I’m heading out of town later this week so I’m going to have to keep these picks brief. Here are the quick picks for this Friday’s UFC Fight Night event:
Gegard Mousasi vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Betting Lines: Jacare -300, Mousasi +250
With the full knowledge that my battle against the betting public hasn’t been great for me recently… are they out of their mind? Jacare at -300 against Mousasi? On some level, I get the logic. Jacare is a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artist. Jacare also has a pretty good offensive takedown game, while Mousasi’s takedown defense of 55% just isn’t strong enough to keep him on his feet against most opponents. The idea is: strong takedowns + weak opponent takedown defense + world class BJJ = submission victory.
But there are a few problems with this logic. First of all, Mousasi doesn’t just turn into a bum when he gets taken down. He has a pretty strong ground game himself, and while Mousasi does have two career losses by submission, those both happened a very long time ago. The last time Mousasi fought Jacare, Jacare landed an early takedown… and was promptly knocked out by a Mousasi upkick. That particular result is unlikely to be repeated, but it shows that Mousasi’s offense doesn’t just shut down if he gets taken down.
And as long as the fight stays standing, it should be all Mousasi. Jacare is not a bad striker but Mousasi’s kickboxing is just on another level. If Jacare struggles to get a takedown at any point, or gasses out and suddenly can’t land takedowns anymore, Mousasi should be able to easily win the round based on striking volume. I’m picking Jacare to win because I think he can land enough takedowns and control Mousasi on the ground enough to win a decision, but his margin for error is very slim. My bet will be on Mousasi.
Pick: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza by decision
Alistair Overeem vs. Ben Rothwell
Betting Lines: Overeem -525, Rothwell +415
On some level, this seems like a squash match. Alistair Overeem is so much more skilled and athletic than Ben Rothwell that this fight should be a one-sided beating. While Overeem is a world-class kickboxer with knockout power, strong takedown defense, and an overlooked submission game, Rothwell is relatively slow, lumbering, and easy to hit. Remember the beating Rothwell took against Andrei Arlovski at one of the Affliction shows? Overeem is likely to replicate that, only in more brutal fashion.
There’s one problem, though, and it stems from Overeem’s conditioning. If Overeem gassed himself out from beating Rothwell up, it wouldn’t be the first time. Keep in mind also that Rothwell is a less fat clone of Roy Nelson. Seriously, look at the numbers:
-Roy Nelson: 269 significant strikes landed, 7 knockdowns landed, 2 knockdowns received
-Ben Rothwell: 278 significant strikes landed, 7 knockdowns landed, 1 knockdown received
Whatever you think of Nelson’s power and chin, you have to think the same of Rothwell. The potential is definitely there for a shocking Rothwell knockout win.
However, results like that rarely occur when there’s such a large skill gap. In Overeem’s last fight, he played it safe against Frank Mir, not wanting to put too much energy in trying to finish. If Overeem fights at the same measured pace against Rothwell, I have a very difficult time seeing Rothwell finding a way to win.
Pick: Alistair Overeem by TKO
Derrick Lewis vs. Matt Mitrione
Betting Lines: Lewis -150, Mitrione +130
The narrative has been written on Matt Mitrione. It was written when Mitrione was on The Ultimate Fighter, before he had even his first professional fight. The narrative is that Mitrione is something of a joke, a decent athlete who might beat fringe UFC heavyweights but will lose to anybody good. People like to pick against Mitrione whenever he’s matched up against a decent fighter – so he was an underdog to Shawn Jordan, then an underdog to Stefan Struve, and now an underdog to Derrick Lewis.
I think the betting public is on the wrong track here. Sure, Lewis is a big heavyweight with big power. Almost all of his fights have ended with him winning by knockout. It’s not hard to construct a scenario where Lewis knocks out Mitrione, especially because Mitrione never goes for takedowns.
There are a few problems with this. One is that Mitrione is the better volume striker. Lewis landed just six significant strikes in 3:30 against Guto Inocente. Another is that Mitrione doesn’t exactly have “pillow fists” either, as he has landed 7 knockdowns in 259 significant strikes. In a brawl between Mitrione and Lewis, I expect Mitrione to land more strikes and therefore have a better chance of winning by knockout (and winning if the fight somehow goes the distance). I can’t favor Mitrione too strongly because of Lewis’s power, but I do favor “Meathead.”
Pick: Matt Mitrione by KO
Michael Chiesa vs. Joe Lauzon
Betting Lines: Chiesa -145, Lauzon +125
I have a ton of respect for Michael Chiesa because he’s an overachiever. He’s a fighter who takes somewhat limited talent and makes the absolute most of it. Chiesa isn’t a great striker (just 1.53 significant strikes per minute) and isn’t a great wrestler (31% of takedown attempts landed), but he somehow finds a way to win due to strong grappling, conditioning, and sheer determination to win.
The problem is that Joe Lauzon is a very tricky matchup for him. Lauzon is an extremely aggressive fighter who does everything he can to land a takedown, pass guard, and submit his opponent as quickly as possible. Lauzon’s weakness has historically been his striking defense, but Chiesa isn’t really a fighter whose style is well suited to take advantage of this weakness.
It’s more likely that this fight will come down to whose grappling is better. In that situation, I have to give the advantage to Lauzon. While Chiesa has done a nice job of landing takedowns, taking his opponent’s back, and winning by rear naked choke, Lauzon has a more varied submission game. I also trust Lauzon’s submission defense more, as Chiesa lost to Jorge Masvidal by D’Arce choke in their fight. It’s a competitive matchup but I’m siding with the underdog.
Pick: Joe Lauzon by submission
Nik Lentz vs. Charles Oliveira
Betting Lines: Oliveira -145, Lentz +125
Since dropping to 145 pounds, Nik Lentz has established himself as a fighter who loves to destroy the hopes and dreams of his opponent. Lentz will aggressively seek the clinch, push his opponent against the fence, and beat them up with strikes, land a takedown, beat them up with strikes some more, etc. Lentz is a grinder, but he’s become a very good grinder.
Unfortunately for Lentz, Charles Oliveira is the anti-Lentz in a lot of ways. Clinch with Oliveira? He’s perfectly happy to dive down, grab your leg, and twist it in some unnatural direction. Then, if you find a way to escape the submission, Oliveira will attack you with a variety of strikes. Lentz can’t play his game with Oliveira. There’s a reason Oliveira was so effective in their first fight, and I expect the rematch to go largely the same way.
Pick: Charles Oliveira by submission
John Moraga vs. Justin Scoggins
Betting Lines: Scoggins -240, Moraga +200
Scoggins was steamrolling through all of his competition up until his last fight against Dustin Ortiz. However, Scoggins’ opponents were guys like Richie Vaculik and Will Campuzano, not exactly the cream of the crop in the flyweight division. Against a much tougher opponent in Ortiz, Scoggins was exposed… leading me to quickly jump off the Scoggins hype train and admonish myself for getting caught up in it in the first place.
With that said, I think Scoggins can come back and win this fight, because Moraga is just not very good. Moraga’s been taken down 16 times and I anticipate Scoggins will add to that total. Moraga might have his moments at standing distance, and should be generally competitive, but I think Scoggins will prove to be the more effective striker and wrestler. I wouldn’t think about betting on him though.
Pick: Justin Scoggins by decision
Rodrigo Damm vs. Al Iaquinta
Betting Lines: Iaquinta -385, Damm +265
Iaquinta is a good sprawl and brawl type of fighter who gives up his back far too often and easily. Damm goes for a takedown now and then, but more often likes to stand and strike as well. The problem is that while Iaquinta is a good volume striker, Damm makes his opponents look like good volume strikers.
Pick: Al Iaquinta by decision
Chris Camozzi vs. Rafael Natal
Betting Lines: Natal -155, Camozzi +115
Camozzi and Natal are both aggressive strikers who fight at high volume. Camozzi lands strikes more frequently while Natal has better knockout power. The difference between them is that Natal is good at landing takedowns while Camozzi never lands takedowns. Natal is likely to win a fight that goes the distance here.
Pick: Rafael Natal by decision
Chris Beal vs. Tateki Matsuda
Betting Lines: Beal -265, Matsuda +185
Matsuda trains out of Team Sityodtong in Boston and took this fight on short notice, but enters the UFC with a 10-5 record, which is already a red flag. Beal is a good prospect, a good boxer and wrestler with potential to become a title contender in the bantamweight division. Matsuda might be able to deal with the boxing but I doubt he can deal with the wrestling.
Pick: Chris Beal by decision
Chas Skelly vs. Sean Soriano
Betting Lines: Skelly -230, Soriano +170
Soriano goes from a betting favorite against Tatsuya Kawajiri to an underdog against Chas Skelly, who just fought and beat Tom Niinimaki by first-round submission. I’ll pick Skelly to win as a decent prospect and good grinder type, but Soriano is very talented and I think this betting line is a little bit of an overreaction to Skelly’s last performance.
Pick: Chas Skelly by decision