two more rounds to make an imprint, things could be a lot different. Still, she hasn't knocked out anyone since joining the UFC and could again have trouble against a version of Nunes who might be better or at least more confident in light of what has happened since the first fight with Shevchenko.

The odds seem to reflect some of what was mentioned earlier, with the losing fighter from the first match and challenger actually a betting favorite, despite the better overall results for Nunes. It seems like there is rightful concern of what happens if Shevchenko gets out of the first two rounds. She was surging in the last fight, but let's keep in mind that Nunes was only prepared for three rounds, so projecting how she'd look in this fight based on the last one could be a faulty barometer. I still see Shevchenko slowly gaining ground to cross the finish line a nose ahead.

Loot's Prediction to Win the Fight: I'm betting on Valentina Shevchenko at -125.

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