Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC 180 Predictions

UFC 180 is the kind of fight card the UFC has been promoting far too frequently in the recent past. There are three quality fights on the main card (although no one fight is truly worthy of being a headliner) and the rest of the card is filled with fringe roster types. Obviously injuries have hurt this card, but injuries are nothing new in the UFC. The UFC of the past was able to find quality fighters to fill in on short notice. The UFC of today puts Augusto Montano vs. Chris Heatherly on the main card.

Mark Hunt vs. Fabricio Werdum

Fabricio Werdum is a very strong betting favorite to beat Mark Hunt and claim the interim UFC heavyweight championship this Saturday. Werdum is the favorite at -440 with Hunt the underdog at +350. The reasons for this include the following factors:

  • Werdum is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master while Hunt has lost by submission six times.
  • Hunt took the fight on three weeks’ notice and reportedly was over 300 pounds when he accepted the fight.
  • The fight is taking place at very high altitude in Mexico City.

It might seem like the stage is set for Werdum to claim a relatively easy victory… but not so fast. Hunt presents some real problems for Werdum. I feel like people are being a little too quick to point out the obstacles Hunt has to overcome while overlooking the ways that Hunt is a threat to beat Werdum in this fight.

Number one is the game at standing distance. Werdum has improved a lot at striking over the course of his career, to the point where he is now a legitimately good volume striker. Werdum hasn’t quite been able to develop true knockout power, but with opponents completely unwilling to take him to the ground, Werdum’s ability to out-point them standing has been a huge development for his game.

At the same time, Werdum’s recent opponents include Travis Browne, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mike Russow, and Roy Nelson – not exactly a collection of the greatest kickboxers in the heavyweight division. Even with a height and reach advantage, Werdum will have a much tougher time out-pointing Hunt, especially with Hunt’s strikes presumably landing with much harder impact. Make no mistake about it, Hunt has the advantage at range, and I suspect that even a fatigued Hunt can still be a dangerous opponent with knockout power.

The true way for Werdum to win this fight is by dragging Hunt to the ground and submitting him. That’s a much more promising prospect even though Hunt has dramatically improved his submission defense in recent years. Even then, Werdum is not a great offensive wrestler and Hunt can be tough to take down.

When this fight ultimately takes place, I suspect that Werdum will be able to weather an early storm, get Hunt gassed out, and then find a way to drag Hunt to the floor and submit him. My statistical model calls Werdum the favorite without knowing that Hunt took a short notice fight at 7,400 feet in elevation. However, Hunt remains a dangerous opponent and I think the betting lines are seriously underrating his potential to knock Werdum out.

Pick: Fabricio Werdum by submission

Statistical model estimate: Fabricio Werdum 60.8%, Mark Hunt 39.2%

Jake Ellenberger vs. Kelvin Gastelum

My days of promoting Jake Ellenberger as a top-tier UFC welterweight are over. Ellenberger had a very high FPR, the result of limiting his opponents’ striking offense, dominating the takedown game, and packing tremendous power in his punches. However, when given the chance to face Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler, Ellenberger found himself hesitant to go for takedowns and generally perplexed by the striking game. I won’t try to figure out Ellenberger’s thought process, but his offensive output has been shockingly low.

For Ellenberger, there are two paths to victory: wallop the opponent and win by knockout, or land a few takedowns and grind out a decision. Ellenberger’s opponent this time is Kelvin Gastelum, who has presumably been installed as the betting favorite based on his four-fight winning streak and Ellenberger’s two-fight losing streak. To tell the truth, I currently give Gastelum a much better chance of winning than I would have given him a year ago – Gastelum is a wrestler himself and has developed a pretty good striking game to go along with it. I have to project Gastelum to out-strike Ellenberger in this one.

With that said, I still think Ellenberger has what it takes to get the job done here. Gastelum has been taken down four times in his four UFC fights, twice by Uriah Hall and twice by Nico Musoke. Ellenberger is a better wrestler than those guys, and he should be able to force Gastelum to fight off his back at least a few times here. Ellenberger also has the much better chance of finishing the fight by knockout, as he remains one of the hardest punchers in the welterweight division. I’ve given up on Ellenberger as a title contender, but not so much that I’m willing to call him an underdog here.

Pick: Jake Ellenberger by decision

Statistical model estimate: Jake Ellenberger 59.2%, Kelvin Gastelum 40.8%

Dennis Bermudez vs. Ricardo Lamas

Bermudez is a tank of a featherweight wrestler who has also become a pretty exciting action fighter. Bermudez doesn’t hesitate to step into the pocket and exchange wild blows, but wrestling is his base and Bermudez has regularly landed takedowns against quality opponents while almost never being taken down himself. The problem for Bermudez is a tendency to have close fights and wild brawls against opponents he should beat. Bermudez doesn’t always defend himself well and has a very questionable chin to go along with it.

That’s the number one path to victory for Ricardo Lamas here. Lamas isn’t nearly as good a wrestler as Bermudez, and isn’t much of a volume striker, but he’s tough, well-rounded, and there aren’t any glaring holes in his game (besides perhaps takedown defense). Lamas has defeated a few fighters by knockout at a high level, and he has to be considered a threat to do it here. I have to call Lamas the underdog because of Bermudez’s advantage in the takedown game, but Lamas is a threat to take advantage of the areas where Bermudez is weak as well.

Pick: Dennis Bermudez by decision

Statistical model estimate: Dennis Bermudez 56.5%, Ricardo Lamas 43.5%

Chris Heatherly vs. Augusto Montano

With all due respect to the fighters involved, this is one of two fights that simply do not belong on a UFC pay per view main card. Heatherly last appeared in August, where he became the first fighter to submit to an omoplata, tapping out against Ben Saunders in his UFC debut. His opponent is Augusto Montano, a fighter who is 13-1, making his debut in the UFC, and just so happens to be Mexican, which is presumably why he finds himself on the main card here.

Montano does bring some skills with him into the cage, particularly overall striking ability. Montano strikes with both volume and power and should have a decisive edge over Heatherly as long as this fight is standing. However, Heatherly usually goes for takedowns (despite his clear deficiencies in submission defense) and Montano’s takedown defense is a huge question mark. I have to think that Montano’s greater skill should overcome Heatherly’s one-dimensional approach, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Heatherly was able to grind out a decision with takedowns here.

Pick: Augusto Montano by decision

Statistical model estimate: Augusto Montano 64.2%, Chris Heatherly 35.8%

Edgar Garcia vs. Hector Urbina

If the name “Edgar Garcia” sounds familiar, it’s because he appeared in two UFC fights in 2009, losing by decision to Brad Blackburn and by submission to DaMarques Johnson. Garcia is 7-1 since the Johnson fight, so it’s not unreasonable for him to be given a second chance in the UFC. What’s unreasonable is Garcia’s status on a pay per view main card. Making matters worse is opponent Hector Urbina, who is 16-8-1 with five losses by TKO, and lost to Cathal Pendred on The Ultimate Fighter.

Garcia is a wrestler who has a very poor sense of distance – he often throws quick hooks from kicking range that come up short while his opponent lands a stiff counter jab. Garcia hits very hard and is aggressive, which has led to a lot of success on the regional circuit, but I suspect higher level fighters will be able to shut him down. Urbina doesn’t really qualify as that level of opponent – he’s a sloppy brawler who hits hard himself, but the problem is that he’s already lost by TKO five times and is likely to engage from the pocket against a power striker.

Pick: Edgar Garcia by KO

Statistical model estimate: Edgar Garcia 61.0%, Hector Urbina 39.0%

Leonardo Morales vs. Yair Rodriguez

The featherweight final of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America features two inexperienced fighters. Rodriguez enters at 3-1 as a professional while Morales is 4-0. Rodriguez is a lanky fighter who takes advantage of his length to land straight punches and a number of exotic kicks. Morales is a sharp kicker who is very good at controlling distance and keeping his opponent in kicking range. Neither fighter has particularly strong defense, but this one should become a fun striking match at distance.

Pick: Leonardo Morales by decision

Statistical model estimate: Leonardo Morales 51.0%, Yair Rodriguez 49.0%

Alejandro Perez vs. Jose Quinonez

The bantamweight final of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America features two fighters who have fought against each other twice before (although Sherdog only recognizes one of the fights). In their more recent fight, Quinonez knocked Perez down early, and while Perez recovered to land a few takedowns, Quinonez did a good job of scrambling and out-working Perez in the fight. Perez might be able to exploit Quinonez’s lack of takedown defense, but Quinonez hits harder and Perez has a very questionable chin. I favor Quinonez to win this one but I also think the betting lines aren’t giving Perez enough credit.

Pick: Jose Quinonez by TKO

Statistical model estimate: Jose Quinonez 60.1%, Alejandro Perez 39.9%

Jessica Eye vs. Leslie Smith

Smith is a volume striker who sets a very high pace and puts a lot of pressure on her opponents. Sometimes opponents (like Jessamyn Duke) get overwhelmed by that pressure, but just as often, Smith’s opponents respond by simply out-striking her. Smith has no concept of effective striking defense. This time, her opponent is Jessica Eye, a good offensive boxer who has her own defensive shortcomings, but not nearly to the extent of Smith. Eye is a much tougher opponent than Duke and is likely to out-point Smith in this one.

Pick: Jessica Eye by decision

Statistical model estimate: Jessica Eye 68.2%, Leslie Smith 31.8%

Gabriel Benitez vs. Humberto Brown

Benitez is a talented offensive fighter with a diverse striking arsenal, a solid submission game, an occasional takedown and decent knockout power. Unfortunately, Benitez is poor defensively, especially at standing distance as his striking defense generally means taking the full force of punches to the face. His opponent is Humberto Brown, who frankly isn’t prepared to fight UFC competition. Brown has porous striking defense and lacks a polished striking offense of his own, but also lacks instincts on the ground. Brown is 4-4 for a reason – he is simply too raw to defeat quality opponents.

Pick: Gabriel Benitez by submission

Statistical model estimate: Gabriel Benitez 80.3%, Humberto Brown 19.7%

Henry Briones vs. Guido Cannetti

Briones is an aggressive fighter who has very little ability to defend takedowns. Briones constantly finds himself fighting off his back, but on the regional circuit, he made up for it with conditioning, aggression, knockout power and an arsenal of submissions. Cannetti is a brawler who is good at landing takedowns and should be able to take advantage of Briones’s lack of takedown defense, but makes mistakes on the ground. Cannetti is also a wild striker who leaves his chin exposed too often. This is a competitive fight, with Briones more likely to finish and Cannetti more likely to win if the fight goes the distance.

Pick: Henry Briones by TKO

Statistical model estimate: Henry Briones 54.2%, Guido Cannetti 45.8%

Marco Beltran vs. Marlon Vera

Beltran and Vera are both very flawed fighters, but while Beltran is often wild and undisciplined, Vera brings a little more polish and talent into the cage. Beltran can’t wrestle and his striking is a mess, but he at least has a decent guard and the ability to scramble a little bit. Vera isn’t much of a wrestler either, but he’s better at using submission threats to get back to his feet and has a crisper striking game. This is a very low-level fight by UFC standards but I can see Vera developing into a decent prospect. I can’t say the same of Beltran.

Pick: Marlon Vera by decision

Statistical model estimate: Marlon Vera 70.3%, Marco Beltran 29.7%

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