UFC on ESPN 2 Betting Guide: Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza Promises to Deliver Action

UFC on ESPN 2 Betting Guide: Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza Promises to Deliver Action article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: UFC fighters Justin Gaethje (blue gloves), UFC fighter Edson Barboza (red gloves).

UFC on ESPN 2 betting odds: Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza

  • Justin Gaethje +110
  • Edson Barboza -140
  • Channel: ESPN
  • Time: Approx. 9:30 p.m. ET

The UFC travels to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this weekend for the company’s second ever fight card on ESPN.

No. 6 lightweight contender Edson Barboza will square off against No. 8 ranked Justin Gaethje in a matchup that features two of the UFC’s most-exciting strikers and should include plenty of bone-thudding leg kicks.

Barboza was last in the Octagon fewer than four months ago in December, when he defeated Dan Hooker by third-round TKO in Milwaukee. The victory snapped Barboza’s two-fight losing streak to current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov as well as No. 5 ranked Kevin Lee.

Gaethje got back into the win column last August with a first-round knockout of James Vick. “The Highlight” suffered the first two defeats of his career in his two previous fights against former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez as well as current No. 3 lightweight Dustin Poirier.

Essentially, both men have mostly only suffered defeats at the hands of the division’s top-five contenders over their respective careers.

Barboza will hold a 5-inch reach advantage despite both fighters standing 5-foot-11. Neither fighter is expected to leave the octagon unscathed considering they each boast negative significant strike differentials.

Let’s break down the key story lines of Saturday night’s main event.

Will Gaethje finally decide to wrestle?

Barboza is a savvy UFC veteran that has been with the promotion since 2010. He’s racked up 20 fights since then, displaying both devastating knockout power as well as a vulnerability to wrestlers:

  • 14 wins: seven by KO/TKO, seven by decision
  • Six losses: two by submission, two by TKO, two by decision

The “easiest” way for Barboza’s opponents to limit his offense has been to keep him on the ground. Overall, Barboza has lost three consecutive fights in which he’s allowed at least one takedown, but he’s beaten everyone except longtime top-lightweight contenders Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone when the fight has stayed on the feet.

It would behoove Gaethje to at least threaten Barboza with a few takedown attempts in an effort to limit the Brazilian’s comfort in stand-up exchanges.

On the one hand, “The Highlight” has admitted to considering a change to his general approach in the lead up to the fight:

On the other hand, Gaethje has attempted just one takedown during his 40 minutes of time in the Octagon. Barboza’s 80% takedown defense also shouldn’t be scoffed at.

There’s no reason to believe the former All-American wrestler isn’t capable of utilizing this weapon come Saturday night, but it’d also go against Gaethje’s habit of always putting on an entertaining performance for the fans.

“The Highlight” has literally never left the Octagon without some type of bonus since joining the UFC in 2017:

  • Win over Michael Johnson: Performance of the Night, Fight of the Night
  • Loss to Eddie Alvarez: Fight of the Night
  • Loss to Dustin Poirier: Fight of the Night
  • Win over James Vick: Performance of the Night

The common theme in these contests for Gaethje was a consistent high-volume barrage of pressure at his opponent. This pressure will be needed to keep Barboza moving backwards regardless of if takedowns ultimately come into play.

Both fighters offer plenty of knockout power

Barboza’s aforementioned seven victories by TKO/KO have featured a diverse assault to all parts of his opponent’s body.

  • One TKO by punch to the body (Dan Hooker)
  • One KO by flying knee (Beneil Dariush)
  • One TKO by body kick and punches (Evan Dunham)
  • Two TKO’s by leg kicks (Rafaello Oliveira and Mike Lullo)
  • One TKO by punches (Lucas Martins)
  • One KO by wheel kick (Terry Etim)

The latter knockout is widely regarded as one of the most-spectacular moments in the history of the UFC.

Gaethje’s tendency to pressure his opponents and move forward should theoretically help limit the amount of opportunities for Barboza to wind up some ‘spinning shit’. Still — as Kevin Lee found out — it only takes a moment’s hesitation to nearly get finished by one of the Brazilian’s devastating attacks.

Part of what makes this fight so exciting is that Barboza will now have to deal with someone that possesses his same penchant for chopping down opponents via a diverse assortment of painful measures.

Gaethje has won his UFC fights by a devastating knockout punch (James Vick) as well as a barrage of punches and knees (Michael Johnson), but his time as champion in the World Series of Fighting displayed an even more ruthless display of aggression. Overall, nine of his 10 victories were finishes, featuring three TKO’s that involved leg kicks, two by way of doctor stoppage, and another four by punches.

Some fighters seem to wilt when the going gets tough inside the Octagon, but all that seems to do is drive Gaethje to new heights.

One potential issue for Gaethje is his tendency to stay in range and cover up his head at the expense of his body. Each of Alvarez (23% strikes landed to Gaethje’s body) and Poirier (12%) made an effort to take advantage of these openings.

Barboza has been more than willing to attack his opponent’s body in recent matchups:

  • Win over Dan Hooker: 28% strikes landed to the body
  • Loss to Kevin Lee: 39%
  • Loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov: 44%
  • Win over Beneil Dariush: 43%
  • Win over Gilbert Melendez: 17%
  • Win over Anthony Pettis: 20%
  • Loss to Tony Ferguson: 46%

Gaethje’s willingness to move forward has gotten him clipped and wobbled in plenty of his victories, but he’s consistently shown the ability to recover and eventually overwhelm his opponent. Each of Poirier and Alvarez faced adversity from Gaethje before eventually getting the job done, and Barboza will need to do the same if he hopes to emerge victorious as well.

Current and Past Odds

Gaethje has been an underdog in all but one of his fights in the UFC. Meanwhile, Barboza will likely enter the Octagon as the favorite for the fourth time in his last eight fights. He’s won each of his last three fights as the favorite.

Prediction

This is one of those fights where fans could comfortably enjoy the matchup without needing to raise interest with a bet.

Of course, that nonsense won’t be permitted by true fight fan degenerates. The matchup’s potential x-factor is Gaethje’s wrestling, but I think it’s a stretch to say that he’s at the same level as Lee or Nurmagomedov.

I started this week planning on going with Gaethje with plus odds, but the value might be with Barboza now that things have tightened up a bit. We’ve seen Gaethje regularly manage to overcome offensive assaults with pure heart and determination, although Barboza has a real claim to the most-well-rounded striker that “The Highlight” has ever faced inside the Octagon.

Gaethje’s pressure could be the story of the match if he ultimately emerges victorious. Still, I feel Barboza’s demonstrated high-level striking will be too much against a fighter that has proven holes in his defense.

The Pick: Barboza -140

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