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UFC 204 odds, gambling strategy guide

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Vitor Belfort will fight in the UFC 204 co-main event Saturday night.
Vitor Belfort will fight in the UFC 204 co-main event Saturday night.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Hello prospective MMA bettors! We are here. The end of this long string of UFC events has come (a bit prematurely thanks to B.J. Penn) and we are going out on a pay-per-view with the worst title fight in modern history (based on merit; I personally love this fight and I'm pumped for it). All that is to say we are going once more unto the breach dear friends with another exhaustive gambling preview of the fights, the odds, and my own personal breakdown of where the value lies. As always, for each fight I'll break down the fight as I see it and tell you if I think there's a worthwhile bet. I'll also give you what I think is the best bet available for a fight even if I don't support putting a wager down, just for those of you who are really looking to liven up your evenings.

For those new here, the number after the odds on each fighter is the percentage probability of victory that those odds imply. So Bisping at -245 means he should win the fight 71 percent of the time. If you think he wins more often than that, then you should bet it because there is value in the line.

As always, 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 and I calculate that using the closing odds for each fight. 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.

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Breakdown

I campaigned for this fight more than anyone, and I'm pretty pumped it's finally here, even if we aren't likely to get a good fight. I previously wrote an exhaustively extensive breakdown of Michael Bisping here and encourage you to check that out. But for those of you who don't want to parse through all that Bisping's entire career can basically be summed up with the volume and pace. A middling athlete, Bisping made his career off of outworking his opponents with a high volume, low power attack that won rounds. It's actually fairly remarkable he was as successful as he was for so long with such a limited offensive game. However, his recent work with Jason Parillo has been a massive boon for Bisping who has made huge technical leaps recently. Previously, he really only had a stepping 1-2 combination and he never attacked the body (baffling considering his entire style was built around wearing opponents down). But now, his footwork has made huge strides, he has added a variety of strikes to his arsenal, and he sits out more on his punches instead of pulling off, meaning his now can throw with power - just ask Luke Rockhold.

All of this is to say that at 37, Michael Bisping is the best technical version of himself. However, the downside of his late career renaissance is the fact that it is late. Bisping was never a great athlete and now his athleticism is fading, and his chin which was always solid, if severely diminished. He compensates for this with improved defense and his always sensational conditioning which helps him recover when hurt. But prior to his Rockhold win, Bisping had been rocked in all his recent outings. Couple this with the fact that his right eye is almost functionally useless and his physical short-comings are seriously concerning.

Fortunately for him, he's facing the one guy in the division worse off than himself in that regard. Dan Henderson is an MMA legend but there is really no other way to put it: he's old. Very old. And this is a young man's game. Henderson was set to retire after the Lombard win and is planning on hanging them up after this fight regardless of the outcome and when you see him you can see why. Even at the press events, Hendo is moving much more stiffly than he used to. Because he is old and has been fighting in cages for 20 years against literally the toughest schedule of opponents of anyone in MMA history.

The reality is, this fight isn't tough to breakdown nor does it require deep technical analysis. Henderson has done what all fading fighters do and started doing away with the spare flourishes of his game, parsing it down to his most effective weapons. At this point, he is basically down to a right hand - a right hand that may be the hardest single strike in MMA history, but one punch nonetheless. Hendo's chin is also faded badly and he rarely looks to use his other skillsets. Bisping still possesses a high-volume attack but one with more potent power punching and a variety of kicks to supplement it. He could get caught because his chin is not great anymore. Henderson can KO anyone, but Henderson's own chin issues make it infinitely more like that Bisping gets to exact his revenge. I genuinely don't see how this fight lasts longer than two rounds.

Looking at the lines for this fight, there are a lot of viable avenues to bet. Honestly, Bisping straight at -245 is bettable, but there is almost no chance this fight goes the distance so Bisping by TKO/KO at -110 or Bisping Inside the Distance at -115 are better bets. The under 2.5 rounds at +115 is decent as well. I also wouldn't fault you for betting Bisping to win in round 1 at +375 or round 2 at +500 as small flyer bets. And for all the cautious bettors out there, you can hedge any of the above bets with Henderson by TKO/KO at +270 to cover all your bases. Personally, I would say bet the under and bet Bisping Inside the Distance with a hedge of Henderson by TKO/KO.

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Breakdown

This fight breakdown will look a lot like the one above with the exception that the guy expected to win isn't on a rapid physical decline that makes losing a realistic possibility. There's no way around it, Vitor Belfort is done as a high level mixed martial artist. He still has absurdly quick hands and good power, but like Henderson he's pretty much a one-trick pony - left hands/high kick. Unlike Henderson, Belfort also has a terrible habit of folding under the first bit of duress in his recent outings. If Vitor doesn't knock Mousasi out in the first round, he is going to get taken down and beaten up.

Gegard Mousasi is a defensively great striker with a consistent, high paced kickboxing attack. He's also a brute in the clinch and in possession of a lethal top game and solid takedowns. Even a prime Belfort juiced to the gills on TRT would have a difficult test against the stylistic nightmare that is Mousasi so a drastically depleted one is in serious trouble. Gegard has the technical craft to not get blitzed by the early Belfort surge and once he pushes back or scores a take down on Belfort, that should be the ball game since he's incredible on top and Belfort honestly seems to be regressing as a grappler. Barring another Uriah Hall style setback, Mousasi should win this fight handily and I think the odds are low. Still, the chance Belfort makes it to the final bell is extremely slim so instead of betting Mousasi straight, bet Mousasi Inside the Distance at -220.

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Breakdown

I've often said that Ovince Saint Preux is a poor man's version of Jon Jones. While that's a clearly imperfect analogy, the point I'm trying to get at is that OSP's game is similar to Jones' (or at least the earliest iteration of Jones) in that he has enormous physical gifts that help him perform funky, unpredictable offensive feats. This type of impossibly dynamic offense comes at a cost though and that cost is eschewing the offensive fundamentals that should tie everything together. Early in Jones' career he was much like this, and he would often throw spinning attacks and wilder techniques but couldn't put a combination of punches together. Jones though has worked tremendously hard on this and now boasts a tight, complete game making him arguably the best of all time. OSP has yet to follow that progression, which isn't to say he's bad, just that he has currently found a ceiling as fringe title contender.

OSP is huge and rangy for light heavyweight with an 80 inch southpaw reach. He has an awkward striking game built around power, speed, and preternatural timing on his strikes. He kicks well at range and is getting batter at keeping that range. He's also a sharp counter puncher. He's not a phenomenally technical wrestler, but he's explosive enough and physical enough to score takedowns. His top game is both powerful and unorthodox with his submissions.

Jimi Manuwa is also an excellent athlete, but he doesn't have the same kind of physicality or dynamism the OSP brings to the table. He is a sharper technical striker though, particularly with his boxing, and he packs serious power in his hooks and body kicks. Manuwa's best area is probably the clinch where is great at creating frames and working knees and punches while controlling. He's a solid defensive wrestler but offensively lacking and his durability is an issue.

The reality is, we know exactly who will beat Saint Preux at light heavyweight. OSP only loses to the top 5 of the division and unfortunately, Jimi Manuwa isn't one of them. Hell, even though Jon Jones thoroughly dominated their fight, OSP put on a commendable performance against a guy who would absolutely dump truck Manuwa. Saint Preux has all of the physical advantages here and the offensive game and durability to impose them on Manuwa. Add in the fact that Manuwa is coming off of a long layoff and appears to be fading with age and everything in this fight indicates an OSP victory. Saint Preux can knock Manuwa out on the feet and he's a good enough wrestler to take him down and beat him up there as well. I like OSP to win, and at the current odds, I like a bet on him straight as well.

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Breakdown

Stefan Struve is a hard fighter to gauge. Considering his youth and early success, you would think Struve would have had a better career at this point but he's been beset by serious, terrifying setbacks. At 6-foot-11, Struve is the tallest man in the UFC, but despite that height and massive reach, he has never fought in a way to maximize these physical gifts. He squats when he throws and still hasn't developed a crisp jab. He is improving at keeping range by employing a hard kicking game but he's still far too comfortable engaging in brawls even though he should literally never do that. He does have underrated power though (he knocked out Stipe Miocic who has proven quite durable) and actually has a decent chin. Yes he gets rocked easily but that's mostly a result of poor defense and when he gets hurt he's shown the ability to continue fighting better than most. It's still not comforting that he is as hittable as he is, but the point is, Struve's no shrinking violet.

Struve has also made great strides in his defensive wrestling. Previously, he relied mostly on his active guard and absurd length the make up for the fact that he could barely wrestle. However, now he's shored that up some and if he gets on top, his grappling awareness and length make him a handful for his opponent.

Daniel Omielanczuk is a tough-as-nails southpaw striker who opens up with kicks and pops a consistent jab. He's small for the division though, but he uses his short stature to do good work in the pocket on and the inside where he can counter with authority. He's also a decent clinch fighter but his small stature limits the offense he can throw from there to mostly cage control with some knees. As the stats bear out, he's not a very good wrestler but if he does wind up on top, he packs power in his elbows and punches.

For the foibles that Struve has shown throughout his career, he's still a young guy and he's actively working on improving his deficiencies. Moreover, this is a good style matchup for Struve. He has an enormous, almost comical size advantage here and Omielanczuk's game isn't particularly well suited to take advantage of Struve's weaknesses. Omielanczuk isn't a particularly big hitter nor is he a good offensive wrestler. In the clinch, he will be giving up so much height that Struve can knee him in the head with little effort. All in all, it just seems like Struve has everything in his favor and I definitely like him to win here. That being said, you should never be on heavyweight MMA and especially not on Struve who is I'm still a bit uncomfortable with watching fight considering his serious medical conditions. I would avoid this fight but if you feel the need, Over 1.5 rounds is -150 and that's not awful considering Omielanczuk's durability and relative lack of power.

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Breakdown

Brad Pickett is a very well-rounded fighter who at one time was an elite bantamweight, seemingly always on the cusp of title contention but never quite getting there. On the feet, Picke,t is a talented combination boxer who works well in the pocket but despite his "One Punch" moniker, Pickett's best attribute is his grappling. He's a good wrestler with crafty takedowns from the clinch and a solid, controlling top game. Sort of like Chris Lytle, it's really the grappling game which has been the basis for Pickett's recent success and he has more submission wins than TKOs.

Iuri Alcantara is an enormous bantamweight with big power and good athleticism. He prefers to strike from distance where he can dig in with chopping kicks and he hits very hard. Wrestling is also a great secondary option for him. While not the most technical finisher, Alcantara's size and strength allow him to finish takedowns regularly and he's a solid top position grappler with good ground striking.

Make no bones about it, Pickett is on his way out of the fight game. He's been fighting for 12 years and 38 is extremely old for the bantamweight division. Also while he's still a crafty veteran, he has shown noticeable signs of decline. Alcantara is no spring chicken himself at 36, but he's yet to show a noticeable drop off in his athleticism and his only losses in the UFC have been to top shelf competition. Sadly, Brad Pickett just doesn't amount to that anymore. On the feet, Alcantara's kicking game and power should give him the edge in either range and he's a good enough wrestler to take Pickett down. Pickett could also land takedowns on Alcantara but I'm not sure he can hold him down. Add in Alcantara's size and speed advantages here and I definitely favor him to get the win.

My only real concern with this fight is that I think this is probably Pickett's last fight. He's fighting in England and really, there just aren't that many better opportunities to end his career. It may sound superstitious (and maybe it is) but the potential that Pickett turns back the clock for his swan song is a genuine concern I have. That being said, Alcantara is currently undervalue considering his physical edges here so if you're going to bet the fight, Alcantara straight is the way to go.

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Breakdown

Leon Edwards is a southpaw striker with power in his hands and a sneaky kicking game. He blends his strikes well and is fairly competent defensively. He has pretty good lateral movement which allows him to stay outside and throw sharp, straight punches. His biggest weakness so far has been his defensive wrestling which isn't great and lets him get controlled.

Albert Tumenov is a sharp, technical boxer with a diverse arsenal off attacks. He has an active jab and attacks the body with authority and consistency. He's works at a very high pace but he's also a good off the counter as well. Tumenov really is a very talented striker but he's shown himself to be a bit limited to only that regard. He is susceptible to a disciplined outside, kick heavy game plan and he's a very limited grappler. He does has pretty solid takedown defense though to make up for his lacking ground game.

I think this fight is actually extremely close. Both are technical, slick strikers and good enough defensive wrestlers to keep the fight on the feet. Truth be told, Edwards is probably a bit more technical with his striking and defense but Tumenov has edges in power and volume. In competitive fights, I almost always side with the busier fighter and I will do that again here. The pick is Tumenov by decision but Edwards is possibly a little undervalued here. I won't suggest a bet but if you do, Edwards at +220 is the way to go, or Edwards by decision at +360.

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THE OTHERS

Mirsad Bektic (-750/88.2%) vs. Russell Doane (+525/16%)

Mirsad Bektic is a blue-chip prospect with top shelf athleticism, strong wrestling, and a wood chipper like top game. He's still developing depth on the feet but he is already very good at using his strikes to set up his entries. Russell Doane is a good offensive wrestler and grappler. He is though an underwhelming defensive wrestler and is really, really bad about giving up his back. He's made big strides on the feet however, and throws with power.

This should be all one-way traffic. Doane is coming in on short notice and doesn't have great defensive wrestling, whereas Bektic is a very strong offensive wrestler. Doane also gives up his back with alarming regularity and Bektic has almost Nurmagomedovian control. Bektic should be able to take Doane down, move to the back, and finish this one without too much difficulty. As always though, short-notice fights are betting anathema because the change effects both fighters. I'd stay away from this one, especially considering the outrageous line. Honestly, Doane is probably being undervalued here because he likely has a better than 12% chance to win but I wouldn't feel confident with my money on him. If you really want to bet it though, going small on Bektic by submission at +500 is actually pretty decent value as Doane gives up his back very easily so there is a decent chance Bektic strangles him.

Davey Grant (-185/64.9%) vs. Damian Stasiak (+160/38.5%)

Davey Grant is a well-rounded fighter with decent, combination-based striking and a sneaky good scramble game. He's also a very good clinch fighter. Damian Stasiak is similarly well-rounded. He's got a karate background and it shows with a lot of long range kicks and leaping punches but he does his best work as a grappler. Unfortunately, Stasiak isn't a very good wrestler which limits his grappling opportunities.

Grant has a substantial size advantage in this fight as well as being the better technical striker and much better clinch fighter. Stasiak doesn't have the wrestling to get this to the floor so expect Grant to use his range and combinations to box Stasiak up en route to a tidy decision. Honestly, Grant should probably be a bit bigger of a favorite here, but I would never suggest you bet this fight. If you do though, Grant should be around a -200 I think so he's a touch undervalued.

Danny Roberts (-145/59.2%) vs. Mike Perry (+125/44.4%)

Danny Roberts is a former amateur boxer with a technical, rangy striking game. He's defensively solid, pulling his head off-line when he throws and has pretty decent head movement in exchanges. His biggest weakness has been his defensive wrestling which is pretty poor but he covers that hole with a sneaky sub game off his back. Whatever you think of Mike Perry as a person, the man is a decent fighter with real potential. He's a great athlete and will have speed and power advantages in this fight. He's also shown good natural fighting instincts with his timing and ability to shift attacks towards openings. He's striking game is narrow but effective, relying mostly on a left hook and overhand right, supplemented by leg kicks.

Perry is a powerful enough offensive wrestler to get Roberts down but that would be ill-advised considering Roberts guard and Roberts probably won't be able to take Perry down, though Perry isn't a great defensive wrestler. Thus this fight looks to be a mostly striking affair and considering that I am going to pick the slight upset and go with Mike Perry. Roberts is the more technical striker but Perry has shown a real ability to time counters well and one of his best punches is his counter left hook, the same punch that dropped Roberts against Dominique Steele. Now granted, there are still many unknowns in this fight, not the least of which is Perry's conditioning, but in my head it just seems like he is going to get his chances and capitalize on the openings he's given. It kind of feels like Perry is getting undervalued here because people don't like Mike Perry. Considering all the unknowns here I wouldn't feel confident betting this one but if you do, Perry at plus-money seems like the way to go.

Leonardo Santos (+180/35/7%) vs. Adriano Martins (-220/68.8%)

Leonardo Santos is a world-class grappler (with several international medals at the black belt level) who won TUF Brazil 2. He supplements his ground game with a steadily improving striking acumen with a good kicking game and decent power in his hands. He needs this because he's still not a very good offensive wrestler. Martins is a good athlete with great speed and power as a striker and a dynamite wrestling game. He does have issues with consistently putting together offense though and he absorbs more strikes than he lands.

This is a very close fight in my mind. Martins is a very good wrestler and Santos is a sub-par one which means this fight is going to stay on the feet. On the feet, Martins has more power and speed but his lack of volume is really damning and Santos' striking is improving. Santos also has a non-negligible reach and length advantage here. Ultimately, I see this fight as much closer to a coin-flip than the odds suggest and think a bet on Santos is very reasonable here.

Lukasz Sajewski (+220/31.3%) vs. Marc Diakiese (-260/72.2%)

Lukasz Sajewski is a two-time loser in the UFC who is stepping in on short notice to fight Marc Diakiese, a top notch prospect making his UFC debut. Sajewski is an improving, well-rounded fighter who's a bit wild as a striker but he does some interesting things. He's also a scrappy grappler, and very solid clinch grappler. Diakese is a flashy, athletic fighter who is still raw but shows all the promise of great things. He has tremendous speed and power on the feet and an aggressive takedown game with lightning quick penetration.

Sajewski is improving but he's coming in on short notice and facing a very rough style match-up. Diakese holds tremendous advantages in almost every offensive area and Sajewski isn't a brilliant defensive fighter. Diakese also appears to have a huge edge in speed and power and that should play well here. Diakese wins and probably gets a finish. As always, don't bet on short-notice fights and don't be on debuting fighters. If you really want to put some money down though, Diakiese is only -225 which is probably low considering the short notice for Sajewski and his tremendous physical advantages.

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And that's everything for this weekend folks. We've got a long gap between UFCs now so I hope everyone does well. Maybe I'll even break down a Bellator event in the meantime. Also, since there is a big gap coming up please give me any feedback you have about what you'd like to see here or areas I can improve. Now that there is some room to breath I should be able to make more substantive changes and even get a consistent video accompaniment going.

Anyway, 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

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(Editor's note: All this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)