Welcome MMA bettors, speculators, and gambling lurkers! We’re back at it again for another week of comprehensive gambling analysis from your friends at MMAFighting.com. This weekend’s fight card breaks a long drought of UFC cards and it’s headlined by one of the best title fights possible, so it should be a good weekend.
For those of you who are new here or those who have forgotten, this aims to be an exhaustive preview of the fights, the odds, and my own personal breakdown of where you can find betting value. The number after the odds on each fighter is the probability of victory that those odds imply (so Cormier at +100 means he should win the fight 50 percent of the time). If you think he wins more often than the odds say, you should bet it because there’s value in the line.
All stats come from FightMetric and all the odds are from Best Fight Odds. Net Value means how much money you would have made if you bet $100 on that fighter in every one of his/her fights that odds could be found for. Doubly as always, I’m trying to provide the most thorough guide I can for those who want to legally bet or who just enjoy following along. If you are a person who chooses to gamble, only do so legally, responsibly, and at your own risk.
Now with all that out of the way, let’s go.
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier puts his belt on the line against Anthony Johnson in a rematch of their championship crowning battle two years ago.
Cormier is one of the best wrestlers to have ever stepped foot in the Octagon, being a two-time Olympian for the United States and medal favorite at the 2008 games before being derailed by a failed weight cut. And that wrestling pedigree defines everything he does in the Octagon.
On the feet, Cormier is a relentless pressure fighter, working forward behind body and leg kicks and power punching combinations. Once he gets inside, Cormier is a handful. In the clinch, he fires off quick, snapping uppercuts and hooks, controlling and dirty boxing with the best of them. From here, he also can get his hands locked on an opponent, and once that happens, someone is probably going for a ride. On top, he likes to use a loose but controlling ride that lets him rain down punches and eat clock while grinding opponents down.
Johnson is the most feared power puncher in MMA, but he isn’t just raw power; Johnson has a good amount of depth to his game. Though primarily an orthodox fighter, “Rumble” can switch stances and fires off a good jab from either side as well as using thudding leg kicks to great effect. “Rumble” excels with range and timing, making him an exceptional counterpuncher. He’s also a quick starter, rarely requiring any time to adjust to his opponents and making him a problem for fighters trying to adjust to his blend of speed, power, and athleticism.
Johnson is also an excellent wrestler, having powerful takedowns of his own and being extremely difficult to takedown. His takedown defense is enhanced by his control of range and the fear of God he puts in fighters when he hits them; after all, it’s hard to wrestle effectively when you won’t get closer than 10 feet to someone.
Johnson’s biggest problems all seem to be mental. When opponents dictate the terms of engagement against him, Johnson has been known to break, and if you can get him down, he isn’t the best at getting back up or at staving off submissions. He’s also prone to over-aggression, a trait which cost him against Cormier, who he hurt in their first fight but ended up allowing Cormier to tie him up when he rushed in.
This is the best match that can be made at 205 pounds that doesn’t include Jon Jones, and as such, it’s incredibly close. For Cormier, he needs to just recreate their first fight and he will walk away the winner. For “Rumble,” he just needs to recreate the first few minutes of their last fight and temper his aggression.
For me, this pick comes down to the simple fact that Father Time is undefeated. Cormier is a little older, a little slower, he’s always been kind of hittable, and now he’s been dropped a lot recently. That age and wear, coupled with Johnson’s improvements, make me think this that this time “Rumble” gets it done. Johnson dropped him in their first fight and this time he finishes the job early, knocking out Cormier in the first round. That being said, considering how close this fight is and the simple fact that Cormier is massively advantaged if it goes longer than 10 minutes, I would suggest a bet on Cormier if he gets any higher in value.
In a somewhat perplexing fight, former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman — who has lost two in a row — is taking on surging contender Gegard Mousasi in a fight that will set back the loser while simultaneously not functionally helping the winner towards a title shot in the backlogged middleweight division.
Weidman is an All-American wrestler with a game built around pressure. In fact, he is one of the few elite fighters whose game is essentially limited to one direction of offense. If Weidman is going forward, he is most likely winning; if he’s not, he’s most likely losing.
As far as technique, Weidman is a meat-and-potatoes boxer who comes forward relentlessly behind jab-led combinations and kicks to the body and legs. There isn’t much variety beyond that and he’s shown no real ability to counter. He also isn’t a great defensive fighter and his tendency to retreat in straight lines is concerning. The straw that stirs Weidman’s drink is his wrestling game. Once he gets a tie-up, more often than not the opponent goes to ground, and once on top, Weidman is a devastating combination of passing, submissions, and ground-and-pound.
Mousasi is one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA. On the feet, Mousasi is one of the best defensive fighters in the sport and he can fight moving backwards or forwards. Lately, he has preferred a pressuring style where he works behind a zippy jab and thudding leg kicks. He is fairly active and very accurate, especially with his left hook. Things get no easier for opponents on the ground as Mousasi is an outstanding grappler with smooth passing and punching from on top.
Though Mousasi is incredibly talented, the knock on him has always been a laissez-faire attitude in the cage, content to score but lacking urgency. In the last year though, Mousasi has been getting after folks, so perhaps that has changed along with his newfound trash-talking persona. Then there is also the issue of his defensive wrestling which has cost him before, most notably against “Jacare” Souza.
This is a coin-flip fight. Mousasi is the more talented fighter with more tools but Weidman’s offense attacks Mousasi’s weaknesses fairly well. That being said, the new era Mousasi who pressures forward means Weidman will likely be on the back foot all night long, and if that happens, Mousasi chews him up. If Weidman can get the takedown, he should get the win, but I think Mousasi’s jab, pressure, and footwork will carry the day here. The pick is Mousasi by decision and I like a bet on him at -110 or under, but beyond that, maybe lay off.
Thiago Alves takes on Patrick Cote in a fun welterweight matchup with relatively low stakes. Neither guy is approaching a title shot nor will either be cut with a loss. However, a win could put either guy on the cusp of a top-15 matchup.
Historically, Alves has made his hay by being a sharp, technical kickboxer with bulletproof takedown defense and big power. He works crisp combinations on the feet and he has some of the best leg kicks in MMA. I say “historically” though because at this point in time, that may not be him anymore. In his last fight, Alves was taken down almost at will by a lightweight Jim Miller who Alves had a fair bit of weight on, so it’s entirely possible Alves’ athleticism has faded to the point that he can’t do the things he’s known for anymore.
At 37, Cote is also fairly shopworn, but despite his clearly faded athleticism, Cote has been putting together wins behind veteran savvy. Generally known as an iron-chinned kickboxer with explosive power (traits which mostly hold up as true), Cote since dropping to welterweight has implemented his wrestling game much more frequently. This is backed up by being a surprisingly adept BJJ black belt with good control and pressure on top.
The biggest questions for me are: how much does Alves have left and did he look so bad against Miller because of the botched weight cut or because he’s shot? I tend to think it’s the former rather than the latter, and so I’m going with Alves here. Both men are past their primes, but Alves is the more technical striker with the higher work rate and I think his low kicks should be a very effective weapon against Cote. The pick is Alves in a very fun scrap, and at worst, this should be a pick ‘em fight, so I like a bet on Alves at plus money.
An exceptional lightweight battle kicks off our main card. Former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks is looking to finally put forth the type of showing many expected of him when he made the move to the UFC, whereas Charles Oliveira is finally making his lightweight debut after missing 145 many, many times.
Brooks is a talented, well-rounded fighter. He throws in combinations and with good volume on the feet. He doesn’t have a lot of power, but he can fight off the back foot or moving forward, leading or countering, and he works the body as well as the head. He’s also a very solid wrestler, both offensively, where he chains attacks well and consistently, and defensively, where he is elite at defending takedowns and then turning them into offense. Furthermore, Brooks does his best work in the clinch, mixing in wall-and-maul knees and elbows with trips and takedowns in an unpredictable blend of offense.
Oliveira is offensively dangerous but defensively disastrous. He’s an aggressive fighter, pushing the pace with powerful kicks and punches on the feet and trying to work his way into the clinch or a takedown. While he’s not a great wrestler, he does so frequently, relying on volume to get the job done or at least to create a tie-up so he can implement the real crux of his game: his lethal submissions. Oliveira is a dynamite grappler from all positions, with his front headlock series being probably his best avenue.
This is a fun fight because the weaknesses of both men match-up so well against each other; Brooks is a slow starter but not a finisher, and Oliveira is too aggressive and doesn’t respond well to being pushed back. Brooks isn’t really likely to put the type of offense on Oliveira that usually makes him crumble, but Brooks is also a very solid grappler and likely good enough to survive any exchanges with Oliveira while outworking him. The pick is Brooks by decision, but considering how uninspired Brooks has looked so far in the UFC, I would pass on betting him straight. If you can get Brooks by decision at +145 though, that is possibly worth a bet.
Cynthia Calvillo (-260/72%) vs. Pearl Gonzalez (+220/31%)
The UFC clearly sees something in Calvillo, putting her on a PPV main card despite only fighting professionally for a year and making her UFC debut just last month. Calvillo’s a willing boxer though still developing there and her offense is more built around being happy to throw instead of super technical. Where she excels though is as a submission grappler and sneaky wrestler. Working with Team Alpha Male, she’s got explosive takedowns and she’s lethal in transition.
To me, Gonzalez is like a lesser version of Calvillo. She’s a willing striker with an amateur boxing background, but she isn’t incredible technically and she seems to prefer grappling exchanges to striking one. Her grappling game is a strange one though, with decent submissions and submission defense, but somewhat terrible positional awareness. Opponents have been able to get off good submission attempts on her before she is able to eventually escape and rest.
Gonzalez maybe has a slight edge on the feet, but her willingness to grapple should be her downfall. Allowing fighters to get three-fourths of the way to a triangle attempt before starting to defend is not a recipe for success against a transitional submission hunter like Calvillo. The pick is Calvillo by rear-naked choke in the second round, but considering the inexperience at play here, betting these odds is lunacy.
Mike De La Torre (+330/23%) vs. Myles Jury (-400/80%)
De La Torre is an action fighter, but one with serious flaws. He’s a pretty decent striker when he wants to be — he can throw in combination and has legitimate power — but he’s too prone to brawling and he’s not very durable. He is a very good defensive wrestler though, so he can mostly like keep it on the feet against Jury.
At his best, Jury is a seamless blend of offensive potency. He strikes efficiently and with power, he wrestles well above average, he blends the two together beautifully, and he’s an excellent submission hunter. The biggest knock on Jury is his lack of activity, having fought only twice since 2015 and not at all last year.
The only real questions here are: where is Jury’s head at and is featherweight the right division for him? We have only seen him at 145 once and he didn’t look great (though Oliveira wasn’t a featherweight that night). If he’s back to the Jury that was fighting in 2014, this is a walkthrough for him. De La Torre’s blend of brawling and lack of durability is anathema at the highest levels and I expect Jury will exploit that, busting him up on the feet before locking in a choke to finish things off. The pick is Jury by submission, but please do not put money down on him at these odds.
Kamaru Usman (-330/77%) vs. Sean Strickland (+270/27%)
Usman is one of the best prospects in the division, if not the UFC in general. He’s a phenomenal athlete with a strong wrestling base that translates well to his actual fighting game. On the feet, he is technical but lacks the feel of a natural striker, but he butters his bread with an absolutely ridiculous commitment to his wrestling game.
Strickland is a big welterweight who relies on his rangy kickboxing game to get his wins. He has a sharp jab and good movement, and his right hand packs a wallop. He also fights with a good pace while maintaining a solid defense. Strong takedown defense and a coordinated offensive wrestling game backed up by excellent top control provides a strong secondary skillset for him.
This is one of the best fights on the card. While both guys can do a bit of either, this is basically a striker vs. grappler affair. Though Usman is competent on the feet, he still lacks something there and Strickland is good enough to take advantage of it. The question is, will he be able to keep things on the feet? A sharp jab and good footwork should help him in this goal, but Usman’s dogged focus on wrestling and his ability to finish chained sequences should give him the slight edge here. The pick is Usman in a very close decision, but the odds here are way out of whack and I suggest a bet on Strickland for value.
Shane Burgos (-230/70%) vs. Charles Rosa (+190/34%)
Burgos is an enormous featherweight with an aggressive, counter-oriented striking game. He’s a strong wrestler both offensively and defensively and he throws good volume with good power on the feet.
Rosa is also fairly aggressive on the feet, but he’s also a relentless wrestler and aggressive submission grappler. However, he is pretty poor defensively on the feet and he’s not a great wrestler.
This looks like a fairly straight-forward fight: Burgos is the better wrestler and the better striker. Rosa will chase takedowns and fail, and Burgos will make him pay with his power. A big left hook should put Rosa away halfway through the bout, but the odds here are fairly good, so no bet unless you really want to parlay him with Gillespie.
Patrick Cummins (-110/52%) vs. Jan Blachowicz (-110/52%)
Cummins is an accomplished amateur wrestler (a two-time NCAA D-1 All-American who finished second in the nation in 2004 and a two-time National Team Member) who is still wooden and uncomfortable on the feet. His grappling is excellent when he can impose it though, but that is made more difficult by the fact that he does not take getting hit very well.
Blachowicz is a kickboxer with sharp technique, but he throws very little volume and he doesn’t have big power. Blachowicz is also a poor defensive wrestler and he doesn’t excel at getting back to his feet.
Cummins is so averse to getting hit that even Blachowicz’s low strike count creates a real danger for him. Still, Blachowicz isn’t known as a puncher and his takedown defense shouldn’t hold up to well against the pedigree and relentlessness of Cummins. Cummins will take Blachowicz down a lot and beat him up on the ground in route to a late TKO. At the current odds, this is probably a pass. But if he gets to plus money, I like a bet on Cummins.
Gregor Gillespie (-230/70%) vs. Andrew Holbrook (+195/34%)
Gillespie is one of the very best prospects at 155 pounds. A former NCAA D-1 national champion and four-time All-American, Gillespie’s bread and butter is his wrestling and top control. He’s still developing on the feet, but he’s a crisp technician, though he gets hit a fair bit.
Holbrook’s game is defined by pressure and opportunity. He comes forward relentlessly and is quick to transition to a grappling game where he is adept at finding the back.
Holbrook’s grittiness makes him a good test for the blue-chip prospect, but his lack of wrestling defense should be the difference here. Gillespie should be able to score takedowns early and often and ride out a decision on top, but the odds are good, so no bet.
Josh Emmett (-220/69%) vs. Des Green (+180/36%)
Emmett is a well-rounded fighter who throws a high volume of strikes on the feet and uses his NAIA wrestling background extremely well. Cardio is another strong suit, as is the scrambling ability that Team Alpha Male fighters are known for.
Green is a long, rangy southpaw who can fight at range but doesn’t shy away from a good old-fashioned scrap. Like Emmett, Green has an amateur wrestling background, but his is as a very quality NCAA D-1 product.
Green’s wrestling background should nullify Emmett’s grappling game and his four inches of reach and height advantages (along with being a southie) give him a leg up in the striking exchanges. The pick is Green in a competitive decision and I love a bet on him at these odds.
Katlyn Chookagian (-150/60%) vs. Irene Aldana (+130/43%)
Chookagian is a kickboxer who mixes her kicks and punches well and has excellent cardio. She’s small for the division though and she’s not a great defensive wrestler.
Aldana is also a kickboxer, but she has more power and throws much more volume. As a result, Aldana is also very hittable but she has decent grappling to fall back upon.
Chookagian’s struggles have come against grapplers and Aldana is more than willing to get into a fire fight on the feet. When she did that against Leslie Smith, she got her ears boxed, and that’s seems likely to happen again in this fight. Chookagian’s defense and kicks should make the difference, earning her a unanimous decision. That being said, this fight is close to a pick ‘em and with the odds this long on Aldana, a small bet here has value.
Jenel Lausa (+375/21%) vs. Magomed Bibulatov (-450/82%)
Lausa is a former amateur boxer with crisp striking and good power in his hands. Bibulatov is the best prospect in the flyweight division. He’s a dynamic athlete with a karate background and he blends spinning kicks and explosive takedowns very well.
Lausa’s hands could make Bibulatov work a bit but the Chechen is one of the brightest stars at 125 pounds and he has more tools in the belt. Bibulatov takes Lausa down and locks up kimura in the middle part of the fight. The line here is too skewed for a newcomer though so pass on putting money down.
- Gegard Mousasi at -110
- Thiago Alves at +130
- Sean Strickland at +270
- Des Green at +190
- Irene Aldana at +130
- Daniel Cormier if he gets higher than +100.
- Will Brooks by decision at +145.
- Patrick Cummins if he gets to plus money.
- Parlay of Shane Burgos and Gregor Gillespie
That’s all folks. For those of a more auditory inclination, I broke down fights with Nick Baldwin and Wes Riddle on Before The Battle, so here is that video.
Otherwise, enjoy the fights everyone, good luck to those who need it, and if you’ve got any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JedKMeshew.
(Editor’s note: All of this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)