Bryan Barberena beats Matt Brown at UFC Colombus (Zuffa LLC)

Makhmud “Mach” Muradov, 33, began his UFC career with three straight finishes, the latter two being memorable third-round knockouts. Since then, “Mach” has dropped back-to-back fights against a higher level of competition.

Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena has been in the UFC since 2014, amassing a 9-8 record. Barberana has often been a fan favorite because of his likable personality and his tendency to get into brawls in the cage.

Then, like Muradov, Barberena went on a three-fight winning streak that resulted in him getting a shot against a higher level of competition. Also like Muradov, Barberena dropped both fights.

Betting Odds

Muradov opened and still is the second-biggest favorite on the card despite his line coming down early in the week.

  • Makhmud Muradov: -280 (BetUS)
  • Bryan Barberena: +230 (BetUS)

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Fight Breakdown

Muradov came into the UFC with some fanfare. He is an athletic, and sometimes electric, striker with heat in his strikes when he goes for the finish sequence. However, in back-to-back fights where he’s had to be more concerned with defensive wrestling, Muradov’s electric striking style has been diluted with a focus on takedown defense.

When forced to be more cautious in the cage, Muradov turns more into a sniper from range who looks to use his bouncing footwork to cut angles and counter opponents. Because of his athleticism, Muradov can keep this bouncing style up for 15 minutes and still carry power into the 3rd round. In fights where Muradov can more confidently strike, doing so without as much of a focus on takedown defense, he tends to be more aggressive and creative on the feet. He will explode into range, using jumping and spinning attacks at times to do so, and unload combinations with real heat.

The offensive and aggressive version of Muradov is an action-oriented fighter that can initiate and successfully engage in a brawl. Given his explosive ability, athleticism, and striking prowess, these brawls often end with Muradov ending the fight in exciting fashion. But, now at 33, there are concerns that Muradov’s athleticism could fall off and his style will transition from an advantage to a liability.

Barberena had his 5 minutes of fame and became severely overhyped following his 3 fight win streak that included wins over a fighter who was later cut, a now-retired fighter, and a fighter who likely only has 1 or 2 fights left before he hangs it up.

Still, people thought he had a shot against RDA; RDA proved clearly otherwise. The perception of Barberena is often polarizing, swinging from one extreme to the other. Yet, he fights consistently, racking up volume round after round and relying on his chin to take damage as he walks forward to land his own combinations.

Barberena is moving up a weight class in this fight, something that typically hurts fighters who, like Barberena, find themselves in the clinch often. In the clinch, size, strength, and leverage are keys to success, and being the smaller fighter is a key disadvantage. The benefit of “Bam Bam” moving up in weight is that he’ll be able to cut less weight which often means a fighter’s durability is increased.

Given Barberena’s Homer Simpson style striking, walking through combinations with little defense or movement, the less challenging weight cut should only help him. Beyond the new weight class, Barberena tends to win fights the same way and lose them the same way each time.

Fight Prediction

Muradov should win this fight. But, at a -280, a 74% implied win probability is steep. Muradov will likely have the cleaner striking, be the more athletic fighter, and have more paths, especially on the feet, to win.

However, he has not shown a consistent ability to go out and win a fight, with conviction and clarity, unless he’s facing a non-UFC talent. Meanwhile, Barberna, who has been a large underdog in back-to-back fights, is often a popular value pick because of his consistent style. My best advice is to continue to wait to bet this fight.

Muradov will likely be the counter striker and allow Barberena to pile up the volume. And, despite his record, especially at 33, I’m not worried about Muradov putting the highly durable Barberena out early. Especially since Barberena is moving up in weight. While that typically hurts his chances of winning, being the smaller fighter, it should help his chin and durability because he can cut less weight.

I’m expecting a range kickboxing match where Barberena is coming forward and a clinch-heavy fight where Muradov likely has the edge in strength, size, and fundamentals. Because of that, my best bet is o2.5 rounds. Currently, books have the rounds set at 1.5 with the over juiced to a -290, so I expect o2.5 to be around the -150 range.

Given that I expect a back-and-forth fight where volume will be tested against damage, I don’t like laying or parlaying the -280 tag on Muradov. I do, however, think he is the better fighter and Barbena moving up in weight this late in his career is a red flag. So, I like, as a straight play, Muradov to win by decision.

Best Bet: Over 2.5 rounds (-120)

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