Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

Projecting How Brock Lesnar Would Have Fared in the UFC in 2015

With today’s news that Brock Lesnar will not be returning to the UFC, I got to thinking about just how a second Lesnar UFC stint would go. In my mind, Lesnar’s return would have put the UFC in a somewhat awkward situation. Lesnar was unlikely to be particularly competitive against the very best heavyweights, but his name value would have been a huge incentive for the UFC to match him up against opponents worthy of headlining (or at least co-headlining) a pay per view.

So I thought: why not use my statistical prediction model to analyze Lesnar’s chances of winning against current heavyweight competition? Since the model has been so successful against the betting lines so far this year, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that its estimates would be at least somewhat accurate.

Obviously, this analysis assumes that Lesnar would at least be putting in an earnest effort to compete, and not just showing up for a paycheck. With that said, I’ve subjectively modified his Fight Matrix ranking downward to account for the layoff since his last fight in December 2011.

Here is what the model says about Lesnar’s chances against the heavyweights:

Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez

Projected Favorite: Cain Velasquez (97.7%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (2.3%)

Throwing Lesnar in the cage with Velasquez again would represent a serious case of matchmaking malpractice. Their title fight in 2010 was lopsided enough, with Velasquez badly hurting Lesnar early and finishing the fight by first-round TKO. Velasquez has major statistical advantages in every category, including takedowns. This simply would not be a competitive fight.

Brock Lesnar vs. Fabricio Werdum

Projected Favorite: Fabricio Werdum (84.3%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (15.7%)

This would be a really awkward matchup for Lesnar. Werdum’s striking has developed enough that he would likely have a decisive advantage against Lesnar at standing distance, especially since Lesnar never really developed much as a striker. Lesnar would have to go for takedowns, and would likely succeed, but then have to contend with Werdum’s world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game and guard in particular. It’s hard to see Lesnar winning this one.

Brock Lesnar vs. Junior Dos Santos

Projected Favorite: Junior Dos Santos (85.2%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (14.8%)

While Dos Santos has taken far too much punishment in his recent fights, there’s no reason to think that trend would continue in a match against Lesnar. This fight basically pits one of the heavyweight division’s hardest punchers, and toughest fighters to take down, against an opponent in Lesnar who reacts horribly to getting hit. Sure, it’s possible that Lesnar could land takedowns in all three rounds and grind out a decision from top position, but far more likely that Dos Santos would stuff a takedown, or scramble back to his feet, and knock Lesnar out.

Brock Lesnar vs. Andrei Arlovski

Projected Favorite: Andrei Arlovski (74.2%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (25.8%)

The model probably overrates Arlovski because of his inflated Fight Matrix ranking (a result of his KO of Antonio Silva), but this is still a bad stylistic matchup for Lesnar. Arlovski is similar to Dos Santos in that he has excellent takedown defense and big punching power. Lesnar would have a better puncher’s chance here due to Arlovski’s questionable chin, but would still be a clear underdog.

Brock Lesnar vs. Travis Browne

Projected Favorite: Travis Browne (61.7%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (38.3%)

Browne has the same combination of power punching and takedown defense that Dos Santos and Arlovski possess, but his striking is not as polished (although Browne has improved in recent outings) and his ability to fight past the first round is worth questioning. I could see Lesnar winning this one via 29-28 decision, but he would need to survive the first round to do so, and that probably would not happen.

Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt

Projected Favorite: Mark Hunt (58.5%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (41.5%)

This is a weird one. Hunt probably doesn’t have the athleticism necessary to keep Lesnar from taking him down, but once again, he would have huge advantages in striking technique and power. Lesnar would not have much margin for error here – one big uppercut from Hunt as Lesnar attempts a double-leg shot, and the fight could be over.

Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem

Projected Favorite: Alistair Overeem (67.5%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (32.5%)

When these two fought in 2011, it sure looked like Lesnar wasn’t anywhere near Overeem’s level. At the same time, Overeem is probably the one heavyweight whose chin is just as bad as Lesnar’s. Overeem’s kickboxing skill is so far above Lesnar’s that he should easily be the favorite, but with so many KO losses in his career, it’s very hard to call Overeem an overwhelming favorite against any single heavyweight fighter at this point.

Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir

Projected Favorite: Frank Mir (50.9%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (49.1%)

If Lesnar had chosen to return to the UFC, this is almost certainly the fight that would have been put together. It’s also one of the most competitive fights according to my statistical model. Lesnar would bring a huge advantage in takedowns and ground strikes, but Mir would have advantages in knockdowns and submissions. This is one of those fights where it’s probably a coin flip, but whoever wins is going to look far better than his opponent in the process.

Brock Lesnar vs. Ben Rothwell

Projected Favorite: Brock Lesnar (55.3%)

Projected Underdog: Ben Rothwell (44.7%)

Rothwell is basically an upgraded Roy Nelson. He doesn’t defend strikes or takedowns well, but he hits very hard and has a good chin. The gap in athleticism between Rothwell and Lesnar would most likely be too great to overcome, but the chance of a Rothwell KO win is still high enough to make him just a slight underdog here.

Brock Lesnar vs. Stipe Miocic

Projected Favorite: Stipe Miocic (60.4%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (39.6%)

Miocic has below-average punching power for the division and absorbs too many strikes, but he makes up for it with a strong wrestling base and a lot of volume. It would be interesting to see Miocic’s takedown defense tested here, but it seems pretty likely that he would be able to stay standing enough to batter Lesnar and win by TKO or decision.

Brock Lesnar vs. Antonio Silva

Projected Favorite: Brock Lesnar (62.3%)

Projected Underdog: Antonio Silva (37.7%)

Needless to say, Bigfoot’s stock is way, way down after his KO losses to Arlovski and Mir. He has good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills and hits hard, but he’s just far too slow to stay standing against Lesnar. I imagine that Lesnar would ground and pound his way to a TKO victory in this one.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roy Nelson

Projected Favorite: Brock Lesnar (65.1%)

Projected Underdog: Roy Nelson (34.9%)

Statistical analysis has never liked Nelson and probably never will. I personally think he would stay standing for about seven seconds before being dumped to the canvas by Lesnar. Nelson does actually have a strong background in submission grappling but it’s hard to imagine him being able to do much from bottom position; he’s never been known for his guard in particular. At the same time, seven seconds might be enough time for Nelson to win by KO anyway.

Brock Lesnar vs. Brendan Schaub

Projected Favorite: Brendan Schaub (50.1%)

Projected Underdog: Brock Lesnar (49.9%)

This is the one fight where I think my model is really underrating Lesnar. Schaub has the more developed striking game for sure, but I have a hard time seeing him stuffing Lesnar’s takedowns. Schaub’s takedown statistics are actually very good but when has he ever faced a wrestler of Lesnar’s caliber?

Overall, there are a number of marketable heavyweight fights that Lesnar could probably win, particularly against Frank Mir and Roy Nelson. However, Lesnar’s advanced age, inability to take a punch, and one-dimensional offense would make matchmaking a delicate balancing act for the UFC. It’s unlikely that Lesnar would put together a three-fight winning streak against quality competition. Title contention would simply be unrealistic. All in all, by choosing to stay with the WWE, Lesnar probably made the right decision, both for his health and for his bank account.

UFC Fight Night Rio: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

2015 PICKS

Last event: 7-5 (58.3%)

Year to date: 55-34 (61.8%)

In four fights my model saw as coin flips, my picks were just 1-3, with Anthony Pettis, Daron Cruickshank, and Larissa Pacheco each losing (and losing decisively). That means a medicore effort with straight-up picks for UFC 185.

UFC FIGHT NIGHT 62 – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Demian Maia 53.3% Ryan LaFlare 46.7%
 Erick Silva 53.2% Josh Koscheck 46.8%
 Tony Martin 53.0% Leonardo Santos 47.0%
 Amanda Nunes 77.8% Shayna Baszler 22.2%
 Gilbert Burns 74.4% Alex Oliveira 25.6%
 Andre Fili 75.6% Godofredo Pepey 24.4%
 Francisco Trinaldo 52.6% Akbarh Arreola 47.4%
 Kevin Souza 54.4% Katsunori Kikuno 45.6%
 Leandro Silva 52.1% Drew Dober 47.9%
 Leonardo Mafra 51.9% Cain Carrizosa 48.1%
 Christos Giagos 87.1% Jorge de Oliveira 12.9%
 Bentley Syler 51.9% Fredy Serrano 48.1%

My model sees a lot of the fights being virtual coin flips, including the co-main event between Erick Silva and Josh Koscheck. On one hand, I think there’s a good chance people are underrating Koscheck off an unimpressive performance in a tough matchup against Jake Ellenberger. On the other hand, my model doesn’t have a variable that accounts for a fighter just wanting to finish his contract and take home a couple extra paychecks.

On the other end of the spectrum, Christos Giagos is a massive 87% favorite against Jorge de Oliveira despite being 0-1 in the UFC. The model sees advantages for Giagos in every statistical category except knockdowns. That’s because Oliveira got manhandled by Dhiego Lima for three rounds in his debut. Oliveira is also ten years older than Giagos and is completely unranked by Fight Matrix. That’s why that estimate is so lopsided.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$26.19

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Current bankroll: $199.71

Total investment: $169.25

Total profit: $99.71

Return on investment: 58.9%

Rafael Dos Anjos came through in a big way for me last week, as he was my third biggest risk as a +425 underdog. I also got a key win with Alistair Overeem’s decision victory against Roy Nelson; while Overeem easily landed more strikes than Nelson in the fight, there were some very tense moments, especially when Nelson knocked him down late in the third round.

For this event I have…

Christos Giagos -190: $21.95 to win $11.55

Josh Koscheck +435: $6.93 to win $30.15

Katsunori Kikuno +210: $3.22 to win $6.76

Akbarh Arreola +185: $3.07 to win $5.68

Demian Maia +125: $2.49 to win $3.11

Cain Carrizosa +145: $1.84 to win $2.67

Drew Dober +140: $1.57 to win $2.20

Alex Oliveira +480: $1.48 to win $7.10

Leonardo Santos +125: $0.63 to win $0.79

Against my better judgement, the biggest risk I’m taking so far this year is on none other than Christos Giagos. That’s followed by Koscheck, Katsunori Kikuno, and Akbarh Arreola. Needless to say, this could go really wrong… but hopefully not!

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

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC Fight Night Rio Quick Picks

I find this event to be quite a letdown, being one week after what proved to be a great fight card at UFC 185. I think the main event between Ryan LaFlare and Demian Maia is interesting, and Erick Silva fights are always exciting one way or the other, but there are very few above-average UFC fighters here. Does this card really need to have 12 fights?

Ryan LaFlare vs. Demian Maia

My metrics have LaFlare as the slightly better fighter overall, but see this as a good matchup for Maia. LaFlare has an offense centered around takedowns, but very few fighters are willing to take Maia down. It will be interesting to see if LaFlare chooses to strike with Maia, or if he will shoot takedowns and test Maia’s guard game. Very close, coin flip type of fight. Maia by decision.

Josh Koscheck vs. Erick Silva

It’s easy to dismiss Koscheck here given his dismal performance against Jake Ellenberger just last month, but I think there’s a lot of potential for Koscheck to pull off the upset. Koscheck’s wrestling is likely to be much more effective in this fight, and Silva fades badly after the first round. I can’t pick Koscheck out-right though, given Silva’s finishing ability and the potential that Koscheck is only interested in a paycheck. Silva by TKO.

Tony Martin vs. Leonardo Santos

Martin is a huge lightweight with good striking and wrestling and a very suspect gas tank. Santos doesn’t have Martin’s ability in strikes or takedowns, but has a much better ground game and should be poised to capitalize if Martin fades after the first round. Martin will probably need to show off better cardio if he wants to win this one – and I still think moving up to 170 pounds would be a good thing for him. Martin by decision.

Shayna Baszler vs. Amanda Nunes

Speaking of suspect gas tanks, Amanda Nunes will be taking on Shayna Baszler on this card. Nunes will likely be dominant early as usual, especially because Baszler’s striking is a disaster. Of course, Nunes always fades after the first round, because she fights like she’s been fired out of a cannon, so there’s certainly a chance that Baszler can win late. In the end, though, I have to take the better fighter to win. Nunes by TKO.

Gilbert Burns vs. Alex Oliveira

Burns has been impressive enough in his brief UFC career that he was originally matched up against Josh Thomson, but a Thomson injury has left him replaced by the debuting Alex Oliveira. Burns seems to have developed quality striking and wrestling to go along with his excellent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so I highly doubt that Oliveira will be able to expose any holes in his game on short notice. Burns by TKO.

Andre Fili vs. Godofredo Pepey

The UFC has done its best to rehabilitate Pepey’s career, giving him a match against the hopelessly one-dimensional Dorian Johnson in his last outing. Fili is a far tougher opponent, a Team Alpha Male fighter with aggressive striking and a fairly well-rounded game. Pepey’s striking is average at best and his wrestling is a sore spot. I expect Fili to be better everywhere. Fili by TKO.

PRELIM PICKS

  • Francisco Trinaldo over Akbarh Arreola
  • Kevin Souza over Katsunori Kikuno
  • Leandro Silva over Drew Dober
  • Leonardo Mafra over Cain Carrizosa
  • Christos Giagos over Jorge de Oliveira
  • Bentley Syler over Fredy Serrano

UFC 185: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

2015 PICKS

Last Event: 5-5 (50.0%)

Year To Date: 48-29 (62.3%)

It wasn’t that long ago that my picks were 41-15 on the year. The regression is real. My picks for UFC 184 weren’t terrific, although I was right about Roan Carneiro as a substantial underdog against Mark Munoz.

UFC 185 – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Anthony Pettis 54.7% Rafael Dos Anjos 45.3%
 Carla Esparza 63.4% Joanna Jedrzejczyk 36.6%
 Johny Hendricks 78.9% Matt Brown 21.1%
 Alistair Overeem 77.7% Roy Nelson 22.3%
 Henry Cejudo 51.5% Chris Cariaso 48.5%
 Ross Pearson 74.9% Sam Stout 25.1%
 Elias Theodorou 73.4% Roger Narvaez 26.6%
 Daron Cruickshank 53.2% Beneil Dariush 46.8%
 Jared Rosholt 78.3% Josh Copeland 21.7%
 Sergio Pettis 75.1% Ryan Benoit 24.9%
 Joseph Duffy 63.5% Jake Lindsey 36.5%
 Larissa Pacheco 57.3% Germaine de Randamie 42.7%

There’s nothing surprising about the fighters my model thinks will win tomorrow. Every pick is the betting favorite except Daron Cruickshank, who was the favorite until he missed weight at 157.5 pounds. What’s more surprising is how competitive my model thinks a few key fights will be – most notably the main event between Anthony Pettis and Rafael Dos Anjos. The model also considers Henry Cejudo vs. Chris Cariaso a coin flip.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: -$2.57

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Current bankroll: $173.52

Total investment: $132.57

Total profit: $73.52

Return on investment: 55.5%

Carneiro was my only betting victory last week. My biggest risk was on Roman Salazar, who got eye poked to oblivion by “Kid” Yamamoto. My second biggest risk was on Raquel Pennington, who went to split decision as a 5-1 underdog against Holly Holm, so I have no regrets.

For this event I have…

Alistair Overeem -135: $12.74 to win $9.44

Chris Cariaso +535: $8.92 to win $47.72

Rafael Dos Anjos +425: $6.74 to win $28.65

Jake Lindsey +440: $3.98 to win $17.51

Carla Esparza -140: $1.94 to win $1.39

Daron Cruickshank +105: $1.33 to win $1.40

Ryan Benoit +415: $1.03 to win $4.27

For some reason the price on Overeem got much cheaper right after people saw him stand next to fat Roy Nelson. It won’t shock me if Nelson knocks him out – and we all know I’ve been burned by Nelson before – but I really think Overeem has a better chance to win than the odds reflect.

My overall success hinges on three big underdogs: Chris Cariaso, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Jake Lindsey. If any one of them wins then I’m in good shape.

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

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC 185 Predictions

Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Anthony Pettis

For some reason, Rafael Dos Anjos has a very difficult time getting the respect he deserves as a top contender in the UFC lightweight division. When he was matched up against Benson Henderson, degenerate gamblers couldn’t help but bet piles of money on Henderson, causing the former champion to rise from a 3-1 favorite to a 5-1 favorite. Those degenerates were punished for their hubris when Dos Anjos won by first-round knockout, but it hasn’t stopped them from considering Dos Anjos the heavy underdog once again against Anthony Pettis. Pettis is currently the favorite at about -450, with Dos Anjos the underdog at about +370.

When I look at the way Dos Anjos matches up with Pettis, I don’t see where there’s this huge separation between the two. I think of Pettis as something of a sniper – a fighter who doesn’t win by dominating opponents with a barrage of strikes and takedowns, but instead wins by landing devastating, well-timed kicks and locking up sudden submissions. Against Dos Anjos, a fighter with a very strong background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and no true submission losses, I doubt that a win by submission will be an available path to victory for Pettis. (Dos Anjos does have one submission loss, but it was because of a jaw injury suffered against Clay Guida at UFC 117.)

It’s easy to think that Pettis might be the vastly superior striker, but the statistics indicate that’s not really the case. My regression-adjusted statistics have Pettis at 2.61 significant strikes landed and 2.30 absorbed per minute, for a surplus of +0.31 significant strikes per minute. For Dos Anjos, I have 2.91 landed and 2.49 absorbed per minute for a surplus of +0.42 significant strikes per minute. Pettis does have the advantage in striking power, but Dos Anjos is a durable fighter who hasn’t been knocked out since his debut KO loss to Jeremy Stephens back at UFC 91.

As for the takedown game, it’s been something of a sore spot for Pettis in the past. His loss to Guida in 2011 (hard to believe that was four years ago already) was a direct result of Guida’s five takedowns and grinding top control. He’s also been taken down by Benson Henderson, Jeremy Stephens, Shane Roller, and Alex Karalexis. However, it’s worth pointing out that recent opponents haven’t had the same success taking Pettis down, with Henderson and Gilbert Melendez being a combined 1-for-11, and Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon each failing to make a single attempt. With that said, Dos Anjos is a capable wrestler who will at least threaten to land takedowns here.

My sense is that Pettis’s low volume style makes him susceptible to losing in fights that go to decision; he’s 3-2 in his career in fights that go the distance, and two of the three wins were by split decision. With Dos Anjos being the more aggressive striker and a capable wrestler, I would actually favor him if Saturday’s main event goes all five rounds. Despite that, I still have to favor Pettis overall because of his terrific ability to set up and deliver devastating kicks and finish fights. Dos Anjos is a tough out, so Pettis will have his hands full, but as much as I think Dos Anjos is being vastly underrated here, I have to slightly side with the defending champion.

Pick: Anthony Pettis by TKO

Carla Esparza vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

When the last season of The Ultimate Fighter was being aired, I made it clear that I felt anybody who won that season would eventually lose to the fighter I felt was the best women’s strawweight in the world – Claudia Gadelha. Even though Carla Esparza was the champion in Invicta and the favorite to win the tournament in TUF, I thought Gadelha’s well-rounded game would be enough to knock Esparza off her perch. Only one problem – Gadelha’s climb to the top was derailed along the way by Polish striker Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who defeated Gadelha in a contentious split decision in December.

Jedrzejczyk will have the clear and obvious advantage standing as the challenger against Esparza in Saturday’s co-main event. She has – in my estimation – the best hands of any fighter in women’s MMA right now. Her movement and distance control are excellent and she throws effortless combinations. It makes a huge statement that Jedrzejczyk was not only able to out-box Gadelha, but knock her down in their December match.

There is almost zero chance that Esparza will settle for a striking match here. Esparza’s game is takedowns and stifling top control, and unfortunately for Jedrzejczyk, she hasn’t shown the ability to deal with that kind of game particularly well. Gadelha took her down seven times, and while Jedrzejczyk did a nice job of limiting Gadelha’s offense from top position, it leaves me thinking there’s no way she’ll be able to stuff Esparza’s takedowns. That’s especially true in a five-round fight, where Esparza’s grinding style should only become more effective as the fight goes on. Jedrzejczyk is a serious challenger due to her terrific boxing, but until she proves that she can stay standing, I have to consider Esparza the favorite.

Pick: Carla Esparza by decision

Matt Brown vs. Johny Hendricks

I’ve been pretty vocal about Matt Brown being underrated in recent fights, picking him to beat Erick Silva and arguing that he had a really good chance against Robbie Lawler. A lot of that was due to the stylistic matchups. I felt that Brown would do well in a striking match against Lawler, and his pressure would be tough for Silva to handle. Against Johny Hendricks, an overpowering wrestler with some serious striking skills of his own, I like Brown’s chances a lot less. It doesn’t help that Hendricks has an iron chin and is saying all the right things about being in shape throughout his fight camp. I have a hard time seeing Brown winning by either stoppage (due to Hendricks’ chin) or decision (due to Hendricks’ wrestling).

Pick: Johny Hendricks by decision

Roy Nelson vs. Alistair Overeem

Overeem’s fighting skills are so far beyond Nelson’s that it’s laughable. Overeem is the former K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion with serious skills in both submissions and takedowns; Nelson is a fat guy who chucks overhand rights and takes punches to the face. It says something about the state of Overeem’s chin that people are seriously considering picking Nelson here. I get it – Overeem has a ton of knockout losses and Nelson has historically been far more durable. But at some point, isn’t the gap between each fighter’s kickboxing skill so great to make up for that? If Overeem lands 100 significant strikes and Nelson lands 15, is Nelson really more likely to win by knockout, especially considering that he’s now 38 years old and coming off a knockout loss?

Pick: Alistair Overeem by TKO

Chris Cariaso vs. Henry Cejudo

Most opinions on Cejudo are about the same – that if he just gets his head on straight, that he could be a UFC champion in the flyweight division, eventually becoming a serious challenger against Demetrious Johnson. Cejudo is a world-class wrestler who has picked up striking skills very quickly (although Dustin Kimura is a relatively hopeless opponent in the standup game). Cariaso is a far better kickboxer and may even have the advantage at range, but enters with a history of below-average takedown defense. It seems like a match tailor made for Cejudo to win by decision, but I get the nagging feeling that Cariaso is going to give him more trouble than expected.

Pick: Henry Cejudo by decision

PRELIM PICKS

Ross Pearson vs. Sam Stout: Pearson’s chin is a bit iffy, but Stout has very little knockout power (his “Hands of Stone” nickname remains ironic) and Pearson moves and defends himself much better. Pearson by decision.

Roger Narvaez vs. Elias Theodorou: Narvaez broke through with an unexpected victory against Luke Barnatt in his last fight, but he has a thankless task against Theodorou, a legitimate prospect with excellent offensive diversity. Theodorou by TKO.

Daron Cruickshank vs. Beneil Dariush: Dariush brings serious finishing skills into the cage, especially on the ground, but Cruickshank should prove to be the better striker, and I have questions about Dariush’s chin. Cruickshank by decision.

Josh Copeland vs. Jared Rosholt: Rosholt is almost definitely the better wrestler, leaving Copeland probably needing to sprawl and brawl his way to victory. But Copeland was such a mess standing against Ruslan Magomedov that I have to consider him a large underdog here. Rosholt by decision.

Ryan Benoit vs. Sergio Pettis: It seems like Pettis should be fighting a tougher opponent at this point, but he’s still 21 years old, so I get the desire to develop him slowly. He’s easily the better striker than Benoit, but with Pettis’s overall grappling a sore spot, Benoit could give him some trouble. Pettis by decision.

Joseph Duffy vs. Jake Lindsey: Duffy is a 6-1 favorite, which I assume is because he has a win over Conor McGregor on his record – from back when McGregor didn’t know what to do with submissions. Lindsey struggles on the ground, so I’m down with Duffy as the favorite… but 6-1? Really? Duffy by submission.

Germaine de Randamie vs. Larissa Pacheco: Pacheco got run over by Jessica Andrade in her debut, but with her youth advantage and history of winning on the ground, I think we’ll see a much better performance this time against the kickboxer in De Randamie. Pacheco by submission.

UFC Power Rankings: Women’s Bantamweight Division

This division might as well be known as the “Ronda Rousey show.” If we’re at the point where contenders like Alexis Davis and Cat Zingano are getting taken care of in less than 20 seconds, then I’m not even going to bother speculating about who Rousey’s toughest challengers might be.

The below rankings should probably not be taken too seriously. Even though the women’s bantamweight division has been around a couple years now, it’s still largely being developed and most of the competitors (including Rousey) haven’t had enough fight time for their Fight Metric data to be reliable.

Two types of fighters are being overrated in the below ranking: fighters who are particularly young (Jessica Andrade, Larissa Pacheco, Julianna Pena to a lesser extent) and fighters who have scored blowout wins over a poorly ranked opponent (Andrade over Rosi Sexton, Pena over Jessica Rakoczy, Jessamyn Duke over Peggy Morgan). On the flip side, older fighters like Marion Reneau are probably being quite a bit underrated.

With that having been said, my model has been very successful against the betting lines so far, and so I’m not inclined to start changing things.

Along with the overall rating for each fighter, I’m now including ratings for all five categories my model uses to make predictions: significant strikes, knockdowns, takedowns, age, and Fight Matrix rating. These ratings are being presented as Z-scores, which represent the number of standard deviations away from the mean.

Rank Fighter Overall Significant Strikes Knockdowns Takedowns Age Fight Matrix rating
 1 Ronda Rousey +1.76 +0.66 +1.75 +2.45 +0.21 +3.16
 2 Sarah Kaufman +1.13 +2.30 -0.53 +0.35 -0.06 +0.93
 3 Julianna Pena +0.64 +0.77 -0.42 +0.89 +1.01  +0.25
 4 Jessica Andrade +0.56 +0.93 +0.87 -0.02 +1.55 -0.15
 5 Bethe Correia +0.44 +1.60 -0.51 -0.23 -0.60 +0.15
 6 Alexis Davis +0.38 +0.15 -0.06 +0.03 -0.33 +1.11
 7 Cat Zingano +0.33 +0.58 -0.30 -0.03 -0.87 +0.88
 8 Jessica Eye +0.32 +0.30 -0.10 -0.50 +0.21 +0.71
 9 Raquel Pennington +0.27 +0.55 -0.19 +0.02 +0.74 -0.15
 10 Sara McMann +0.24 +0.03 -0.01 +2.22 -1.40 +0.54
 11 Miesha Tate +0.16 +0.13 -1.68 -1.97 +0.21 +1.08
 12 Liz Carmouche +0.14 +0.32 -0.15 +1.23 -0.33 -0.19
 13 Amanda Nunes +0.08 +0.06 -0.02 +0.31 +0.74 -0.31
 14 Larissa Pacheco +0.02 -0.35 +0.20 -0.46 +2.36 -0.68
 15 Sarah Moras -0.04 +0.13 -0.05 -0.76 +0.74 -0.31
 16 Marion Reneau -0.05 +1.18 -3.03 +0.06 -2.21 +0.08
 17 Holly Holm -0.11 +0.10 -0.05 +0.05 -1.14 +0.18
 18 Rin Nakai -0.16 -0.83 +0.48 +0.74 +0.48 -0.23
 19 Jessamyn Duke -0.26 +0.43 -1.68 +0.62 +0.21 -1.35
 20 Lauren Murphy -0.26 +0.22 -0.11 -1.91 -0.60 +0.11
 21 Germaine de Randamie -0.26 +0.20 -0.10 -1.04 -0.33 -0.35
 22 Milana Dudieva -0.27 -0.25 +0.20 +0.77 +1.01 -1.35
 23 Ashlee Evans-Smith -0.34 +0.19 -0.10 -0.02 +0.48 -1.35
 24 Elizabeth Phillips -0.65 -0.41 +0.16 -0.55 +0.21 -1.35
 25 Shayna Baszler -1.21 -1.60 +0.73 +0.45 -1.40 -1.35
 26 Leslie Smith -1.22 -3.12 +2.19 -0.27 -0.87 +0.07

UFC 184: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

2015 PICKS

Last event: 2-9 (18.2%)

Year to date: 43-24 (64.2%)

Going 2-9 on picks last week might seem miserable on the surface, but last week’s Fight Night event from Porto Alegre was historic in terms of how many upsets there were. In fact, betting favorites went 1-10 on the night. Since I tend to judge my picks in the context of how good they were relative to the betting lines, I’m not going to beat myself up for my picks last week.

UFC 184 – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Ronda Rousey 79.2% Cat Zingano 20.8%
 Raquel Pennington 64.5% Holly Holm 35.5%
 Jake Ellenberger 78.3% Josh Koscheck 21.7%
 Richard Walsh 59.1% Alan Jouban 40.9%
 Gleison Tibau 50.8% Tony Ferguson 49.2%
 Roan Carneiro 54.3% Mark Munoz 45.7%
 Roman Salazar 77.0% Norifumi Yamamoto 23.0%
 Dhiego Lima 57.7% Tim Means 42.3%
 Derrick Lewis 83.7% Ruan Potts 16.3%
 James Krause 58.6% Valmir Lazaro 41.4%
 Alexander Torres 58.6% Masio Fullen 41.4%

Let’s address the elephant in the room… Raquel Pennington being named the favorite to defeat Holly Holm by my model. All the model knows is that Holm is a fighter making her UFC debut, that she’s 33 years old, 7-0, and none of her seven wins were against anybody particularly impressive. The model is treating her as a standard debuting UFC fighter when she’s clearly not. So my pick to win is Holm as I have information the model doesn’t have.

Even discounting that fight, there are plenty of fights where my model disagrees with the betting lines. Richard Walsh, Gleison Tibau, Roan Carneiro, and Roman Salazar are all substantial underdogs, but my model favors each of them (Tibau by the slimmest of margins). It’s safe to say this is the most my model has disagreed with the betting public since I debuted it for UFC 182.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$45.67

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Current bankroll: $176.09

Total investment: $123.85

Total profit: $76.09

Return on investment: 61.4%

As poor as last week’s event was for straight picks, it was phenomenal for degenerate gambling. The biggest gain was on 6-1 underdog Frankie Saenz, who used takedowns, ground strikes, and movement to grind out a decision victory against Iuri Alcantara. Sam Alvey at +285 was also a big winner as he knocked out Cezar Ferreira in the first round. The overall result is a massive gain of $45.67 and a bankroll increase of 35%. Not a bad night!

For this event I have…

Roman Salazar +158: $2.73 to win $4.31

Raquel Pennington +500: $2.21 to win $11.05

Richard Walsh +360: $1.50 to win $5.40

Roan Carneiro +260: $0.95 to win $2.47

Alexander Torres +140: $0.68 to win $0.95

Gleison Tibau +220: $0.65 to win $1.43

The way the Kelly criterion handles such a big disparity between the model estimates and the betting lines on so many fights is to actually recommend small bets only. It’s a bit counter-intuitive but that’s the way it works. (I haven’t wrapped my head around why that is from a mathematical standpoint, but I’m OK with it.)

I also missed out on some much better prices. Salazar was once at +290 and Pennington was at +600. Even so, the model sees tremendous value in both fighters, even at current prices.

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

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC 184 Prediction: Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano

It’s happening a lot later than it was supposed to, but Saturday’s main event matches current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey against undefeated challenger Cat Zingano. Rousey and Zingano were supposed to fight after Zingano defeated Miesha Tate two years ago, but the fight was delayed due to injury and tragedy in Zingano’s life. First, Zingano tore a knee ligament, forcing her out of both the title fight and a coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter. That was bad enough, but nothing compared to the tragedy that was the suicide of her husband afterwards.

In that context, Zingano’s fight against Amanda Nunes was particularly inspiring. Nunes did what Nunes does, aggressively attacking Zingano in the first round, landing a takedown and a sustained barrage of strikes. Zingano’s subsequent comeback, third-round TKO stoppage, and emotional post-fight interview were a great representation of just how mentally tough she is. Zingano is a fighter who is very easy to root for, at least from my perspective.

But now Zingano has been matched against Rousey for the title again, and it’s a daunting task to say the least. Zingano’s slow starts against both Nunes and Tate don’t bode well against a finisher as efficient as Rousey is, a point that’s been echoed by quite a few people leading into this event. With Rousey’s vastly superior clinch game, improved boxing, and phenomenal grappling ability, there’s no denying that she’s the favorite to defend her title successfully. The only question is: how big of a favorite is Rousey?

I think there are reasons to see Zingano as a more plausible challenger than just about any of Rousey’s past opponents. The biggest reason is the durability Zingano displayed in her past two UFC fights. I believe that if Rousey is to be defeated, it’s likely to be in the later stages of a five-round fight. I have my doubts about Rousey’s ability to keep up her hyper-aggressive pace for five rounds, although this has never been tested before. The closest anybody has come is Tate, who managed to survive to the third round against Rousey in their rematch. For what it’s worth, Rousey was still going strong at the beginning of that round, but I’m curious to see how Rousey would hold up in an even longer contest.

Another reason is Zingano’s training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, something that could allow her to survive Rousey’s myriad armbar attacks. There have been moments where Rousey’s opponents have capitalized on her willingness to sacrifice position in order to attempt the armbar… but of course, Rousey’s guard game is typically just as dangerous as her submissions from anywhere else. The point isn’t that Zingano will out-maneuver Rousey in a grappling match, just that she could possibly hang in there for a while.

Zingano’s ability to survive, coupled with her ability to finish opponents with strikes, is enough for me to give her a better chance of defeating Rousey than any of Rousey’s past opponents. But that’s not saying much – I didn’t see a path to victory for Alexis Davis, or Sara McMann, or Liz Carmouche, or even Miesha Tate.

More often than not, having to endure a storm to come out victorious is a negative indicator instead of a positive one. It’s much better to steamroll opponents, or win lopsided decisions, than it is to win trials by fire. In a battle between a steamroller and a survivor, the steamroller usually wins. While it’s possible that Zingano could take Rousey into deep waters and win by TKO stoppage, or win due to a sudden well-timed strike, it’s much more likely that Rousey’s frenetic pace and superior technique will cause her to throw Zingano down and win by either TKO or submission in the first round.

Pick: Ronda Rousey by submission

UFC 184 Predictions

I’ll have a separate post up tomorrow breaking down Saturday’s main event between Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano. For now, here are my thoughts on the other fights:

Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington

First, I have to point out that this is a very weak co-main event. For all the hype surrounding Holly Holm, she is making her UFC debut and lacks a win against a noteworthy opponent in MMA. As for Pennington, she enters this fight at 5-4 overall and shouldn’t be considered a top ten fighter in the women’s bantamweight division. Obviously the plan was not for this fight to be the co-main event originally, but I still think the UFC could have done better.

With that said, let’s address the Holm hype. Holm was a very successful professional boxer, having built up a record of 33-2-3 and named the Ring Magazine fighter of the year twice. Since transitioning to MMA, Holm has won all seven of her professional fights, with six of the wins coming by TKO. Already there are people questioning whether Holm has what it takes to eventually defeat Ronda Rousey.

Having watched some of Holm’s fights recently, I have to say that I think there’s a huge disconnect between the hype surrounding Holm and her actual skill set. Despite her success as a boxer, Holm’s biggest strength is her kicking ability. She’s excellent at cutting angles and putting herself in position to deliver kicks to the body and head with maximum power. In fact, all of her TKO wins have been a result of hurting her opponents with kicks. Holm doesn’t punch with significant power but she’s well conditioned and throws with such volume that it’s difficult for her opponents to match it.

As for Holm’s grappling ability… well, we haven’t seen very much of it. Holm’s takedown defense has been pretty good, and when she’s been taken down, she’s been able to either sweep or get back to her feet. That’s exactly what I want to see out of Holm, but it’s not like she’s been facing off against top-tier wrestlers or talented grapplers. I have some serious questions about Holm’s ability to shut down that type of fighter. Until Holm can prove she has that ability, any discussion of her chances against Rousey is just silly in my humble opinion.

The good news for Holm is that her UFC debut opponent is Pennington, who generally prefers to stand and strike herself. Pennington is actually fairly good at it, and is likely to give Holm more of a test standing than any of Holm’s previous opponents. Even so, Pennington is also a volume striker and tends to move backwards a lot, things that Holm is likely to capitalize on. I fully expect Holm to have the clear advantage standing here.

With that said, Pennington does have some grappling abilities as well, as she showed in her submission win against Ashlee Evans-Smith in her last fight. I’m hoping Pennington can really test Holm’s takedown defense and overall ground game here, because I really want those questions to be answered. My prediction: Pennington chooses to stand and trade with Holm, ends up being a lot more competitive than people expect, but eventually succumbs to a well-timed kick. I think Holm wins but I also think Holm’s betting line of -900 is far too high.

Pick: Holly Holm by TKO

Jake Ellenberger vs. Josh Koscheck

Ellenberger has had a rough couple years, losing three fights in a row to Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler, and Kelvin Gastelum. Despite packing a serious wallop, Ellenberger has seemed hesitant to engage, as if he just can’t figure out how exactly to land his strikes, or as if he feels every strike he lands will be returned by one of his opponent’s. The reality is that Ellenberger just isn’t a very good boxer and his ground game is more than a little bit shaky.

Despite these flaws, Ellenberger remains a very powerful welterweight and a good wrestler. That makes this a very tough matchup for Koscheck, a fighter who hasn’t competed in 16 months. Koscheck is also on a three-fight losing streak, dropping a decision to Johny Hendricks and being knocked out by both Lawler and Tyron Woodley. Koscheck is now 37 years old and his skill set – takedowns, top control, and adequate if unpolished boxing – hasn’t aged particularly well.

Even if Koscheck comes in at the top of his game (unlikely), I think the best case scenario for him is a grindfest that goes to close decision, similar to his fight against Mike Pierce. I see it as more likely that Ellenberger touches Koscheck’s chin and puts him to sleep for the third time in a row.

Pick: Jake Ellenberger by KO

Alan Jouban vs. Richard Walsh

This fight is a battle of welterweights who were both robbed in their last fight (and I go out of my way to avoid using the word “robbed” to describe MMA decisions). Jouban deserved a victory against Warlley Alves and Richard Walsh deserved it even more against Kiichi Kunimoto. Now they’re matched up against each other, and I find myself wondering two things. One, do these guys really belong on a pay per view main card? Two, what on earth has Jouban done to deserve being a -450 favorite?

Jouban likely has cleaner punching technique than Walsh, but his striking defense isn’t particularly impressive and he’s vulnerable to takedowns as well. Walsh’s problem in the past has been his grappling; specifically, a tendency to give up his back in scrambles. Walsh has cleaned up that flaw in his game and I’ve actually been fairly impressed by his ability to pressure his opponents, hit hard, and mix in some takedowns and ground strikes. I see the odds but I think Walsh is poised to grind out a hard-earned decision victory here.

Pick: Richard Walsh by decision

Tony Ferguson vs. Gleison Tibau

Well, it’s time for another Gleison Tibau fight, only one month removed from his split decision victory against Norman Parke. I’ll just say what I always say for Tibau fights: Tibau dominates the takedown game but isn’t a very polished striker and has trouble landing punches with volume or power. The more Tibau lands takedowns, the better his chances of winning are. Ferguson is the better boxer, the worse wrestler, and I fully expect this to become another split decision that Tibau grinds out in a way that completely lacks excitement.

Pick: Gleison Tibau by decision

PRELIM QUICK PICKS

Roan Carneiro vs. Mark Munoz: I don’t think it’s a good sign that Munoz – who has suffered more than his fair share of concussions – is fighting despite doctors telling him to stop. The returning Carneiro isn’t a huge threat to knock Munoz out again but actually has a really good takedown game. This is more a pick against Munoz than a pick for Carneiro.

Pick: Roan Carneiro by decision

Roman Salazar vs. Norifumi Yamamoto: Yamamoto is a 3-1 favorite to beat Salazar, which makes me think there are a bunch of people who have forgotten about all of Yamamoto’s UFC fights. This is a guy who got armbarred by Vaughan Lee, badly out-grappled by Darren Uyenoyama, is 1-5 in his last six fights, and hasn’t fought in three years. It’s not 2005 anymore.

Pick: Roman Salazar by decision

Dhiego Lima vs. Tim Means: Means is a tall, lanky welterweight who thrives when opponents stand and strike against him, and struggles when opponents wrestle him. I like Lima’s chances in this fight for two reasons. One is that Lima is just as tall as Means, which should help neutralize that striking advantage. The other is that Lima aggressively grappled his way to victory against Jorge de Oliveira in his last fight. If Lima duplicates that strategy here I think Means will have a tough time with it.

Pick: Dhiego Lima by decision

Derrick Lewis vs. Ruan Potts: Oh come on, Ruan Potts is still in the UFC? This is what I mean when I say the UFC is carrying too many fighters on its roster. Potts can’t defend takedowns, doesn’t have a good chin, and is 37 years old. Lewis isn’t a polished fighter but he hits like a truck. I’ll be surprised if this isn’t a first-round knockout for Lewis.

Pick: Derrick Lewis by KO

James Krause vs. Valmir Lazaro: Krause has been better in the UFC than I anticipated, establishing himself as a good volume striker. Unfortunately for Krause, he doesn’t hit hard and isn’t much of a wrestler. Lazaro is similar in that he’s a tall lightweight and strikes with volume, but Krause is more proven against tough competition. It’s close.

Pick: James Krause by decision

Masio Fullen vs. Alexander Torres: Just… let’s just finish this post already.

Pick: Alexander Torres by decision

UFC Fight Night Porto Alegre: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

2015 PICKS

Last event: 9-1 (90.0%)

Year to date: 41-15 (73.2%)

The only pick I got wrong last week was Patrick Walsh against Daniel Kelly – and let’s be honest, nobody won that fight.

UFC FIGHT NIGHT PORTO ALEGRE – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Antonio Silva 76.0% Frank Mir 24.0%
 Michael Johnson 52.5% Edson Barboza 47.5%
 Cezar Ferreira 50.5% Sam Alvey 49.5%
 Rustam Khabilov 72.4% Adriano Martins 27.6%
 Iuri Alcantara 56.4% Frankie Saenz 43.6%
 Sean Strickland 80.4% Santiago Ponzinibbio 19.6%
 Jessica Andrade 73.5% Marion Reneau 26.5%
 William Macario 68.8% Matt Dwyer 31.2%
 Tiago Trator 64.7% Mike de la Torre 35.3%
 Cody Gibson 67.3% Douglas Silva de Andrade 32.7%
 Ivan Jorge 54.3% Josh Shockley 45.7%

The only underdog my model picks is Michael Johnson, who is estimated to be a very slight favorite at 52.5%. It’s quite reasonable to think that home-cage advantage (which is not factored into the model) is enough to make Barboza the actual favorite. My pick to win is Johnson but I see it as a coin flip fight.

Otherwise, my picks are all betting favorites but there are a number of fights I see as more competitive than the odds would suggest, especially Iuri Alcantara vs. Frankie Saenz.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$6.34

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Current bankroll: $130.42

Total investment: $97.58

Total profit: $30.42

Return on investment: 31.2%

Only two of my five bets last week were winners, but fortunately they were my two biggest bets in underdogs Benson Henderson and Efrain Escudero. Henderson’s performance was particularly inspiring as he weathered an early storm from the much bigger striker in Brandon Thatch, took the fight into deep waters, landed a couple takedowns, and finally finished Thatch by submission in the fourth round.

For this event I have…

Sean Strickland -185: $7.85 to win $4.24

Frankie Saenz +600: $5.16 to win $30.96

Sam Alvey +285: $4.62 to win $13.17

Michael Johnson +155: $2.78 to win $4.31

Josh Shockley +205: $2.36 to win $4.84

Adriano Martins +445: $1.27 to win $5.65

Jessica Andrade -235: $1.25 to win $0.53

Matt Dwyer +310: $0.98 to win $3.04

Even though my biggest risk is on Strickland, if I want to turn a profit here, I’ll need an underdog to win somewhere. Frankie Saenz winning would be enormous; I think it’s ridiculous that he’s priced at +600 against Iuri Alcantara, given what I believe to be a takedown advantage.

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

Best of luck and enjoy the fights

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