Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

Survivor Probability Podcast with Jason Somerville and Rob Cesternino

If you’ve ever wondered what kind of things I work on when I’m not writing about MMA, here’s a great example.

During the summer, my friend Jason Somerville – a professional poker player who is also very passionate about the UFC – offered me an assignment I wasn’t expecting. He wanted me to statistically research the Survivor reality television show and gave me a few questions to answer.

I had watched a little bit of Survivor before, but only a little bit, and as a very casual viewer. So I dove headfirst into this project, learned a lot about Survivor, did a lot of statistical research, and came up with far more material than Jason asked for. Jason was so happy with my work that he was willing to discuss it with none other than Rob Cesternino.

If you’re unfamiliar with who exactly that is, Rob hosts a very popular podcast with the very creative name “Rob Has a Podcast.” He also is a two-time Survivor player, having appeared on Survivor: The Amazon and Survivor: All-Stars. Rob quickly gained a reputation for being one of the best strategic players out there while he was on the show.

Here is the video with Jason and Rob breaking down my stats!

You can find this video and a link to the report I put together at Rob’s website (creatively named “Rob Has a Website”) here. If you’ve ever watched Survivor, it’s something you might enjoy, but just to warn you: the spoilers come fast and furious!

Accountability

One thing that’s very important to me is to be accountable – not just to the readers of this blog, but to myself as well. It’s time to level with everybody. My “degenerate gambling” picks for the UFC and the NFL have basically been terrible for two months now. I hoped that UFC 178 would be the beginning of a turnaround but I was dead wrong.

Eddie Alvarez -110: Was simply out-matched at standing distance against Donald Cerrone. I thought Alvarez would be able to tee off on Cerrone with punches, but that only really happened during that one flurry in the first round.

Dustin Poirier +235: Basically got smoked by Conor McGregor.

Tim Kennedy +125: I could complain about Yoel Romero’s antics between rounds if I wanted to, but I miscalculated on this fight. I thought Kennedy could control Romero with takedowns, but it looks instead like Romero’s takedown issues of the past are behind him.

Patrick Cote +305: Looked like the 3-1 underdog that he was. 0/8 in takedowns and most of his striking offense was in the form of leg kicks.

Brian Ebersole +190: Winner!

I’m frustrated but I think it’s a mistake to try to “get it all back” in a short period of time. The worst thing to do is go on “tilt” and just make a tremendous number of questionable bets. So I’m going to do the opposite – I’m going to really narrow down my betting selections and try to focus in on what I believe will be the best picks.

Part of that will be to rely on a more stats-heavy approach. I’ve gradually been straying farther and farther from my metrics, to the point where my picks have been based mostly on what I believe from a scouting perspective. That approach may work for 99% of intelligent MMA folks out there, but it’s not my intellectual strength. My strength is working with numbers, and while there are plenty of people in the betting community who cackle at the idea that numbers can be meaningful in MMA, I strongly believe it can work.

If I had strictly adhered to what FPR told me, I would have made the following decisions:

-Bet on Ebersole (+1.84 FPR) to beat John Howard (-0.16).

-Pass on a bet on Cote (+0.08) to beat Stephen Thompson (+3.27).

-Pass on a bet on Kennedy (+6.98), due to a small data sample on Yoel Romero.

-Pass on a bet on Poirier (+3.77), due to a small data sample on Conor McGregor.

-Pass on a bet on Alvarez due to a small data sample on him against Donald Cerrone (+4.30).

Obviously it’s easy to say these things in retrospect. FPR would have also indicated betting value on Chris Cariaso (-0.04) against Demetrious Johnson (+3.49), who is criminally underrated by FPR for some reason. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to using strictly FPR for betting… but it can’t be as bad as my picks have been the last couple months.

Part of the problem is that, with the UFC running so many fight cards, the UFC is featuring many fighters who simply haven’t been in the promotion for very long. Next week’s fight card in Stockholm is a great example of this. The only fighters on that card with a data sample I consider sufficient (60 minutes) are Rick Story, Max Holloway, and Dennis Siver. It becomes pretty much necessary to do scouting to determine where there is betting value.

I’ll have to think about this further. It could be that I never had a strategy that was a long-term winner, and recent events were simply regression to the mean. There are reasons that I always make sure to recommend people don’t follow my picks. For now, I’m in a process of re-evaluation and hopefully that will lead to better things ahead.

UFC 178 Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

PICKS TO DATE

Last Event: 9-3 (75.0%)

Year To Date: 239-127 (65.3%)

Picking all chalk to win at UFC Fight Night Japan was a good way to go. Nine of the 12 fighters won although Kiichi Kunimoto didn’t deserve it.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER

Last Event: $0.00

Current Bankroll: $54.72

Total Investment: $327.32

Total Return: $4.72

Return On Investment: 1.4%

A winning bet on Katsunori Kikuno and a losing bet on Jon Delos Reyes canceled each other out. Unfortunately a terrible week of degenerate gambling in the NFL has badly hurt my bankroll.

I can tell that my thinking for UFC 178 is different than a lot of people, but I’m feeling more confident about this fight card than I have in quite a while. We’ll see what happens.

For this event I have…

Eddie Alvarez -110: $2.20 to win $2.00 – I made a similar wager when Anthony Pettis fought Donald Cerrone. The idea is simple: a knockout artist + Cerrone’s lack of striking defense = bad news for Cerrone. I think the same dynamic is in play here.

Dustin Poirier +235: $2.00 to win $4.70 – Poirier opened as a +130 underdog. Since then a tidal wave of betting action has driven the price on Conor McGregor way up. I think McGregor at -150 would have been a fair price. Poirier is out-matched at standing distance, but should put a ton of pressure on McGregor in the clinch and is a threat to possibly win by submission as well.

Tim Kennedy +125: $2.00 to win $2.50 – I just think this is a big step up in competition for Yoel Romero. Kennedy is a threat to take Romero down and is a terrific positional grappler. It’s possible that Romero has developed his MMA game enough to be a title threat but I think the wrong guy is the favorite here.

Patrick Cote +305: $2.00 to win $6.10 – This bet is based mostly on line movement. Cote opened at +190 and is now all the way up to +355. Stephen Thompson could potentially clown Cote standing, but Cote showed a willingness to win with takedowns and ground and pound against Kyle Noke. Unless Thompson has really developed his ground game, Cote could definitely win with that strategy.

Brian Ebersole +190: $2.00 to win $3.80 – Ebersole is just a tricky fighter to get a read on. One thing he’s good at is defending strikes as long as he’s not fighting Rick Story. John Howard is not a volume striker and has poor takedown defense, so I think Ebersole matches up well with him… although I still think it’s a 50-50 match since Ebersole’s takedown defense isn’t great either.

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!

NFL Week 4 Degenerate Gambling

So remember how I was just doing the opposite of whatever the crew at CBS Sports told me to do in terms of NFL degenerate gambling? Yeah, that backfired last week in a big way. Somehow, the CBS crew was very good with their picks, which meant I was very bad… 3-12 bad, making these picks 22-19 overall on the year.

In reality, I just got kicked in the groin by the luck fairy. I had Cleveland +1.5 and they lost by 2. I had Minnesota +10.5 and they lost by 11. I had St. Louis -1 and they blew a multiple-score lead to lose by a field goal. I had Denver +5 and they lost by 6 in overtime. Just brutal stuff.

I say that to say… I’m not just going to give up on NFL degenerate gambling because of one bad week. But because it is degenerate gambling, I have to recommend you don’t follow my plays, not now and probably not ever.

Unfortunately it’s too late to get a bet down on the Thursday Night game between the Giants and Redskins. For the record I would have taken Washington -3.

Here are my bets for the games on Sunday and Monday, betting to win $1.50 on each:

  • Oakland +3.5 (-110)
  • Chicago +2 (-110)
  • Houston -3 (-115)
  • Tennessee +7.5 (-110)
  • Carolina +3.5 (-115)
  • Detroit -1.5 (-110)
  • Tampa Bay +7.5 (-110)
  • Jacksonville +13 (-110)
  • San Francisco -4.5 (-110)
  • Minnesota +3 (-120)
  • New Orleans -3 (-120)
  • New England -3.5 (+100)

I’ll be back tomorrow for some UFC 178 degenerate gambling.

UFC 178 Quick Picks

Unfortunately, I’ve been super busy this week and that means I’ll have to keep this write-up brief. It’s a shame because UFC 178 is a great fight card and deserves deeper coverage than I’m giving it here.

Chris Cariaso vs. Demetrious Johnson

You know I like to be contrarian sometimes when making my picks, but I can’t do it here. I don’t see a path to victory for Cariaso. He’s not a knockout artist – he’s only won by TKO three times in his career. He’s also not much of a submission fighter. Cariaso wins by taking decisions due to striking volume… but his takedown defense is mediocre at best. There’s no reason to think Cariaso will stop Johnson’s takedowns or win by sudden knockout or submission. Even if Johnson keeps the fight standing for some reason, he’s an excellent striker himself and there’s no guarantee Cariaso would be able to land more strikes at distance. Sorry Chris, but I have nothing for you.

Pick: Demetrious Johnson by TKO

Eddie Alvarez vs. Donald Cerrone

Finally, Eddie Alvarez makes his UFC debut, and it’s against a very exciting opponent in Donald Cerrone. Both fighters are aggressive strikers who tend to get hit more than is necessarily good for them. At the same time, I think Alvarez is a lot better at dealing with pressure than Cerrone is. Cerrone’s history is that when he faces a striker who also has serious knockout power, he struggles. That’s Eddie Alvarez in a nutshell – I think this is a good matchup for him.

Pick: Eddie Alvarez by TKO

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier

As I’ve been saying, Conor McGregor is the real deal. He’s an excellent striker who has a plan every time he steps into the cage – and has the knockout power to finish most of his opponents. McGregor will have the advantage over Poirier as long as this fight stays standing, as Poirier’s striking defense is not very good. There are a few problems though – McGregor’s takedown defense and submission game still haven’t been tested at a high level. Poirier isn’t necessarily the best fighter to test them as he’s more a striker who mixes in takedowns. McGregor is the rightful favorite but Poirier should not be dismissed as a threat.

Pick: Conor McGregor by TKO

Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero

Romero is a world-class athlete with a series of highlight-reel knockout wins in his brief UFC career. He’s also a former Olympic medalist whose takedown ratio before his fight against Brad Tavares was 0:6. Romero had to come back to beat Derek Brunson and was knocked out by Rafael Feijao. If career trends hold up, Romero will have the advantage standing but Kennedy should be able to land takedowns and control Romero on the ground. I like Kennedy to grind out a decision here.

Pick: Tim Kennedy by decision

Amanda Nunes vs. Cat Zingano

I’m rooting for Cat Zingano after everything she’s been through the past year, but I’m not sure Zingano is actually THAT good. She has a very good clinch striking game but struggled with Miesha Tate’s wrestling and may have been down two rounds before coming back to win by TKO. Now, after a serious injury and the serious emotional pain of losing her husband, should Zingano really be a -270 favorite to beat a tough opponent like Amanda Nunes? I do think Zingano is the favorite here but I would be very cautious about a bet.

Pick: Cat Zingano by decision

Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki

The same goes for those of you who might be betting on Dominick Cruz. He hasn’t fought in three years now due to a series of injuries. His game relied heavily on movement before – so who knows how it will be affected. Sure, if Cruz is the same fighter he was before, he should easily be able to out-point Mizugaki with strikes and takedowns and win by lopsided decision. I just think that’s a dangerous assumption to make.

Pick: Dominick Cruz by decision

James Krause vs. Jorge Masvidal

What a strange UFC career James Krause has had so far. His fight against Bobby Green ended in controversy while his win over Jamie Varner was due largely to Varner breaking his ankle. Krause is a very good volume striker but can’t defend takedowns. He does have a history of winning by various forms of choke but Masvidal should be disciplined enough to avoid submissions from the guard. Masvidal’s advantage in takedowns should carry him to victory but Krause will make the fight tough for him.

Pick: Jorge Masvidal by decision

Patrick Cote vs. Stephen Thompson

Cote is a striker who is tough to knock out but not tough to hit. Thompson’s striking defense isn’t great either but he should have a clear advantage as long as this fight is standing. Cote’s best chance of winning is to do what he did to Kyle Noke – land takedowns, work ground and pound from the guard, and try to grind out a decision. There’s no reason to think Thompson’s guard game is a threat but I also have to assume that Cote will want to strike first.

Pick: Stephen Thompson by decision

Brian Ebersole vs. John Howard

I’ve had a good read on Howard since he returned to the UFC. I called his fight against Uriah Hall a toss-up (it was), picked him to beat Siyar Bahadurzada (he did), and thought he would lose to Ryan LaFlare (he did). Now Howard is matched up against Brian Ebersole and I think it will be a tricky fight for both guys. Howard is the better offensive wrestler but Ebersole can wrestle as well, and Howard’s takedown defense is a dismal 48 percent. Ebersole is better at defending strikes as well. I think it’s another 50-50 fight but Howard is listed as the favorite at -230. Because I like to live dangerously…

Pick: Brian Ebersole by decision

Kevin Lee vs. Jon Tuck

I’m convinced that Kevin Lee made the jump to the UFC too early in his career. He has a lot of raw talent but is very inexperienced in martial arts and with striking in particular. The problem for Jon Tuck is that his best work is on the ground, but the same goes for Lee, and Lee should prove to be the more effective wrestler.

Pick: Kevin Lee by decision

Manny Gamburyan vs. Cody Gibson

Gamburyan’s offense is just so limited. He doesn’t have the aggressive mentality a short striker with short limbs needs, and he struggles to land takedowns. On the ground, it’s a struggle to hold top position. It doesn’t help that Gamburyan has been fighting forever and a day now. I see Gibson as the betting favorite and FPR disagrees, but FPR has been consistently wrong about Gamburyan in recent years. I just think Gibson enters with more ways to win.

Pick: Cody Gibson by decision

TUF 20 Episode 3 Notes – But First, a Rant About How Bad TUF Is

Before I get into the fight between Lisa Ellis and Jessica Penne, I have to admit that watching this season of The Ultimate Fighter has been a total chore. The only compelling part of each episode has been the fight at the end – and the fights haven’t been all that great either. It’s not the fault of the fighters. It’s the fault of the show producers for putting together episodes that are simply devoid of compelling television.

Check out this trailer of UFC 71. It does a far better job of storytelling in 60 seconds than a TUF episode does in an hour:

Just like that, the UFC has created a compelling narrative. There’s only one man who Chuck Liddell has lost to without avenging that loss – Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. They’re going to fight again at UFC 71 for the light-heavyweight title. That’s compelling stuff! It establishes Liddell as the champion and immediately makes Jackson a credible challenger. It’s simple and effective.

Here’s what we have on this season of The Ultimate Fighter. Felice Herrig is making friendship bracelets for her team. The women are hanging panties on the wall in a show of solidarity. Heather Clark is annoying. The women think Team Pettis is over-coaching them. Oh, and then there’s a fight.

This is the question I want to ask the producers of TUF…

WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE FIGHTING????

No, it’s not enough to say “well, they’re competing for the strawweight title.” Give me some character development. Give me a story arc. Tell me why Carla Esparza is the #1 seed – and don’t just tell me, but SHOW me. You have a reality show built around a tournament… so focus on the tournament!

Better yet, let the coaches be candid about what’s going on with the fighters. Tell me what’s going on with each fighter AS A FIGHTER. All we get is both coaches saying “yeah, she looks good in training, I think she can win if she does X.” Oh, well that sure gets me hyped up for the fight.

Show me the struggles of the fighters and how the coaches are helping them to get past those struggles. Show me the mental, physical, and emotional toll fighting takes on people. That’s the real drama on The Ultimate Fighter – not whether or not Heather Clark gets on anybody’s nerves.

Storytelling is a lost art in the UFC. They don’t know how to do it anymore. They’re too busy promoting the next fight card, and the one the next week, and the one the week after that. Every pay per view trailer looks and sounds identical.

There’s a reason fans still care about guys like Andrei Arlovski and Mark Hunt. There’s also a reason they don’t care about Stipe Miocic or Travis Browne, or even Cain Velasquez for that matter. Arlovski was the champion when the UFC knew how to promote fighters, and Velasquez is the champion in an era where the UFC has no idea how to promote them. It’s sad to see.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the fight…

Result: Jessica Penne def. Lisa Ellis by submission (rear naked choke), round 1

The only thing I can take away from this fight is that Jessica Penne has a good submission game and Lisa Ellis does not. Penne was taken down relatively easily, but when she was on her back, it wasn’t long before she swept Ellis and took back control, with the submission coming soon afterwards. It’s no surprise that Ellis has five career losses by submission.

I’ll do my best to keep writing notes on TUF this season, but I can’t guarantee I’ll make it the rest of the way. It’s awful television. The one thing I can guarantee is that I’m never watching TUF again after this. It’s not worth it. There are better things to do with my life.

UFC Fight Night Japan Post-Fight Thoughts

-Now we see that nobody is immune to being knocked out, not even Roy Nelson. I have to admit that the striking was more competitive than I thought it would be. Nelson really is good at setting up that right hand of his. Mark Hunt clearly had a game plan focused on avoiding that punch as he was constantly moving his head in ways to avoid being hit by Nelson’s right hand. Nelson landed his fair share of punches anyway. Unfortunately for Nelson, his defense and conditioning remain terrible, and Hunt was the wrong opponent to have those flaws against.

-If Takanori Gomi’s chin is gone then he’s completely done as a UFC fighter. The only reason Gomi has been even semi-competitive in recent years is because of his ability to absorb punishment. If that’s no longer the case then Gomi gets hit far too often to not start getting knocked out regularly. Gomi might be able to hang on with an Yves Edwards type of career, beating the bottom tier of the lightweight division, but his days of competing against contenders like Myles Jury are long gone.

-It’s time to give Jury a top ten opponent. He’s 15-0 in MMA, 6-0 in the UFC, and ranked #9 by the media panel in the official UFC rankings. Jury is one of the three up and coming threats with a good chance of becoming champion in the UFC, along with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Bobby Green. I’d love to see Jury and Green fight each other next.

-Amir Sadollah was easily landing strikes with more volume than Yoshihiro Akiyama early, but Akiyama crushed Sadollah with a right hand and punished Sadollah’s busted-up face afterwards. It’s hard to get a read on how good Akiyama is because of all the top-level competition he’s fought in the UFC. Akiyama might end up settling into the John Hathaway tier of the welterweight division: a good fighter who is too flawed to really become a serious contender.

-I wondered multiple times if the UFC knew something we didn’t with Rin Nakai. Nope. Against low-level competition, Nakai succeeded by bullying her way into the clinch, throwing her opponents to the ground, taking their back, and winning by submission. As it turns out, the only skill Nakai has that translates to UFC-level competition is the ability to take the back. Nakai is still a fairly strong grappler and that will be enough to beat some of the women in the UFC. It’s not nearly enough to beat Miesha Tate.

-Richard Walsh was robbed against Kiichi Kunimoto – and that’s coming from somebody who thinks the term “robbed” is used far too often in MMA. The first round should have been 10-8 Walsh as he battered and nearly finished Kunimoto. The second round should have been 10-9 Walsh as his effective striking should have easily out-weighed Kunimoto’s effective grappling. Sure, give Kunimoto a 10-9 third round, but it should have been 29-27 Walsh overall.

-Walsh may have “lost” officially, but he clearly has cleaned up his submission defense, which is what I wanted to see. Walsh has a punishing style that should work well against future opponents, but I’m concerned about his conditioning and his striking defense. With that said, I’m mentally upgrading Walsh even though the judges didn’t give him the victory he deserved.

-So much for Jon Delos Reyes being a threat against Kyoji Horiguchi. Reyes landed a few hard strikes but Horiguchi mostly just pummeled him. What was particularly troubling was that Reyes was hurt so easily by Horiguchi’s strikes. Horiguchi hits hard for sure, but if I have to add “bad chin” to the list of problems with Reyes, then he just has no chance to win fights in the UFC. He had very little chance of winning anyway.

-Don’t get hyped about Masanori Kanehara. Yes, he was able to hurt Alex Caceres with strikes and then showcase some effective grappling. His striking defense is still bad, his chin is still very suspect, and his takedowns are unlikely to work against opponents with better takedown defense. Kanehara’s punching power will make him a “live” underdog in any fight, but he’s unlikely to put together a winning streak in the UFC.

-It was nice to see Katsunori Kikuno bother to defend himself against Sam Sicilia, although he still got hit too much for my liking. Kikuno also had a goofy grin throughout the fight… not sure what that was about. In the second round, Kikuno was able to quickly take Sicilia’s back and finish by rear naked choke. It almost looked like Sicilia just gave Kikuno the choke. That’s three career losses by that submission for Sicilia, and at 3-4 in the UFC, it seems likely that his UFC career has just met its end.

-If you ever wondered what it would look like for a fighter who doesn’t belong anywhere near the UFC to actually compete in the Octagon… look no further than Takenori Sato. It was obvious watching Sato’s fights in Pancrase that he badly struggled to win at that level. Against UFC-level opponents, especially opponents as talented as Erick Silva and Hyun Gyu Lim… forget it. Sato needs to be released from the promotion for his sake.

-Kyung Ho Kang vs. Michinori Tanaka was an extremely fun grappling match, full of takedowns, reversals, and submission attempts. What I wasn’t expecting to see was Kang as the more effective striker. Tanaka looked almost frozen at standing distance… he appeared unsure of what to do. That’s probably what lost him this fight, because I wouldn’t have wanted to be a judge and have to score the back-and-forth action on the ground.

UFC Fight Night Japan Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

PICKS TO DATE

Last Event: 5-6 (45.5%)

Year To Date: 230-124 (65.0%)

Obviously my picks weren’t great last time. Santiago Ponzinibbio was a good call, but I was flat wrong on Efrain Escudero, Larissa Pacheco, Paulo Thiago, and Johnny Bedford.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER

Last Event: -$6.00

Current Bankroll: $76.10

Total Investment: $289.22

Total Return: $26.10

Return On Investment: 9.0%

(This includes my NFL degenerate gambling, FYI.)

My UFC betting picks have been cold for the better part of two months now. Because of this, for this card I decided to handicap every fight before looking at the betting lines.

The number I came up with for each fight was almost an exact match for the actual betting lines for almost every fight on the card. For example, the number I came up with for Alex Caceres vs. Masanori Kanehara was Caceres -250… and sure enough, Caceres opened at -245. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m just pointing out that there weren’t many fights I saw much betting value on. The bets I came up with were not necessarily the ones you might expect…

For this event I have…

Jon Delos Reyes +475: $3.00 to win $14.25 – I get it. Kyoji Horiguchi is awesome, Reyes sucks, etc etc. Reyes’s struggles are on the ground; he’s too easy to submit. But Horiguchi isn’t really a submission fighter. Horiguchi is a striker who leaves openings for his opponent to counter, and Reyes just happens to have really good punching power. I think the potential is there for Reyes to win by “shock” KO. At +475 I’m willing to find out if this happens.

Katsunori Kikuno -150: $4.50 to win $3.00 – I’m not really betting on Katsunori Kikuno vs. Sam Sicilia. If the best version of Kikuno shows up, then he should beat Sicilia and make -150 look like a steal. I’m betting on Kikuno vs. Kikuno. In other words, I’m betting that Kikuno is going to take this fight seriously and fight to the best of his abilities instead of letting Sicilia punch him in the face. If Kikuno’s hands are by his knees the moment the fight starts, I’m going to be in a bad mood very quickly.

Those are my only two bets for now. “Leans” include:

Rin Nakai +235: Again, I can’t shake the feeling that the UFC knows something we don’t. Nakai really is a pretty strong grappler – not the most technically sound, but she’s excellent at landing takedowns and maintaining position. I think there’s upset potential, but Nakai is too unproven for me to put a bet down.

Mark Hunt -110: All the “sharp” people I know think Roy Nelson wins this fight. I’m not about to be the one dissenter standing in their way with a bet on the other side, but for crying out loud… Hunt really is the better fighter of the two. Of course, that’s not going to matter much if Hunt wakes up with a flashlight in his face.

Takanori Gomi +450: I’m the conductor of the Myles Jury hype train, so no, I’m not going to bet on Gomi. But goodness… Jury at -600? Seems like a bit much, especially with this fight being in Japan.

Kyung Ho Kang +145: FPR likes Kang for his grappling dominance. Judges hate Kang for his lack of effective offense on the ground. Michinori Tanaka is the more talented fighter of the two for sure, but Kang might be well equipped to take advantage of Tanaka’s mistakes.

Johnny Case +140: I’m not a Kazuki Tokudome fan, but on top of that, Case opened as the favorite at -125. What I saw from Case on tape was uninspiring, so I can’t bring myself to bet. But if this line keeps getting better, eventually it’s just too much value to pass on.

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 Japan Predictions

Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson

Well, here we are again. Fantasy Fights nemesis Roy Nelson is back, and he’s in the main event of UFC Fight Night Japan, taking on Mark Hunt in the main event. To tell you the truth, I’m already mad. I’m mad because I know exactly what’s going to happen:

  • I’m going to break down this fight, see that Hunt is the far better kickboxer and has a good chin, and claim that Nelson isn’t going to win by knockout this time.
  • Roy Nelson is going to win by knockout.

Nelson is a terrible technical striker with zero defense. He’s an ineffective offensive wrestler. His ground game is decent but he never gets to showcase it because he can’t land takedowns. His conditioning is poor and sometimes a disaster. If you packaged Nelson’s skill set in a featherweight fighter, that fighter would be the worst fighter in the UFC.

Fortunately for Nelson, he’s a heavyweight, and heavyweight fights usually end up not going the distance. Nelson is only a viable heavyweight fighter because he has exceptional knockout power and a tremendous ability to absorb punishment. In a division defined by fights being finished, Roy Nelson is a finisher who doesn’t get finished – an enormous advantage that goes a long way towards making up for Nelson’s technical deficiencies.

Of course, some of Nelson’s knockout wins have come against opponents who are known for being knocked out relatively easily: Brendan Schaub, Stefan Struve, Dave Herman, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (sad that I’m putting Nogueira in this basket now). Mark Hunt is known for NOT being knocked out easily. Hunt’s reputation is one of having an iron chin, a reputation earned from absorbing strikes like Mirko Cro Cop’s head kick without being knocked down, let alone knocked out.

Stipe Miocic was able to batter Nelson and win a lopsided decision based on striking volume. Miocic is also known for having a good chin – so why can’t Hunt win the same way?

There are a number of factors that leave me very scared that Nelson will, in fact, knock Hunt out. Those factors are:

  • Hunt is not hard to hit. He’s had a high level of success in kickboxing but strike avoidance has never been his strong suit.
  • Hunt is now 40.5 years old. As he ages, his resistance to being knocked out is going to decline rapidly. Already Hunt has been knocked out by Melvin Manhoef and Junior Dos Santos.
  • Hunt was knocked down by Bigfoot Silva in his last fight… making that twice he’s been knocked down in his last two fights.
  • And now, per Kevin Iole, we find out that Hunt weighs 284 pounds as of today and began his training camp at 340 pounds. Having to cut an extreme amount of weight only increases a fighter’s risk of being knocked out. Not a good sign from a fighter whose motivation has been questioned in the past.

Nelson isn’t exactly a spring chicken either at 38 years old, but he hasn’t shown the same signs of a declining chin as Hunt. Nelson is definitely more likely to win by knockout, even with Hunt’s massive advantage in strikes landed.

So am I actually going to pick Nelson to win a fight for once? While there are some people I greatly respect who are doing just that… I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. I think there’s a pretty good chance Hunt wins by knockout here himself. As good as Nelson’s chin has been in his career, he has been knocked out before (by Andrei Arlovski) and he was knocked down by Dos Santos. Not only does Hunt hit hard, Hunt is going to land many more strikes than Nelson in this fight. That means more chances to get the knockout, even if Hunt’s probability of knocking Nelson out with each strike is a lot lower than Nelson’s chance.

And if the fight somehow goes the distance, it should be with Hunt as the winner almost 100 times out of 100. It’s easy to think that won’t happen, but I thought the same thing of Hunt’s fight against Bigfoot, and we saw how that turned out.

So I’m picking against Roy Nelson again. I fully expect to now see Nelson knock Hunt out in the first round, climb on top of the cage wall, and rub his belly in victory as I seethe in fury and frustration. Hopefully you enjoy it more than I do.

Pick: Mark Hunt by TKO

Takanori Gomi vs. Myles Jury

I’m going to warn you right now – I’m the conductor of the Myles Jury hype train. What I have to say here might not be the most unbiased package of thoughts.

With that caveat out of the way, what a terrible fight this is for the former PRIDE champion Takanori Gomi. Here he gets an opponent in Jury who is extremely difficult to hit and a very good wrestler with good top control and a good ground game. It’s like the UFC set out to find the single opponent who was the worst possible style matchup for Gomi.

In Gomi’s early career, he was known for having dynamite in his fists and one of the better overall boxing games in the lightweight division. In recent years, Gomi’s boxing has fallen apart. Gomi has adjusted by taking some heat off his strikes and becoming more of a volume striker. The problem is that Gomi’s defense remains below-average at best, meaning that he’s been going to close decisions against opponents like Mac Danzig and Isaac Vallie-Flagg.

Now Gomi faces Jury, an opponent who simply is not going to allow Gomi to step into the pocket and exchange. Jury is going to do one of two things: stay outside of Gomi’s punching range or shoot a very quick double-leg takedown. Jury has landed 70% of his takedown attempts in the UFC so far and there’s no reason to think Gomi is going to shut him down. It seems inevitable that Jury will eventually take Gomi down, land some hard strikes on the ground, and finish Gomi with a submission hold. Submission defense has been a problem for Gomi as well – he lost three of his first four UFC fights by submission.

The only thing that worries me is that Jury has had a couple of head-scratching performances. One was against Al Iaquinta on TUF and the other was against Mike Ricci. Sometimes Jury is a little too hesitant to engage… so I do wonder if the betting public is a little too quick to put Jury in parlays, as he is now up to -600. Then again, I have zero interest in betting on Gomi as the +450 underdog. This is a fight Jury really should win the vast majority of the time.

Pick: Myles Jury by submission

Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Amir Sadollah

Akiyama… now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time.

The same goes for Sadollah. Both fighters have been on the shelf for two years now, recovering from a variety of injuries. They’re both back, and they’re fighting each other on the main card of this show. It must be a welcome change for Akiyama, who previously was set to face absurd opponents like Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping.

If you told me going in that Akiyama was going to grapple Sadollah, I would happily pick him and place a bet on him at -165. Akiyama is the far more talented fighter and the much better overall grappler. The problem is that Akiyama’s tendency in the UFC has been to stand and strike, even though that’s easily the worst part of his game. The result: decision losses to Bisping and Shields, and a very quick KO loss to Belfort.

If Akiyama chooses to stand and strike with Sadollah, he’s asking for another decision loss. Sadollah’s striking isn’t on par with any of Akiyama’s recent opponents, but he lands strikes at high volume and Akiyama doesn’t. Akiyama would probably make it a close and competitive fight as Sadollah also eats a lot of strikes, but the fight would very likely end with Sadollah being the more effective striker overall.

I have to pick Akiyama to win this because he really should be smart enough to look for the clinch, take Sadollah down, and either grind out a decision or finish Sadollah by submission. However, I fear Akiyama’s lack of fight IQ enough to avoid any sort of degenerate gambling.

Pick: Yoshihiro Akiyama by decision

Rin Nakai vs. Miesha Tate

It’s obvious that fans aren’t taking Nakai seriously as a fighter. There are two reasons for this:

  • Nakai’s 16-0-1 record has been boosted by a series of fights against vastly inferior opponents.
  • Nakai has become infamous for appearing in videos that qualify as softcore porn.

And now Nakai is making her debut in the UFC against Miesha Tate? Easy loss!

Not so fast. Nakai does bring some actual skills with her into the UFC. For one, Nakai is a very physically strong fighter who is good at forcing her way into the clinch and slamming her opponents to the ground. Nakai is very good at maintaining top position and looking for submission opportunities. She is quick at taking her opponent’s back and has good transitions. She is very quick to go for armbars in particular.

The problem is this: if you’re looking for ways to beat Tate, takedowns and submissions are probably the most difficult. Even Ronda Rousey needed the third round to submit Tate in their rematch. Rousey has world-class Judo and amazing submission abilities. Nakai… doesn’t.

The best way to beat Tate is with striking, and Nakai doesn’t really have a polished striking game. She throws a lot of leg kicks and jabs, but doesn’t defend herself well and doesn’t throw strikes with significant power. Tate’s striking is a mess and she’s very easy to hit, but Nakai doesn’t have the skill set to take advantage of this.

I can’t shake the feeling that the UFC put this fight together because they know something we don’t. In other words, that Nakai will prove to be a tougher opponent than expected. Even so, I have yet to see Nakai forced to defend a single takedown, and her overall game is completely unproven at a high level. Nakai is the creative and adventurous pick… but Tate is the disciplined pick.

Pick: Miesha Tate by decision

Kiichi Kunimoto vs. Richard Walsh

Kunimoto is 2-0 in the UFC and coming off a surprising first-round submission win over Daniel Sarafian. Submissions are Kunimoto’s strong suit and he has a respectable overall grappling game. Kunimoto needs that grappling skill because his striking consists of jabs, leg kicks, and that’s about it.

Walsh is a grinder with a punishing striking game, and he’ll have the advantage as long as this fight is standing. The problem is that Walsh’s submission defense is a borderline disaster. Walsh will give up his back and try to escape the position without paying any attention to defending his neck. Hopefully Walsh can learn how to defend submissions, because he has the talent to be a quality UFC figher. Until he proves he has that submission defense, I have to pick him to lose against grappling types like Kunimoto.

Pick: Kiichi Kunimoto by submission

Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Jon Delos Reyes

The MMA universe seems aligned in a belief that this is a showcase fight for Horiguchi. I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Horiguchi’s karate style and his excellent hand speed and timing. I think Horiguchi has the potential to become a title contender in the flyweight division if he can improve his grappling abilities.

Here’s the problem: Reyes is a brawler who hits very hard for a flyweight. Horiguchi’s open stance leaves plenty of opportunities for opponents to hit him. Trust me when I say Reyes is a bigger threat to knock Horiguchi out than Darrell Montague or Dustin Pague were. Reyes’s fatal flaw as a fighter is his submission defense, but Horiguchi doesn’t really do submissions. I certainly think Horiguchi should be favored, because he is the more talented and technical fighter, but Reyes is a “live” underdog whose knockout power should not be dismissed.

Pick: Kyoji Horiguchi by decision

Alex Caceres vs. Masanori Kanehara

This fight was originally Urijah Faber vs. Kanehara, which would have been a mismatch of epic proportions. As it is, “Bruce Leeroy” should be able to win this fight without too much difficulty. Kanehara is a journeyman fighter who likes to stand and strike with his opponents. He packs decent power behind his punches but has borderline awful striking defense (a theme throughout this card and seemingly a theme with Japanese fighters in general). Kanehara doesn’t move his head and now his chin is a huge concern as he’s been stopped by strikes four times.

Caceres is unlikely to finish Kanehara with strikes – he’s simply not a power puncher. What Caceres will do is score points rapidly with his arsenal of straight punches at distance and knees in close. Kanehara is an easy target to hit and Caceres is well suited to take advantage. If the fight goes to the ground, it’s conceivable that Kanehara can take advantage of the wildness of Bruce Leeroy’s grappling, but it’s more likely that the hyperactive guard of Caceres will compel Kanehara to just stand and make it a striking match again. This is Bruce Leeroy’s fight to lose.

Pick: Alex Caceres by decision

Katsunori Kikuno vs. Sam Sicilia

Kikuno is a Kyokushin karate fighter whose striking skills go far beyond anything Sam Sicilia is capable of. Kikuno has an excellent sense of distance control, sharp and technical kicks, accurate strikes, and a good sense of how to “create collisions,” as Jack Slack would say.

And yet, Kikuno gives it all away because he believes in the “way of the warrior,” and his interpretation of that is to get hit in the face on purpose. Somebody needs to tell Kikuno that he can show his warrior spirit without putting his hands by his knees. Tony Ferguson blasted Kikuno into oblivion and there’s no reason to think Sicilia won’t do the same if Kikuno fights the same way. Sicilia is a brawler, but he’s a brawler with knockout power, and that’s good enough if Kikuno fights like a moron again. I’m hoping Kikuno will have come to his senses… but how can I know for sure?

Pick: Katsunori Kikuno by TKO

Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Takenori Sato

I was very harsh about Sato leading into his short-notice fight against Erick Silva (in which Sato got steamrolled). After reviewing the tape again… you have to be kidding me. Sato does not belong in the UFC – not even close. Against Pancrase-level competition, Sato was a non-striker who struggled to land takedowns, and then had difficulty holding top position. Sato had to work to grind out wins in Pancrase. How is he supposed to win fights in the UFC?

There’s a reason Sato enters with 17 wins in 33 fights. He doesn’t belong here. Hyun Gyu Lim is going to stuff the takedowns and batter Sato standing, probably winning by knockout.

Pick: Hyun Gyu Lim by KO

Kyung Ho Kang vs. Michinori Tanaka

Kang is a fighter who dominates the takedown game, and loses anyway because he doesn’t produce much in the way of effective offense outside of takedowns. He has to be considered a threat to beat Michinori Tanaka though. I like Tanaka’s potential a lot – he’s a very well-rounded fighter – but what worries me is his tendency to give up bad positions. I could easily see Kang taking Tanaka’s back in a scramble and winning by submission. Overall, I think Tanaka is the more talented fighter and should win, but this is a tough fight for him.

Pick: Michinori Tanaka by decision

Johnny Case vs. Kazuki Tokudome

Case makes his UFC debut with an 18-4 record and 11 wins by KO/TKO. He has good hand speed and packs good power behind his punches but his takedown defense is a liability. That could be a problem against Tokudome, a fighter whose offense is mostly centered around takedowns. Tokudome has active hands but poor striking defense and isn’t very offensive on the ground at all. Tokudome has to be the pick to win this fight because of his ability to land takedowns, but Case isn’t going to make it easy to grind out a decision here.

Pick: Kazuki Tokudome by decision

Maximo Blanco vs. Daniel Hooker

Blanco is his own worst enemy. He’s a talented fighter with terrific athleticism and the ability to string together punches, kicks, and flying knees. He’s also a fighter who seems to either have no knowledge of the rules or a flagrant disregard of them. Hooker is a nasty striker with sharp elbows but he can’t match Blanco’s athleticism or talent. This is Blanco’s fight to lose… but Blanco has a way of losing fights that are his to lose.

Pick: Maximo Blanco by decision

TUF 20 Episode 2 Notes

Result: Joanne Calderwood def. Emily Kagan by decision (majority), 2 rounds

-It was not surprising to see Calderwood throwing a lot of kicks early on. Calderwood is clearly much more comfortable with her kicks than her punching techniques or boxing in general. There was at least one time where Calderwood visibly winced when Kagan was throwing a punch.

-Calderwood was much more comfortable and effective in the clinch, where she delivered some hard knees and did a nice job of combining a knee to the body with a punch to the head.

-I would have liked to see Kagan pressure Calderwood a lot more. Her coaches seemed to want her to move forward and look for takedowns, but instead Kagan settled for a striking match at distance in the first round. In the second round, it was Calderwood who initiated the clinch and landed the takedown. I think Kagan could have potentially scored an upset here if she moved forward more aggressively.

-By no means did Kagan win either round in this fight. She landed a few nice punches in the first round, but Calderwood matched those punches with hard knees and threw strikes at much higher volume. The second round was bizarre and mostly featured Kagan being stuck in an inverted triangle choke attempt by Calderwood. I would not have predicted that we would see inverted triangle choke attempts in back to back fights on this show…

-It’s hard to take away too much from this fight. The first round was mostly a tentative striking match and the second round stalled out because Kagan was stuck in the triangle. I want to see what happens when Calderwood faces a tougher opponent. No disrespect to Kagan, but she just didn’t put together very much offense in this fight. I feel like Calderwood will struggle with an aggressive opponent, but time will tell.

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