Welcome MMA bettors, speculators, and gambling lurkers! Back at it again for another week of comprehensive gambling analysis from your friends at MMAFighting.com. This weekend, we have a deceptively fun card headlined by half of an interim title fight.
For those of you who are 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 Holloway at -240 means he should win the fight 71 percent of the time). If you think he wins more often than the odds say, you should bet it because there's value there.
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.
Now with all that out of the way, let's rock.
There is a ton to say about this fight from a technical perspective, but it feels like the complete clusterstorm that has encircled it will take away from what an amazing matchup this is. The former lightweight champion and one of the best offensive fighters in MMA history is taking on the man who may well be the best featherweight on the planet, Conor McGregor included.
Max Holloway is smooth, technical striker on the cutting edge of MMA offense. He has sharp fundamentals built around his footwork which lets him cut off the cage and operate at a variety of ranges, entirely at his discretion. He often mixes his ranges and is proficient at both fighting long and at working in the pocket. He's also not afraid to brawl it up as is evidenced by his infamous gunfight with Ricardo Lamas at the end of their fight. Holloway pumps a jab often and builds his offense around that, backing it with a variety of combinations and angles of attack. He's very good at mixing his speed and his levels and he excels at finding the openings in his opponent's defense.
To compliment this all, Holloway is second-best defensive wrestler in the division behind only Jose Aldo. His footwork allows him to keep the range and once someone gets in on him he is constantly shifting his angle and taking away the drive of his opponent. Basically, taking him down is a fool's errand and would be especially so for Pettis.
Anthony Pettis is one of the most offensively gifted fighters in MMA history. When allowed to work at his preferred range, Pettis' striking game is predatory in a way few men can handle. He has some of the best kicks in MMA and good single shot boxing made all the more effective by his placement and power. He's also a top-shelf athlete and dynamic grappler, with good takedown defense. No seriously, his takedown defense is actually good but for the fact that he doesn't disengage so he can just be ground against the fence endless.
Along that note, Pettis' shortcomings are mostly tactical. He's never developed sharp footwork which allows him to be backed into the fence where he is far less dangerous and where fighters can get in on his hips to wrestle (a la Eddie Alvarez). Once in those clinches, Pettis can defend himself adequately but generates next to no offense and so he inevitable loses the round.
A consistent, well-executed pressure game from a fighter who can't be backed off with one or two strikes is the way to beat Pettis and Max Holloway is pretty much exactly that. This isn't to suggest that Pettis can't win but the stylistic matchup is one of the worst ones Pettis could possibly face. Holloway's pressure and volume are going to give Pettis a lot of problems, and since Holloway is tougher than a $2 steak, the opportunities for Pettis to land one brilliant salvo of offense to change the fight is small. Add in the fact that Pettis had cardio issues in his 145 debut and now he has missed weight and everything adds up to a very bad night for "Showtime." If he rips a body kick that folds Holloway up I won't be completely surprised, but I expect Max Holloway to bury Pettis in combination work and claim his first UFC title. The pick is Holloway by decision, and I think Holloway is a fine parlay include if that's your thing. I also very much like a bet on over 2.5 rounds at -220 as both men are ruggedly tough and if there is a stoppage it will likely be in the championship rounds.
Since moving to welterweight Donald Cerrone has looked better than ever, and not just because he's winning and winning impressively but because he is making substantial technical improvements. For a long time, Cerrone's game revolved around his rangy kicking but he was always defensively porous and underutilized his boxing. Since he didn't have the best boxing game, Cerrone was often susceptible to a consistent pressure game. But now Cerrone's become much more comfortable with exchanging in the pocket and is much more aggressive in his use of duck under takedowns which he finishes well. He has also has tightened up his footwork and pivoting making him much harder to exploit, and he's developed a really crafty intercepting knee that serves as an effective deterrent to closing in on him. Cerrone is also an underrated wrestler and on the floor he's the same dynamic finisher he always has been with excellent top control and crafty back takes.
Matt Brown is the Greek God of violence. Blending a diverse and deceptively powerful range striking game with almost a pure Thai-style clinch game, best described as "a bear with elbows," Brown is one of the most potent offensive fighters in the welterweight division. At his most basic, Brown is a Wall and Mauler. He wants to pressure his opponent up against the cage where he can unload with strikes from all angles or step into a clinch, a range at which Brown may well be the best in MMA. His clinch is enormously diverse with options from single and double collar ties, to hellacious elbows and knees, to tricky foot sweeps and dumps, which he can use as a takedown or just as a way to off balance his opponent to set up more elbows. Brown is also an improved defensive wrestler, though still not a great one and the same can be said of his defensive grappling. Offensively, Brown is potent at going for chokes and a fierce worker from top position should he end up there. Brown's great pace and cardio are also strong suits but his durability, mainly to the body, has become a very big liability for him.
It pains me to say it but this may well be the end of Matt Brown as an elite 170-pounder. He's an offensive powerhouse, whose defense has always been a bit lacking, and at age 35 with a lot of miles on his body (both inside and outside the cage), that is a recipe for disaster against a dynamic fighter like Cerrone who looks to be in the Robbie Lawler mold of late career reinvention. A few years ago, Brown would probably have a huge edge here as his pressure game and size would give Cerrone fits but Cerrone seems to have mostly figured out how to mitigate that style of attack. Furthermore, Cerrone's intercepting knee could prove troublesome for Brown's glass liver. Should he choose to wrestle, Cerrone is still a far superior grappler. The pick here is Donald Cerrone to secure a submission midway through the fight and I think he is fairly decent parlay fodder as well.
Cub Swanson is primarily a striker who relies on good footwork and angles to set up stinging punching combinations. He doesn't throw a lot of strikes but the ones he does have power in them. Swanson is also an underrated offensive wrestler with a variety of finishes and a fair top position player. On the downside, Swanson has never been a defensive all-star and his chin appears to be fading.
Choi is one of featherweight's brightest rising stars. An aggressive kickboxer with dynamite in his right hand, Choi tends towards the wilder side but when he gets in brawls his talent at counterpunching and his monster power are all he needs. He's also deceptively crafty and has good timing on his strikes which maximizes their efficacy. Unfortunately, that is basically the full measure of Choi's game who is still young and developing so if he ends up in a losing battle on the feet, he's mostly just stuck there.
This is a classic case of the aging elite fighter facing the hot up-and-comer and in any battle like this the question is always how much is left in the tank for the veteran? Some veterans can extend their careers well past their sell by date purely on craft but Swanson has always relied on his durability and with that fading, it seems like this is Choi's fight to lose. Swanson is going to get hit at some point and when he does Choi's big time power coupled with Swanson's deteriorating chin should put one in the highlight real for "The Korean Superboy." I like Choi to win the fight, and if you put him in a parlay I wouldn't absolutely hate it, but it's also not something I would recommend.
Tim Kennedy is a well-rounded fighter who relies primarily on his stifling grappling game to get the job done. A competent striker, Kennedy prefers to work in single shots but most are thrown with power and his timing is pretty good. What he really wants to do though is close the distance and force clinches and takedowns. He is bull strong and a very technically adept grappler and wrestler. Once on top, he is extremely difficult to shake off and he's become significantly better at passing to and holding dominant positions. He's not much of a finisher though and he will be coming off an enormous layoff here.
Kelvin Gastelum was (is?) a hot shot welterweight who is now back to fighting as a middleweight due to his repeated failures to make weight. As a result, he's going to be one of the smallest fighters in the division but he'll make up for it with clear edges in speed and quickness. On the feet, he's an aggressive southpaw with all the hallmarks of a King's MMA fighter. He pressures behind good footwork and is active with his hands and kicks. He's also possesses good takedowns and is a good scrambler who figures to be even better at a weight where he won't be giving up speed to his opponents. He's not a great defensive wrestler though and he has a bit of a reputation for backing down when pressured.
The big question for me in this fight is, how does Kennedy look coming off such a long layoff? If he's rusty, then Gastelum is skilled enough to rack up points on the feet and take a decision. If he's not though, I find it hard to believe that Kennedy's massive size and strength advantages won't manifest themselves in meaningful ways here. Gastelum gave up takedowns to Neil Magny and Kennedy is a horse of a different color in that regard. If Gastelum can stay at range, his volume should win him rounds, but I suspect Kennedy will be able to tie him up, get him to the floor, and control him on the way to a decision victory. That being said, I think the odds are close enough to correct here to pass on this and I wouldn't suggest a bet.
Zach Makovsky is pretty much your standard issue wrestle-boxer who relies more on the wrestling aspect of his game. He's a southpaw with developing strikes but mostly those strikes set up his frequent, technical takedowns. Once on top he excels at control and positions and scrambling.
Dustin Ortiz is also primarily a grappler but one who is a bit more reliant on the scrambles than pressured control like Makovsky. On the feet he works at a higher pace but he's also a bit wilder and a bit worse defensively.
This is a sleeper for fight of the night with the potential for exciting scrambles here and the winner of those will ultimately be the winner of the fight. In that regard, Makovsky is the better wrestler and the more control based grappler so I like him to come out ahead in the exchanges and win a fun decision over Ortiz. Ortiz has proven very difficult to finish, and so with that in mind, I would be highly surprised Makovsky got him out of there early. Makovsky by decision is +105 and that's a bet I can get behind.
Jordan Mein (-150/60%) vs. Emil Weber Meek (+130/43%)
Mein is a talented striker with all eight points who works a crisp jab and mixes his levels well. He's also exceptionally talented at finding the openings afforded to him and is a pretty fair defensive wrestler as well. At this point, Meek is more raw athlete than technician but his aggression, power, and physicality are all very high and can cover a lot of his technical holes. He throws often and everything he throws is a kill shot. Similarly, he's a good scrambler on the mat and always looking for the finish. This fight comes down to how Mein looks coming off almost two years on the bench. He's the more skilled fighter and if he's still there mentally and physically he should edge a decision here but whether that's true is a giant question mark. I'm going to pick Meek to win based on his aggression - something Mein has struggled with in the past - and like a bet on him at plus-money.
Nikita Krylov is a big light heavyweight with an unorthodox game that can best be described as "hit them in any way possible, as much as possible, until they fall down and don't get up." He is a swarmer who throws some of the highest volume in the division and who has been consistently improving from fight to fight. Cirkunov is also a big light heavyweight but his game relies much more on securing takedowns and implementing a very solid grappling game. This is a close fight but at this point, until somebody can stop the offensive whirlwind that is Krylov you should probably ride that wave. He throws so much volume and is so ruggedly tough and durable that he will beat anyone other than the tip-top elite of the division. Cirkunov will likely get to that strata one day but I don't think he's there yet. Give me Krylov by TKO, and since this fight is a coin flip, put your money behind the plus sign and bet Krylov straight.
OAM is a big strong athlete who has fallen a bit short of what the original expectations were for him. He's a southpaw who isn't inert on the feet but who does his best work in the clinch and working takedowns, which he excels at achieving through a series of chained trips and shots. Dober is on the other end of that spectrum, a kickboxer who has over achieved so far and finds ways to win fights he isn't projected to compete in. He's a good kickboxer though he lacks power and he's a solid defensive wrestler.
If OAM can't secure takedowns, this will be a really long night for him as Dober is more technically sound and will like take a point heavy decision. However, I don't think that will happen. Dober is a good defensive wrestler but he finds himself in clinches more than would behoove him here and once the clinch up, OAM's physicality and continuous pressure should let him get on top and win rounds if not find the submission. I like Aubin-Mercier to win, but I think the line is about right so no bet here.
Letourneau is a striker first and foremost and a good one. She's big for the division and can use her size well, particularly with her kicks. She's also no slouch on the inside where she counters with zip. Pereira is a blitzer who comes forward throwing heat and going for power takedowns. She is a true atomweight though and that size disadvantage could be disastrous against a proven commodity like Letourneau who will have a large physical edge. Moreover, Letourneau's experience and skills should allow her to keep this fight at range and pick the smaller fighter apart with straight punches and kicks. I like Letourneau to win a decision, and I don't hate her for a small bet.
Gagnon is a quick, explosive striker with good technique and very good takedown defense. He's also small for the division and coming off a serious injury and tremendous layoff. Lopez is big, powerful athlete with a good ground and pound game but who is still developing. It's hard to feel confident either way on this one. Gagnon is the more technical fighter but his physical disadvantages are legitimate and his layoff is troubling. I'll pick Gagnon to win based purely off the skill edges but you should in no way bet this fight.
John Makdessi (+160/38%) vs. Lando Vannata (-185/65%)
Makdessi is a pure striker who relies on maintaining distance and pumping a jab, then following it up with a sharp straight right. He also has an array of spinning and round kicks that add some sizzle to an otherwise fundamental striking game. He's small for the division though and has had a rough go of late, losing three of his last five. Vannata is the new darling of UFC fans and with good reason: he is a legitimate prospect with a funky, forward thinking game backed up by a lot of talent. He has excellent footwork and timing for a guy so young in his career and he operates a flashy, off kilter attack that causes a lot of problems for his opponents. He also is a decent wrestler when the occasion calls for it but mostly he prefers his fluid striking offense.
This is the classic fight of two guys going in opposite directions: Vannata is a guy the Jackson-WinkelJohn camp has been high on for a while and Makdessi may well be on the downside of his career. I expect Vannata's funky striking and angles to play havoc with Makdessi and carry the former to a finish midway through the fight. However, the odds here look to be about correct so I would recommend a pass.
Saggo is a bit of a jack-of-all trades though one who has previously been a bit over-reliant on his grappling game. Now though, he has added a solid striking arsenal with a good kicking game and his BJJ and takedowns are still above average. Khabilov is a very good athlete who is maddeningly inconsistent. A sharp, technical striker who also possess excellent wrestling and top control, Khabilov has a tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and lose rounds based on activity alone.
Khabilov is the much superior technical fighter in this matchup and he should be a prohibitive favorite based off that alone. Still, Saggo is the kind of scrappy that could maybe steal a win here if Khabilov just doesn't do anything for 10 minutes. Ultimately, you have to side with Khabilov based on his skill edges and the fact that Saggo has subpar defensive wrestling but until Khabilov starts showing up fight in and fight out I wouldn't feel confident having my money on him. Definitely a pass situation for me.
And that's everything for tonight. Enjoy the fights y'all and good luck to those who need it. If you've got any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JedKMeshew and follow me there for any betting updates as the fights get closer.
(Editor's note: All this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)