Welcome all you MMA bettors and gambling lurkers! Back at it again for another week of comprehensive gambling breakdowns. UFC 205 is the biggest card of the year so we are going to have the biggest breakdown of the year with an absolutely exhaustive word count, tons of stats, and a whole mess of potential plays lined up.
For those of you who're new here or those who have forgot, 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 Alvarez at +105 means he should win the fight 49 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 lines.
As always, 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.
Now with all that out of the way, let's get down to business.
First thing first: my predictions for the last three fights of both these fighters is a combined 0-6 so apparently I have no idea what the hell will happen when these guys fight. That being said, I heavily favor Conor McGregor to leave New York as the first fighter to ever hold two UFC belts simultaneously. That's not to say Eddie Alvarez cannot win, just that I think it's a tough row to hoe for him.
McGregor is an offensive dynamo with a game built around the fact that he's got dynamite in his left hand and excellent timing. He wants to pressure fighters back up against the fence, draw out offense, and then counter them into unconsciousness. While he will throw some exotic kicks and the occasional leg kick, his offense is predominantly his left hand and the myriad ways in which he gets it to connect. He works at a tremendous pace on the feet and he's good at fighting long which helps him with his takedown defense which is very good.
While McGregor is mostly a traditional southpaw boxer with decorative flair, Alvarez is mostly a veteran wrestle-brawler who has turned into a more refined boxer with his work under Mark Henry. Like McGregor, Alvarez can operate in both directions on the feet but unlike him, Alvarez is less comfortable pressure, preferring to stick on the outside, cut angles, and counter. He also has a strong secondary line of attack through his wrestling game which relies on strength and relentlessness to grind the fight down to a halt.
It's also important to dispel the myth that McGregor cannot grapple - by most accounts he is a fairly decent ground fighter. Getting submitted by Nate Diaz after getting your head caved in doesn't make you a bad grappler (and if it does, tell that to Jim Miller who would tap you like a typewriter). McGregor probably isn't hitting omoplata sweeps on Eddie if he gets taken down but there is nothing to suggest he'll be dead in the water down there either.
A couple of key things to consider with this fight are the physical advantages McGregor possess and the inherent traits of the two fighters' games. Despite competing predominantly at featherweight, McGregor is the bigger man and has a substantial reach advantage. He's also got an edge in quickness, power, and chin whereas Alvarez has an edge in conditioning and having more time off to prepare.
Honestly, this seems like a real rough one for Alvarez. McGregor thrives when he can put his natural physical advantages to work and Alvarez is not the most defensively inclined fighter to offset that. Diaz gave McGregor so much trouble because his length forced Conor to work harder to land attacks and took a lot of the steam off of his best punches because they were at the end of his range instead of in the sweet spot. Alvarez doesn't have that option and must instead rely on not getting clipped, something he's had happen to him with decent regularity.
Furthermore, Alvarez has relied heavily on a right hook to the body and if he goes for that here, McGregor is going to blow his doors off with a counter left. Alvarez is going to need to force McGregor to expend a lot of energy early in grappling exchanges and look to win later rounds when the sting is taken off of Conor's punches. I just don't see that happening though and the difference in their pace and defensive acumen should show itself. Alvarez has a propensity for getting clipped early and McGregor is one of the best finishers in the game. The pick is McGregor by TKO in round two and I like bets on McGregor straight, McGregor by KO/TKO at +120, or under 1.5 rounds at +145. I wouldn't suggest you bet all of them but picking any one of them is a fine idea.
Tyron Woodley is a hyper-athletic wrestle boxer who focuses on a stripped down power punching game. The power punching is a legitimate strategy as Woodley is one of the hardest hitters in the division and quicker than just about everyone, allowing him to close distance and unexpectedly land his money shot, the right hand. Woodley also has a right kick equally as thudding as his right hand and he mixes the two effectively. Beyond that though, Woodley doesn't have much to speak of on the feet as far as variety, rarely using his left side at all. Being extremely reliant on his power side hasn't stopped him from being effective though as he has a myriad of feints which allow him to sneak in punches and he also does a good job of mixing up his speeds.
The secondary option for Woodley is his explosive wrestling game. On the feet he pressures forward which allows him to work into the clinch where his physicality and head control allow him to grind with great effect. A former two-time All-American, Woodley still has the instincts and skill of a high level wrestler as well as a solid power double leg, but he isn't an especially great shot takedown threat. He is however, a phenomenal defensive wrestler and when he does secure takedowns, he's smothering on top.
Thompson is an elite level striker whose game revolves around distance management and timing. He prefers to operate at the very end of striking ranging where he can land a variety of kicks and he uses excellent footwork and movement to maintain that range. When a fighter closes the distance on him, he lands punishing straight counter punches and then angles out well to reset.
The rest of Thompson's game is built to keep him in the zone he wants to operate in. He's a strong clinch fighter with good footwork and leverage and the ability to disengage quickly. He's also a very strong defensive wrestler as his distance management and angles make it really difficult to get a clean look at taking him down. Thompson is a better version of Lyoto Machida. A high level karateka and kickboxer, but one who isn't as single-minded in his desire to counterstrike which allows him to throw at a good pace and win rounds much more decisively.
This is an enormously difficult style matchup for Woodley. Thompson's game is basically built to mitigate the physical advantages Woodley enjoys and leans on in his fights. Thompson's footwork should negate Woodley's efforts to grind and the long distance Thompson operates at will mitigate much of the threat posed by Woodley's right hand. The one saving grace for Woodley here is that Thompson isn't nearly as fast as he is but relies on distance and feints to land strikes. However, it just doesn't seem likely that Woodley is able to enact a substantive game plan here and Woodley has been known to tire sharply after 10 minutes. Aside from and early monster right hand landing before "Wonderboy" gets his range, I expect Thompson to force the fight to his preferred areas and chew Woodley up on the outside (Woodley lost a kickboxing match to Jake Shields after all). The pick is Thompson by KO/TKO in round 4 and I like a bet on Thompson straight. I don't' feel super confident in the method of victory though because this could just as easily look like Thompson-MacDonald as it could look like Thompson-Hendricks.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is my spirit animal, and I will never pick against her so factor that into your bets accordingly. That being said, whoa buddy this is a bad matchup for Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Actually (not that this will come into play but still) the two have fought before on the amateur circuit with JJ submitting KK.
Kowalkiewicz's game is built around swarming and overwhelming opponents with volume and activity. The number up there that matters the most is the 5.98 strikes landed per minute which is among the highest in the UFC. Her strikes thrown per minute actually is the highest in the division, and she's one of the few women who outwork the champion's absurd pace. Kowalkiewicz just doesn't stop throwing. It's a great strategy as it both does damage, looks great for judges, and disrupts her opponents from ever being able to settle into their own rhythm. Constantly defending punches takes a toll mentally and makes it harder for fighters to recognize patterns and start their own offense.
The nature of Kowalkiewicz's offense means she can be fairly hittable which is amplified but her lack of head movement. However, she circles constantly, darting in and out so because she is dictating the terms of engagement, she is fairly insulated from taking enormous power punches. The one's she does take are fine as she's a very durable athlete with outstanding conditioning. There's also some element of the Diaz brothers in there where the ability to land punches on Kowalkiewicz draws fighters into fighting at that pace and range. While Kowalkiewicz doesn't have the pop that the Diaz brothers have, she still racks up major points on the cards.
Kowalkiewicz isn't just a mindless swarmer though, she's also an adept clinch fighter and a smart tactician. In her last fight with Rose Namajunas, Kowalkiewicz was getting pieced up at range by the more powerful striker with better defense but at the end of the first round she found herself in a clinch and had tremendous success with knees. After that, Kowalkiewicz immediately began looking to force herself into the clinch and won the fight as a result of it. The ability to quickly understand and adjust in meaningful ways is the mark of a really talented fighter.
The problem for Kowalkiewicz here is that her game is basically a worse version of Jedrzejczyk's. Jedrzejczyk is maybe the best striker in MMA and like Kowalkiewicz, she relies on a volume based approach; however, the way she enacts it is leaps and bounds better. Jedrzejczyk operates behind a piston jab, sharp footwork, and combination punching. She works relentlessly, attacking all levels and mixing in a potent kicking game as well. Also like Kowalkiewicz, she's a handful in the clinch with strong knees and elbows. She's also a much better defensive fighter than Kowalkiewicz and has a very serious edge in power.
Like I said, this is just a hellacious style matchup for Karolina. Both fighters rely on drowning their opponent under pressure and pace, but if Kowalkiewics's strikes are raindrops, Jedrzejczyk's are hail. Kowalkiewicz is outmatched in just about every facet of the game including athleticism, size, power, speed, skill, and downright meanness. Kowalkiewicz is tough so this will be competitive and action filled but I fully expect "Joanna Champion" to live up to her name and retain her belt. My only question is whether this will see the final bell, and at the, moment, I'm inclined to believe it will. Taking a shot on Jedrzejczyk by KO/TKO at +250 is worth looking at considering I expect this to be mostly one-way traffic and +800 to earn Fight of the Night is maybe worth a flier. Also, considering how much I like Joanna to win here, I think she's a good parlay include with one of the other fighters down the line.
Chris Weidman is a UFC create-a-fighter if you turned all the levels up to elite. He's not the best boxer but he's a very good one and his consistent, pressuring game can give most fighters serious problems. He 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.
Where Weidman really excels though is as a grappler. He's brutal in the clinch with elbows and knees and a strong takedown artist, chaining singles and trips. Once it gets to the mat he is a demon on top with an elite level submission game and brutal ground and pound. Weidman's biggest weakness is being glacially slow, as he frankly may just be too big for the division.
Where Weidman's game is all fundamentals and consistency, Romero's is dynamism and athleticism. Romero is an Olympic silver medalist wrestler and one of the best pure athletes to ever enter MMA. His game is a funky coalition of power wrestling and absurd finishing instincts. He lacks any real semblance of consistency or connective tissue. Romero just kind of unleashes hellfire once in a while and these bursts of power punches combined with true world class wrestling allow him to win fights. As a result though, Romero's cardio is extremely suspect.
This is a really tough fight to call. Weidman has a far better process but he is coming off of neck surgery and it's very realistic to believe that his best days are behind him. He's also at a significant disadvantage in the speed and athleticism departments which has caused him problems in the past. Conversely, Romero is likely to get outworked at range and fade as Weidman pressures him down the stretch. He's also 39 and eventually his athleticism will fade. Finally, both men are coming off of almost year-long layoffs so that is always a concern as well. Considering all this, I view this fight as a coinflip so getting +155 on Romero is good value. Were this five rounds, I'd pick Weidman but I think the three rounds may favor Romero. I'm gonna pick Romero to win a nip-tuck decision and I like a bet on Romero straight.
Miesha Tate is a well-rounded veteran with years of training and the craft and skill to match it. She's not a striker but she has a competent jab, decent counter punching, and packs legitimate power for the division. Tate's real strength though is in her grappling. She has solid, if unspectacular takedowns and a good submission grappling game to complement it. When she doesn't succeed at taking an opponent down, she will doggedly continue to chase them as well. And that gets to the heart of Tate's game; she's not a great tactician or tremendous athlete but she is relentless and tough as a two dollar steak.
Raquel Pennington is also a well-rounded fighter though one will a little more craft on the feet but overall less depth of skill. She's a decent kickboxer who throws at a high volume and mixes her levels of attack well but what she really wants to do is get in the clinch and go to work with knees and elbows. She's also a competent grappler and solid defensive wrestler which help her operate at the ranges she wants to.
This is a fight between two very similar fighters only one has been to the top of the mountain and the other likely will never make it that far. Tate is a historically better fighter than Pennington but there have to be real questions about what stage she is in in her career at this moment. She was blown out by Amanda Nunes on the biggest stage of her career and hasn't sounded particularly enthused about this matchup nor her speedy return to the cage. It's also worth considering that even her recent win streak was not as impressive as it would seem, with her looking listless and losing large parts of the fights she would eventually win. Conversely, Pennington is riding a real wave of momentum coming into this fight and making serious improvements each time out. Moreover, Tate is a notoriously slow starter and I expect Pennington to win the first round. That means Tate needs to sweep the final two frames or pull another rabbit out of her hat. I'm not saying she can't do it, but Pennington is actually a very good defensive wrestler/clinch fighter and Tate relies on her wrestling a lot to dig herself out of these holes. I like Pennington's volume on the feet and slightly cleaner technique to edge out a narrow decision over an unengaged Tate and I like a bet on Pennington straight. Or for a little extra juice, Pennington by decision is +250 which is also a good bet considering Tate's toughness and Pennington's lack of elite finishing skills.
Frankie Edgar is a wrestle-boxer and one of the best that's ever done it in the game. He has sharp, technical footwork which allows him to dart in and out on the feet, creating angles to work punching combinations. These angles also set up and disguise shot attempts for him to enact his wrestling game plan and he blends this two aspects of offense together beautifully. Once he gets his opponent on the floor, he has ferocious ground and pound which has only gotten better as he's acclimated to 145 lbs. Finally, Edgar has tremendous cardio and miles and miles of heart which make him a tough out for anyone in the cage with him.
Jeremy Stephens is a puncher through and through. His game revolves around landing one of his juicy mitts on the opponent and everything else serves to facilitate that. His work with Alliance MMA has improved his footwork and fundamentals and despite still not having a ton of variety to his offense, he is better at picking his moments to engage full tilt. He's a solid defensive wrestler and a durable guy as well but he doesn't offer a whole lot more than that.
This is a rebound fight for Edgar to grab a win before dropping down to 135 lbs. and challenging Dominick Cruz. Stephens is a scary but limited fighter and Edgar's volume and pace are going to give Stephens fits. Stephens does have the outside possibility of lamping Edgar, but Frankie has taken kill shots from bigger punchers than Stephens and battled back (also, Stephens' power is a bit overblown with half of his UFC wins coming by decision). Unless Edgar gets old overnight this should be one way traffic for most of the evening. Edgar by decision at -130 is worth looking at but personally I would suggest you parlay Edgar with Joanna Jedrzejczyk for odds roughly around -155.
Nurmagomedov is a rarity in MMA, a throwback to a one-trick pony. He is one of the very few fighters, especially in modern MMA, who is reliant on one facet of MMA to the almost exclusion of anything else; but boy what a facet that is! Nurmagomedov is, without question, the best functional wrestler in MMA today and he's fighting on a card with multiple NCAA All-Americans and an Olympic silver medalist. Once he gets his hands on someone, they're going for a ride, it just depends how long they can stave it off. His chain wrestling is absurd and he has a seemingly endless series of trips, throws, singles, doubles, and suplexes. Once on top he is the very definition of smothering. Having said that, his striking is limited but it serves to set up his wrestling. He throws frequent lead uppercuts and shovel punches to snap his opponent's head up so he can have a cleaner entry into their legs and he can go to work.
Conversely, Michael Johnson is a striker who wants damn near nothing to do with the floor. He's a speedy southpaw with good power and sharp footwork which allows him to stay on the outside and move. The single best facet of his game is his takedown defense which he is going to need every ounce of in this one.
Like I said, the odds are way off here. Johnson presents one of the actual toughest stylistic matchups for Nurmagomedov at lightweight and his outside footwork could pose problems for Khabib and keep the Dagestani from getting in on his hips. If he can remain upright, this is almost surely a Johnson victory but Nurmagomedov has levels of craft beyond just about anyone at lightweight and eventually he is going to get his paws on Johnson and once that happens, he's a train going downhill. Johnson has been known to get broken and Khabib is the sports' foremost breaker of people. The pick is Nurmagomedov by decision but the bet is Johnson at +240 because that is way too long a line. I also don't mind a bet on the over 2.5 rounds at -145 as the only way this gets stopped is if Khabib snatches up a choke, which isn't terribly likely.
Rafael Natal is a textbook middleweight in that he's pretty solid all-around but he's not a great athlete and he doesn't have any truly great skills to build his game around. On the feet, he works a solid pace behind a kick heavy game and consistent jab. He mixes in pretty frequent takedown attempts which he can finish well. On top, he's got a solid base and good control but he doesn't do a ton of damage.
Tim Boetsch is a brute of a puncher with a power wrestling game to supplement it. This isn't to say that he has no skills elsewhere - they're fine - just that his success comes almost entirely as the result of a big time right hand and a strongman style clinch game, replete with punches, knees, and elbows that do big damage.
This is a fight between two guys going in different directions. Boetsch has been dropping fights like hot coals lately and Natal put together a string of solid victories before losing to legitimately top tier middleweight Robert Whitaker. It just doesn't feel like Boetsch has much left in the tank at this point whereas Natal is still in the prime of his career. Add in Natal's ability to keep this standing, his higher work rate, and Boetsch's lackluster takedown defense and we have all the makings of a Natal decision. The only thing that gives me any pause is Boetsch's propensity to stage comebacks with his legit finishing ability coupled with Natal's occasional defensive lapses. Still, I like Natal to win and think going small on Natal by decision at +195 is a worthwhile bet.
Jim Miller has been inconsistent lately, but his last fight with Joe Lauzon assuaged some of the doubts that came after losing to Diego Sanchez. Miller's a rugged southpaw who can do everything at well above average skill level but, never a great athlete, he's beginning to fade physically which is hurting his overall game. Miller has an underrated kicking game, works well in the clinch, is a good wrestling, and he's a superb grappler especially from top position where he is rock solid fundamentally. Also, Miller is a solid defensive fighter and very durable.
Thiago Alves is a classic muay thai operator with slick boxing, a crisp jab, and devastating leg kicks forming the bulk of his game. He can counter or lead the dance as the fight unfolds and he packs legitimate KO power in all of his limbs. His striking is held together by elite takedown defense. Still, Alves is coming off an 18-month layoff, dropping to lightweight for the first time, and missed weight by almost seven pounds. Because of his miss, Alves will have to weigh in at 173 pounds at 4 p.m. ET on fight night meaning he will possibly be dehydrating himself on the actual day of the fight as well. On top of all this, Alves blames his miss on a recent bout of food poisoning which is never an encouraging sign.
Despite the numerous red flags for Alves, it's hard to pick against him here as this is just a brutal style matchup for Miller. Alves, for his faults, is a far superior athlete and less faded fighter. Moreover, Jim Miller has little hope of working successful takedowns here meaning he'll be forced to exchange on the feet with a guy with far more craft and power. Were it not for his weight issues I would be picking Alves quite confidently here, however betting him would go against two of my rules, don't bet on guys who miss weight and don't bet on guys coming off of long layoffs. With that in mind and a desire to have some discipline, I'll suggest avoiding this fight from a betting perspective. The pick is Alves by decision though.
This is a well-made fight between two guys with fairly similar games. Both guys are predominantly boxers with a decent secondary wrestling game that they fall back on frequently. Luque is a more credentialed grappler (he has a brown belt in BJJ) and has a very solid front headlock series but Muhammad has shown his own proclivity on the ground as well.
Luque is a more technical, rhythmic offensive fighter, but he's a little less defensively savvy than Muhammad and has a lower work rate. Luque is also a better grappler, younger, and has a 3.5-inch reach advantage. Ultimately, I'm going to side with Luque but I view this fight as a coin flip and the only reason I suggest no bet here is the "never bet on short notice fights" rule and Luque is coming in with only a couple weeks preparation. So Luque by decision but no bet.
Liz Carmouche is the female version of Court McGee, and unspectacular fighter with moderate skills everywhere but who gets wins off doggedness and unassuming physicality. She's a competent striker but the meat of her game is in her clinch and her wrestling where her strength can come into play. She's decent on top and extremely durable.
Katlyn Chookagian is the opposite, a striker who can wrestle a bit but much prefers to operate at range. She moves well on the feet and throws mostly boxing combinations and low kicks while maintaining distance. She doesn't have much power but she does work at a good pace and her takedown defense is good enough to keep her upright.
Chookagian is a former flyweight so there are some concerns about Carmouche physically overwhelming her but aside from that I like Chookagian to win. She's a much better striker and her movement should make it tough for Carmouche to initiate the kinds of exchanges and clinches she prefers to operate in. Chookagian is going to stick on the outside and jab and low kick her way to a clean decision victory. I don't suggest a bet here thought because Chookagian is still so young in her career having only started it two years ago and Carmouche is the type of Savvy veteran who could teach her a lesson.
And that's everything for tonight y'all. Actually I also took a shot on "Exactly 9 fights go the distance" at +2350 for fun but I would in no way suggest you bet that.
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 this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)