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UFC Fight Night: Expert selection and best bets for Lewis-Nascimento
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UFC Fight Night: Expert selection and best bets for Lewis-Nascimento

Derrick Lewis, a favorite among many MMA fans, makes his first Octagon appearance of 2024 when he takes on fellow heavyweight contender Rodrigo Nascimento in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in St. Louis (7 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+ , with preliminaries at 4 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN+).

Lewis has lost four of his past five fights, including a unanimous decision loss to Jailton Almeida in his most recent fight last November. Nascimento enters this bout on a three-fight winning streak, with each of these victories coming by decision. Neither fighter has a spot in ESPN’s division rankings.

Brett Okamoto spoke with Xtreme Couture MMA coach Eric Nicksick to get his take on the UFC main event. ESPN’s betting expert Ian Parker adds his insights and analysis on the main event and other intriguing bets he likes to the card.

Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.


Heavyweight: Derrick Lewis vs. Rodrigo Nascimento

Eric Nicksick, Xtreme Couture MMA coach

How Lewis wins: Lewis should aim to start quickly and keep Nascimento on his back foot to avoid getting comfortable. Lewis must limit his kicks and rely on his boxing skills to prevent Nascimento from creating easy takedown opportunities. He needs to use his back uppercut to counter Nascimento’s level changes and use his frames to give himself space and keep Nascimento off his chest when he looks for a body lock. Lewis should also avoid resting with his back against the cage.

How Nascimento wins: Nascimento’s movements and feints will be crucial against a power puncher like Lewis, especially in establishing his level changes. He should have an advantage in clinch positions, where he can use his dirty boxing to set up his Greco wrestling or stumble against the cage. His style of wrestling could prove effective against a bigger opponent like Lewis. If Nascimento can take Lewis to the ground, maintaining half guard at the top will be crucial. He needs to focus on isolating and controlling Lewis’ lower leg to keep Lewis where he wants him.

X Factor: Previous strength of schedule for Nascimento. Repeatedly, we’ve witnessed UFC matchmakers push young, up-and-coming heavyweights into the main roles of the event, only to see them falter: fighters like Almeida, Shamil Gaziev and Chris Daukaus. They all got high-profile opportunities very quickly against seasoned opponents. This is reminiscent of those scenarios.

Prediction: Derrick Lewis by TKO in the second round.

Betting analysis

Parker: Lewis wins (-155). For Lewis, the game plan is the same as ever: keep the fight going, “swang and bang,” as he says. On the feet, Lewis will have the advantage because he has ridiculous power, while Nascimento’s punching power is average at best. And as usual, Lewis must avoid his opponent’s ground game. The odds currently have Lewis as the favorite, and I’m going that way. Lewis has always fought at the top of the division and Nascimento’s fighting style should come as no surprise to him. Look for Lewis to avoid the early takedown attempts and then get another knockout victory.


Parker’s best bets on the rest of the card

Welterweight: Joaquin Buckley vs. Nursulton Ruziboev

More than 1.5 laps (-140). Buckley asked, and his wish was granted. Buckley begged UFC CEO Dana White for a fight on this card, which is set in his hometown, and he gets that opportunity against a rising talent in Ruziboev.

Ruziboev has won both of his UFC fights in the first round. However, I believe it stops here. In his last fight, he took advantage of a missed eye poke to finish the job early. A fight against Buckley is a big step forward in the competition, and I’m banking on Buckley’s defense, foot movement and experience to take this fight into Round 2, if not Round 3. In his past eight fights, win or lose, Buckley has gone more than 1.5 rounds, and that’s likely to happen again here. If the fight comes out of the first round, don’t be afraid to watch the live line as Buckley tends to turn it up as the fight progresses.

Heavyweight: Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs. Robelis Despaigne

Despaigne wins (-200). After an 18-second TKO win in his UFC debut, Despaigne gets another chance to continue this wild winning streak against Cortes-Acosta. I give Cortes-Acosta a lot of credit for taking on this fight, because stylistically it makes no sense for him. Unless Cortes-Acosta lands a one-punch KO or he’s magically learned to wrestle since his last fight, I expect Despaigne to use his incredibly long reach to deliver another highlight reel knockout in the first round. Until Despaigne fights someone who can get in there and wrestle, he will continue to knock people out.

Strawweight: Tabatha Ricci vs. Tecia Pennington

Ricci wins (-150). This is a favorable matchup for Ricci. This fight is relatively even when it stays on its feet, but when it hits the ground everything turns in Ricci’s favor. Ricci won’t have a problem with Pennington’s power, so I expect Ricci to move forward and close the distance as quickly as possible. Once she gets the fight to the mat, Ricci should be able to do enough damage with control time to win at least two of the three rounds and earn a decision victory.