Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC on Fox 11 Predictions Summary

Here are my picks:

  • Travis Browne over Fabricio Werdum
  • Miesha Tate over Liz Carmouche
  • Donald Cerrone over Edson Barboza
  • Yoel Romero over Brad Tavares
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov over Rafael Dos Anjos
  • Thiago Alves over Seth Baczynski
  • Jorge Masvidal over Pat Healy
  • Estevan Payan over Alex White
  • Caio Magalhaes over Luke Zachrich
  • Jordan Mein over Hernani Perpetuo
  • Dustin Ortiz over Ray Borg
  • Chas Skelly over Mirsad Bektic
  • Derrick Lewis over Jack May


Last Event: 10-3 (76.9%)

Year to Date: 84-44 (65.6%)

My one underdog pick was a winner as Chad Laprise showcased polished striking skills against the inexperienced Olivier Aubin-Mercier. However, I did also pick Sam Stout to defeat K.J. Noons; Stout lost by knockout in 30 seconds and subsequently tried to choke the referee in his stupor. Stout and Noons were each at -105 so I was on the wrong side of that coin.

My underdog pick for this event is Yoel Romero, who I’m surprised is the underdog against Brad Tavares. I thought that the hype Romero had behind him would cause him to be favored against Tavares, but perhaps Tavares is the more recognized name. Both fighters are capable strikers but Romero packs a lot more power and I think that’s going to give Tavares some real trouble. I also don’t think Tavares has good enough ground control to defeat Romero with takedowns and grappling. It’s a competitive fight but I think Romero wins.


Last Event: -$1.72

Current Bankroll: $55.51

Total Investment: $128.57

Total Return: $5.51

Return on Investment: 4.3%

My picks might have done well but my degenerate gambling did not. Three of my four bets were winners: Chad Laprise, Elias Theodorou, and George Roop all proved to be sound investments. However, my biggest bet by far was on Kyle Noke, who I felt could keep up with Patrick Cote standing and easily out-maneuver him on the ground. Noke held up his end of the bargain on the feet but it was Cote who landed takedowns and controlled Noke on the ground. Cote has almost never landed takedowns in the past so I certainly didn’t see him doing that here. No points to Noke for having a game plan involving A) zero takedown attempts despite Cote’s history of being submitted, B) opting to attempt submissions from the guard instead of getting to his feet, and C) not having a sense of urgency in the third round.

As frustrated as I was with Noke, it was a bad bet and I have to admit that.

For this event I have:

Yoel Romero +125: $2.00 to win $2.50

Rafael Dos Anjos +195: $2.00 to win $3.80 as I believe his fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov is very competitive.

EDIT: I have added plays on Donald Cerrone +120 ($1.00 to win $1.20) and Pat Healy +200 ($1.00 to win $2.00) as I feel the line has moved enough on both fights for there to be value.

Mandatory disclaimer: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my plays in any serious way. I’m doing this for fun and as an experiment, not a livelihood. If you make any bets, you do so at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC on Fox Prediction: Travis Browne vs. Fabricio Werdum

I have to admit, Travis Browne’s rise to title contention has surprised me quite a bit. For a while I thought of Browne as the fighter who was out-performed by Cheick Kongo and looked sloppy in wins over opponents like Rob Broughton. It didn’t help that Browne was knocked out by Antonio Silva in a fight that seemed to confirm Browne as simply a mid-tier UFC heavyweight (although if I remember correctly, I may have picked Browne to win that one).

Now, not only is Browne in a top contender’s fight, he’s in a fight that looks like it could be a really good style match for him. Browne’s opponent is Fabricio Werdum, a fighter known for world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but also a fighter who’s developed into a very good all-around mixed martial artist. The problem is this: can Werdum successfully take Browne to the ground? If he doesn’t, can he survive five rounds without being knocked out?

The answer to the first question is “probably not.” Despite being a relatively tall and light heavyweight (6’7″, 230 pounds), Browne’s takedown defense has been a perfect 8-for-8 in the UFC so far. I don’t think Browne’s takedown defense would remain perfect against Cain Velasquez, but he’s not fighting Velasquez, he’s fighting Werdum. And Werdum’s takedown offense has been underwhelming as he’s landed just 34 percent of his takedown attempts overall.

I’m sure a lot of people remember Werdum repeatedly failing to take down Alistair Overeem in their Strikeforce match. Werdum resorted to begging Overeem to enter his guard, a request Overeem wisely refused to accept. I’m not sure if Browne’s ability to stuff takedowns will be as good as Overeem’s in the long run, but I’m willing to bet that he can keep his back off the canvas in this one.

The thing about Werdum’s performance against Overeem is that he quietly landed more strikes in the fight than Overeem did. I’m not sure if it was because Overeem had no respect for Werdum’s power, or if Werdum was simply good at landing straight punches, but Werdum landed 43 significant strikes to Overeem’s 32 in the fight. In his last three matches since returning to the UFC, Werdum has landed 154 significant strikes and his opponents have landed 43. It’s clear that Werdum has some serious striking abilities.

Meanwhile, Browne has absorbed more strikes than he’s landed in the UFC, has absorbed an above-average rate of 3.10 significant strikes per minute, and has defended strikes at a very poor 47 percent rate. He’s very vulnerable to being hit, as shown in his improbable comeback win against Overeem and knockout loss to “Bigfoot.”

So it might sound as if I’m setting up an upset pick. I can’t do it. The reason is that this fight is scheduled for five rounds in the heavyweight division, where decisions are not the norm. Browne in particular has shown big power throughout his career. He’s won by TKO in five out of nine UFC fights and 12 out of 18 MMA fights overall. He’s landed four knockdowns in 150 significant strikes, for a very low ratio of 37.5 strikes per knockdown. His elbows have been a particularly devastating weapon, something Werdum will have to be mindful of if he attempts a takedown.

I can’t see Werdum succeeding in taking Browne down more than once. I also don’t think Werdum can strike with Browne for five rounds without being knocked out. It’s certainly possible – after all, Cheick Kongo went three rounds with Browne and his chin is anything but sturdy – but if we’re talking about a heavyweight fight, I have to expect a finish. Browne is simply the more likely fighter to deliver the finish in this particular matchup.

Pick: Travis Browne by KO

UFC on Fox Prediction: Liz Carmouche vs. Miesha Tate

My analysis on this blog has not been particularly kind to Miesha Tate. I picked Ronda Rousey to beat her (not that I needed to be Nostradamus to make that pick), I picked Cat Zingano to beat her, and I picked Marloes Coenen to beat her. Two out of three ain’t bad I guess.

In this matchup I think I’m finally ready to pick Tate to win a fight, but it’s not because I see her as an overwhelming favorite. Tate is a very flawed fighter, particularly where her striking is concerned. Overall, Tate has landed 167 significant strikes and absorbed 286. She’s been knocked down three times – the only other current UFC women’s fighter to be knocked down even once is Sara McMann, and that just happened two months ago.

It’s clear that Tate needs to land takedowns to win fights. Fortunately, Tate sticks to that game plan relentlessly, constantly pursuing takedowns and submissions. She’ll need that tenacity to beat Liz Carmouche, who profiles as the better overall striker, although striking isn’t her strong suit either.

Like Tate, Carmouche is well known for her wrestling ability and her ground and pound in particular. Her strikes from top position helped her earn stoppage victories over both Jessica Andrade and Jan Finney. She’s landed 12 takedowns in seven fights and at least one against every opponent not named Ronda Rousey.

So who will have the advantage in takedowns when Carmouche faces Tate? It’s almost impossible to say. Both fighters have shown the ability to land takedowns, but neither has shown the ability to defend them. Carmouche has been taken down five times in eight tries, while Tate’s takedown defense is a dismal 23 percent. In Tate’s case, that number is virtually meaningless because almost all of the takedowns landed against her were by Rousey.

The only fair thing to say is that a takedown can go either way – but there is serious evidence to conclude that Tate is the more effective grappler. While Carmouche has landed 12 takedowns and passed guard 20 times, she’s only attempted two submissions in the UFC and Strikeforce. Her opponents have attempted four submissions against her and she’s lost by that method twice, against Rousey and Coenen.

(Moments like this are when I fully appreciate what a terror Rousey has been in this division.)

Tate has to be considered the more effective submissions fighter, and as strange as it might sound, I would point to her second fight against Rousey as evidence. Tate is the only fighter to show any ability to defend Rousey’s submissions – it took some real adaptation by Rousey to figure out how to finish Tate. Tate has won six fights by submission overall, and put a lot of pressure on the ground to opponents like Cat Zingano as well.

I don’t think striking will be much of a factor in this fight, because Tate will make sure it’s not a factor. It’s certainly possible that Carmouche can win the takedown battle and the fight, but since I think Tate is at least equally good at takedowns and better at submissions, I consider her the slight favorite to get the win in this one.

Pick: Miesha Tate by submission

TUF Nations Finale Predictions Summary

This is one example of a UFC event where my knowledge of most of the participants just isn’t up to par. My picks are therefore mostly based on the betting markets:

  • Michael Bisping over Tim Kennedy
  • Kyle Noke over Patrick Cote
  • Elias Theodorou over Sheldon Westcott
  • Chad Laprise over Olivier Aubin-Mercier
  • Dustin Poirier over Akira Corassani
  • Sam Stout over K.J. Noons
  • Sarah Kaufman over Leslie Smith
  • Ryan Jimmo over Sean O’Connell
  • George Roop over Dustin Kimura
  • Mark Bocek over Mike de la Torre
  • Nordine Taleb over Vik Grujic
  • Richard Walsh over Chris Indich
  • Mitch Gagnon over Tim Gorman


Last Event: 4-3 (57.1%)

Year to Date: 74-41 (64.3%)

My picks for the UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi might have had a “PRIDE NEVER DIE” feel to them. I had Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira beating Roy Nelson and Tatsuya Kawajiri beating Clay Guida. I wasn’t surprised that Nelson won by knockout, but in retrospect, I probably should have predicted that outcome as Nogueira has been getting knocked down on a routine basis in recent years. I was surprised at Guida’s ability to out-strike Kawajiri, an advantage that changed the dynamic of the fight in Guida’s favor.

As it turns out, simply picking chalk was the way to go for that event outside of Ramsey Nijem’s win over Beneil Dariush. I’m mostly avoiding underdog picks for the TUF Nations Finale but I am taking slight underdog Chad Laprise to defeat submission specialist Olivier Aubin-Mercier.


Last Event: -$2.00

Current Bankroll: $57.23

Total Investment: $122.24

Total Return: $7.23

Return on Investment: 5.9%

Like the degenerate gambler I am, I appear to have bet on Kyle Noke at the worst available price so far. I placed a $3.75 risk to win $3.00 on Noke as a -125 favorite as I believe he’s just a better mixed martial artist than Patrick Cote is. I feel that the worst-case scenario for Noke is to stand and bang with Cote, and that Noke should be very competitive with Cote standing. Noke is clearly the superior grappler and is a serious threat to finish if he takes the fight to the ground. Perhaps I’m massively overrating Noke or underrating Cote, but this seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up.

And because I’m feeling particularly degenerate today, I’m placing bets on fighters I know little about completely based on market fluctuations:

-A minimum bet on Elias Theodorou at -155, risking $0.78 to win $0.50. Theodorou opened at -270 but quickly dropped all the way to -110 before bouncing up to his current price. Usually the sportsbooks have at least a decent idea of what the price on a fight should be… I’m assuming that there’s a reason they opened Theodorou as the strong favorite to win.

-A minimum bet on Chad Laprise at +105, risking $0.50 to win $0.53. I’m using the same logic here – Laprise opened up at -150 and is now the underdog. That takes Laprise from an expected 60% chance of winning to an expected 49% chance of winning. Again, I feel like the books opened Laprise as the favorite for a reason.

Finally, I have a bet on George Roop at -130, risking $1.30 to win $1.00. His opponent is Dustin Kimura, a fighter I feel is far too one-dimensional to succeed in the UFC long-term. Kimura is a submission specialist with below-average striking and almost no offensive wrestling. It seems like Roop should be able to keep the fight standing and win either on points or by TKO.

So, to summarize:

Kyle Noke -125: $3.75 to win $3.00

George Roop -130: $1.30 to win $1.00

Elias Theodorou -155: $0.78 to win $0.50

Chad Laprise +105: $0.50 to win $0.53

Mandatory disclaimer: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my plays in any serious way. I’m doing this for fun and as an experiment, not a livelihood. If you make any bets, you do so at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

TUF Nations Finale Prediction: Michael Bisping vs. Tim Kennedy

Michael Bisping is easily the single fighter other fighters love to call out the most. It makes sense. Bisping is a well-known name, good enough that beating him places a middleweight squarely into title contention. He isn’t a particularly scary opponent because he doesn’t have much knockout power and isn’t a suffocating wrestler. Bisping is beatable and the reward for beating him is high.

But Bisping has a way of winning against most opponents he’s matched up against. He’s one of the best volume strikers in the UFC, a fighter who will constantly stick straight punches in his opponent’s face and beat them with superior conditioning. Bisping has landed 4.62 significant strikes per minute, including 93 against Alan Belcher, 64 against Brian Stann, 102 against Jason “Mayhem” Miller, and 118 against Yoshihiro Akiyama.

Bisping’s opponent is Tim Kennedy, a military hero who has made no secret of just how little respect he has for Bisping’s punching power and overall ability, mocking Bisping in various videos. The problem for Kennedy is that when I look at how he matches up against Bisping, I see him losing the same way others have.

In contrast to Bisping, Kennedy isn’t much of a volume striker. He’s performed fine in periods of striking against opponents like Rafael Natal and Roger Gracie, but it’s clear that Kennedy doesn’t have the same natural talent for striking that Bisping has. Bisping just seems to flow better on the feet than Kennedy does.

Kennedy does his best work with takedowns and grappling. He has submission victories in four of his last nine fights and has won a decision against Robbie Lawler due to effective grappling as well. Kennedy often has to work hard to land takedowns (37% accuracy) but once he’s on the ground, he does a very good job of transitioning from effective striking to submission offense.

The problem is that Bisping has historically been very difficult to control on the ground. Bisping has been taken down 25 times in the UFC but only had six submissions attempted against him. None of them forced Bisping to tap out. More often, Bisping is able to quickly work back to his feet and continue his attack.

Bisping has lost to two kinds of fighters in his career: fighters with serious knockout power (Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson) and fighters with overpowering wrestling (Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans). Kennedy certainly doesn’t pack enough KO power to be a favorite to beat Bisping that way. Instead, his best path to victory is with takedowns and ground control. However, I don’t think Kennedy is effective enough with takedowns to win on points that way.

The biggest concern I have about Bisping is that I’m not sure he’s going to perform at his best in this fight. Bisping has quietly grown old in fight years; he’s been competing for ten years now and eight of those years have been in the UFC. He’s 35 years old with 29 professional fights on his record and hasn’t competed since his decision victory against Alan Belcher a year ago. There’s definite potential for Bisping to under-perform in this fight.

As for Kennedy, he made his debut in 2001 but didn’t start fighting MMA full-time until 2006. He’s no spring chicken but he doesn’t have the same fight mileage as Bisping.

I think Kennedy will be a very tough opponent for Bisping but in the end I see Bisping’s advantage in strikes out-weighing Kennedy’s advantage in takedowns. The fact that it’s a five-round main event only helps Bisping’s cause.

Pick: Michael Bisping by decision

TUF Nations Finale Prediction: Patrick Cote vs. Kyle Noke

Patrick Cote is a fighter living on borrowed time in the UFC. He was cut from the promotion after losing to Tom Lawlor at UFC 121, a fight in which Cote managed a grand total of six significant strikes in three rounds. Cote returned as an injury replacement against Cung Le at UFC 148, losing a competitive decision. In his last two fights, Cote won by disqualification to Alessio Sakara (in a fight Cote was well on his way to losing) and skated by with a questionable decision victory over Bobby Voelker.

Cote is at his best when he’s allowed to stand and strike, but even then, he’s a fighter who is more likely to get in a brawl than pick apart his opponents with precision. By UFC standards, Cote’s striking is merely adequate and his grappling is among the worst in the promotion. The reality is that Cote could easily be on a six fight losing streak in the UFC right now.

Despite this reality, Cote opened as the betting favorite to beat TUF Nations counterpart Kyle Noke. This surprised me quite a bit because I probably have a higher opinion of Noke than most people. Noke ranks 15th in the UFC welterweight division in FPR because of the following statistics:

  • Significant Strikes: Noke 134, opponents 67
  • Knockdowns: Noke 2, opponents 0
  • Takedowns: Noke 8, opponents 2
  • Guard Passes: Noke 11, opponents 3
  • Submission Attempts: Noke 4, opponents 3
  • Finishes: Noke 4, opponents 1

Noke has out-struck, out-wrestled, and out-grappled his opponents in the UFC so far, leading to an FPR rating above fighters like Matt Brown, Josh Koscheck, and Tarec Saffiedine. Not bad for a fighter who was merely an also-ran on the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Of course, these statistics need to be put in context. Noke’s victories have come against Josh Bryant, Rob Kimmons, Chris Camozzi, and the glass-jawed Charlie Brenneman. He lost a decision to Andrew Craig and was submitted by Ed Herman. FPR attempts to adjust for the strength of a fighter’s opponents using historical Fight Matrix data, but in cases like Noke’s it’s quite possible the opponent adjustment just isn’t strong enough.

In any case, I feel like this is a terrific style match for Noke. If Noke is as aggressive in takedowns and grappling as usual, he should be able to take Cote to the ground without too much difficulty – Cote’s takedown defense is very poor at 49 percent. On the ground, Noke has to be considered a serious threat to finish Cote by submission, as Cote has three submission losses in his UFC career.

Even if Cote gets his way and is able to engage Noke in a striking match, I’m not convinced Cote should be a large favorite in that scenario. Cote’s been very easy to hit in his recent career, and Noke has shown very respectable hands throughout his UFC fights. I think Noke has serious potential to out-point Cote with strikes here.

So why is Noke only the slightest of favorites to win (at the time of this writing, which is well before it will be published on this blog)? There are two factors that jump out at me. As Martin Jacobson pointed out on Twitter, the fight is in Quebec and a judges’ decision is likely to be biased in Cote’s favor. Another factor is that Noke hasn’t fought in about a year and a half and is likely to experience “cage rust.”

Those factors are enough to make me think it’s possible I’m walking into a trap. The betting public may be more sophisticated than I am in regards to this fight. But from the evidence I’ve seen, I just think Noke is the superior fighter and should be able to get the job done in this one.

Pick: Kyle Noke by submission

Degenerate Gambler’s Corner: UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi

For the last UFC event, I said that I made two underdog bets, on Dan Henderson at +190 and C.B. Dollaway at +185. Both fighters won, but as it turns out, I’m a goof and only actually placed the bet on Henderson. This is the second time I’ve done this since starting my degenerate gambling. The first time was what should have been an underdog bet on Gegard Mousasi before his loss to Lyoto Machida. At least now instead of benefiting from my incompetence, I’m hurting because of it… so hopefully I won’t do it again.

I really should have paid more attention, because an avalanche of money bet on Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira pushed the price on Dollaway all the way up to +340. It would have made for a great betting opportunity if I was on top of it.

As it stands, I made $1.90 from my bet on Henderson and now have a bankroll of $59.18.

Last Event: +$1.90

Current Bankroll: $59.18

Total Investment: $120.24

Total Return: $9.18

Return on Investment: 7.6%

For tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi event I have just one bet: a $2.00 risk on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at +130, to win $2.60. That price isn’t available right now; Nogueira is currently somewhere between +100 and +110. I don’t think Nogueira should be the underdog against Roy Nelson. It’s true that Nelson has big power and Nogueira is vulnerable to being knocked out, but I just don’t see Nelson winning if he doesn’t get that knockout early. I think +130 is a good price to get.

I also want to bet on Tatsuya Kawajiri but I want the price to be +130 or better, and right now the best price on the board is +115. If Kawajiri becomes a larger underdog then I might add him as a small play.

I’m also tempted by Jim Alers -255 because I loved what I saw of him on tape, but it’s probably not a good idea to pay that steep a price on a fighter making his UFC debut.

The last bet that has my interest is Trevor Smith at +410. Smith opened at +265 so the line has moved quite a large amount. It seems like there might be some value on Smith now, but when I look at how he matches up with Thales Leites, I feel like he really shouldn’t be able to win. The prudent decision is to just pass… but if Smith reaches something like +500 then I might put a flier on him.

Mandatory disclaimer: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my plays in any serious way. I’m doing this for fun and as an experiment, not a livelihood. If you make any bets, you do so at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi Quick Picks

Here are my thoughts on the fights set to take place on Friday apart from the main event and co-main event:

John Howard vs. Ryan LaFlare

I’m very high on LaFlare as a welterweight prospect. After overwhelming victories over Benny Alloway and Santiago Ponzinibbio, LaFlare was tested by a much tougher opponent in the underrated Court McGee. Despite facing an opponent in McGee who fights at a tremendous pace, LaFlare was able to land more strikes en route to a unanimous decision victory. LaFlare has quick, accurate punches and does a great job of transitioning from throwing strikes to shooting for a takedown without telegraphing the shot.

I picked John Howard to win his last fight against Siyar Bahadurzada and considered his fight against Uriah Hall to be 50-50. I felt Howard matched up well with both fighters but I hate this fight for him. Both fighters are capable of landing takedowns, but LaFlare has shown better ability to get back to his feet after being taken down. LaFlare is also the far better striker as Howard lands just 1.79 significant strikes per minute. It seems likely that LaFlare will win on points in this one.

Pick: Ryan LaFlare by decision

Beneil Dariush vs. Ramsey Nijem

I wish I knew more about just how good Dariush is, but I just don’t have a lot of footage to draw from. From what I’ve seen, he’s a slick Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter with good power in his hands. He seems to be the kind of fighter who’s a threat to finish quickly, as he did against Charlie Brenneman in his UFC debut. What I’m not sure about is Dariush’s ability to strike with volume and his ability to wrestle.

Ramsey Nijem is similiar to Brenneman in that he’s a good wrestler who gets finished far too easily. Nijem has been knocked out multiple times (and I mean OUT) and was submitted by James Vick as well. However, when Nijem is conscious he’s actually a very respectable striker to go along with his wrestling ability. If he doesn’t get finished by Dariush then I like his chances of winning by decision.

The betting public currently has Dariush as the favorite at -225. With my lack of knowledge on Dariush, it would be foolish to assume I know something the markets don’t.

Pick: Beneil Dariush by submission

Daniel Omielanczuk vs. Jared Rosholt

I understand why the UFC wants to have some depth in its heavyweight division, but… ugh. Rosholt is a great example of how being a high-level wrestler is no guarantee of becoming a great MMA fighter. Against Walt Harris, Rosholt was dropped twice by strikes before rallying to win by unanimous decision. For some reason it took until the third round for Rosholt to attempt a single takedown despite having very little striking ability. Rosholt ended up winning two rounds out of three, but it wasn’t an impressive debut to say the least.

That makes Daniel Omielanczuk an appropriate opponent for Rosholt. Omielanczuk was getting legitimately out-struck by Nandor Guelmino before winning by sudden knockout in the third round. Like Rosholt, Omielanczuk is a virtual statue on the feet, moving very slowly and not defending strikes well at all. Omielanczuk does at least have some talent for submissions, which he’ll probably need if he wants to win this fight. Rosholt should be able to land takedowns and grind out a decision as long as he actually goes for takedowns. Trust me when I say that neither of these guys has a long UFC future ahead of them.

Pick: Jared Rosholt by decision

Johnny Bedford vs. Rani Yahya

There are some fighters I have a really good read on… and then there’s Rani Yahya. I always think of Yahya as a one-dimensional grappler who should lose to anybody with above-average takedown defense. Yahya is supremely slick and talented on the ground but not much besides that. After taking another look, I think I’ve underrated Yahya’s ability to land takedowns. Overall, Yahya completes just 32 percent of his takedown attempts. That number underrates Yahya’s takedown abilities because while most fighters give up on takedowns if their opponent shuts them down, Yahya just keeps going for it because he has no other choice.

This match against Johnny Bedford is interesting, because while Bedford should have a clear advantage in striking and takedowns, he has a particularly poor history with submissions. Nine of Bedford’s ten career losses are by submission including his last fight against Bryan Caraway. To be fair, the Caraway loss is the only time Bedford has tapped out since 2009, but then again, Bedford hasn’t had to face anybody nearly as good as Yahya on the ground. With 15 minutes to work, it seems like Yahya should eventually be able to land the takedown and catch Bedford in some sort of submission hold.

Pick: Rani Yahya by submission

Thales Leites vs. Trevor Smith

I’m surprised to see Leites listed as a -460 favorite to win this fight. Don’t get me wrong, Leites is definitely the better mixed martial artist, but he’s still a very flawed fighter. He doesn’t have much in the way of striking offense and his takedowns aren’t as consistent as they need to be. Leites has been successful in recent fights but he’s the kind of fighter I’m not sure should be a -460 favorite against anybody in his weight class.

Then again, when I look at the skills Smith brings to the table, it starts to make sense. Smith’s best offense is with submissions, most notably guillotine chokes. I’ll be shocked if Smith wins this fight by that method, which means he probably needs to use “sprawl and brawl” tactics to win. Unfortunately for Smith, he hasn’t shown much ability to defend takedowns (just 47 percent) or strikes (44 percent). It’s possible that Smith can keep the fight standing and win on points, but it’s much more likely that Leites is able to at least take Smith down and control him, and possibly finish the fight.

Pick: Thales Leites by decision

Chris Camozzi vs. Andrew Craig

Through five UFC fights, Andrew Craig hasn’t shown any particularly remarkable skill in mixed martial arts. He’s a competitive striker who has shown fairly good ability to defend takedowns, but the data shows far more negatives than positives. In the UFC, Craig has been out-struck, out-wrestled, and out-grappled. He’s running a deficit in every statistic, from significant strikes to takedowns to submission attempts. Most troubling is that after being knocked down twice in his loss to Luke Barnatt, Craig has been knocked down four times.

Supposedly Craig’s background is in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which means he should go for takedowns against Chris Camozzi. Camozzi does one thing in MMA fights, and that’s “stand and bang.” He’s ten fights into his UFC career now and has yet to land a single takedown. What keeps Camozzi competitive is that he sets a very good pace and lands strikes at a very consistent rate. He should be able to out-point Craig as long as it stays standing.

Craig doesn’t have much of a history of landing takedowns, and UFC fighters rarely adapt to their opponents. I have a feeling Craig will be too happy to engage Camozzi in a striking battle, and will probably lose on points and possibly by knockout. I hope I’m wrong, and Craig does try to take Camozzi down, because then he could definitely score an upset.

Pick: Chris Camozzi by decision

Jim Alers vs. Alan Omer

Omer is a very aggressive fighter offensively. He likes to repeatedly throw punching combinations standing and packs decent knockout power by featherweight standards. Omer also has a very solid ground game, with good positional control, punishing ground and pound, and quality submissions. Omer’s aggression is often his downfall, however, as he leaves a lot of openings for his opponent to hit him with hard standing strikes and get good takedown attempts and ground positions on him.

I think Omer could beat a number of featherweights in the UFC, but Jim Alers is a particularly difficult opponent for him. I loved what I saw from Alers on tape. I saw Alers throw controlled, powerful strikes and land a nice lateral drop before I figured out that his strength is actually his submission game. Alers has serious talent in all disciplines of MMA and brings an impressive 12-1 record with him into the UFC. I can easily see Alers getting into the top ten at 145 pounds.

For more on Alers, I highly recommend Patrick Wyman’s prospect feature on him here.

Pick: Jim Alers by submission

UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi Prediction: Roy Nelson vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

I’ll be honest. Besides the prospect of making money, I can’t imagine why Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is still competing in professional MMA. He was the PRIDE heavyweight champion in 2001 and 2002 and won the interim UFC heavyweight championship in 2008. Since then, Nogueira has clearly declined. It used to be said that Nogueira didn’t lose fights, he simply ran out of time – a reference to both Nogueira’s high-level submission game and his incredible ability to endure punishment. People don’t say that anymore – not after Nogueira’s TKO losses to Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez and submission losses to Mir and Fabricio Werdum. Nogueira’s days of being a contender are behind him; with all the brutal battles he’s been involved in, it seems that retirement would be a very good idea.

With that said, I can’t deny that Nogueira is still competitive against tough opponents. He’s earned stoppage victories over Brendan Schaub and Dave Herman, had Frank Mir very close to being stopped before foolishly attempting to submit him, and was competitive in his loss to Werdum. While Nogueira brings almost no wrestling ability to the table, he’s still a dangerous submission fighter with capable boxing and surprising power. Nogueira should still be able to defeat below-average UFC heavyweights.

That brings us to Roy Nelson, who I’ve ranted about plenty of times in the past. I maintain that Nelson is not a good UFC heavyweight, and is possibly among the worst fighters in the division. I have picked against Nelson almost every time he’s fought in the UFC, getting burned when Nelson knocked out Dave Herman and Matt Mitrione. The reason I’m so sour on Nelson is that his statistics are absolutely dismal. He’s landed 2.14 significant strikes per minute and absorbed 5.07, for a deficit of 2.93 per minute. He’s completed 18 percent of his takedown attempts and hasn’t landed one since he fought the remains of what used to be Mirko Cro Cop. Nelson’s biggest strength is actually his ground game, but he can’t show it if he doesn’t land takedowns.

Nelson’s success in the UFC has largely been due to knocking out opponents who are known for having glass chins. In particular, he’s knocked out Cheick Kongo, Herman, Cro Cop, Stefan Struve, and Brendan Schaub – all fighters who are known to be relatively easy to knock out. Of Nelson’s KO victories in the UFC, only Mitrione hasn’t been knocked out by multiple other fighters. Against more durable opponents like Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum, Nelson lost and it wasn’t particularly competitive.

So here’s the question: how durable is Nogueira at this point? On one hand, Nogueira has only been stopped by strikes twice in a 43 fight career as a heavyweight. On the other hand, Nogueira is now 37 years old and has been fighting since 1999. He’s getting very close to the point where his chin becomes a genuine weakness due to advanced age. It seems that Nogueira is in something of a gray area. His chin has historically been excellent but he’s more vulnerable than ever right now. It doesn’t help that Nogueira isn’t particularly difficult to hit.

As usual, I don’t see Nelson winning this fight if he doesn’t win by knockout early. Nogueira may not be hard to hit, but he’s downright evasive compared to Nelson, who generally stands in front of his opponents and just eats punches. I can’t imagine Nelson winning a five-round decision based on volume. I also don’t see the ground game becoming much of a factor – neither fighter has much of a takedown game, and even if a takedown is landed, both fighters should be skilled enough on the ground to avoid being submitted. It’s possible that Nogueira could win by submission later in the fight if Nelson gasses out, but otherwise I see this fight being decided by striking.

In that type of fight, it’s a battle between Nogueira’s conditioning and technique and Nelson’s power. While Nelson is always dangerous, Nogueira should have what it takes to avoid being clobbered like so many others have in the past. Nogueira likes to wear out his opponents in the clinch, a tactic that worked well against Herman and Mir in particular. If Nogueira goes back to the clinch against Nelson, I can’t help but imagine an exhausted Nelson desperately gasping for air as Nogueira lands jabs and straight punches endlessly in the later rounds.

It might seem that I have no respect for Nelson’s abilities, but this is a pick I’m going to be very nervous about. I don’t trust Nogueira’s ability to endure punishment at this stage of his career and it’s possible he’ll just have nothing left in the tank from a performance standpoint. I can’t favor Nogueira by an overwhelming margin for that reason – but he is the superior mixed martial artist and should win this fight.

Pick: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by decision

UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi Prediction: Clay Guida vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri

(Coming up, there are four UFC events in two weeks. There’s UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi on Friday, followed by the TUF Nations Finale on April 16th, UFC on Fox on April 19th, and finally UFC 172 on April 26th. That’s already too many events in too short a time for me to write at length about each fight, but on top of that, I’m on vacation for most of this time. So I’m going to write ahead of time on the main event and co-main event of each of these shows.)

I’m still amazed at how many people expected Tatsuya Kawajiri to lose to Sean Soriano in his UFC debut. Kawajiri, a former mainstay in the PRIDE lightweight division and a perennial top ten ranked fighter, was expected to lose to an opponent making his debut in a major organization in Soriano. I didn’t understand the thinking. Soriano is talented for sure, but he was completely unproven against the kind of opponent he was matched up against. Perhaps people thought Kawajiri was washed up, or maybe they just thought very highly of Soriano’s talent. Either way, Kawajiri broke through Soriano’s initial strong takedown defense and ended up winning by second-round submission.

Now Kawajiri is matched up against a much more established opponent in Clay Guida, and it amuses me that the betting lines for the fight are very similar to what they were for the Soriano fight – that is to say, fairly even. In some ways, Guida is similar to Kawajiri. Both fighters have a wrestling base and land takedowns on a frequent basis. Guida lands 3.4 takedowns per 15 minutes while Kawajiri lands 3.9. Neither fighter is a precise striker, especially Guida, who sometimes looks like he’s most comfortable just closing his eyes and winging wild hooks at his opponent.

Kawajiri opened as the betting favorite against Guida, but once again, the betting action has gone against Kawajiri, making Guida the slight favorite to win the fight. If the statistics are to be believed, that betting action is misplaced as Kawajiri has statistical advantages over Guida in every category.

Guida lands 39 percent of his takedown attempts while Kawajiri lands 56 percent. Guida lands just 1.97 significant strikes per minute at 30 percent accuracy; Kawajiri lands 2.28 significant strikes per minute at 46 percent accuracy. Kawajiri also absorbs fewer strikes than Guida – 1.65 per minute for Kawajiri, 2.23 per minute for Guida.

The reason I expect this to be a more competitive fight than the Soriano match is that it’s possible Guida could win the takedown battle. Both fighters defend takedowns at a 69 percent rate and Guida often makes up for a lack of efficiency with sheer determination. If Guida can take down and control Kawajiri in two rounds out of three, that’s all he needs to win by decision, even if he’s less active on the ground than his opponent (much to the chagrin of many fans including myself).

However, I do see Kawajiri as the more efficient wrestler and more likely to win the takedown battle. When a fighter can combine high volume (3.9 takedowns per 15 minutes) with high efficiency (56 percent), he has to be considered among the elite in his division in terms of takedown offense. Guida is very good at takedowns but Kawajiri is better.

Kawajiri’s losses in MMA have been to a couple fighter types. One is the fighter who can “sprawl and brawl,” keep the fight standing and punish Kawajiri on the feet. Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez, and Takanori Gomi all fit this description, and all defeated Kawajiri. The second fighter type is Shinya Aoki, who really just deserves his own category as a submission wizard competing with a very friendly rule set.

Guida might be good at the sprawling, but he’s not so good at the brawling. I think Kawajiri has advantages in both takedowns and striking and deserves to be the favorite, as much as I’m concerned that Guida’s wild movement might hypnotize the judges into scoring the fight for him, Diego Sanchez style.

Pick: Tatsuya Kawajiri by decision


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