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Intelligent, unique MMA analysis
Jussier Formiga vs. Zach Makovsky
There are a lot of wrestlers who compete in mixed martial arts, but they don’t all compete the same way. Some are fighters who relentlessly pursue the takedown and the top position that comes with it. Some use their wrestling as positional advantage, forcing grapplers to strike and strikers to grapple. Some blend takedowns with striking skills.
Zach Makovsky is a great example of a wrestler who always seeks out top position, regardless of who the opponent is. He doesn’t really like to strike (although he’s not too bad standing) and he’s not known for his submission game either. Makovsky is a grinder whose fights usually go to decision – with Makovsky being the winner almost every time due to his wrestling ability.
With Makovsky currently listed as the 3-1 favorite to defeat Jussier Formiga, it seems the betting public expects this fight to go down the same way. When Formiga was set to fight Joseph Benavidez, I dismissed the idea that he would even be competitive, as Benavidez was the superior wrestler and had never shown vulnerability on the ground. This fight is different because Makovsky enters with three career losses by submission.
Formiga is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist with eight career wins by submission, taking on an opponent who A) always goes for takedowns and B) is vulnerable to being submitted. It’s actually a really good style matchup for Formiga. I have to pick Makovsky to win straight-up as top position is a huge advantage and Makovsky is likely to win any fight that goes the distance, but I also see significant betting value on the underdog in this one.
Pick: Zach Makovsky by decision
Sara McMann vs. Lauren Murphy
Murphy is a grinding type of fighter who chains combination punching with takedown attempts and ground and pound action. She enters the UFC undefeated at 8-0 with three consecutive wins in Invicta FC, over Miriam Nakamoto, Sarah D’Alelio, and Kaitlin Young. After watching the tape, I see Murphy as being a good but not great striker and wrestler, but a fighter lacking a polished submission game.
Murphy has six wins by TKO but the first five were against opponents with a combined seven wins in professional MMA. Her most recent TKO victory was against Nakamoto, whose knee was injured during a Murphy takedown attempt. Murphy doesn’t strike me as a fighter who will be much of a finisher in the UFC, instead winning decisions with a combination of strikes, takedowns, and top control.
With that in mind, I can’t think of any non-Rousey bantamweight worse for Murphy to fight than Sara McMann. Trust me when I say that Murphy isn’t going to take McMann down at any point in this fight. Instead, it will be McMann charging forward and taking Murphy to the ground, probably without much difficulty in the process.
McMann’s ground game is flawed and it’s possible a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace could submit her from the guard. Murphy is not that fighter – she has yet to win a fight by submission. It’s more common for Murphy to be the one fighting off submission attempts. Keep in mind also that McMann is now 7-1 in MMA and should still be improving her skill set. It’s a point I’ve made with fighters like Chris Weidman and T.J. Dillashaw – fighters with fewer than 12 or so fights can be expected to improve rapidly. I see no reason why that shouldn’t be the case with women’s MMA as well. If that is indeed the case and we see McMann significantly improved… then it figures to be a very tough night for Murphy.
Pick: Sara McMann by TKO
Sam Alvey vs. Tom Watson
Watson fights as if there’s no such thing as the “ground game” in mixed martial arts. With four UFC fights and 55 minutes of UFC fighting on his record, Watson has been credited with exactly zero takedowns, guard passes, or submission attempts. This would be fine if Watson had great takedown defense or striking defense, but he doesn’t. His takedown defense is 47 percent and he’s absorbed 3.73 significant strikes per minute.
All of Watson’s opponents have taken him down exactly five times each. The result is that Watson is now 1-3 in the UFC and 0-3 in fights going to decision. Volume striking is the only plus skill he brings to the table.
With those limitations in mind, Watson actually matches up well with the debuting Sam Alvey. Alvey is a counter striker with big knockout power but doesn’t throw strikes with volume and only grapples when his opponent forces him to. Alvey is likely to give Watson what he wants – a striking match at distance.
Even then, I find myself leaning towards Alvey as being the favorite in such a fight. Alvey does hit genuinely hard and enters with a record of 14-0 in fights ending by knockout or TKO. Often, when a fighter with plus knockout power meets an opponent with middling (at best) striking defense… it’s a recipe for a knockout victory. It’s also not out of the question that Alvey could mix in a few takedowns. Watson could possibly win on points if the fight stays standing, but I think Alvey has more paths to victory here.
Pick: Sam Alvey by decision
Frankie Saenz vs. Nolan Ticman
Ticman is a fighter with a record of just 4-1 and very little available footage to break down. If his fight against Adriano Goncalves is any indication, Ticman has good punching power for a bantamweight and a diverse arsenal of punches and kicks. However, Ticman’s striking defense needs a lot of work. He backed up a lot, had a tough time anticipating strikes and left a lot of openings for his opponent to attack. I know nothing about Ticman’s ground game other than he has a background as a wrestler in college.
There’s nothing about Ticman’s fight history that indicates he’s ready for the UFC. None of his five fights were against particularly strong opponents. Unless Ticman has greatly improved in the 22 months since he last fought (possible), he’s more likely than not to get cut from the UFC bantamweight roster within three fights.
As I was watching Frankie Saenz, a thought exploded into my head… “this guy looks like Johny Hendricks.” It’s not just because he has a beard. His fighting style is very similar: he’s a powerful wrestler who hits hard, likes to work punches and knees in the clinch, doesn’t have much of a ground game and struggles when forced to just straight-up kickbox. Don’t get me wrong, Saenz looked the same against King of the Cage competition as Hendricks against world championship level competition… so think of Saenz as a very poor, nearly destitute man’s Hendricks.
If Ticman comes in and shows off good takedown defense and improved striking, he could certainly win on points or perhaps by knockout. Otherwise, I think Saenz deserves to be favored as the more developed and proven fighter.
Pick: Frankie Saenz by decision
My picks for this event are:
PICKS TO DATE
Last Event: 7-3 (70.0%)
Year To Date: 185-98 (65.4%)
I believed in you Cody Donovan!
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Last Event: No wagers made
Current Bankroll: $81.25
Total Investment: $217.22
Total Return: $31.25
Return on Investment: 14.4%
For this event I have…
Matt Brown +275: $3.00 to win $8.25 – I thought it was great value when Brown reached +275. Little did I know that he would make it to +310 shortly after I placed this bet. I think Brown and Robbie Lawler are going to have a very competitive slugfest. I would have been tempted to bet on Brown at his opening price of +180. This fight is just more competitive than most people think it is.
Bobby Green +215: $3.00 to win $6.45 – I think Green will be the better striker against Josh Thomson. I’m picking Thomson due to his grappling prowess but I think this is a very close fight, so I’m happy to side with the +215 underdog.
Andreas Stahl +155: $3.00 to win $4.65 – Stahl opened at -110. I liked what I saw from him on tape, an aggressive striker who will put pressure on Gilbert Burns. I’m not buying the Burns hype quite yet and I think Stahl wins this one.
Mandatory disclaimer: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my plays in any serious way. I’m doing this for fun and as an experiment, not a livelihood. If you make any bets, you do so at your own risk.
Best of luck and enjoy the fights!
Before I talk about this fight, I need to put a disclaimer on this post. I’ve been mostly wrong about Robbie Lawler since he returned to the UFC. I picked Josh Koscheck to beat him. I picked Rory MacDonald to beat him and thought MacDonald was undervalued as a nearly 4-1 favorite. I picked Jake Ellenberger to beat him. So that’s not a good record. You could easily ignore what I have to say about this fight, and I wouldn’t blame you for it at all.
With that said, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for Lawler as a fighter who has suddenly become a confident, aggressive striker with very good KO power and solid takedown defense. None of those things were true of Lawler when he competed in Strikeforce. Instead, Lawler was the guy who got chewed up for most of one round before knocking out Melvin Manhoef out of nowhere, and the guy who looked like a shot fighter in a lackluster loss to Lorenz Larkin.
It’s an improbable career turnaround, and it culminated with Lawler coming so close to winning the UFC welterweight title against Johny Hendricks in March. There’s no denying now that Lawler is not a fluke – his sudden improvements are for real.
Here’s the thing. While it took me way too long to respect Lawler as a high level fighter… I think the same thing is true of the MMA world regarding Matt Brown.
Don’t get me wrong, I had very little respect for Brown as a UFC welterweight a handful of fights ago. I thought he could beat the Chris Copes of the world but anytime he was matched up against a decent opponent, I would pick against him. Brown simply had a dismal record.
Somewhere along the way, Brown learned how to defend submissions, and then things turned around for him. A fighter who was 5-5 in the UFC suddenly went on a seven-fight winning streak, and now Brown finds himself possibly one win away from a title shot.
The thing is – Brown was always a pretty good striker. He’s a career 12-0 in fights ending by KO/TKO and only lost twice by decision. One of those two losses was a dubious split decision against Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 88. Even when his UFC record was 5-5, Brown was up 265-168 in significant strikes landed. His problem was always losing fights by submission. Now Brown has cleaned up that part of his game, and much like Mark Hunt, a fast rise up the ranks occurred after that.
Of course, Brown won’t have to worry about submissions when he faces Lawler. This figures to be a brutal back and forth striking match, a battle between fighters who simply don’t lose by knockout.
If the betting public is to be believed, then Lawler should be able to defeat Brown in somewhat one-sided fashion. Brown opened as a +180 underdog, a price that makes sense given how well Lawler has performed against guys like Hendricks and MacDonald. The one thing Brown hasn’t proven is that he has what it takes to defeat a top-tier fighter.
But since then, the lines moved dramatically, to the point where Brown got all the way up to +310. That’s why I say the MMA world isn’t respecting Brown enough. Brown has always been a good and punishing striker with poor submission defense… but now he’s cleaned up the one glaring weakness in his game. Matt Brown is for real – but all I see are people talking about how they’re looking forward to watching Lawler tear him apart.
Maybe a win against Lawler would finally convince people that Brown is a legitimate title threat. As much as I would love to predict that outcome, I can’t do it. There are two things holding me back. One is the fact that Brown was clearly out-struck by Stephen Thompson. Thompson is a great striker and possibly better than Lawler, but it’s a data point that suggests Brown is vulnerable against high-level strikers… and Lawler has to be considered a high-level striker by MMA standards at this point.
The other hesitation is Brown’s recent history of being hurt badly when hit in the body. Brown was nearly stopped quickly by Erick Silva due to taking punishment to the body. It’s quite possible that Lawler will be able to take better advantage of Brown not absorbing body strikes well.
My prediction is that we’re going to see something of a slugfest, with Lawler landing more strikes and winning by decision in the end. As for my degenerate gambling action, it will be on the underdog.
Pick: Robbie Lawler by decision
I was getting worried there. I was starting to wonder if the idea of a person named “Antonio Rogerio Nogueira” was just something I made up in my head. I could have sworn this person was a mainstay in PRIDE FC and a title contender for a while, but time kept passing by without an appearance by him…
OK, I’ll stop being silly. After fighting just once in two and a half years due to an assortment of injuries, Nogueira has returned and he’s set to take on Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. It might seem like Nogueira is irrelevant due to all the time off, but remember that his last fight was a decision victory against Rashad Evans. There’s a reason that he’s taking on an opponent as dangerous as Johnson.
Much like the Evans fight, Nogueira is largely being counted out heading into this battle. Against Evans, I thought Nogueira had a decent chance of winning, as I believed he could out-point Evans standing and possibly defend Evans’ takedowns as well. I didn’t predict it would happen but acknowledged it as a possibility… and that possibility hit.
Against Johnson… ugh. I don’t like this fight for Nogueira at all. Johnson is a much better overall striker than Evans, a fighter with excellent hand and foot speed, tremendous knockout power, and a good understanding of how to set up his techniques. Johnson is so good standing – and so mediocre on the ground – that almost everybody who fights him resorts to shooting for takedown attempts.
For what it’s worth, Rogerio is a better overall striker than his twin brother. He’s much better at limiting his opponent’s damage and winning a boxing match at range. That’s unlikely to matter much in this fight. Johnson is going to be the much more punishing striker with far superior hand speed. I highly doubt that Nogueira will be able to settle into a boxing match here for too long before being knocked out or at least hurt by strikes.
The path to victory for Nogueira here is simply to find a way to drag Johnson to the ground. Three of Johnson’s four career losses are by submission, with the other coming by getting poked in the eye. Johnson has been caught in nine total submission attempts despite only being taken down three times in UFC fights. Nogueira is known as a technician on the ground and a fighter with an excellent guard game. He’s a serious threat to submit Johnson if the fight goes to the ground.
The problem is that I have very little faith in Nogueira’s ability to get Johnson down. Offensive wrestling is easily the weakest part of Nogueira’s game – he’s landed just 0.79 takedowns per 15 minutes at 44 percent accuracy. In high-level fights, Nogueira has resorted to settling for a boxing match. In Nogueira’s mind, he is fully capable of beating opponents standing up, and if they want to take him to the ground, that works too.
That mentality isn’t going to get the job done against Johnson. His strikes are too punishing to risk slugging it out for three rounds, and he’s too hard to take down for Nogueira to succeed that way. Unless Johnson’s conditioning fails him – and why would it? – I have a very difficult time seeing how Nogueira wins this fight.
Pick: Anthony Johnson by KO
At UFC 164, Clay Guida was matched up against the toughest opponent of his career to that point: Chad Mendes. (I say that with full knowledge that Guida has also fought Anthony Pettis.) Guida has historically been a fighter who relies on takedowns to win fights; if Guida can’t get the takedown, things generally don’t go well for him. In the UFC, Guida is 1-3 in fights where he fails to land a takedown, and the one win was by split decision against pure grappler Marcus Aurelio.
Against Mendes, Guida was facing an opponent with a career takedown defense rate of 100 percent and a very low rate of strikes absorbed. Sure enough, when the fight took place, Guida went 0 for 4 in takedowns, landed just 17 significant strikes and lost by third-round TKO. Guida’s striking just isn’t good enough to carry him when his wrestling fails. He needs takedowns to win, as takedowns and top control are how he wins at a high level, and how he defeated the current lightweight champion Pettis.
I bring up the Mendes fight because Dennis Bermudez is a poor man’s Mendes in some ways. Bermudez doesn’t have a perfect takedown defense rate, but he’s only been taken down twice in seven UFC fights, defending 91 percent of his opponents’ takedowns. He’s a tank of a featherweight, a fighter who can take strikers down and force grapplers to strike against him. He’s the best featherweight wrestler not named Mendes – and he’s better than Guida, who lands just 38 percent of his own takedowns.
In that respect, Bermudez is similar to Mendes. Where Bermudez goes wrong is that he’s not difficult to hit. He took 82 significant strikes in a wild back-and-forth match against Matt Grice (a fantastic fight, and it’s a shame that Grice had to endure a severe auto accident and coma afterwards). Max Holloway landed 75 significant strikes against him. Mendes shuts down his opponent’s offense while Bermudez just shuts down their takedown game.
For that reason, I think Guida can be competitive against Bermudez even if his takedown game fails. Now, Guida is frustrating to watch when he stands and strikes. There’s a lot of movement and a lot of hair flying around all over the place… but not a lot of strikes actually landed. This problem was most apparent in Guida’s loss to Gray Maynard, a fight that was universally panned afterwards. But against Bermudez, I can see Guida actually landing strikes and making things exciting.
But I can’t favor Guida. Not when his significant strike margin is a below-average -0.13 while Bermudez is at +1.31. Not when Bermudez could very easily take control of the fight with some takedowns of his own. Guida is a top ten featherweight and a fighter who can give almost anybody a tough fight, but against an opponent like Bermudez, it’s just the wrong style matchup for him.
Pick: Dennis Bermudez by decision
It’s amazing how far Josh Thomson has come in just a couple years. It wasn’t long ago that people dismissed Thomson as a credible threat in the lightweight division. He was seen as over the hill… past his prime… and a fighter who no longer had what it takes to win at a high level.
The result was a fighter who was a 5-1 underdog against Gilbert Melendez when they fought for the third time, even though Thomson and Melendez had split two very competitive fights before. In my little corner of the internet, I was arguing that Thomson was a badly underrated fighter and should give Melendez a really tough fight – and sure enough, it ended up going to split decision, and a lot of people thought Thomson had done enough to win. In the two fights since then, Thomson knocked out Nate Diaz (!) and lost another controversial decision to Benson Henderson. See, I’m right sometimes!
But enough of my shameless self-promotion. I’m glad to see Thomson finally getting the respect he deserves but there are still holes in his game. His takedown defense is a dismal 51 percent. He has a tendency to abandon striking in favor of pure grappling, and that gets him in trouble on the judges’ scorecards at times. Thomson does well against grapplers and opponents who like to stand and bang, but he has trouble against power wrestlers.
Fortunately for Thomson, Bobby Green is not a power wrestler. But can I take a moment to highlight how good Green has been in the UFC lightweight division? First he was able to overcome Jacob Volkmann’s suffocating wrestling game, reversing position and battering Volkmann with strikes before finishing by submission. His most recent performance was a convincing decision victory against a tough grinder in Pat Healy. Green has earned a +2.16 significant strike margin to go along with his vastly improved ground game.
Now Green enters as the underdog against the suddenly respected Thomson, but I find myself conflicted on who I think will win. Green is a genuinely aggressive striker, a fighter who attacks with a steady barrage of punches and kicks, and hits hard enough to be at least a threat to win by TKO. I think Green can have the advantage as long as this fight is standing… but then again, I thought the same thing about Nate Diaz, who Thomson head kicked into oblivion.
Still, in his last seven fights, Thomson has landed 112 significant strikes and absorbed 145 standing. His striking has historically been merely serviceable, enough to keep him competitive while looking to apply his grappling prowess. I believe Thomson faces the same dynamic against Green – when standing, Thomson needs to keep things competitive while he attempts takedowns and looks to grapple his way to victory.
Green isn’t exactly easy to take down either. He enters with a takedown defense rate of 77 percent even though he was taken down a combined six times by Volkmann and Healy.
Despite all the statistical evidence pointing to Green as a legitimate threat to upset Thomson, I’m going to play it safe and pick Thomson to win here. Thomson has fought a higher level of competition than Green recently, and has succeeded with both striking and grappling in the process. He arguably deserved the decision against Benson Henderson, and that’s not something to ignore or dismiss. Meanwhile, Green has not been difficult to hit even during his recent winning streak. I think it’s a close fight that Thomson can win as long as he actively pursues takedowns, but I also see a lot of upset potential here.
Pick: Josh Thomson by decision
Daron Cruickshank vs. Jorge Masvidal
Cruickshank has done a really nice job of working his way up the ladder in the incredibly deep UFC lightweight division. In his last fight, Cruickshank scored a big upset by knocking out Erik Koch in the first round. His reward is a fight against Jorge Masvidal, and if he wins, Cruickshank would have to be considered a fringe title contender at that point.
The problem is that I don’t think Cruickshank matches up well with Masvidal. Cruickshank is a striker who relies on kicks to keep his opponents off balance, but Masvidal is a very good points fighter who mixes takedowns with good volume striking. I think Masvidal can land more standing strikes than Cruickshank and add a few takedowns on top of it. For Cruickshank, the path to victory is to defend Masvidal’s takedowns and look to win by knockout. Since Cruickshank has a history of struggling against volume strikers, I think Masvidal is well equipped to win by decision here.
Pick: Jorge Masvidal by decision
Patrick Cummins vs. Kyle Kingsbury
Kingsbury is definitely more developed as a mixed martial artist, but Cummins’ wrestling is far better than any one skill Kingsbury brings to the table. Kingsbury’s statistical profile is not great – he rates as below average in striking, wrestling, and submissions. He’s a fighter who relies on athleticism to win, and he usually needs his opponent to have a glaring weakness. Cummins has that weakness with his striking, but he’s going to attack Kingsbury with takedowns immediately. Given Kingsbury’s poor takedown defense rate of 57 percent, I expect Cummins to succeed in getting Kingsbury to the ground and grinding out a one-sided decision win.
Pick: Patrick Cummins by decision
Tim Means vs. Hernani Perpetuo
Means is a volume striker who has no idea how to adequately defend takedowns. He also doesn’t have the threatening guard game a lot of lanky fighters use to dissuade opponents from taking them down. Fortunately for Means, he’s facing an opponent in Perpetuo who likes to stand and strike. After examining Perpetuo’s record and watching him on tape, I just don’t think he has what it takes to succeed in the UFC. He’s a striker whose striking is pretty flawed from what I’ve seen – he doesn’t have big power and makes technical mistakes like leaning forward into his punches. Perpetuo’s early career record translates to a SILVA score of 5.39 – prospects entering the UFC really want this to be 30.00 or higher. This looks like a good fight for Means to bounce back.
Pick: Tim Means by TKO
Mike de la Torre vs. Brian Ortega
De la Torre surprised a lot of people by giving Mark Bocek a very difficult fight in April. He was able to mostly stop Bocek’s takedowns and force Bocek into a grueling striking match. It was unexpected because de la Torre historically has had very poor takedown defense, and multiple career losses by submission. This time, he’s set to face Brian “T-city” Ortega. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably from being featured by the Gracie Academy YouTube channel. As would be expected, Ortega has a very slick and attacking ground game, but his striking and wrestling are lackluster. I think Ortega has what it takes to drag de la Torre to the ground and win by submission, but I want to see improvement in other areas before I start promoting Ortega as a big-time prospect.
Pick: Brian Ortega by submission
Akbarh Arreola vs. Tiago Trator
Arreola is in the same class as fighters like Anthony Lapsley and Joe Doerksen. He’s good enough to succeed on the regional circuit, but just doesn’t have what it takes to win at the highest levels of the sport. I suspect the UFC is giving Arreola a chance so they can have a fighter ready to compete on their upcoming Mexico City card. Arreola has a pretty good submission game but his striking is poor. I expect Tiago Trator, who is a wild but somewhat effective striker, to have a lot of success as long as the fight is standing. Trator doesn’t have strong takedown defense, so it’s possible that Arreola could take him down and possibly win by submission or even on points. However, I see Trator as the better overall fighter and more likely to win due to what I think will be a big advantage in striking.
Pick: Tiago Trator by decision
Gilbert Burns vs. Andreas Stahl
Burns enters the UFC with some hype behind him, as a high-level Brazilan Jiu-Jitsu expert and a member of the Blackzilians. The hype has carried over to the betting markets, where Burns began as a narrow -130 favorite and immediately jumped to -195. After watching tape, I’m not convinced. Burns’ striking is pretty rudimentary and he strikes at a very slow pace. His submissions are obviously excellent, but it remains to be seen how well Burns will be able to apply his ground game to high-level competition. I was more impressed by Stahl, who is a more traditional wrestler/boxer type of fighter. Burns is the more hyped fighter, but I think Stahl is the better prospect, and I’m willing to pick him for the upset here.
Pick: Andreas Stahl by decision
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Juliana Lima
In the second ever UFC women’s strawweight fight, Joanna Jedrzejczyk enters at an undefeated 6-0 while Lima is 6-1. Jedrzejczyk has the better record, both from a winning percentage and quality of competition standpoint. I was also fairly impressed watching her on tape. She’s a counter striker with pretty good power and good balance in the clinch. Most recently, Jedrzejczyk took out Rosi Sexton, and while Sexton was brutally beaten multiple times in the UFC, she’s an experienced competitor. Stopping Sexton by TKO in the second round is an impressive outcome for a rising prospect. It’s enough for me to favor the Polish strawweight to earn a victory here.
Pick: Joanna Jedrzejczyk by decision
Noad Lahat vs. Steven Siler
After watching Lahat lose by KO to Godofredo Pepey and win in earlier fights, I came away not knowing what he’s particularly good at. Lahat still strikes me as a work in progress as a mixed martial artist. Now, it’s possible that Lahat can beat Steven Siler if he’s developed his takedown game, because Siler’s takedown defense is a serious liability. But I think Siler enters as the superior striker, and should have enough of a ground game to threaten sweeps, submissions, or at least get back to his feet if he gets taken down. Unless Lahat has made big improvements in his game (and that’s possible), I can’t pick him to beat Siler here.
Pick: Steven Siler by decision
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!
Below these quick picks is the degenerate gambler’s corner for this event.
Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller
Cerrone and Miller are both fighters who are good enough to beat the vast majority of UFC lightweights, but too flawed to succeed against top tier competition. Cerrone’s problem – and I’m a broken record on this – is that he’s far too easy to hit. He absorbed a massive 238 significant strikes in three rounds against Nate Diaz and has absorbed 3.69 significant strikes per minute overall. Fun fact: Cerrone’s significant strike margin of +0.12 per minute is lower than Miller’s margin of +0.25.
Remove the Diaz fights from both fighters’ statistics, and the numbers shift to favoring Cerrone, which makes sense as Cerrone is taller, lands strikes at greater volume, and hits harder. I expect Cerrone to have a significant advantage standing, putting the onus on Miller to take the fight to the ground.
However, I believe submissions are the best aspect of Cerrone’s game. There’s a reason we don’t see Cerrone on his back for long when he fights – he has a very threatening guard that usually deters opponents from grappling with him. Miller is an excellent submission fighter as well, but there’s nothing that indicates Miller will have an advantage on the ground here. Given that Cerrone is probably more capable of taking Miller down than vice versa, I have to consider Cerrone a solid favorite to win this one.
Pick: Donald Cerrone by TKO
Edson Barboza vs. Evan Dunham
I was one of the earliest people on the Edson Barboza hype train, but jumped off after his close fights against Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson and loss to Jamie Varner. To my surprise, the Barboza hype train is still rolling along without me – Barboza is currently a -250 favorite to beat Evan Dunham.
Barboza is definitely the more varied and powerful striker, but his flaw is the same as Dunham’s: he’s too easy to hit. Dunham actually has the better significant strike margin, +1.31 to +0.73. I think Barboza can make up for that with flashier techniques and more knockout power, but for me, that adds up to Barboza being just a slight favorite to win this one.
Pick: Edson Barboza by decision
Leonardo Mafra vs. Rick Story
Rick Story is one of the most frustrating fighters in the UFC to me. Either he squashes a low-level opponent like Quinn Mulhern or loses a very close fight to an opponent he should probably beat. Perhaps Story’s win over Johny Hendricks was a fluke? Either way, Story remains a punishing striker with good offensive wrestling.
Story’s opponent in Leonardo Mafra is a fighter who appeared on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil and lost his UFC 147 match to Thiago Perpetuo. If I’m right and Story is a top 15 welterweight talent (and I’m probably not right, given Story’s recent history), then he should blow Mafra out of the water. We will see.
Pick: Rick Story by TKO
Joe Proctor vs. Justin Salas
I’ve seen some people suggest that Joe Proctor is being underrated coming into this match against Justin Salas. Proctor opened as the -140 favorite and quickly moved to a +145 underdog, so maybe there’s something to that. But when I look at the statistics, I don’t see what Proctor does that has people excited. He’s a mediocre striker who enters this match at 0-6 in takedowns.
By contrast, Salas is up 8-0 in takedowns but doesn’t have much of a submission game. He’s a fighter who sits in guard and just grinds his opponent with strikes. It’s possible that Proctor will be able to reverse position on the ground. I just feel like when a good wrestler gets top position, submission fighters struggle to escape that position in today’s UFC.
Pick: Justin Salas by decision
John Lineker vs. Alp Ozkilic
Ozkilic is going to want to take John Lineker down as early as he possibly can. Lineker is a slugger who has landed six knockdowns in the flyweight division, which is second to John Dodson in the UFC. Ozkilic is a wrestler whose striking is… a work in progress, to be nice.
The good news for Ozkilic is that he should be successful in getting Lineker down. The bad news is that Ozkilic hasn’t shown the ability to do much with his takedowns – and it’s likely that Lineker will get back to his feet without too much trouble. If Ozkilic gasses like he did against Louis Smolka, this could be a rough outing for him.
Pick: John Lineker by KO
Lucas Martins vs. Alex White
After looking at his record, I like Alex White as a prospect. As a 6’0″ featherweight, I remain skeptical about White’s ability to stay standing against strong wrestlers. Fortunately for White, he is not facing a strong wrestler in Lucas Martins.
If White’s UFC debut victory against Estevan Payan was any indication, he can put together some serious striking offense in a short period of time. And the one thing consistent about Martins is that his striking defense has been very poor. It seems like a good opportunity for White to showcase how violent he can be again.
Pick: Alex White by KO
YEAR TO DATE
Last Events: 12-9 (57.1%)
Year To Date: 171-91 (65.3%)
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Last Events: -$1.00
Current Bankroll: $79.66
Total Investment: $211.22
Total Return: $29.66
Return on Investment: 14.0%
Last week, Chris Weidman got the job done against Lyoto Machida, but long-shot bets on Thiago Santos and Alex Caceres were both losers (although I don’t regret the Santos bet; his fight against Uriah Hall was quite close). I was counting on Matt Mitrione to come through for me, but unfortunately his fight against Stefan Struve was canceled. As a side note, I really hope Struve and his doctors know what they’re doing by letting him fight; him fainting in the locker room after reported heart complications makes me uneasy about him competing.
Also note that my silly $1.00 bet on Brazil to win the World Cup went down in spectacular flames. The Hindenburg was less of a disaster than Brazil’s performance against Germany. Good thing it only cost me a dollar…
For this event I have…
Evan Dunham +230: $3.00 to win $6.90 – This fight against Edson Barboza has split decision written all over it. If that’s the case, I’d much rather be on the side of the +230 underdog than the -250 favorite. I think Dunham can really take advantage of Barboza’s lackluster head striking defense.
Rick Story inside the distance +153: $3.00 to win $4.59 – I think Story is just at a much higher level of fighting than Leonardo Mafra. Usually, if one fighter is much better than the other, he finds a way to finish… I’m betting that Story will do that here. I see Story punishing Mafra with a steady stream of punches and winning by TKO.
Mandatory disclaimer: I am NOT a betting professional and I do NOT recommend you follow my plays in any serious way. I’m doing this for fun and as an experiment, not a livelihood. If you make any bets, you do so at your own risk.
Best of luck and enjoy the fights!
Another UFC week with two events! I have to wonder at this point how long the UFC can keep this up before too many people get burned out…
Pat Healy vs. Gleison Tibau
It’s easy to look at Healy’s age (30) and think he’s in the prime of his career. But Healy is a fighter with 49 fights on his record and 13 years as a professional. It shouldn’t be surprising that Healy is on a three-fight losing streak against the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Bobby Green, and Jorge Masvidal.
Healy is at his best when he’s able to control his opponent in the clinch and with takedowns. That’s what makes Gleison Tibau a tough opponent for him – Tibau is a dominant wrestler, a fighter who has landed 71 takedowns and yielded only five in his UFC career. At the same time, I think Healy can win a striking match if it comes down to that. Tibau is running a -0.36 significant strike deficit per minute despite his massive takedown advantage. It’s not good enough for Tibau to keep this fight standing; he needs to take Healy down to win.
I think Tibau can do it but he’s hard to trust in this situation. Tibau has the wrestling/grappling ability to control Healy and win on points, but if Healy is able to stop Tibau’s takedowns or Tibau simply chooses to make it a striking match, then I would favor Healy.
Pick: Gleison Tibau by decision
Jessamyn Duke vs. Leslie Smith
This is the battle of women who bring just about zero striking defense to the table. Duke and Smith are both tall and rangy fighters (especially Duke), but it’s more common for tall fighters in MMA to simply be bigger targets to hit, as opposed to using range to their advantage as Jon Jones does. Duke and Smith are both examples of fighters who are very easy to hit. Duke absorbed 91 significant strikes in her loss to Bethe Correia, but that’s nothing; Smith absorbed a massive 202 significant strikes in her loss to Sarah Kaufman!
Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed with either woman. In a battle against each other, it really seems like a coin flip to me. Both like to keep the fight standing and neither has significant knockout power. Both are very easy to hit, so I would expect a very high-volume, high-pace striking match that could go either way. I will slightly favor Duke because she’s a little taller and a little rangier.
Pick: Jessamyn Duke by decision
Aljamain Sterling vs. Hugo Viana
Now that T.J. Dillashaw has fulfilled his destiny and become the UFC bantamweight champion, Aljamain Sterling takes over as the best prospect at 135 pounds. Sterling brings an excellent record to the table. He’s 9-0 and his early career was filled with wins against quality opponents. He has a strong skill set with good kickboxing skills, solid wrestling and good positional grappling. This is a fighter who I could easily see becoming a challenger for the title down the road.
His opponent is a fairly tough one in Hugo Viana, a striker who hits very hard for the division. The criticism I have of Sterling is that he throws too many kicks, and I could easily see Viana countering those kicks with power punches. The problem with Viana is that he’s one-dimensional and has yet to land a takedown in the UFC. Ultimately I think Sterling can keep up with Viana standing, eventually taking the fight to the ground and scoring points with ground and pound and superior grappling.
Pick: Aljamain Sterling by decision
Yosdenis Cedeno vs. Jerrod Sanders
I was able to find exactly zero video footage of Jerrod Sanders online, so I really don’t have an adequate knowledge of what he brings to the table. What I do know is that Sanders enters the UFC with a 14-1 record although his quality of competition hasn’t been as high as I would like to see. He also looks like a very muscular guy, so I’m wondering how well he’ll hold up throughout a 15 minute fight.
What I do know is that I was thoroughly unimpressed by Yosdenis Cedeno in his UFC debut loss to Ernest Chavez. Cedeno is a skilled and talented fighter with a history of simply not fighting with the activity level he needs to win on the judges’ scorecards. He landed just 26 significant strikes in his loss to Chavez. Overall I’m not optimistic about either fighter in the long run, but for this fight Sanders is the betting favorite and that’s good enough for me.
Pick: Jerrod Sanders by decision
Claudia Gadelha vs. Tina Lahdemaki
The first women’s strawweight fight in UFC history features a fighter who very well may become the UFC champion in that division: Claudia Gadelha. She is a very well-rounded fighter with crisp straight punches, excellent balance in the clinch, good takedowns and good control on the ground. Gadelha looked very impressive in her Invicta win over Ayaka Hamasaki last time out, as she out-maneuvered Hamasaki in the clinch and battered Hamasaki with strikes and submission attempts on the ground.
I think Tina Lahdemaki is in over her head here. Lahdemaki has a very solid ground game herself, but I can’t find one area where she should have the advantage over Gadelha. Lahdemaki’s striking is not well developed and her takedown game is often relegated to trying to pull her opponent down on top of her. This seems to me like a showcase fight for Gadelha, who should enter as the much better athlete and much better overall fighter.
Pick: Claudia Gadelha by TKO