Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC 186: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

Sadly I’ve decided to pass on watching this event. I can deal with a pay per view show that has a lopsided title fight, or has a lackluster undercard, but not both. I sincerely hope the show ends up being great entertainment for the fans that have purchased tickets to see it live.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 7-4 (63.6%)

Year to date: 86-47 (64.7%)

UFC 186 – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Demetrious Johnson 76.6% Kyoji Horiguchi 23.4%
 C.B. Dollaway 56.9% Michael Bisping 43.1%
 Quinton Jackson 55.8% Fabio Maldonado 44.2%
 John Makdessi 55.9% Shane Campbell 44.1%
 Thomas Almeida 64.5% Yves Jabouin 35.5%
 Joe Riggs 53.4% Patrick Cote 46.6%
 Sarah Kaufman 67.6% Alexis Davis 32.4%
 Bryan Barberena 51.5% Chad Laprise 48.5%
 Olivier Aubin-Mercier 52.2% David Michaud 47.8%
 Nordine Taleb 75.2% Chris Clements 24.8%
 Valerie Letourneau 69.0% Jessica Rakoczy 31.0%
 Aisling Daly 54.7% Randa Markos 45.3%

As usual, the model thinks many of the fights on this card are more competitive than the lopsided betting lines would suggest. It thinks C.B. Dollaway will upset Michael Bisping, and has Quinton Jackson having just slightly better than a coin flip’s chance against Fabio Maldonado. On the prelims, it likes Joe Riggs to upset Patrick Cote and thinks TUF Nations finalists Chad Laprise and Olivier Aubin-Mercier are both being badly overrated.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: -$15.05

Current bankroll: $226.46

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Total investment: $350.77

Total profit: $126.46

Return on investment: 36.1%

I placed a huge bet on Lyoto Machida last week (huge in relative terms) and got wiped out. Luke Rockhold not only got the win, he really out-classed Machida in the process. It didn’t shock me that Rockhold won, but it did shock me that he beat Machida so badly. Rockhold’s top position ground game is terrifying.

For this event I have…

Bryan Barberena +345: $5.14 to win $17.73

David Michaud +320: $3.94 to win $12.61

Joe Riggs +185: $3.37 to win $6.23

C.B. Dollaway +135: $2.85 to win $3.85

Fabio Maldonado +248: $2.38 to win $5.90

Valerie Letourneau -155: $2.29 to win $1.48

Aisling Daly +240: $2.12 to win $5.09

Yves Jabouin +380: $1.95 to win $7.41

Nordine Taleb -240: $1.61 to win $0.67

Kyoji Horiguchi +635: $1.11 to win $7.05

Shane Campbell +150: $0.63 to win $0.95

Thankfully, there isn’t any one fight that’s a must-win for me like Machida was last week. Instead, my risk has been spread out among a number of underdogs on the prelims, most notably Bryan Barberena and David Michaud. The way this event breaks down is simple – if there aren’t many upsets, then it probably won’t be a good night for me.

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.

If you’re a hardcore enough fan to purchase this show, then best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC 186 Predictions

Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Demetrious Johnson

In yet another display of how thin the UFC flyweight division is, Demetrious Johnson will next be defending his title against karate stylist Kyoji Horiguchi. To be clear, I’m supportive of Horiguchi getting this title opportunity; he’s one of the better fighters in a division that has nearly been cleaned out by the champion. At the same time, wins against Dustin Pague, Louis Gaudinot, and Jon Delos Reyes can hardly be seen as proper preparation to be fighting one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters.

With that said, Horiguchi has produced excellent statistics against that competition, with a +1.24 significant strike margin after regressing to the mean. He’s excellent at using distance control to manipulate his opponent, staying out of range of lead strikes while leaping in with hard punches, kicks, and knees. His timing is outstanding and his karate style is something Johnson has likely not faced before.

As much as I’m pro-Horiguchi, that’s where the enthusiasm has to end as far as this fight is concerned. Johnson has a better regression-adjusted significant strike margin of +1.46, and that’s after facing a series of top-tier flyweights in the UFC. Johnson’s speed, footwork, and ability to cut angles leave his opponents a step behind, and his ability to mix in lightning-quick takedowns makes it nearly impossible to defend all of his attacks.

It’s very unlikely that Horiguchi will be able to consistently maintain distance or attack without being countered or taken down. It’s also quite possible that his style will hold up poorly against Johnson, who will be a far tougher opponent than any Horiguchi has faced to this point.

I do think Horiguchi’s chances are better than the long-shot odds he’s getting from betting markets, but I’m not ready to go to bat for him like I have with T.J. Dillashaw in the past. He’s a skilled and successful fighter, but one who has been rushed into a title shot due to a lack of alternatives. I would love nothing more than for Horiguchi to shake things up by scoring a huge upset, but Johnson is just too good and too consistent.

Pick: Demetrious Johnson by decision

Michael Bisping vs. C.B. Dollaway

When Bisping was matched up against a tough wrestler in Tim Kennedy, my metrics indicated that Kennedy was the favorite… but I picked Bisping, who I thought could out-strike Kennedy standing and neutralize Kennedy’s takedowns. That is exactly what didn’t happen. Kennedy scored takedowns, kept Bisping on his back, wore him out, and made Bisping’s volume striking a moot point.

Dollaway is neither the top position grappler nor the overall fighter that Kennedy is, but he is a wrestler and that’s a style that has clearly given Bisping some problems. Dollaway has also made improvements as an overall fighter, becoming a capable striker with knockout power. Dollaway’s history of suspect cardio and a suspect chin are unlikely to be a problem in a three-round fight against Bisping, who generally doesn’t have what it takes to put opponents to sleep.

The fact that Bisping is now likely in the twilight of his career only further leaves me to believe that an upset is brewing here. I think this is a tough fight for sure, but Dollaway is the younger fighter and the better wrestler. That’s enough for me to think he’ll grind out a decision in this one.

Pick: C.B. Dollaway by decision

Quinton Jackson vs. Fabio Maldonado

Yes, it’s Quinton “Rampage” Jackson back in the UFC. No, it’s not the Jackson of old, not even the Jackson who became a low-volume striker searching for one-punch knockouts against opponents like Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Jon Jones. Jackson has faded badly, a fact that hasn’t gone away with a knockout of Joey Beltran and controversial decision win over King Mo in Bellator.

My point is this – Jackson is ripe to be beaten. Fabio Maldonado will never reach the heights that Jackson once reached, but he’s a high-volume boxer with a tremendous amount of toughness. Since Jackson is unlikely to go for takedowns (even though he really should in this fight), this should be a battle between Jackson’s power and Maldonado’s volume and pace.

As much as I want to pick Maldonado here, I can’t bring myself to do it. I have too much respect for Jackson’s power and his extensive accomplishments in his career. In all likelihood, Jackson will find a way to finish the fight, since Maldonado isn’t exactly a defensive specialist. As for a bet on Maldonado as a +250 underdog? Sign me up.

Pick: Quinton Jackson by TKO

Shane Campbell vs. John Makdessi

John Makdessi is a fun striker to watch, and his opponent is the debuting Shane Campbell, who has very good skill as a striker himself. Campbell is likely to be the much bigger fighter in the cage, but he has also taken this fight on short notice and lacks the high-level experience that Makdessi brings with him. This is the kind of fight that doesn’t have the name value to justify being on a pay per view main card, but should be a really fun fight when it happens.

Pick: John Makdessi by decision

Thomas Almeida vs. Yves Jabouin

Patrick Wyman prospect extraordinaire Thomas Almeida is set to lead off the pay per view main card against bantamweight striker Yves Jabouin. Almeida is an aggressive striker on the rise, while Jabouin is on the decline – and was never anything more than a mid-level bantamweight at the best of times. It’s the kind of fight that appears to be purely a showcase for Almeida, although the -450 price on the betting markets is a little grotesque.

Pick: Thomas Almeida by TKO

PRELIM PICKS

  • Joe Riggs over Patrick Cote
  • Sarah Kaufman over Alexis Davis
  • Chad Laprise over Bryan Barberena, although my statistical model disagrees. Being at home and a 4-1 betting favorite is enough for me to overrule the model on this one.
  • Olivier Aubin-Mercier over David Michaud
  • Nordine Taleb over Chris Clements
  • Valerie Letourneau over Jessica Rakoczy
  • Aisling Daly over Randa Markos

UFC on Fox 15: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

2015 PICKS

Last Event: 7-4 (63.6%)

Year To Date: 79-43 (64.8%)

UFC ON FOX 15 – STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES

Favorite % Underdog %
 Lyoto Machida 72.7% Luke Rockhold 27.3%
 Ronaldo Souza 88.5% Chris Camozzi 11.5%
 Max Holloway 57.4% Cub Swanson 42.6%
 Paige VanZant 54.3% Felice Herrig 45.7%
 Beneil Dariush 62.6% Jim Miller 37.4%
 Ovince St-Preux 53.0% Patrick Cummins 47.0%
 Corey Anderson 81.2% Gian Villante 18.8%
 Aljamain Sterling 59.9% Takeya Mizugaki 40.1%
 Tim Means 55.9% George Sullivan 44.1%
 Jimy Hettes 51.0% Diego Brandao 49.0%
 Eddie Gordon 66.6% Chris Dempsey 33.4%

Yes, that’s underdog Lyoto Machida listed as a 72.7% favorite to win tomorrow’s main event against Luke Rockhold. I explained why the model likes Machida so much in my predictions post. The short version: Machida has better striking defense and a better chin in a striker vs. striker matchup. The model also likes underdogs Max Holloway, Ovince St-Preux, and Jimy Hettes.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER

Last Event: +$27.68

Current Bankroll: $241.51

Starting Bankroll: $100.00

Total Investment: $290.65

Total Profit: $141.51

Return On Investment: 48.7%

All I have to say about last week is… Maryna Moroz! Not many people thought she had much of a chance against Joanne Calderwood, but she came through with a flurry of strikes and an armbar in the first round to cash as a 6-1 underdog.

For this event I have…

Lyoto Machida +145: $27.13 to win $39.34

Max Holloway +135: $8.09 to win $10.92

Takeya Mizugaki +325: $6.43 to win $20.90

Jimy Hettes +150: $5.21 to win $7.82

Chris Dempsey +375: $4.31 to win $16.16

Corey Anderson -360: $3.63 to win $1.01

Ovince St-Preux +110: $2.66 to win $2.93

George Sullivan +155: $2.03 to win $3.15

Chris Camozzi +1000: $0.63 to win $6.30

We have a new biggest bet of the year! The success of this event pretty much hinges on whether or not Lyoto Machida is able to beat Luke Rockhold. If Machida loses, I’ll need wins by either Takeya Mizugaki or both Max Holloway and Chris Dempsey to end up making money.

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

Best of luck and enjoy the fights!

UFC on Fox Newark Predictions

Lyoto Machida vs. Luke Rockhold

When this fight was first announced, my initial reaction was the same as it was for most people. I saw Machida and Rockhold as two of the top five fighters in the middleweight division and thought the fight itself would be very tough to call. Betting markets currently have Rockhold as the -160 favorite, a number that has nudged upwards from an opener of -140. It’s easy to see Machida as the old stalwart who is about to be passed by against the younger Rockhold.

That’s why I was so surprised to put this fight through my statistical model, and come away with an estimate that not only is Machida the favorite to win, but he’s actually a fairly substantial favorite.

To illustrate why this is, I want to highlight two key factors. The first is the number of significant strikes Machida and Rockhold both absorb. The statistic I use to estimate this is called “regressed significant strikes absorbed per minute,” or rSAPM for short. This is more predictive than the SAPM number found on Fight Metric due to using data from UFC fights only and regressing that number to the mean:

Fighter rSAPM
 Lyoto Machida 1.68
 Luke Rockhold 2.84

Rockhold’s striking defense is above average, but he’s never been able to shut down his opponents in the same way Machida has. Rockhold will have height and reach advantages, but Machida is arguably the best fighter in the sport at controlling distance and manipulating his opponent’s movement.

The second factor is how well each fighter absorbs strikes. It should be noted that both of Rockhold’s losses were by TKO, against Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut and against Tony Rubalcava in his second professional MMA fight. Being knocked out by Belfort is forgivable, but it’s much more of a red flag that Rockhold was knocked out by a relative unknown in his early career. To date, Machida’s only been finished by TKO once, in his famous title loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2010. Here is each fighter’s regressed knockdown absorbed rate:

Fighter rKDAR
 Lyoto Machida 0.58%
 Luke Rockhold 1.00%

Historically, Machida’s biggest problem has been that he gets so focused on defending his opponent’s strikes that he neglects to land too many strikes of his own. This cost him in decision losses to Phil Davis and Quinton Jackson, and nearly cost him against Dan Henderson. If Machida goes all five rounds against Rockhold, it’s easy to envision another decision loss if he doesn’t pick up the volume.

Even so, this profiles as a striker vs. striker match, and one in which Machida is the much better defender with the much better chin. Subjectively, I think Rockhold’s chances are better than my statistical model gives him credit for, but Machida’s recent performances have been strong enough for me to feel good about picking him to win despite being the underdog.

Pick: Lyoto Machida by TKO

Chris Camozzi vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza

It’s deeply disappointing that Yoel Romero was forced to withdraw from this match, as a fight between him and Jacare was every bit as compelling as Machida-Rockhold in my view. Chris Camozzi has stepped up on short notice to fight Jacare for a second time; all I can say is that Jacare vs. an overmatched opponent is better than no Jacare at all.

This is just a brutal stylistic matchup for Camozzi. His takedown defense is mediocre at best and he tends to struggle on the ground. Camozzi is at his best when his opponent is willing to engage him in a striking match, but even then, Camozzi lacks power and relies on volume to win decisions. To be blunt, I would favor Jacare to win this fight even if he never attempted a takedown, but Jacare’s world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game, strong takedowns, and aggression should be far too much for Camozzi to handle. My respect goes to Camozzi for doing what it takes to earn another UFC contract, but this is not a competitive fight.

Pick: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza by submission

Max Holloway vs. Cub Swanson

Swanson is a good featherweight who rode a hot streak into title contention, only to be humiliated by Frankie Edgar when he reached the verge of a title shot. He’s back to face Max Holloway, a boxer who absorbs a lot of strikes, but makes up for it with great volume, decent power, and an excellent chin. Holloway should be vulnerable against wrestlers; it could be argued that he’s been coddled for not having fought a wrestler since his loss to Dennis Bermudez. Swanson is not that type of fighter, though. He’s a guy who will mix in a takedown once in a while, but will otherwise engage with an aggressive and diverse striking arsenal. I’m anticipating a split decision in this one.

Pick: Max Holloway by decision

Felice Herrig vs. Paige VanZant

Deserved or not, Paige VanZant has received a tremendous amount of attention for winning her UFC debut match against Kailin Curran five months ago (which I suspect has very little to do with her actual fighting). Her striking activity was great in that match but she failed to defend any of Curran’s five takedowns. My expectation is that VanZant will have the striking advantage against Felice Herrig, who will have the grappling advantage against VanZant. VanZant’s nine year youth advantage is enough for me to pick her to win, but I’m not confident.

Pick: Paige VanZant by decision

Beneil Dariush vs. Jim Miller

This is a quick turnaround for Dariush, who is coming off a big win against Daron Cruickshank just last month. He’s taking a short notice fight against Jim Miller, a veteran fighter who has competed at a high level, but has turned in middling to poor performances against his toughest opponents. Miller’s strength is on the ground, but that’s Dariush’s strength as well, and I believe Dariush has developed a better overall takedown game. If this fight took place a year ago, I would never have made this pick, but today…

Pick: Beneil Dariush by decision

Patrick Cummins vs. Ovince St-Preux

This is a very intriguing fight. Cummins has been statistically dominant in the UFC, but only against a relatively low level of competition. St-Preux’s statistics aren’t particularly remarkable, but he’s proven himself against much tougher opponents. Cummins should have the clear advantage in takedowns, but I expect St-Preux to be tougher to take down, and more dangerous both standing and on the ground, than Cummins’ previous opponents. I’m very curious to see if Cummins’ game will work against an opponent as tough as St-Preux, or if Cummins has managed to expand his skill set. For now, I have to see this as a coin flip fight.

Pick: Ovince St-Preux by TKO

Corey Anderson vs. Gian Villante

As dismal as some of Villante’s performances have been, he should consider himself lucky to still be on the UFC roster. Villante’s striking defense is porous and his conditioning is a huge question mark. He serves as proof that training with a fighter like Chris Weidman can only take a fighter so far. As it stands, Villante looks like he’s being used as a low-level gatekeeper to test a much better prospect in Corey Anderson.

Pick: Corey Anderson by TKO

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Aljamain Sterling

I’ve been keeping my eye on Sterling as a fighter who could break into title contention in the bantamweight division. The problem is that everybody else has been keeping an eye on him too. Sterling is currently a -350 favorite to beat Mizugaki, a number consistent with a top-tier bantamweight, not a fighter who we simply know has the potential to make it to the top tier. Sterling is good everywhere but Mizugaki is well-rounded and should be his toughest opponent yet. I’m not about to pick Mizugaki here but the underdog price is awfully enticing…

Pick: Aljamain Sterling by decision

Tim Means vs. George Sullivan

Sullivan is a pressure fighter who looked good in wins against both Mike Rhodes and Igor Araujo, but now faces a tougher opponent in Tim Means. Means will likely want to keep the fight at distance and pick Sullivan apart with punches, while Sullivan is likely to clinch and make this more of a brawl. Neither man has the talent to make a true run at 170 pounds but this should be a good action fight at the very least.

Pick: Tim Means by decision

Diego Brandao vs. Jimy Hettes

This is a re-booking of a fight that should have taken place in January, and it remains very tough to call. Hettes is a submission wizard but the ground game is Brandao’s strength as well. Brandao’s power advantage should make him the more effective striker, but his suspect cardio and poor defense could open the door for Hettes to win with a greater volume of strikes. It’s a weird matchup of skills; no outcome of this fight would surprise me unless Hettes somehow knocks Brandao out.

Pick: Jimy Hettes by decision

Chris Dempsey vs. Eddie Gordon

This is the one fight on this card that doesn’t really interest me too much. Dempsey got trucked by Ilir Latifi in his UFC debut and may not have what it takes to fight at this level of competition. Gordon looked a lot better against Josh Samman before getting knocked out. I have to think Gordon is the better prospect although the -450 betting price is really pushing it.

Pick: Eddie Gordon by TKO

UFC Fight Night Krakow: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

2015 PICKS

Last event: 8-2 (80.0%)

Year to date: 72-39 (64.9%)

STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES – UFC FIGHT NIGHT 64

Favorite % Underdog %
 Gabriel Gonzaga 71.4% Mirko Cro Cop 28.6%
 Jan Blachowicz 53.5% Jimi Manuwa 46.5%
 Pawel Pawlak 53.4% Sheldon Westcott 46.6%
 Joanne Calderwood 63.0% Maryna Moroz 37.0%
 Leon Edwards 60.3% Seth Baczynski 39.7%
 Bartosz Fabinski 55.3% Garreth McLellan 44.7%
 Sergio Moraes 50.2% Mickael Lebout 49.8%
 Damian Stasiak 66.2% Yaotzin Meza 33.8%
 Anthony Hamilton 64.7% Daniel Omielanczuk 35.3%
 Aleksandra Albu 54.8% Izabela Badurek 45.2%
 Steven Ray 66.1% Marcin Bandel 33.9%
 Taylor Lapilus 71.8% Rocky Lee 28.2%

There’s quite a bit of disagreement with the betting lines here. The model is picking three underdogs – Jan Blachowicz, Pawel Pawlak, and Daniel Omielanczuk – and likes Mickael Lebout’s chances as well.

The estimates for this event come with a lot of uncertainty, since most of the fighters on this card are either making their debut in the UFC, or have very little UFC experience.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER – SEASON TWO

Last event: +$16.78

Current bankroll: $213.83

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Total investment: $255.55

Total profit: $113.83

Return on investment: 44.5%

Last week, the model’s faith in Ron Stallings was rewarded, as he landed hard punches and kicks en route to a decision victory over Justin Jones. I also got a little help from the judges, as Al Iaquinta probably didn’t deserve to beat Jorge Masvidal, even with the deeply flawed ten-point must system scoring. That Iaquinta win was the difference between a $5 profit and a $17 profit.

For this event I have…

Anthony Hamilton +135: $7.09 to win $9.57

Mickael Lebout +400: $6.71 to win $26.84

Pawel Pawlak +185: $4.44 to win $8.21

Maryna Moroz +600: $4.07 to win $24.42

Damian Stasiak -125: $3.56 to win $2.85

Izabela Badurek +200: $2.45 to win $4.90

Jan Blachowicz +125: $2.20 to win $2.75

Taylor Lapilus -200: $2.06 to win $1.03

Gabriel Gonzaga -210: $1.45 to win $0.69

Leon Edwards -130: $1.07 to win $0.82

This is where I find myself… putting my biggest bets of a UFC event on Anthony Hamilton, Mickael Lebout, Pawel Pawlak, and Maryna Moroz. Wish me luck!

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 Krakow Prediction: Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

This Saturday’s UFC Fight Pass event in Krakow is filled with fighters I’m unfamiliar with. I don’t doubt that some of them could turn out to be contenders in the UFC, but I’m not going to pretend that I know those fighters well enough to break them down. Instead, I’m going to focus my attention on a fight that is improbably a main event in 2015: Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga.

Cro Cop is one of the fighters who made me a fan of this sport. It’s been a while since he wasn’t a washed up shadow of his former self, but he used to be one of the most feared fighters in all of combat sports. Cro Cop’s series of head kick knockouts in PRIDE, against tough opponents like Igor Vovchanchyn, Aleksander Emelianenko, and Wanderlei Silva, made him a terrifying figure in the ring.

Cro Cop’s game worked for a number of reasons. One is that he developed very good takedown defense and a very effective sprawl. Another was his simple but effective striking arsenal, featuring a crisp straight left, a devastating left kick that Cro Cop threw to the head, body, and legs, and an excellent sense of distance control. The final factor was excellent speed, which gave Cro Cop the ability to land his strikes before his opponents could react properly.

When Cro Cop moved to the UFC in 2007, it was widely expected that he would run through the UFC heavyweight division. This was equal parts due to Cro Cop’s status as a terror from PRIDE and the UFC’s relative lack of heavyweight talent. For a lot of fans, the idea of Cro Cop taking on goofy Tim Sylvia was just comical.

So when Cro Cop was matched against Gabriel Gonzaga in his second UFC fight, not many people thought Gonzaga stood a chance. Not only did Gonzaga stand a chance, he made Cro Cop look awful. Gonzaga took Cro Cop down, landed a series of hard strikes on the ground, and finished him with perhaps the most devastating head kick in UFC history. I’ll never forget where I was at that moment, and the utter shock everybody had while watching that outcome.

After that fight, every Cro Cop match was an exercise in delusion, of fans like myself being sure that the “old Cro Cop” would come back and make his UFC run to the title as anticipated. But it never happened. With every fight, Cro Cop looked a little slower, a little more unsure of himself, and sometimes he just looked intimidated.

Knockout losses to Frank Mir, Brendan Schaub and Roy Nelson should have ended Cro Cop’s career. At some point, a fighter’s ability to endure punishment leaves him; that’s the point at which he should hang up the gloves. Instead, Cro Cop has fought outside the UFC, getting choked out by Alexey Oleinik while defeating Satoshi Ishii and the unheralded Shinichi Suzukawa. Apparently, two wins over Ishii were enough to convince the UFC to bring Cro Cop back again, to rematch Gonzaga.

The three factors that allowed Cro Cop to succeed in PRIDE are now gone. Cro Cop is now 40 years old and is much slower with his strikes than he used to be. He no longer sets up his kicks with his punches, instead just throwing single head kicks and hoping opponents fail to block them. His ability to defend takedowns has diminished as well.

Cro Cop’s statistics in UFC competition are dismal. He’s landed 215 significant strikes and absorbed 295. He’s landed three knockdowns but has absorbed five. He’s mixed in two takedowns but has been taken down nine times. And these statistics are despite getting very favorable matchups, including Pat Barry, Anthony Perosh, and Mustapha Al-Turk.

With all of that having been said, Cro Cop has to be considered a live underdog against Gonzaga, since Gonzaga doesn’t defend strikes well and doesn’t have a good chin. Even so, Gonzaga enters with the statistical advantage in every significant category. I’ll be rooting for Cro Cop to win for nostalgia’s sake, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Pick: Gabriel Gonzaga by TKO

OTHER PICKS

  • Jan Blachowicz over Jimi Manuwa: Manuwa has a punishing striking offense but doesn’t defend himself well. I think Blachowicz can capitalize.
  • Pawel Pawlak over Sheldon Westcott: Westcott had one of the most dismal performances in recent memory, losing to (a good opponent in) Elias Theodorou.
  • Joanne Calderwood over Maryna Moroz, even though I think Calderwood gets a bit more hype than deserved.
  • Leon Edwards over Seth Baczynski
  • Bartosz Fabinski over Garreth McLellan
  • Sergio Moraes over Mickael Lebout: I think this fight is closer than advertised. Moraes is phenomenal on the ground but lags behind in striking and is coming off a long layoff.
  • Damian Stasiak over Yaotzin Meza
  • Anthony Hamilton over Daniel Omielanczuk: It blows my mind that Omielanczuk is the betting favorite. Have people not seen him fight?
  • Aleksandra Albu over Izabela Badurek: If anybody was hoping the UFC wouldn’t give roster spots to women because of looks alone… well, sorry to burst your bubble.
  • Steven Ray over Marcin Bandel
  • Taylor Lapilus over Rocky Lee

UFC Fight Night Fairfax: Degenerate Gambler’s Corner

With this event kicking off at 11:00 AM EDT tomorrow… shouldn’t this be called “UFC Fight Day”? I’m sure European fans will appreciate being able to watch a live UFC event from the USA at a decent hour.

2015 PICKS

Last event: 9-3 (75.0%)

Year to date: 64-37 (63.4%)

STATISTICAL MODEL ESTIMATES – UFC FIGHT NIGHT 63

Favorite % Underdog %
 Chad Mendes 67.6% Ricardo Lamas 32.4%
 Al Iaquinta 62.8% Jorge Masvidal 37.2%
 Michael Chiesa 64.7% Mitch Clarke 35.3%
 Julianna Pena 69.9% Milana Dudieva 30.1%
 Clay Guida 58.6% Robbie Peralta 41.4%
 Dustin Poirier 72.6% Carlos Diego Ferreira 27.4%
 Liz Carmouche 60.1% Lauren Murphy 39.9%
 Gray Maynard 57.8% Alexander Yakovlev 42.2%
 Shamil Abdurahimov 56.4% Timothy Johnson 43.6%
 Ron Stallings 63.2% Justin Jones 36.8%

While Mendes, Chiesa, and Pena are widely expected to win decisively against their respective opponents, the model thinks those fights are all more competitive than advertised. It also likes underdogs Al Iaquinta, Gray Maynard, and Ron Stallings.

DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER

Last event: -$2.66

Current bankroll: $197.05

Starting bankroll: $100.00

Total investment: $212.43

Total profit: $97.05

Return on investment: 45.7%

Christos Giagos looked every bit like the 87% favorite the model said he was, easily taking down Jorge De Oliveira, passing guard, and finishing by first-round submission. Unfortunately, most of my bets at UFC Fight Night Rio were losers, including Josh Koscheck, who was unable to handle Erick Silva’s aggression, and Alex Oliveira, who came oh-so-close to winning by decision against Gilbert Burns before being submitted late in the third round.

For this event I have…

Ron Stallings +120: $8.68 to win $10.42

Al Iaquinta -102: $5.96 to win $5.84

Dustin Poirier -175: $5.89 to win $3.37

Gray Maynard +115: $4.82 to win $5.54

Liz Carmouche -105: $4.01 to win $3.82

Timothy Johnson +215: $3.78 to win $8.13

Mitch Clarke +355: $3.38 to win $12.00

Ricardo Lamas +365: $2.90 to win $10.59

Robbie Peralta +210: $2.81 to win $5.90

Milana Dudieva +275: $0.89 to win $2.45

That’s right, bets on every single fight! And the biggest bet goes to… Ron Stallings. I was skeptical when the model recommended a larger bet on an equally unproven fighter in Christos Giagos, so I’m a little more confident this time, although the fight between Stallings and Justin Jones is expected to be much more competitive.

The model also likes a bet on Gray Maynard, who I’m pretty sure nobody trusts at this point, including myself. Maynard is a terrific top-position grappler when he puts his mind to it, so here’s hoping he sticks to that part of his game against Alexander Yakovlev.

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 Fairfax Predictions

Ricardo Lamas vs. Chad Mendes

After losing to Jose Aldo for a second time last October, Chad Mendes now finds himself in the Rich Franklin position of being the clear #2 fighter in his division, with little chance of getting another title shot as long as Aldo remains champion. A conventional wisdom has been established with Mendes – that he’s clearly the best featherweight in the world besides Aldo, and that Mendes should beat any other featherweight decisively (including that Irish guy).

Mendes is now fighting Ricardo Lamas, a jack of all trades and master of none. Lamas can strike a bit, wrestle a bit, grapple a bit… but he’s not outstanding at any one thing. The most impressive thing about Lamas is his ability to showcase a diverse MMA game against a very high level of competition. If his opponent is weak in any one area, Lamas can exploit that weakness.

The problem with that type of skill set is that if an opponent is outstanding in one area, it’s tough for Lamas to deal with that. Lamas was never going to out-strike Aldo, and his ability to land takedowns simply wasn’t good enough to break through Aldo’s defense. Mendes is a much different test, but his combination of power wrestling, distance control, and knockout power is something that will likely keep Lamas off-balance throughout this main event.

With that said, Lamas is a tough out, and if Mendes comes out flat like he did against Nik Lentz, I could easily see Lamas earning a workmanlike decision. But as long as the takedown game is working for Mendes, the most likely outcome is a clear decision for the Team Alpha Male stalwart.

Pick: Chad Mendes by decision

Al Iaquinta vs. Jorge Masvidal

The fast-rising Al Iaquinta is back to take on his toughest opponent yet in Jorge Masvidal. Iaquinta has established himself as a fast-paced striker with some real power in his hands and three straight wins by TKO coming in. With Masvidal, Iaquinta will be facing a well-rounded opponent with good striking and wrestling. Iaquinta is tough to take down, so I expect this to be largely a boxing match at distance. I expect any decision to be very close and tough to call, but with Masvidal’s below-average chin and Iaquinta’s ability to finish, I have to call Iaquinta the overall favorite here.

Pick: Al Iaquinta by decision

Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke

After a dismal 0-2 start in the UFC, Clarke has improbably bounced back with a decision win over John Maguire and a submission victory against Iaquinta. It’s a feel-good underdog story, but if statistics are any indication, Clarke remains a below-average striker and wrestler by UFC standards. He clearly knows what he’s doing on the ground, but that also happens to be a strength of Chiesa’s. The skill gap between these guys isn’t so wide that Clarke can’t win a decision, but it seems clear that Chiesa has the more well-rounded skill set.

Pick: Michael Chiesa by decision

Milana Dudieva vs. Julianna Pena

The statistical analysis I’ve done likes Pena a lot, with her dominant victory over Jessica Rakoczy and relatively young age. Subjectively, I see reasons to be concerned. Rakoczy’s record is a dismal 1-4, so Pena’s performance should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Pena is also making her first appearance since suffering a devastating knee injury. With the betting lines and my statistical model in agreement, I have to pick Pena here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she struggles against Dudieva.

Pick: Julianna Pena by decision

Clay Guida vs. Robbie Peralta

It was frustrating to watch Peralta lose to Thiago Tavares. I thought Peralta would win, but Tavares gave him no room to strike, and Peralta seemed clueless against Tavares’s suffocating grappling style. It would seem that Peralta should have trouble with Guida, who is a better wrestler and more accomplished fighter than Tavares. I have to pick Guida to grind out a decision here, but if Guida’s takedowns aren’t working for him, Peralta should prove to be the much more effective striker. This could be a surprisingly competitive match.

Pick: Clay Guida by decision

Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Dustin Poirier

I’m always intrigued when a fighter decides to move up a weight class, as Poirier is doing here against Ferreira. If a fighter isn’t a wrestler (and Poirier certainly is not), it often seems that the benefits of not having to cut weight often out-weigh the drawbacks of being the slightly smaller fighter. While Poirier’s striking defense isn’t very tight, he does fight at a high pace. I expect that pace and aggression to be a little too much for Ferreira to handle.

Pick: Dustin Poirier by TKO

Liz Carmouche vs. Lauren Murphy

Like a lot of people, I was impressed that Murphy was able to nearly defeat Sara McMann despite fighting off her back for the entirety of the fight. But I also think Murphy having even odds to beat Carmouche is a little optimistic. I understand that Carmouche’s 9-5 record isn’t particularly impressive, but she should be the superior wrestler. Carmouche also should have a ground and pound game that’s at least a little more effective than McMann’s. Murphy’s ability to scramble and scrap makes her a dangerous underdog, but I don’t see her as anything more than that in this matchup.

Pick: Liz Carmouche by decision

Gray Maynard vs. Alexander Yakovlev

It’s astonishing how quickly Maynard has fallen from drawing Frankie Edgar in a championship fight. Now he’s fighting Alexander Yakovlev on the prelims of an event in Fairfax. Maynard’s career has largely fallen apart due to a bizarre desire to box, a boxing game that isn’t particularly impressive, and a badly compromised chin. In a sane world, Maynard should easily be able to wrestle his way to victory against Yakovlev, but there’s a very high chance that Yakovlev will knock Maynard unconscious again.

Pick: Gray Maynard by decision

Shamil Abdurahimov vs. Timothy Johnson

Two heavyweights are making their debut on the prelims. Shamil Abdurahimov enters with a 15-2 record and a few wins against noteworthy opponents. Wins over guys like Kenny Garner and Jeff Monson are enough to make him the favorite against the 8-1 Timothy Johnson, who has a win over Travis Wiuff to boast about. (Travis Wiuff is still fighting?) Without knowing anything else, I’m inclined to think that a knockout or submission could go either way, which is usually the case with unproven heavyweights in the UFC anyway.

Pick: Shamil Abdurahimov by TKO

Justin Jones vs. Ron Stallings

The curtain jurker is a fight between guys who each lost a short-notice UFC debut in their last outing. I’m surprised to see Justin Jones listed as the betting favorite since he has such a lack of professional experience; he’s 3-1 and made his professional MMA debut just 15 months ago. I understand that Stallings probably doesn’t belong in the UFC, but I like his chances to at least win against an inexperienced prospect like Jones.

Pick: Ron Stallings by TKO

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!

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