Rafael Dos Anjos vs. Anthony Pettis
For some reason, Rafael Dos Anjos has a very difficult time getting the respect he deserves as a top contender in the UFC lightweight division. When he was matched up against Benson Henderson, degenerate gamblers couldn’t help but bet piles of money on Henderson, causing the former champion to rise from a 3-1 favorite to a 5-1 favorite. Those degenerates were punished for their hubris when Dos Anjos won by first-round knockout, but it hasn’t stopped them from considering Dos Anjos the heavy underdog once again against Anthony Pettis. Pettis is currently the favorite at about -450, with Dos Anjos the underdog at about +370.
When I look at the way Dos Anjos matches up with Pettis, I don’t see where there’s this huge separation between the two. I think of Pettis as something of a sniper – a fighter who doesn’t win by dominating opponents with a barrage of strikes and takedowns, but instead wins by landing devastating, well-timed kicks and locking up sudden submissions. Against Dos Anjos, a fighter with a very strong background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and no true submission losses, I doubt that a win by submission will be an available path to victory for Pettis. (Dos Anjos does have one submission loss, but it was because of a jaw injury suffered against Clay Guida at UFC 117.)
It’s easy to think that Pettis might be the vastly superior striker, but the statistics indicate that’s not really the case. My regression-adjusted statistics have Pettis at 2.61 significant strikes landed and 2.30 absorbed per minute, for a surplus of +0.31 significant strikes per minute. For Dos Anjos, I have 2.91 landed and 2.49 absorbed per minute for a surplus of +0.42 significant strikes per minute. Pettis does have the advantage in striking power, but Dos Anjos is a durable fighter who hasn’t been knocked out since his debut KO loss to Jeremy Stephens back at UFC 91.
As for the takedown game, it’s been something of a sore spot for Pettis in the past. His loss to Guida in 2011 (hard to believe that was four years ago already) was a direct result of Guida’s five takedowns and grinding top control. He’s also been taken down by Benson Henderson, Jeremy Stephens, Shane Roller, and Alex Karalexis. However, it’s worth pointing out that recent opponents haven’t had the same success taking Pettis down, with Henderson and Gilbert Melendez being a combined 1-for-11, and Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon each failing to make a single attempt. With that said, Dos Anjos is a capable wrestler who will at least threaten to land takedowns here.
My sense is that Pettis’s low volume style makes him susceptible to losing in fights that go to decision; he’s 3-2 in his career in fights that go the distance, and two of the three wins were by split decision. With Dos Anjos being the more aggressive striker and a capable wrestler, I would actually favor him if Saturday’s main event goes all five rounds. Despite that, I still have to favor Pettis overall because of his terrific ability to set up and deliver devastating kicks and finish fights. Dos Anjos is a tough out, so Pettis will have his hands full, but as much as I think Dos Anjos is being vastly underrated here, I have to slightly side with the defending champion.
Pick: Anthony Pettis by TKO
Carla Esparza vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
When the last season of The Ultimate Fighter was being aired, I made it clear that I felt anybody who won that season would eventually lose to the fighter I felt was the best women’s strawweight in the world – Claudia Gadelha. Even though Carla Esparza was the champion in Invicta and the favorite to win the tournament in TUF, I thought Gadelha’s well-rounded game would be enough to knock Esparza off her perch. Only one problem – Gadelha’s climb to the top was derailed along the way by Polish striker Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who defeated Gadelha in a contentious split decision in December.
Jedrzejczyk will have the clear and obvious advantage standing as the challenger against Esparza in Saturday’s co-main event. She has – in my estimation – the best hands of any fighter in women’s MMA right now. Her movement and distance control are excellent and she throws effortless combinations. It makes a huge statement that Jedrzejczyk was not only able to out-box Gadelha, but knock her down in their December match.
There is almost zero chance that Esparza will settle for a striking match here. Esparza’s game is takedowns and stifling top control, and unfortunately for Jedrzejczyk, she hasn’t shown the ability to deal with that kind of game particularly well. Gadelha took her down seven times, and while Jedrzejczyk did a nice job of limiting Gadelha’s offense from top position, it leaves me thinking there’s no way she’ll be able to stuff Esparza’s takedowns. That’s especially true in a five-round fight, where Esparza’s grinding style should only become more effective as the fight goes on. Jedrzejczyk is a serious challenger due to her terrific boxing, but until she proves that she can stay standing, I have to consider Esparza the favorite.
Pick: Carla Esparza by decision
Matt Brown vs. Johny Hendricks
I’ve been pretty vocal about Matt Brown being underrated in recent fights, picking him to beat Erick Silva and arguing that he had a really good chance against Robbie Lawler. A lot of that was due to the stylistic matchups. I felt that Brown would do well in a striking match against Lawler, and his pressure would be tough for Silva to handle. Against Johny Hendricks, an overpowering wrestler with some serious striking skills of his own, I like Brown’s chances a lot less. It doesn’t help that Hendricks has an iron chin and is saying all the right things about being in shape throughout his fight camp. I have a hard time seeing Brown winning by either stoppage (due to Hendricks’ chin) or decision (due to Hendricks’ wrestling).
Pick: Johny Hendricks by decision
Roy Nelson vs. Alistair Overeem
Overeem’s fighting skills are so far beyond Nelson’s that it’s laughable. Overeem is the former K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing champion with serious skills in both submissions and takedowns; Nelson is a fat guy who chucks overhand rights and takes punches to the face. It says something about the state of Overeem’s chin that people are seriously considering picking Nelson here. I get it – Overeem has a ton of knockout losses and Nelson has historically been far more durable. But at some point, isn’t the gap between each fighter’s kickboxing skill so great to make up for that? If Overeem lands 100 significant strikes and Nelson lands 15, is Nelson really more likely to win by knockout, especially considering that he’s now 38 years old and coming off a knockout loss?
Pick: Alistair Overeem by TKO
Chris Cariaso vs. Henry Cejudo
Most opinions on Cejudo are about the same – that if he just gets his head on straight, that he could be a UFC champion in the flyweight division, eventually becoming a serious challenger against Demetrious Johnson. Cejudo is a world-class wrestler who has picked up striking skills very quickly (although Dustin Kimura is a relatively hopeless opponent in the standup game). Cariaso is a far better kickboxer and may even have the advantage at range, but enters with a history of below-average takedown defense. It seems like a match tailor made for Cejudo to win by decision, but I get the nagging feeling that Cariaso is going to give him more trouble than expected.
Pick: Henry Cejudo by decision
Ross Pearson vs. Sam Stout: Pearson’s chin is a bit iffy, but Stout has very little knockout power (his “Hands of Stone” nickname remains ironic) and Pearson moves and defends himself much better. Pearson by decision.
Roger Narvaez vs. Elias Theodorou: Narvaez broke through with an unexpected victory against Luke Barnatt in his last fight, but he has a thankless task against Theodorou, a legitimate prospect with excellent offensive diversity. Theodorou by TKO.
Daron Cruickshank vs. Beneil Dariush: Dariush brings serious finishing skills into the cage, especially on the ground, but Cruickshank should prove to be the better striker, and I have questions about Dariush’s chin. Cruickshank by decision.
Josh Copeland vs. Jared Rosholt: Rosholt is almost definitely the better wrestler, leaving Copeland probably needing to sprawl and brawl his way to victory. But Copeland was such a mess standing against Ruslan Magomedov that I have to consider him a large underdog here. Rosholt by decision.
Ryan Benoit vs. Sergio Pettis: It seems like Pettis should be fighting a tougher opponent at this point, but he’s still 21 years old, so I get the desire to develop him slowly. He’s easily the better striker than Benoit, but with Pettis’s overall grappling a sore spot, Benoit could give him some trouble. Pettis by decision.
Joseph Duffy vs. Jake Lindsey: Duffy is a 6-1 favorite, which I assume is because he has a win over Conor McGregor on his record – from back when McGregor didn’t know what to do with submissions. Lindsey struggles on the ground, so I’m down with Duffy as the favorite… but 6-1? Really? Duffy by submission.
Germaine de Randamie vs. Larissa Pacheco: Pacheco got run over by Jessica Andrade in her debut, but with her youth advantage and history of winning on the ground, I think we’ll see a much better performance this time against the kickboxer in De Randamie. Pacheco by submission.