Best bets for UFC Fight Night: Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal


It's not quite the star-studded PPV event the UFC normally ends a year with, but rumor has it 2020 has been a little weird. But don't sleep on this fight card, one that will have to last UFC fans four weeks until the next event.

Four fights on the main card feature a former UFC champion or title contender. Meanwhile, the main event is so tight on paper that odds have flipped well ahead of weigh-ins, with the lower-ranked fighter becoming the betting favorite.

Prelims begin at 4 p.m. ET, and the main card starts at 7 p.m. (both ESPN+).

Odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

Welterweight main event: No. 11 Geoff Neal (-120) vs. No. 5 Stephen Thompson (-100)

Tale Of The Tape

Last fight weight class Welterweight Welterweight
Age 37 30
Height 72 71
Reach 75 75
Stance Orthodox Southpaw
Analyzed minutes 207 33
Stand-up striking offense
Total knockdown ratio (scored:received) 10:5 5:1
Distance knockdown rate 3.8% 5.4%
Head jab accuracy 38% 30%
Head power accuracy 33% 46%
Total stand-up strike ratio 1.4 1.0
Striking defense
Total head strike defense 79% 75%
Distance knockdown defense ("Chin") 96% 98%
Wrestling and grappling
TD attempts per min standing/clinch 0.06 0.14
Takedown accuracy 45% 50%
Advances per takedown/top control 0.8 1.0
Opponent takedown attempts 32 11
Takedown defense 78% 100%
Share of total ground time in control 40% 75%
Submission attempts per trip to ground 0.00 0.50
"Wonderboy" Thompson headlines the event, despite Anthony Pettis, a former lightweight who knocked out Thompson just last year, competing in the main card opener. Strange days, indeed. After rebounding in his last fight against Vicente Luque, Wonderboy still holds the No. 5 ranking, solidly in a gatekeeper zone, having already had two title shots but coming up short. With his elite striking, however, he poses a threat to anyone in the division, and clearly an up-and-comer could make a big splash by getting past Thompson.

Enter Neal, currently on a 5-0 streak in the UFC with four finishes, including his past two appearances against game talent. Primarily a striker, he turns the main event into a distance striking duel that will be the litmus test for Neal as a viable title contender down the road. With both men excelling at long range and attempting minimal take-downs, fans should at least get what they want in the final fight of the year.\

Both men have abnormally good accuracy while standing. Thompson tends to outwork opponents on his feet -- mainly because he's able to fight effectively in retreat -- and he slows the overall pace of his fights. Both men have racked up knockdowns, though Neal has done so at a higher rate per strike landed, and he swings with power more frequently than Thompson.

Defensively, Thompson is more evasive than Neal, but Thompson, when hit, has gone down more often. One could chalk that up partly to having faced more dangerous talent, but at age 37, the liability of prior knockdowns makes Neal's power threat a key angle to watch. Neal is a headhunter, attempting very few strikes at the legs or body, especially compared to Thompson, who likes to mix up his kicking attack. If Neal lands any clean shots, he's the more dangerous power threat.

It's unlikely this fight hits the mat unless either fighter gets hurt. But, at least in prior fights, Neal has performed better on the ground. If he needs to slow Thompson down or wants to secure position off the cage, this is another factor in favor of Neal.

When odds opened, Neal was a +140 underdog, and he's already flipped the odds and become the favorite. He was a definite value play at the original price, but he doesn't have much more chalk to spare before this becomes a pass. Thompson on his best day is striking riddle, even for elite fighters. The long layoff makes me wonder if he can show up at his best or if shaking off the cage rust might cost him the fight early.

E+ recommends: Money-line lean on Neal, but not if he becomes an inflated favorite.

Best bets elsewhere on the card

Former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis (-240) is now a welterweight. Regardless of division, he has spent a long UFC career facing elite talent. The same cannot be said for Alex Morono (+200). Both men have a taekwondo striking base, but Pettis has a slight edge in accuracy and experience. Morono has yet to use much of a ground game, so there's an edge there for Pettis as well. The issue with Pettis is mainly whether his mind is in the right place.

E+ recommends: Money line play on Pettis, or use him in 2-bet parlays.

If you're looking for an underdog, consider the Swedish boxer Pannie Kianzad (+135). She'll have a striker-versus-grappler matchup with Sijara Eubanks (-160), but Kianzad's 93% take-down defense could force a stand-up fight, at least long enough to steal two rounds with her highly accurate hands. When Eubanks is standing, she uses an aggressive pace with mediocre defense, which is something Kianzad could take advantage of with her boxing experience.

E+ recommends: Money-line lean on Kianzad at plus money.