UFC on ESPN 9 Betting Pick: Augusto Sakai vs Blagoy Ivanov

The #1 mixed martial arts organization in the world is back this week with UFC on ESPN 9 Woodley vs Burns. The promotion is leaving the sunny confines of Jacksonville, Florida for some dry air and one of the best food scenes in the country.

Yes, I said it. Vegas gets no credit other than the buffets. Great food town. I’m sure all of Saturday night’s participants have a restaurant in mind for a late-night post-battle binge. We can say this with at least 100% accuracy about the two competitors I want to talk about today.

In the only heavyweight fight of the night, division constant Blagoy Ivanov will trade bones with Brazilian newcomer Augusto Sakai.

Ivanov, even though he is undersized for the heavyweight division standing south of 6’, he has never been finished in his career.

His opponent, though, can make the same claim. He has just one loss in his career and that was a split decision to the wall and stall king of France, Cheick Kongo three years ago in Bellator.

The online sportsbook BetOnline.AG has provided some solid betting odds for this fight. Let’s break down the heavyweight matchup of Bulgaria’s Blagoy Ivanov and Brazil’s Augusto Sakai.

Augusto Sakai (-115) vs Blagoy Ivanov (-105)

Augusto Sakai was born May 19, 1991, in the mixed martial arts hotbed of Curitiba, Brazil.

Many greats have come before him. Mauricio Shogun Rua, Wanderlei The Axe Murderer Silva, Cris Cyborg, and the GOAT Anderson the Spider Silva. All of these fighters are former world champions.

Is Augusto Sakai world champ material? I don’t know if I would go that far.

I give him about a 3% chance to beat Francis Ngannou. Augusto does go after it. He throws with volume and he throws for power.

Does he throw with power, though? You could say that. I don’t think he has the best technique but he has made his sloppy awkwardness work for him to this point.

In 6 fights under the Bellator banner, Sakai was 4-1-1 with 3 TKO wins. Since joining the ranks of the big leagues, the Brazilian is 4-0 with 3 TKO’s if you count his win on Dana White’s Contender Series.

He stood toe-to-toe with a guy his size in Chase Sherman and managed to TKO the Mississippi native with one minute to go in the fight.

In his next fight in the UFC, Sakai went to a split decision with Andrei Arlovski. This was a big step up for the young Brazilian and the fight was very close.

Most recently, Augusto made quick work of Poland’s Marcin Tybura knocking him out in the first minute. A last-minute knockout, a split decision, and a first-minute knockout…

What are we going to see next from the 6’3 265-pound Brazilian? That answer is dependent on the performance we get from Bulgaria’s Blagoy Ivanov.

  • The good news is that he is pretty consistent.
  • The bad news is that these two men match up very closely on paper.

I shared the gym with Blagoy for years at Syndicate MMA when he was working under coach Nate Pettit.

Nate is an amazing coach. I got to work with him a lot but the light heavy and heavyweight fighters always did their own thing. Blagoy was training a lot then with King Mo Lawal and Roy Big Country Nelson.

Nowadays, Blagoy spends some of his time training at AKA the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose where he works directly with the former heavyweight champion and similarly-framed Daniel Cormier.

He splits that with time in Las Vegas at Xtreme Couture getting rounds in with Francis Ngannou. I don’t think you can do much better than that.

Blagoy is 18-3 in his career now and still just 33-years-old. That’s just 4 years older than his opponent on Saturday.

Ivanov got his start in the Russian martial art of Sambo which combines strikes, takedowns, and some leg locks. He is a former Combat Sambo World Champion and even defeated the legendary Fedor Emelianenko on his way to doing so.

Blagoy has been stabbed in the heart in a knife fight. He is about as tough and durable as they come. Did I mention head butts are allowed in Combat Sambo?

He is 5’11”, though, with not much power or speed so people always count him out and he usually finds a way to win. I believe he has the cleaner striking technique or at least the better hands than Sakai.

The Brazilian has a 4-inch reach advantage, though, which kinda negates that striking edge. Augusto is a very high volume striker especially for the heavyweight division and Blagoy is not.

I would be all over Sakai to win a kickboxing match on the judges’ scorecards, especially at nearly even money.

He throws more strikes than his opponent and lands at a higher clip as well. 5.5 significant strikes landed per minute is outstanding.

Landing at a 46% rate is pretty solid as well. That means he throws more than 11 strikes per minute. My boy Blagoy, conversely, lands just 3 per minute at a 38% rate.

Each of their defensive numbers are quite similar but 2.5 strikes a minute is not good. Ivanov does have solid striking defense but if Sakai can keep that range, I like his chances here.

There is the threat of the takedown, though, from Blagoy. The Bulgarian Judoka is 5 for 8 on takedown attempts in his last two fights.

We know he can stand in there with a 265er also because he went the distance and won a decision over Ben Rothwell. He wisely didn’t try to take that behemoth to the mat.

Ivanov has shown his chin can take a shot as Derrick Lewis wasn’t able to put him away. He is just a tough out. Ivanov can make this one ugly. In fact, he would love nothing more.

He won’t win a striking battle with a longer, more accurate fighter who throws nearly twice as much. He will have to initiate the clinch and get Sakai to the mat.

We haven’t seen him lose that way in the past so I can’t bet on that to happen. We have seen Blagoy get out-pointed on his feet, though.

It could go either way but with the line nearly even, we have some value on Sakai who I think wins at least 6 out of 10 times against Ivanov.

The fight goes to a decision betting line is still hanging out, though! It opened at (-142) and with neither man ever being finished by strikes, I thought it would skyrocket close to (-200).

It’s just at (-165) now. I think that is excellent value. Betting the over or the fight goes to a decision line in a heavyweight fight is a bit illogical but in this instance, maybe not.

I tell you what:
I want you to put just half a unit on Augusto Sakai. Nearly every fight Blagoy Ivanov is in is a split decision. A unit is 1% of your bankroll if you didn’t know, guys. Then put two units on this one to go the distance at (-165). You can find that line over at 5dimes.eu.

Volume striker vs defensive striker and control grappler. I like how it adds up.

Pick: Fight goes to a decision and Sakai to win

In Conclusion

Hey, you have to have at least one heavyweight matchup on every fight card, right? I think so. This isn’t your typical heavyweight slugfest, though.

Augusto Sakai doesn’t have an extraordinary amount of power for a fighter who weighs in at the 265-pound heavyweight limit. What he lacks in power, though, he makes up for in sheer volume.

Landing more than 5 significant strikes per minute at nearly a 50% rate is enough to win you most of your fights.

Can he defend the takedown from a legitimate Judoka and submission grappler? He is the larger man which always helps in wrestling situations.

We will see. I think he has wide enough hips to where if he does hit his butt on the mat a couple of times, he should be able to pop back up.

Ivanov doesn’t have the longest arms. Clasping his hands on a wide-hipped man 4 inches taller is going to be tough. Also, I really like this one going to a decision. (-165) denotes an implied probability of 62%.

I think this one goes to a decision 75% of the time which gives us a massive edge on the books hence the larger bet size than our wager on Sakai to win.

Get those bets in now and enjoy the heavyweight scrap on Saturday night!

My Pick
AUGUSTO SAKAI TO WIN
Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.