I hope you’re not expecting me to make any wild or crazy picks for this event. When I look at the betting lines and examine the fights, my thoughts are pretty much in alignment with the betting public.
Diego Brandao vs. Conor McGregor
When Conor McGregor was set to make his UFC debut against Marcus Brimage, I was ready to start declaring him as a potential title contender in the UFC. I was excited at the prospect of being able to say that I called McGregor’s rise well before it happened. Only one problem with that: apparently everybody else had the same idea as me. There’s a tremendous amount of hype behind McGregor now, given that he’s only 2-0 in the UFC so far.
This fight was originally supposed to be McGregor against Cole Miller, and I’ll spoil the result of that fight right now… McGregor was going to make Miller look really bad. I actually think Brandao is a tougher opponent for McGregor because he has much better takedowns. While Miller has landed just five takedowns in 16 UFC fights, Brandao has landed 13 takedowns at 76 percent accuracy. McGregor hasn’t fought a strong wrestler yet in his career and while Brandao isn’t really known for his wrestling, it’s possible that he’ll be able to put McGregor on his back.
Unfortunately for Brandao, every other aspect of this fight favors McGregor. McGregor is the FAR better striker – he made a good volume striker in Max Holloway look silly while Brandao has absorbed more significant strikes than he’s landed in five out of six UFC fights. As long as this fight stays standing, it should be all McGregor. The problem for Brandao is that it will be hard to land takedowns unless he can earn McGregor’s respect standing. If McGregor’s past fights are any indication, he won’t give Brandao’s striking that respect. I’m sure somebody will bust McGregor’s hype eventually but I highly doubt that Brandao will be the guy to do it.
Pick: Conor McGregor by KO
Zak Cummings vs. Gunnar Nelson
The co-main event features McGregor’s training partner, Gunnar Nelson, against a seemingly overmatched opponent in Zak Cummings. Nelson has had a lot of hype behind him since making his UFC debut – not nearly as much hype as McGregor, but enough to where he’s getting some attention as a potential “dark horse” title contender.
I’m not as enthusiastic about Nelson as a lot of people. For one, Nelson hasn’t faced tremendous competition yet in the UFC, unless you think very highly of Omari Akhmedov, Jorge Santiago, or DaMarques Johnson. Nelson’s ground game is outstanding and I really enjoy watching it, but Nelson hasn’t adapted his karate-based striking to MMA nearly as well as other karate practitioners like Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thompson. Nelson is quite vulnerable to receiving damage and hasn’t developed great knockout power.
I think Nelson will be in trouble when he gets matched up against a good sprawl-and-brawl type of opponent. Cummings is not that guy – he’s a scrappy grinding type who had a nice comeback win against Yan Cabral, but not before being taken down, controlled, and nearly submitted by Cabral in the first round of their match. As far as I’ve seen, offensive takedowns might be Cummings’ only plus skill in the UFC, and the last thing he wants to do against Nelson is take the fight to the ground. I have to go with Nelson in this one.
Pick: Gunnar Nelson by submission
Ian McCall vs. Brad Pickett
McCall and Pickett are very similar fighters. They both have a history of getting into striking matches with their opponents despite not being particularly good strikers. They also both are quite good at landing takedowns and are pretty effective when they embrace a grinding style of fight. If they decide to stand and bang, the numbers favor McCall in that scenario. McCall is +6 in total significant strikes in his career, compared to -154 for Pickett. On a per-minute basis, McCall is +0.06 and Pickett is -1.23.
There are things working in Pickett’s favor. Pickett has landed 56 percent of his takedowns compared to 30 percent for McCall, although it’s worth noting that McCall has faced a very high level of competition overall. Pickett is also fighting close to home, a factor that might make the difference in what is an otherwise competitive fight. However, I think the takedown can go both ways, and if that turns out to be the case, then McCall’s advantage standing should be enough for him to win on points. It’s close but I’m giving McCall the nod.
Pick: Ian McCall by decision
Naoyuki Kotani vs. Norman Parke
All I can say is that Naoyuki Kotani is not a fighter I expected to see back in the UFC in 2014. Kotani had a disastrous three-fight run with PRIDE and UFC in 2006 and 2007. His lone PRIDE fight was an 11-second KO loss to Luiz Azeredo and Kotani dropped both his UFC fights, by decision to Thiago Tavares and by TKO to Dennis Siver. After putting Kotani’s statistics through my FPR formula, he grades out as a -5.44. That grade would be the worst in the UFC lightweight division today, below Garett Whiteley, Ben Wall, and Dashon Johnson.
Kotani is actually on a 13-fight winning streak in Japanese promotions like Pancrase and ZST but fighting in the UFC is another matter. Especially if the opponent is a very respectable one like Norman Parke. From what I can tell, Kotani’s only plus skill by high-level standards is his submission game. Against Parke, that’s likely to be irrelevant as Parke is a pretty straightforward sprawl and brawl type of fighter. I think Parke can stuff Kotani’s takedowns and easily win a striking match here.
Pick: Norman Parke by decision
Chris Dempsey vs. Ilir Latifi
This is a battle of wrestlers, but Dempsey is the UFC newcomer fighting on short notice while Latifi is the fighter dropping from light-heavyweight. I expect that Latifi will be the bigger fighter and the more effective wrestler – and if that’s the case, then I have to consider Latifi the favorite and Dempsey the underdog. Dempsey’s record actually indicates that he’s a decent prospect, but after watching tape, I came away thinking that Dempsey gives up position far too often to be favored against a strong wrestler like Latifi.
Pick: Ilir Latifi by decision
Phil Harris vs. Neil Seery
Seery is a strange fighter to break down. His record is a thoroughly unimpressive 13-10-1 but he actually had a quite competitive fight against Brad Pickett last time out. Out-striking Pickett is not a huge achievement, but Seery did it and I have to give him the edge over Phil Harris standing because of it. Harris… has not been good in the UFC, to be kind, but he does have a win over Seery that I unfortunately was unable to find any video for. Obviously I don’t see great things in the future of either fighter, but with Seery being the Irish fighter and coming off a decent showing against Pickett… I have to side with him.
Pick: Neil Seery by decision
Mike King vs. Cathal Pendred
King and Pendred were both contestants on season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter. Pendred has earned some hype from victories over Che Mills, Gael Grimaud, and Nico Musoke in the Cage Warriors promotion. Pendred is a good athlete and has good takedowns and strikes on the ground, but I wasn’t too impressed by his striking game. I still thought Pendred was more polished than Mike King, who is a huge middleweight and physically strong guy but is very raw and still needs a lot of work on his techniques.
Pick: Cathal Pendred by decision
Trevor Smith vs. Tor Troeng
Smith is a fighter who has shown some decent volume striking in the UFC, but against opponents who are not known for their striking in Ed Herman and Brian Houston. Smith also has a decent guillotine choke but isn’t much of a wrestler. Troeng struggled in his last fight against Rafael Natal but I think he can take Smith to the ground and potentially finish the fight by submission. The sportsbooks opened Troeng at -260… and they probably have a very good reason for doing that.
Pick: Tor Troeng by submission
Cody Donovan vs. Nikita Krylov
Let’s be very clear about this. Cody Donovan is better at MMA than Nikita Krylov. Donovan is no world-beater but he also hasn’t tapped out to a Von Flue choke because he held onto a guillotine attempt far too long. The concern here is that Donovan has been far too easy to hurt with strikes. He’s been stopped by TKO four times in 12 professional MMA fights. At the end of the day, I have to pick the fighter I think is simply better at this sport, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Krylov got a quick knockout win either.
Pick: Cody Donovan by TKO
Patrick Holohan vs. Josh Sampo
Holohan is a submission specialist with an attacking guard, a very tricky fighter to square off against. Josh Sampo should enter as the superior striker and wrestler, but Holohan is the type of opponent who will pull guard if he has to. The problem for Holohan is that Sampo is no slouch in the submission department either. I think Sampo has what it takes to avoid being submitted and grind out a decision win here.
Pick: Josh Sampo by decision
Last Event: 7-4 (63.6%)
Year To Date: 178-95 (65.2%)
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Last Event: +$1.59
Current Bankroll: $81.25
Total Investment: $217.22
Total Return: $31.25
Return on Investment: 14.4%
Rick Story inside the distance ended up being the right call, as he overwhelmed Leonardo Mafra. It was clear quickly that Story was just on another level. Betting on Evan Dunham didn’t turn out so well – Edson Barboza looked fantastic in calmly defending Dunham’s attacks and countering with nasty punches and kicks. I thought Barboza looked like a much improved fighter on Wednesday night.
I don’t have any bets for this event. The prelims are full of fighters who are either unproven or on the verge of being cut from the UFC. The only bet that really tempts me is Norman Parke inside the distance at +186, as I believe Parke is far superior to Naoyuki Kotani. The problem is that Parke only has three career wins by TKO. More often, Parke wins by submission, but Kotani is well versed in submissions and unlikely to lose by that method. I just can’t bring myself to put down a bet there.
For those of you who do have some betting action on this event, best of luck and enjoy the fights!