Welcome MMA speculators! Back at it again for another week of gambling breakdowns but this weekend we're doing things a little differently. Since there is such an absurd amount of notable action taking place this weekend, we're going to forego the usual exhaustive analysis in favor of smaller breakdowns of the main card fights from both UFC events and only picks for the preliminary bouts — well, except for Ali Bags vs. Horiguchi, because that fight is hot fire and should probably be a main event. In other words, I won't be suggesting bets on any of those fights.
Just a reminder: The number after the odds on each fighter is the probability of victory that those odds imply (so Mousasi at -600 says he wins 86% of the time). If you think he wins more often than the odds say, you should bet it because there's value there. All the odds come from Best Fight Odds.
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 boogie.
UFC Fight Night 99
We've already seen this fight before and I have no reason to believe it won't look substantially similar...only this time without the miracle comeback KO. Mousasi is just a better all-around fighter and better in just about every aspect of fighting other than pure dynamism. Hall is one of those fighters with phenomenal talent yet an inability to consistently perform, while Mousasi has become one of the more steady performers going at middleweight. There's always the chance lightning strikes twice, but odds are Mousasi wins this one in a walk. Mousasi Inside the Distance is -165 and that is well below what it should be considering how their first fight went and that this is a five-round affair.
Ross Pearson (-115/53%) vs. Stevie Ray (-105/51%)
Pearson hasn't had a great run of late, but that's more a symptom the elite competition he's faced rather than his showings. Pearson is a tactical, smooth striker who works in combination and has slick head movement and pocket awareness. Ray is also a striker by trade, but he relies mainly on one-two's and lead left hands. There isn't a lot of meat to his game beyond that, and his defense is lacking — but, he's also very young and improving. Pearson's edges in craft and experience should give him a clear path to victory. This will be a stand up fight and Pearson's better defense and higher volume, coupled with Ray's penchant to eat right hands, should favor Pearson. The pick is Pearson by wide decision and I like a bet on him straight.
No one will mistake Johnson for a pro kickboxer, but he's competent enough to get by there. The real bread and butter for him though is his wrestling. A Division II All-American, Johnson likes to come forward and grind opponents in the clinch. From there he uses his frame to control and punish while looking for opportunities to take his opponent down, where he is quite good.
Volkov is the former Bellator heavyweight champion making his UFC debut. He's tall for a heavyweight at 6-foot-7, but his frame and build resembles a heavyweight Tim Means instead of a Travis Browne. He uses an active striking game with a good mix of kicks and punches but he doesn't maximize his length and he's a not a good defensive wrestler which gives him problems. Also, unlike other fighters with his lanky frame, Volkov doesn't really have an active guard and can be control and beaten up once he's taken down.
This is a terrible style match-up for Volkov. Johnson was able to take Jared Rosholt down several times in their fight, so I'd be shocked if he wasn't successful against Volkov (a bad omen, as Volkov doesn't attack a ton off his back). Plus Volkov doesn't play the stick and move striking game that might make things harder for Johnson. Johnson may have to eat one or two shots coming in but that shouldn't be a big problem. He's going to get into the clinch and there his control and size advantage will pay dividends. The pick is Johnson by decision and I think he should be a higher favorite, so I like him for a bet.
Lobov likes to pressure forward and eat up space and then counter opponents. He switches stances often and wings punches from funny angles. Ishihara is a quick-handed power-punching southpaw who moves on the outside and leaps in for attacks. Ishihara is a better athlete, has more power, works at a higher pace, and has a four-inch reach advantage, all of which portend good things for him here. He's also proven to be adept at punching on incoming opponents and, make no mistake, Lobov will be pressuring him. Ishihara is still prone to wild brawling and it's also possible to see Lobov countering Ishihara as he leaps in for an attack which could end his night early. But aside from that, Ishihara has most of the advantages here and I suspect his left hook will find the mark and give him the win. The line is a little too big here, though, so I wouldn't bet anything considering how wild Ishihara tends to be.
It's very possible that this is the best fight of the entire weekend (other than Kovalev-Ward in boxing), and the fact that it's only three rounds is a travesty. Horiguchi is one of the best athletes in the division and still developing at only 26. He's explosive and lightning fast and he leaps in with power punches and the occasional takedown. Bagautinov is a world combat sambo champion who throws power hooks on the feet and has an explosive takedown game that he relies on. This is a close fight. Horiguchi is younger, more athletic, and far quicker but he isn't the best defensive wrestler. Bagautinov is a good wrestler but not a great one and on the feet he can go long stretches being inactive which loses him rounds. If Horiguchi gets too aggressive he may get planted on his backside but he looked even more improved after changing camps to American Top Team and I expect that progression to continue. I like Horiguchi to win a fun but clear decision and like him as a parlay inclusion.
UFC Fight Night 100
Ryan Bader (-365/78%) vs. Antonio Rogerio Noguiera (+305/25%)
This fight happened back in 2010 and nobody has been clamoring for a rematch, in part because it seems completely unnecessary. Six years ago, Bader won a clear decision and since then he's only improved as a kickboxer. Noguiera is 40 years old and, though he's a crafty veteran, I just don't see what he can do here. Outside of Nog clipping him on the feet, this should be one-way traffic for Bader who, aside from being a far better athlete, is probably a better fighter in every facet of the game now. I like him to win the fight and I like him as a parlay include with Horiguchi. If you're not one for parlays, a bet on Bader by KO/TKO at +105 is also a good bet considering this is five rounds, Noguiera is old, and Bader throws heat.
Despite suffering a setback in his last fight against current bantamweight title challenger Cody Garbrandt, Almeida remains one of the brightest prospects at 135 lbs. He's a smooth, powerful striker who mixes his attacks and levels well, has fight ending power in all of his strikes, and works at a furious pace.
Morales is a good prospect in his own right but he's a toddler in MMA, having only turned professional last year. Still, he has good size for the division and an aggressive game both on the feet and the floor. Truth be told, Morales' game resembles Almeida's at a remove of several rungs down the evolutionary ladder. There's always the possibility Almeida gets clipped in an exchange — he's shown a particular susceptibility to left hooks — but short of that Almeida's superior pace, power, and skill mean he should find the finish in a barnburner of a fight. The pick is Almeida by KO in the second and I like Almeida by KO/TKO at -105 for a bet.
In three round fights, Claudia Gadelha is the best strawweight in the world. She also maybe the best pure athlete in the division, with immense power, strength, and speed and a ton of skill to back that all that up. She works a pressure offense with powerful combination striking and thudding, authoritative takedowns. She's also a monster in the clinch and on top and her only real area of weakness is her propensity to slow down when she's forced to work. Casey is a good athlete in her own right and one with good size for the division. She operates a high volume kickboxing attack and aggressive submission game but she's still developing and defense is an afterthought for her.
Gadelha is just miles ahead in this fight. Casey is a decent, developing fighter but she relies heavily on being a better athlete than her competitors and she won't have that luxury here. Casey is also significantly behind in most of the technical aspects here and her lack of defense is a disaster against as potent an offensive fighter as Gadelha. I expect Gadelha will pressure Casey up to the fence, clinch her, take her down, and beast all over her. The pick is Gadelha by wide decision but there's no meat on these bones for a bet so don't put money down here.
Leites is a good athlete but one who is on the wrong side of the aging curve. He's a decent counterpuncher with legitimate power but the bulk of his game is centered around his wrestling and top position. He's a good chain wrestler from the clinch and once he's on top he has a great pass and punch game along with submissions. Jotko is a young, rangy southpaw who throws straight punches and a variety of kicks. He doesn't have a lot of power but he does work at a good pace and he has a fantastic takedown defense.
This is a close one. Leites has only lost to top-shelf middleweights recently and he's by far the biggest test of Jotko's career but Jotko is significantly younger and he's been making improvements each time out. If Leites can score takedowns, this is his fight to lose but Jotko's stalwart wrestling game means he'll force Leites into a strictly striking bout. There Leites's pressure can still score him points but Jotko is a better defensive fighter and his volume and movement should be the difference. The pick is Jotko by decision and I like him for a bet at plus money.
Alves is an extremely athletic and very aggressive. He pressures forward with spinning kicks and power punching combinations until he can bully his way into the clinch and use his takedowns to get on top and go to work. He's also a good scrambler and decent submission threat but he's been susceptible to gassing. Usman's game is all explosive wrestling with strong finishes. He has an array of ways to finish his takedowns and he isn't deterred if he fails on the first attempt, using chains to great effect. He's got good ground and pound but he's still developing on the feet.
This is an interesting fight here as Alves is a dynamic finisher who fades, and Usman is a consistent fighter without a lot of finishing skills. The difference for me is in what the two want to do. Alves is a very good defensive wrestler so he'll be able to force Usman on the feet for stretches. He also has an excellent series of chokes and does good work from a front headlock which Usman's unrelenting wrestling attack should play into. Usman's wrestling means he could stay safe and tire Alves out for success late but the pick is Alves by submission. I view this fight as closer than the odds suggest so I like a small bet on Alves here.
Moraes is a legit world-class BJJ player with multiple world championships to his name. He's kind of dangerous on the feet but not a technical wizard because where he really wants to be is working his lethal top game; however, his problems come from being an okay wrestler but not a great one. Ottow is a big, submission grappler who recently showed an improved striking game with nice counters and hard kicks in his win over Josh Burkman. The bulk of his game is his grappling though where he's a good wrestler and an aggressive submission threat.
This is a very tough fight for me to call. If Moraes can get this to the floor he's in good shape but he's not a spectacular wrestler and Ottow is a fairly decent one. On the feet, Ottow is probably a bit better but Moraes might be more willing to strike. Ultimately I see this fight as a coin flip affair but I don't feel like I have a great read on this one so I will pass. If you're going to be this though, I would say Ottow has more value.
Johnny Eduardo def Manvel Gamburyan by TKO.
Luis Henrique def Christian Colombo by TKO.
Bellator Bonus Round!
To me, this is a tale of two different fighters. In the last year, Henderson has just looked like a fighter on the decline whereas Chandler has looked very good since losing to Will Brooks a few years ago. Chandler is a very good wrestle-boxer who is coming off an absolute murder of Patricky Freire in his last bout with a KO of the Year candidate. Bendo is also a wrestle-boxer but one without the power of Chandler and more inclined to stick on the outside and kick at range to score points. There is the possibility that this fight looks like the Chandler-Brooks affairs, especially if Chandler tries to wrestle a lot, but I suspect Chandler will let his hands do the talking to great effect. The pick is Chandler by decision and I like him for a bet.
The odds on this one are out of whack and it's the product of Page's highlight reel finishes and hype train. Fernando Gonzalez is very solid journeyman fighter who has basically built a career out of being tough as hell. Gonzalez has a sneakily good boxing game which relies on pressure and durability. Page has been on the phenom track, with explosive kick based highlights with nutty power and accuracy. Despite the fact that Page is a very good, developing fighter, he's still young in his career and this is the exact type of opponent who can give him serious problems based off durability and subtle craft alone. Ultimately, Page has some big physical advantages here including an additional 9 inches of reach so I will pick him to win here but these odds are off and Gonzalez is worth a very small play at +350 or above.
This is close to a coin flip fight right here between a couple of solid light heavyweights who are pretty big for the division. Carmont is a fair kickboxer but he often relies on a grinding style of top control to secure wins. Vassell is grappler with one heck of a chin but who is a bit stiff and awkward on the feet. If Carmont can keep this on the feet he's probably a bit better at range but if he initiates tie ups, Vassell is going to make him work. I'll pick Vassell in a very close fight but I don't feel confident either way here and would advise passing on this one unless you know something special.
Piccolotti is a BJJ specialist with a rudimentary striking game. Girtz is a good wrestler and a sharp striker who isn't a fish out of water on the floor. Piccolotti does have a decent size advantage here but realistically, this comes down to whether he can get the takedown or force scramble and I don't think he can to sustained success. Girtz is a good enough wrestler to keep it on the feet and he's a much better striker than Piccolotti. I like Girtz to win a competitive decision and I think he's good for a small bet.
This is a match made for Taylor-Melendez to debut and look good. KATM is a good kickboxer training with good people who has a large size advantage here. The pick is KATM by TKO in round three but never, ever put money on fights with debuting fighters.
Super Bonus Boxing Round
Andre Ward (-145/59%) vs. Sergey Kovalev (+115/47%)
This right here is the best fight of the weekend by a country mile. It's not every day you get a fight between true top tier pound-for-pound greats (Ward is #4, Kovalev #2) who are both undefeated and whose styles match up so well.
Ward is the consummate boxer, an Olympic gold medalist who unified the super middleweight titles behind a complete understanding of all the facets of the game. He was set to be the successor to Mayweather's title as defensive virtuoso warrior king but a long string of inactivity and listless performances against uninteresting opposition dulled the shine he once had. At his best, Ward was tactical genius, adept at everything, and a hellacious inside fighter. The question for him is if he still is those things or his if recent rusty looking performances are the new normal.
Kovalev is the opposite of Ward. A T-34 tank crammed into 6 foot body, Kovalev is agile and swift but his nickname serves to define the broad contours of his game well: Crusher. Though he's got a pile of craft of his own, it's hard to recognize that when Kovalev just batters the bejesus out of the other guy in the ring with him. The problem for Kovalev is his last fight was against Isaac Chilemba, basically a derelict version of Ward chosen in no small part as a primer for a bout with Ward, and Chilemba gave Kovalev serious problems. He still won handily but had to work much harder than normal and the logical progression from that is that Ward will box his ears up.
I can't explain how stoked I am for this fight, which is why it's making a special appearance on an MMA website. If Ward comes to fight in his optimal form, his defense and timing should carry the day but I'm not sure that's going to happen. Now, to be fair, even a diminished Ward could still prove good enough to win here but Kovalev is an underrated technician and he thumps like the rapture. Considering all the factors and uncertainty, I think Ward should only be a -120 so I'll take the free value on Kovalev.
And that's everything for the weekend. Three MMA events and one boxing match for good measure. 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.)