Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC on Fox Chicago: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

Apologies for getting this post out somewhat late. I’ve been VERY busy focused on other things so I can only provide the bare minimum of coverage for this fight card.

Good thing I have a model that tells me who to pick and who to bet on… although it’s on its worst losing streak since I debuted it at the beginning of the year. Let’s snap that streak with this UFC on Fox event.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 9-3 (75.0%)

Year to date: 181-100 (64.4%)

UFC ON FOX CHICAGO – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 T.J. Dillashaw 71.6% Renan Barao 28.4%
 Miesha Tate 50.1% Jessica Eye 49.9%
 Edson Barboza 67.7% Paul Felder 32.3%
 Joe Lauzon 51.7% Takanori Gomi 48.3%
 Tom Lawlor 71.0% Gian Villante 29.0%
 Danny Castillo 51.4% Jim Miller 48.6%
 Kenny Robertson 57.6% Ben Saunders 42.4%
 Bryan Caraway 53.7% Eddie Wineland 46.3%
 Daron Cruickshank 59.5% James Krause 40.5%
 Ramsey Nijem 80.4% Andrew Holbrook 19.6%
 Jessamyn Duke 59.2% Elizabeth Phillips 40.8%
 Zak Cummings 50.8% Dominique Steele 49.2%

It’s amazing how much the public opinion of T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao has flipped. When they first fought, Dillashaw was a 7-1 underdog and considered a long shot to win (not by me, but by most people). After Dillashaw’s one-sided beatdown of Barao at UFC 173, Barao’s fainting and injury prior to weighing in at UFC 177, and Barao struggling in a win over Mitch Gagnon, Dillashaw is now the solid favorite to win the rematch at -225. The model agrees: Dillashaw is likely to defend his title successfully.

It sees Miesha Tate vs. Jessica Eye as a coin flip. It’s an interesting fight because Eye should be the better striker, but she’s only fought fellow strikers in the UFC (Leslie Smith, Alexis Davis, Sarah Kaufman). This will be Eye’s first UFC fight against a wrestler. If she can defend Tate’s takedowns, I like her chances, but that’s easier said than done.

I’m hyped for Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder. Felder looked terrific in a knockout win over Danny Castillo in his last fight, so he has some hype behind him right now. Barboza looked less good in a loss to Michael Johnson, and could be considered a “post-hype” fighter, somebody whose hype has cooled off considerably. The model has Barboza a 2-1 favorite in what should be a striking battle.

It also gives Takanori Gomi a much better chance of winning than the odds would suggest. Gomi has been around forever; he was once the #1 lightweight in the world but now I’ve seen very little excitement for this match against Joe Lauzon, even from a nostalgic standpoint. Gomi’s striking defense and ground game are a mess, so it’s most likely that Lauzon will find a way to submit him at some point. But Gomi should be the better striker, even as far past his prime as he is.

The model deviates wildly from the betting lines on Tom Lawlor, Ramsey Nijem, and Dominique Steele. Lawlor has been on the shelf for a long time now, but has strong Fight Metric statistics, as does Nijem. Nijem makes me really nervous because it seems like he falls apart so easily when he fights. Steele is making his UFC debut, but I can’t figure out what Cummings has done to earn his status as a 3-1 favorite.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: -$12.59

Current bankroll: $280.86

Total investment: $1004.07

Total profit: $180.86

Return on investment: 18.0%

The model had a few wins at last week’s event from Glasgow, but the biggest bets were on losers Ivan Jorge and Chris De La Rocha, neither of whom lasted long in their respective fights.

For this event I have…

Tom Lawlor +185: $6.39 to win $11.82

Ramsey Nijem -135: $6.04 to win $4.47

Dominique Steele +290: $2.39 to win $6.93

Jessamyn Duke +145: $2.33 to win $3.38

Takanori Gomi +295: $2.30 to win $6.79

Edson Barboza -130: $1.79 to win $1.38

Jessica Eye +185: $1.52 to win $2.81

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my bets. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC Fight Night Glasgow – Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

I won’t be providing a lot of commentary for this event, the fourth in eight days for the UFC.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 9-3 (75.0%)

Year to date: 172-96 (64.2%)

UFC FIGHT NIGHT GLASGOW – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Thales Leites 53.2% Michael Bisping 46.8%
 Ross Pearson 55.2% Evan Dunham 44.8%
 Joseph Duffy 56.0% Ivan Jorge 44.0%
 Joanne Calderwood 64.4% Cortney Casey 35.6%
 Leon Edwards 63.3% Pawel Pawlak 36.7%
 Steven Ray 66.6% Leonardo Mafra 33.4%
 Patrick Holohan 59.1% Vaughan Lee 40.9%
 Ilir Latifi 50.7% Hans Stringer 49.3%
 Mickael Lebout 52.1% Teemu Packalen 47.9%
 Robert Whiteford 67.4% Paul Redmond 32.6%
 Jimmie Rivera 68.2% Marcus Brimage 31.8%
 Chris De La Rocha 60.4% Daniel Omielanczuk 39.6%

The one thing I do want to talk about is the Joe Duffy-Ivan Jorge fight. Duffy is a massive favorite, currently listed at -800 odds to beat Jorge. As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons for this. One is that Duffy looks to have very clean, crisp technique, which he displayed in a quick win over Jake Lindsey in his UFC debut. The other is that Duffy has a win over the notorious one, Conor McGregor.

I find this to be, at best, reckless on the part of the betting public. As skilled as Duffy may be, he still enters this fight at 1-0 in the UFC, with the win coming against Jake Lindsey. Before that, he scored a number of wins against quality competition in Cage Warriors, but also lost a fight to Ivan Musardo by guillotine choke. Yes, Duffy was beating Musardo handily before being submitted, but it’s a loss nonetheless. My point is that Duffy hasn’t exactly been beating the top guys in the world.

…Except McGregor, who Duffy beat by submission in the first minute. But that was back when McGregor didn’t know the ground game at all. You know who else submitted Conor McGregor? Artemij Sitenkov, a Lithuanian fighter currently competing in the flyweight division with a professional record of 15-13.

I don’t say this to suggest that Duffy is going to lose to Jorge, because I don’t think that will happen. I’m simply arguing that Duffy doesn’t deserve to be an 8-1 favorite to win… not even close.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: -$20.72

Current bankroll: $293.45

Total investment: $944.57

Total profit: $193.45

Return on investment: 20.5%

It’s a rare three-event losing streak for the statistical model, in which time my overall ROI has declined from 33% to 20.5%. The worst thing to do in this situation is overreact – downswings happen and the overall record of the model is still very good.

For this event I have…

Ivan Jorge +550: $11.89 to win $65.40

Chris De La Rocha +130: $9.94 to win $12.92

Jimmie Rivera -125: $9.25 to win $7.40

Hans Stringer +200: $7.33 to win $14.66

Robert Whiteford -145: $5.87 to win $4.05

Evan Dunham +200: $4.83 to win $9.66

Pawel Pawlak +290: $4.07 to win $11.80

Cortney Casey +290: $3.60 to win $10.44

Mickael Lebout +115: $2.72 to win $3.13

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my bets in any way. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC Fight Night San Diego – Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

If the UFC is going to have three events in a five-day span, I guess this is the time of year to do it. With baseball in an All-Star break, there just isn’t anything around to get a sports fix… except the fights. And this Fight Night card is actually pretty good, so let’s take a look.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 9-2 (81.8%)

Year to date: 163-93 (63.7%)

Degenerate gambling didn’t go great for the TUF Finale on Sunday but my straight-up picks sure did. Of the five underdogs I picked to win out-right, four of them ended up getting their hand raised.

UFC FIGHT NIGHT SAN DIEGO – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Todd Duffee 51.5% Frank Mir 48.5%
 Tony Ferguson 59.4% Josh Thomson 40.6%
 Marion Reneau 50.3% Holly Holm 49.7%
 Manny Gamburyan 63.8% Scott Jorgensen 36.2%
 Kevin Lee 78.3% James Moontasri 21.7%
 Alan Jouban 52.9% Matt Dwyer 47.1%
 Sam Sicilia 67.9% Yaotzin Meza 32.1%
 Jessica Andrade 63.9% Sarah Moras 36.1%
 Rani Yahya 54.3% Masanori Kanehara 45.7%
 Sean Strickland 69.6% Igor Araujo 30.4%
 Ildemar Alcantara 55.2% Kevin Casey 44.8%
 Lyman Good 62.9% Andrew Craig 37.1%

The model sees the heavyweight main event between Todd Duffee and Frank Mir as a virtual coin flip. Duffee is considered the favorite to win due to massive punching power, top-notch athleticism, and Mir’s very questionable durability. However, I expect Mir to be a very dangerous opponent, as he hits hard himself, Duffee’s chin is pretty bad too, and Mir should be far superior to Duffee on the ground. I’m fully on board with the model’s depiction of this being a fight that could go either way.

Another fight the model sees as a toss-up is the women’s bantamweight match between Holly Holm and Marion Reneau, with the slightest of edges going to Reneau. Holm entered the UFC with a huge amount of hype, due to her background as a champion in boxing, her training with Greg Jackson, and a series of highlight-reel kicks in promotions like Legacy FC. However, Holm’s debut against Raquel Pennington left a lot to be desired. By contrast, Reneau entered the UFC with zero hype but has looked very impressive in wins over Alexis Dufresne and Jessica Andrade. Reneau’s performances were just strong enough for the model to give her the nod over the favorite in Holm.

There’s also Kevin Lee, a fighter I’ve been hyping as a potential lightweight contender since his debut loss to Al Iaquinta. Lee was a very raw prospect then, but his young age and strong record indicated a great talent with huge room for improvement. Lee has done just that – improving to the point where he’s become a formidable wrestle-boxer. Opponent James Moontasri has punching power and submission skills, but I think Lee will be too much for him to handle.

Underdog picks on this event include: Reneau and Rani Yahya, who is at virtually even odds against Masanori Kanehara. The model doesn’t feel like being very adventurous today.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: -$4.82

Current bankroll: $314.17

Total investment: $874.99

Total profit: $214.17

Return on investment: 24.5%

On one hand, I placed bets on eight underdogs at the TUF Finale, and four of them won. On the other hand, my biggest bet by far was on Jake Ellenberger, who got smoked by Stephen Thompson. Ellenberger looks a lot like a nine-year rule victim right now. He’s only 30 years old, but is 1-4 in his last five fights, and 1-3 since becoming a nine-year veteran of the sport. It’s possible that Ellenberger is just a shot fighter despite his relatively young age.

It’s also my second losing event in a row, so let’s get a winning event in before it can be called a streak.

For this event I have…

Matt Dwyer +380: $15.92 to win $60.50

Kevin Lee -245: $10.76 to win $4.39

Marion Reneau +185: $9.81 to win $18.15

Frank Mir +175: $7.55 to win $13.21

Sarah Moras +300: $5.57 to win $16.71

Andrew Craig +245: $4.13 to win $10.12

Manny Gamburyan -145: $4.09 to win $2.82

Rani Yahya +100: $3.02 to win $3.02

Josh Thomson +185: $2.98 to win $5.51

Igor Araujo +315: $2.90 to win $9.14

Ildemar Alcantara -105: $2.85 to win $2.71

Perhaps the most unique thing about my betting strategy has been the willingness to place a big bet on a big underdog. While that’s led to some embarrassing defeats, it’s also led to victories with fighters like Frankie Saenz, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Andrei Arlovski. It’s a contrarian approach, which is probably why it’s been so successful on the whole. Or perhaps I’ve been the beneficiary of some major positive variance?

Either way, the biggest bet of this event is on another big underdog in Matt Dwyer, who is taking on a tough opponent in Alan Jouban. The model doesn’t see what the big deal is about Jouban, who’s been great offensively but very vulnerable defensively. At the same time, Dwyer’s chin is VERY suspect, so a quick Jouban KO wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my bets. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

TUF 21 Finale: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

Before I get into tomorrow’s TUF Finale event, some quick thoughts on UFC 189:

-There were two questions a lot of people had about Conor McGregor going into his fight against Chad Mendes. One, would McGregor be capable of defeating a truly top-tier opponent? Two, how would McGregor handle a good, old-fashioned American wrestler?

The answers to the questions: yes, McGregor can beat top-tier opponents, and no, he doesn’t handle a tough wrestler particularly well. Fortunately for McGregor, he has a gift for genuine punching power in both hands, accuracy, and the ability to win a fight at a moment’s notice.

With that said, McGregor also got hit hard quite a few times standing against Mendes, largely due to his aggression and wide-open stance. I still believe that Jose Aldo would get the better of McGregor standing if they fought. Aldo has lightning-fast hands and much tighter and technical defense. But credit where it’s due: there’s no denying that McGregor has earned his title shot now.

-As somebody who had bet on Mendes, I was dismayed to see him fatigued near the end of the first round, and again towards the end of the second (where Mendes was ultimately stopped). I’m guessing he was the victim of a massive adrenaline dump; by all accounts, Mendes was in good shape for the fight and had been training before getting the call to fight McGregor on short notice. Mendes has slowed down in fights before but generally not in the first two rounds.

-If you told me that Rory MacDonald would fail to land a takedown against Robbie Lawler, then I would have picked Lawler to win the fight. With that said, MacDonald seemed to have Lawler in trouble near the end of the third round, but couldn’t seal the deal… and then suddenly fell apart in the fifth round when Lawler smashed his nose. I had MacDonald up three rounds to one at that point, but I’m biased. As for Lawler, all he does is prove me wrong, but he delivers incredible entertainment in each and every fight, so I’m not bitter.

Brandon Thatch is clearly deficient on the ground, and it seems to have had a negative impact on his striking. When Gunnar Nelson knocked Thatch down, Thatch’s hands were low and to the side – and his head was wide open. It was clear that Thatch’s primary focus was on making sure Nelson didn’t take him down, because he wasn’t confident that he could survive Nelson’s ground game (rightly so). It was a great adjustment by Nelson to blast Thatch in the face. Often a fighter needs to earn his opponent’s respect standing to open up opportunites for takedowns – as Rafael Dos Anjos did against Anthony Pettis. Of course, Nelson didn’t need a takedown after his big right hand.

-The whole main card was tremendous… and now there’s another UFC event on Sunday night. Is anybody motivated to watch the TUF Finale? I have interest in the main event between Jake Ellenberger and Stephen Thompson, but that’s about it. It reminds me of UFC 100, where Jon Fitch and Paulo Thiago were used as the “flex fight,” meaning that it would only be broadcast on the main card if there was enough time. Sure enough, the fight ended up happening after the Brock LesnarFrank Mir main event. For those in the crowd, I’m sure the feeling was “well, we paid to watch the fights, so I’ll stick around for this one, I guess?” I have a similar feeling for the TUF Finale event.

Speaking of which… let’s get to the degenerate gambling.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 6-5 (54.5%)

Year to date: 154-91 (62.9%)

TUF 21 FINALE – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Jake Ellenberger 61.6% Stephen Thompson 38.4%
 Kamaru Usman 56.7% Hayder Hassan 43.3%
 Michael Graves 57.3% Vicente Luque 42.7%
 Jorge Masvidal 72.4% Cezar Ferreira 27.6%
 Michelle Waterson 76.3% Angela Magana 23.7%
 Maximo Blanco 55.4% Mike De La Torre 44.6%
 Josh Samman 55.0% Caio Magalhaes 45.0%
 Russell Doane 77.4% Jerrod Sanders 22.6%
 Trevor Smith 57.6% Dan Miller 42.4%
 George Sullivan 51.4% Dom Waters 48.6%
 Willie Gates 56.4% Darrell Montague 43.6%

The model likes Jake Ellenberger as a moderate favorite over Stephen Thompson, but the betting markets have it the exact opposite. It’s not hard to see why. Ellenberger had lost a series of fights before rebounding with a win over Josh Koscheck in February – but even in that win, Ellenberger didn’t exactly look great, and that’s with a shot Koscheck as his opponent.

Even so, this is a big step up in competition for Thompson, who hasn’t had to face many wrestlers in the UFC. We’ll see how he handles this one. Part of me is rooting for Thompson as he’s a lot of fun to watch when he’s on point.

Underdog picks for this event include: Ellenberger, Michael Graves, Josh Samman, Trevor Smith, and Willie Gates. Graves, Samman, Smith, and Gates are only very slight underdogs.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: -$21.97

Current bankroll: $318.99

Total investment: $800.24

Total profit: $218.99

Return on investment: 27.4%

Betting on Cathal Pendred finally caught up to me, although the judges somehow almost scored the fight for him again! Maybe my model has hidden mind-reading powers that can tell what judges are thinking.

Pendred and Mendes were my two biggest bets, but fortunately I got wins from Gunnar Nelson and Cody Pfister to avoid a result that was too negative.

For this event I have…

Jake Ellenberger +175: $23.89 to win $41.81

Dom Waters +185: $9.56 to win $17.69

Michael Graves +115: $9.18 to win $10.56

Trevor Smith +110: $8.56 to win $9.42

Josh Samman +125: $8.53 to win $10.66

Willie Gates +105: $6.35 to win $6.67

Hayder Hassan +185: $5.27 to win $9.75

Angela Magana +505: $3.41 to win $17.22

Yes, that’s a long-shot bet on Angela Magana, who is taking on the debuting Michelle Waterson. I do think “The Karate Hottie” is quite a bit overhyped, but… Magana is just not very good. We’ll see what happens.

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my bets. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights! …Assuming you’re not a hungover Irishman in Las Vegas, in which case there’s a zero percent chance you’ll be watching this event.

UFC 189: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

I know you’ve been waiting for it… and now it’s here. Better late than never, here’s the degenerate gambler’s corner for UFC 189:

2015 PICKS

Last event: 6-3 (66.7%)

Year to date: 148-87 (63.0%)

UFC 189 – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Chad Mendes 57.2% Conor McGregor 42.8%
 Rory MacDonald 71.8% Robbie Lawler 28.2%
 Dennis Bermudez 69.2% Jeremy Stephens 30.8%
 Gunnar Nelson 55.4% Brandon Thatch 44.6%
 Thomas Almeida 83.6% Brad Pickett 16.4%
 Matt Brown 61.2% Tim Means 38.8%
 Alex Garcia 69.4% Mike Swick 30.6%
 Cathal Pendred 78.2% John Howard 21.8%
 Cody Garbrandt 76.6% Henry Briones 23.4%
 Louis Smolka 53.7% Neil Seery 46.3%
 Cody Pfister 51.4% Yosdenis Cedeno 48.6%

Chad Mendes opened at -130 on the sportsbooks and the statistical model agrees with that line. Of course, since then there have been a tremendous number of bets on Conor McGregor, shifting the line on Mendes all the way to +168. It’s possible that the legions of Irish fans will give McGregor a home advantage of sorts in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, making him less of an underdog than the model anticipates.

The model also sees Rory MacDonald as a solid favorite over Robbie Lawler despite losing their first fight. That’s a very intriguing co-main event that’s flying under the radar.

Underdog picks for this event include: Mendes and Gunnar Nelson. The model also likes Cody Pfister by a very narrow margin, but my official pick is Cedeno due to the relatively strong betting line of -200.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$4.93

Current bankroll: $340.96

Total investment: $734.87

Total profit: $240.96

Return on investment: 32.8%

The last event was a strange one, in which my biggest bet was on the unheralded Sirwan Kakai. Fortunately, Kakai was able to out-point Danny Martinez and help me win a small amount for the event two weeks ago.

For this event I have…

Cathal Pendred -110: $26.43 to win $24.03

Chad Mendes +168: $10.37 to win $17.42

Gunnar Nelson +160: $8.48 to win $13.57

Rory MacDonald -165: $7.55 to win $4.58

Cody Pfister +185: $7.49 to win $13.86

Mike Swick +355: $2.78 to win $9.87

Henry Briones +540: $2.27 to win $12.26

Cathal Pendred… here we go again. The model loved Cathal Pendred when he fought Sean Spencer, and Pendred got away with a terrible decision. The model loved Pendred again against Augusto Montano, and Pendred was able to grind out another decision victory. Now the model loves Pendred for a third time this year. Hopefully the Irish fans can help propel him to victory against John Howard.

Gunnar Nelson makes me nervous, since he got lit up by Rick Story and now faces terrifying striker Brandon Thatch. I’m hoping that Nelson will only need a single takedown to then eventually finish by submission. If Nelson can’t get the takedown then it’s hard to see this fight going his way.

I don’t actually like the bets on Swick or Briones, but the model says to do it, and it’s the same model that’s grown a $100 bankroll into $340 in half a year. So I’m placing the bets and fully expecting both fighters to lose.

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my bets in any serious way. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC 189 Prediction: Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes

The originally scheduled UFC 189 main event, featuring Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, was one of the most highly anticipated fights in the recent history of the promotion. From the moment the fight was announced in January, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the fight. Betting markets had the fight roughly even as a lot of people picked the matchup apart, looking to figure out who would come out on top, and wondering whether McGregor was really deserving of so much hype.

Naturally, because good things don’t happen in MMA, Aldo suffered a broken rib and has been forced out of the fight. I was quite a bit disappointed at the way the situation was handled by the UFC, first lying about the nature of Aldo’s injury (presumably to earn approval from the state commission) and then throwing Aldo under the bus when he ultimately withdrew. The only cowardly thing Aldo could have done was show up in the cage, take a dive, and collect a paycheck.

(As a quick aside, the Aldo injury should be motivation for the UFC to do something I’ve suggested multiple times before on this blog. That is, to collaborate with some of the top gyms in the sport and team up with an injury prevention firm (like the San Antonio Spurs have done with Apollo M.I.S. for basketball) to research MMA, research the most effective training methods, and work on developing training standards that can best balance proper fight preparation with injury prevention. It’s impossible to eliminate injuries altogether but I absolutely think the rate of injuries can be significantly reduced.)

Fortunately, Chad Mendes was ready to serve as a back-up plan, and the replacement fight of McGregor vs. Mendes is every bit as compelling in my view. It’s a fight that should serve to answer lingering questions about McGregor’s true ability. Will his style hold up against a top-tier opponent? Can he defend takedowns against a powerful wrestler? McGregor can end any doubts people have about him in this fight against Mendes.

Now, Mendes isn’t just a power wrestler. He’s developed a very effective striking game as well, and does a terrific job of manipulating distance to keep opponents off balance. Mendes had some very good moments against Aldo in their second fight, landing a few haymakers and some sharp leg kicks early, combining power with decent volume. The ability to control distance also helps Mendes absorb fewer strikes than anybody McGregor has faced before. Mendes should be far more difficult to hit than guys like Dennis Siver, Dustin Poirier, or Diego Brandao.

Of course, I firmly believe the threat of a takedown is a big part of that. Fighters can’t be too aggressive with strikes against Mendes because spamming kicks against him is a great way to get taken down. The power wrestler model – a wrestler with plus athleticism, a great power double-leg takedown, and a big punch – is one of the most successful fighter models in the sport for a reason. Mendes is the epitome of that type of fighter.

Even so, if Mendes settles for a kickboxing match against McGregor, I firmly believe he’s going to get knocked out. As good as Mendes is, McGregor is simply on a different level with his movement, setups, feints, and combinations. McGregor engages opponents in such a way that he’s constantly in the better position to land clean, hard strikes. Mendes doesn’t have the same skill with lateral movement and creating angles.

I also don’t think Mendes will succeed if he spams double-leg takedowns, like Demian Maia tried to do against Rory MacDonald. McGregor is too good an athlete for that. It’s worth mentioning that McGregor hasn’t been taken down in the UFC yet (he hasn’t faced a wrestler yet, either, but it’s still significant). If it’s McGregor who proves to have the better effective movement, it will be tough for Mendes to just land a double-leg with no setup.

In my mind, Mendes has two approaches he can try. One is to turn the fight into a good, old-fashioned wrestling match, similar to what Daniel Cormier did to Rumble Johnson. In other words, to stick to McGregor like glue, constantly pressuring and working for takedowns and positional improvements. McGregor has never been tested in this way and it’s quite possible that this style of fight would break him down. After all, how many hard-nosed wrestlers are there to train with in Ireland?

The other approach – the one I find most likely to happen – is for Mendes to throw the kitchen sink at McGregor. That means a little bit of boxing, a little bit of clinch work, a little bit of wrestling/grappling, and then back to striking. If Mendes can establish the threat of hard, effective strikes to go along with the threat of the takedown, it should make his whole game more effective.

That’s what I would tell Mendes if I was in his corner. Whatever you do, never settle for a striking match at distance. If that’s the type of fight we get, I see McGregor fulfilling the hype, winning the interim title, and making a match against Aldo even more exciting and anticipated than it already was. But if Mendes attacks McGregor with his full range of skills, and can ultimately take McGregor out of his element, I think he can play the spoiler in this one.

Pick: Chad Mendes by decision

UFC 189 Prediction: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald

Believe it or not, there are two title fights taking place at UFC 189, and one of them is an actual title fight, not one for an interim belt. It may come as a shock to you that Robbie Lawler is fighting Rory MacDonald for the UFC welterweight title on this fight card, but it’s here, and it’s very much worth covering.

It’s also a rematch of a fight that I got terribly, horribly wrong the first time around. When MacDonald was first matched against Lawler at UFC 167, I wasn’t buying the Lawler hype AT ALL. Lawler was coming off TKO wins over Bobby Voelker and Josh Koscheck at the time. In my mind, Voelker was a replacement-level brawler and Koscheck was clearly on the decline (and Koscheck’s loss seemed a little sudden and bizarre as well). On top of that, Lawler looked just about done when he was in Strikeforce. In MMA, when a fighter’s career goes south, there is no resurgence afterwards.

Or so I thought. Lawler’s effective striking was just enough to offset MacDonald’s takedowns, and he won a split decision in that fight. I angrily wrote that MacDonald would win that fight nine times out of ten, and wondered why MacDonald was so tentative and afraid to engage. (The answer: Lawler hits like a truck and MacDonald doesn’t.)

So now you should understand why I’m a little hesitant to offer my thoughts on a rematch between these two. It’s because my analysis was just about as awful as it could have been the last time. (It didn’t help that I also picked Chael Sonnen to beat Rashad Evans at that event.)

Keep that in mind when I say that I’m doubling down. I’m picking MacDonald to beat Lawler again at UFC 189.

Now, I’m not going to say something stupid like when I said MacDonald would win nine times out of ten… but the statistical model I’ve been using to predict fights says MacDonald should win seven times out of ten. Here’s why.

First of all, Lawler has never been a fighter who wins by out-pointing his opponents with strikes. His striking defense actually isn’t that great. Lawler generally takes a punch to give a punch, and given his above-average knockdown rate and well above-average chin, that’s a style that works very well for him. Lawler has won 25 fights in his career, 19 by KO/TKO.

Yes, Lawler has gone 3-1 in decisions in his last five fights, but the significant strike totals of those fights have been very close. In two fights against Johny Hendricks, one against MacDonald, and one against Matt Brown, Lawler has landed 390 significant strikes and absorbed 388. It’s the power in Lawler’s strikes that convinces judges to score rounds in his favor.

That power will be Lawler’s best friend against MacDonald. In contrast to Lawler, MacDonald has landed just one knockdown in his UFC career. Unlike Lawler, MacDonald absolutely DOES win fights with striking volume, and mixes in some takedowns for good measure. He’s technical, well-rounded, and intelligent, and those qualities are what have carried him to this point.

The statistics indicate that MacDonald should be able to out-point Lawler at range, although that didn’t happen in their first meeting. That’s largely because of Lawler’s pressure and power, which forced MacDonald into a defensive posture and evened the playing field at standing distance. Lawler had MacDonald hurt in the third round of that fight, and it’s safe to say that MacDonald isn’t a threat to hurt Lawler the same way.

The ace in the hole for MacDonald is his ability to land takedowns, and Lawler’s relative inability to defend them. To be more precise, it’s not that Lawler can’t defend takedowns – it’s that Lawler’s aggression while striking opens up takedown opportunities for his opponent. That’s the best way MacDonald can counter Lawler’s pressure – to land takedowns, control Lawler on the ground, and do just enough from guard to keep the referee from standing the fight up. In other words, MacDonald should fight in such a way that the fans would hate it.

It’s also very much worth noting that this is a five-round fight, and that favors Lawler in my view. Ten extra minutes means ten more minutes for Lawler to potentially finish MacDonald, and Lawler’s conditioning has been excellent in recent fights. There’s no reason to think it won’t be excellent in this fight.

What I come back to is this: the first match went great for Lawler. He had MacDonald on the defensive, had MacDonald hurt in the third round, and kept MacDonald’s striking output very low. Even then, the fight went to split decision, largely due to MacDonald’s takedowns and top control. If MacDonald can find a way to be more assertive, controlling distance, landing strikes without absorbing return fire, and mixing in well-timed takedowns, this fight should be his. On the other hand, if MacDonald looks the same way he looked at UFC 167, then Lawler is very likely to retain his title.

Pick: Rory MacDonald by decision

OTHER PICKS

  • Dennis Bermudez over Jeremy Stephens, although Bermudez’s chin scares me
  • Gunnar Nelson over Brandon Thatch. I love this fight. Thatch is a huge welterweight and a top-notch striker but is deficient on the ground. Nelson is a prodigy on the ground but has holes in his striking game. Whatever happens, we’re going to see some excellent skill one way or the other.
  • Thomas Almeida over Brad Pickett. This is a mismatch. Almeida lands a ton of strikes and Pickett absorbs a ton of strikes. It’s a showcase fight for Almeida.
  • Matt Brown over Tim Means, in what should be a fun, high-paced scrap.
  • Alex Garcia over Mike Swick. Who knows what we’re going to get out of Swick in 2015?
  • Everybody’s favorite fighter, Cathal Pendred over John Howard. The model loves Pendred again, and it makes me really nervous every time. But Howard isn’t really the guy to exploit Pendred’s awful striking, and Pendred rates as the better wrestler.
  • Cody Garbrandt over Henry Briones. Not as bad a mismatch as Almeida-Pickett, but still pretty bad.
  • Louis Smolka over Neil Seery, only because of Smolka’s youth advantage.
  • Yosdenis Cedeno over Cody Pfister. The model favors Pfister by the smallest of margins, but I don’t trust it on this one.

UFC Fight Night Hollywood: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

Apologies for the lack of content recently. I’m a little burned out on MMA at the moment and have been paying more attention to other sports-related things. There’s a two-week gap between this and the next UFC event, which will probably be enough for me to get back into it more. It helps that the next UFC event is UFC 189, which I won’t need help getting motivated for.

With that said, there is one very outstanding fight as the main event of this show: Lyoto Machida vs. Yoel Romero. I’m surprised that Machida is back so soon after being decimated by Luke Rockhold, but Machida just turned 37, so perhaps he senses that he doesn’t have much time left to make a title run.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 6-5 (54.5%)

Year to date: 142-84 (62.8%)

I have to say, it’s a little surprising to see my picks percentage down a bit from last year. The statistical model has been so successful at degenerate gambling that I would have figured the straight-up picks percentage would be pretty high as well. Perhaps there have just been more upsets than usual this year?

UFC FIGHT NIGHT HOLLYWOOD – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Lyoto Machida 66.6% Yoel Romero 33.4%
 Lorenz Larkin 59.1% Santiago Ponzinibbio 40.9%
 Eddie Gordon 61.9% Antonio Carlos Junior 38.1%
 Thiago Santos 64.7% Steve Bosse 35.3%
 Levan Makashvili 53.7% Hacran Dias 46.3%
 Alex Oliveira 75.0% Joe Merritt 25.0%
 Leandro Silva 50.3% Lewis Gonzalez 49.7%
 Tony Sims 58.5% Steve Montgomery 41.5%
 Sirwan Kakai 72.7% Danny Martinez 27.3%

With the model being very high on Machida and just lukewarm on Romero in recent fights, I didn’t expect to see the model basically agree with the betting lines on this one. Machida and Romero are actually a fairly even statistical match. Romero gets the advantage in takedowns, and figures to enter as the significantly bigger and stronger man. Machida gets the advantage in striking, particularly in striking defense. Knockout power is about even. The biggest edge for Machida is his level of competition, as he’s been facing the very best fighters in the world. Romero has faced some tough opponents, but nothing like Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, or even Jon Jones.

Underdog picks for this event include Eddie Gordon, Levan Makashvili, Tony Sims, and Sirwan Kakai.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$19.19

Current bankroll: $336.03

Total investment: $693.66

Total profit: $236.03

Return on investment: 34.0%

Last week was another winning one for the model, mostly thanks to Taylor Lapilus and his victory over Yuta Sasaki in Berlin. The model also got a big win with +170 underdog Arnold Allen.

For this event I have…

Sirwan Kakai +115: $16.07 to win $18.48

Eddie Gordon +165: $10.63 to win $17.54

Levan Makashvili +160: $5.51 to win $8.82

Tony Sims +120: $5.27 to win $6.32

Lewis Gonzalez +130: $2.08 to win $2.70

Santiago Ponzinibbio +185: $1.65 to win $3.05

I made an executive decision to reduce bet sizes for this event because of the shorter slate. The model was built for UFC events with 12 or more fights, but this event only has nine fights total. That causes the Kelly criterion to recommend some pretty high bet sizes, and I’ve decided it’s probably best to reduce exposure to this event. This way, I’m placing about 12 percent of the bankroll at risk (instead of the 24 percent recommended by the model), which I think is reasonable for an event with six bets.

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my picks in any serious way. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC Fight Night Berlin: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

No predictions post for this weekend’s UFC event, which I believe probably has minimal interest from MMA fans in general, and much less interest than tonight’s Kimbo-Shamrock Bellator match. That’s despite this event featuring a championship fight in the main event, which I will talk about briefly.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 7-4 (63.6%)

Year to date: 136-79 (63.3%)

The 7-4 record in picks for UFC 188 last week is decent, but it’s better than it appears, as my model was 3-0 in underdog picks. Betting favorites went just 4-7.

UFC FIGHT NIGHT BERLIN – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Joanna Jedrzejczyk 67.4% Jessica Penne 32.6%
 Dennis Siver 64.1% Tatsuya Kawajiri 35.9%
 Steven Kennedy 54.7% Peter Sobotta 45.3%
 Lukasz Sajewski 54.9% Nick Hein 45.1%
 Makwan Amirkhani 70.5% Masio Fullen 29.5%
 Mairbek Taisumov 58.8% Alan Patrick 41.2%
 Arnold Allen 58.1% Alan Omer 41.9%
 Niklas Backstrom 54.8% Noad Lahat 45.2%
 Scott Askham 58.4% Antonio Dos Santos 41.6%
 Piotr Hallmann 69.8% Magomed Mustafaev 30.2%
 Taylor Lapilus 59.2% Yuta Sasaki 40.8%

There’s a lot of disparity between my model’s estimates and the betting lines for this event. It begins with the main event, where my model has UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk as a 2-1 favorite while the betting lines currently have her closer to 8-1. I think the betting lines are badly inflated here. If Jedrzejczyk had fought Penne before humiliating Carla Esparza, would she have really been listed as an 8-1 favorite? I highly doubt it.

With that said, I do expect Jedrzejczyk to successfully defend her title, and she should have a massive advantage standing, as her overall striking technique is something a lot of men in the UFC could learn from. Even so, Penne is excellent on the ground, and if she’s able to do what Esparza couldn’t – take Jedrzejczyk down – we very well could see an upset here.

Underdog picks for this event include: Steven Kennedy, Lukasz Sajewski, Arnold Allen, and Taylor Lapilus.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$29.48

Current bankroll: $316.84

Total investment: $639.23

Total profit: $216.84

Return on investment: 33.9%

Only four out of 11 bets were winners last week, but fortunately, my top three bets all came through: Cathal Pendred, Yair Rodriguez, and Efrain Escudero. Chico Camus also put up a terrific effort as a +900 underdog in a loss to Henry Cejudo.

For this event I have…

Taylor Lapilus +230: $12.35 to win $28.41

Piotr Hallmann -115: $9.42 to win $8.19

Arnold Allen +170: $8.77 to win $14.91

Steven Kennedy +210: $8.64 to win $18.14

Lukasz Sajewski +145: $5.45 to win $7.90

Jessica Penne +550: $4.46 to win $24.53

Noad Lahat +185: $3.22 to win $5.96

Antonio Dos Santos +190: $2.12 to win $4.03

MANDATORY DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my bets in any serious way. Any bets you make are done at your own risk.

Best of luck and enjoy the fights! (And by enjoy the fights, I mean Bellator, since you’re more likely to watch those fights this week.)

Bellator 138 Prediction: Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice

Mixed martial arts legend Ken Shamrock and YouTube street brawler Kimbo Slice were originally supposed to meet in the main event of an Elite XC show in October 2008. Shamrock suffered a cut while warming up and withdrew from the fight very shortly before it was supposed to take place. His replacement was former TUF 2 kickboxer Seth Petruzelli, who took the fight on literally a few hours notice. What ended up happening was nothing short of the most incredible victory in the history of mixed martial arts:

That was the last Elite XC event ever. What a way to go out.

Now, seven years later, Kimbo and Shamrock are once again set to do battle, this time in the Bellator cage. And because both of them have fought in the UFC, I can use my statistical prediction model to estimate each fighter’s chances of winning.

The one thing Kimbo was able to do fairly well in the UFC was land takedowns. He generally got takedowns by virtue of brute strength rather than technique, but he was able to land four takedowns against Houston Alexander and two against Matt Mitrione. Of course, Shamrock probably won’t mind if Kimbo takes him down; Shamrock’s best attack is leglock submission holds, and Kimbo had to fight off four submission attempts by Mitrione, who recently tapped out very quickly after being placed in a modified guillotine hold by Ben Rothwell.

The good news for Kimbo is that he’ll have the advantage standing, despite having a dismal statistical record in significant strikes. Kimbo was out-landed 58 to 16 in standing strikes in the UFC (I guess that should have been a sign that his boxing career wasn’t going to take off). That’s still better than Shamrock, who landed 25 significant strikes in six UFC fights after making his comeback in 2002. Rich Franklin landed 23 strikes to Shamrock’s zero in just over two minutes at the first Ultimate Fighter Finale.

Kimbo also has the youth advantage despite now being 41 years old. That still makes him ten years younger than Shamrock, who is now over half a century old himself.

Wait, why am I breaking down this fight? It’s a freak show! It’s the very definition of a freak show fight. It’s Scott Coker choosing to put aside any notion of MMA being an organized sport, and instead putting together the freakiest matchup he can. And I’ll admit that I don’t hate him for it.

So here’s what the model says about Kimbo vs. Shamrock in 2015: Kimbo 76.8%, Shamrock 23.2%. Not far off from the current betting lines.

But what I think is more interesting is to see what the model says about each of these fighters against current UFC heavyweights – like, for example, new heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum:

  • Fabricio Werdum 99.0%, Kimbo Slice 1.0%
  • Fabricio Werdum 99.7%, Ken Shamrock 0.3%

Oh my. Well, we can’t reasonably expect a couple of old men to do battle with the #1 fighter in the world. Let’s be more realistic and see how they would do against a mid-tier heavyweight like Shawn Jordan:

  • Shawn Jordan 89.6%, Kimbo Slice 10.4%
  • Shawn Jordan 96.4%, Ken Shamrock 3.6%

Somehow the model gets Kimbo up to 10 percent against Shawn Jordan, who is much better than Kimbo at everything. I would be hard-pressed to bet on Kimbo at +1200 against Jordan, even if my model said to do it.

Is there any UFC heavyweight these guys can beat?

  • Josh Copeland 63.9%, Kimbo Slice 36.1%
  • Josh Copeland 83.0%, Ken Shamrock 17.0%

No. The answer is no.

Well, that’s enough time wasted talking about this fight. I expect the fight to be shorter than it will take anybody to read this post. If you’re watching Freakator on Friday, then enjoy the fights, and I would stay far away from betting on Kimbo-Shamrock if I was you.

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