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 two title fights including the return of the mythical Ronda Rousey.
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 Nunes at +125 means she should win the fight 44 percent of the time). If you think she 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.
Amanda Nunes is a top-shelf athlete who can do a lot of things extremely well. She is one of the biggest hitters in women’s MMA and likely the biggest single shot striker in the women’s bantamweight division. She’s explosive, powerful, and backs up that athleticism with a sneaky craft built to maximize her tools. She has excellent footwork when she’s focused on it, works at a high pace, and fires off sharp jabs and brutal low kicks at range. When she pressures forward, she finds good angles and she’s a dangerous pocket boxer. The sheer volume she throws means Nunes gets hit a fair bit, but she is a good defensive fighter and mitigates much of her opponent’s countering offense.
Nunes is also a handful in the clinch where her physicality makes her tough to control, and she’s adept at working strikes into trips and takedowns. Conceding a takedown to Nunes is a very poor idea as her best area is top position grappling. She’s not really a pass and submit threat but she is a cave-your-skull-in-with-volleys-of-punches threat. Her ground in pound is some of the best in the division and she can finish with submissions after battering her foes.
Nunes’ biggest weakness is her cardio. All of the strengths outlined above last for approximately nine minutes before she starts to fade and fade fast. Once Nunes is gassed, it’s not that she loses all her technique, but everything becomes labored and she’s much more likely to go for lazy offense, which creates big openings for her opponents.
Rousey is a swarmer in the purest sense of the word. She rarely takes a step backwards, and if she does, that is not a good sign for her backers. Rousey is probably the best pure athlete in women’s MMA and her game is built around using her physicality to dominate her opponents. She comes forward aggressively, throwing heavy punches in combination. She’s not technical, but the brute force she possess is enough to get the job done against many if not most bantamweights, and if her punches don’t connect, she has usually bullied herself into the clinch anyway.
The clinch is where Rousey butters her bread. She is one of the best clinch fighters in all of MMA and the crux of her game is based on her Judo throws and devastating knees. An Olympic bronze medalist in Judo, Rousey has a supreme understanding of clinch grappling angles and attacks, and she chains her trips and throws together in a truly sublime manner. All of this sets up high amplitude throws which help her to land in dominant position, where she then immediately goes to work attacking arms. From basically anywhere on the mat, she is lightning quick at snatching up an armbar, and the volume of attempts means she has almost always found it eventually.
Rousey also has some serious holes in her game. On the feet, she is rudimentary in the most severe sense of the word, and it’s not a stretch to say she may have the worst defense of any high-level MMA fighter. Some elite fighters can manifest defense in the form of leather tough durability; Rousey isn’t one of those though and she reacts very poorly to getting hit, which happens a lot. She’s also extremely over reliant on her athleticism to mask her gaps and seems to have a complete inability to pivot from a losing game plan.
Also concerning is her propensity to prioritize submissions over position on the ground. Rousey will often pursue low percentage finishes instead of maintaining dominant position, in part because she believes she can always get another chance. People forget that Rousey did get Holly Holm to the floor in the first round, but instead of holding position, working her over, and winning the round, she went for an over the back armbar, lost it, and then was forced back to the feet. That isn’t encouraging against a fighter capable of matching her athleticism and limiting Rousey’s opportunities.
I’ve been torn on this fight since it was announced. On the one hand, Nunes hits harder than Holm and can also match Rousey’s athleticism, which portends good things for her. But Nunes also finds herself in clinch ties up all the time and she got absolutely worked over by Cat Zingano there, and Rousey is several standard deviations better than Zingano. On the other hand, Rousey hasn’t fought in over a year, likely hasn’t made any huge leaps, and her mental state going into this is a massive cause for concern. More simply, she gets hit a lot and doesn’t like to get hit, and Nunes hits real damn hard.
Ultimately, I’m going to side with Nunes here because I know she wants to be in there and I believe American Top Team will be prepared for Rousey, whereas I have no faith in Rousey’s camp to adequately prepare her for this fight. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this fight lasts a little longer, and as Nunes fades, she shoots a lazy shot, gets tossed by Rousey and finished with the patented armbar. Either way this fight is, at worst, a coin flip or slightly in favor of Nunes, and thus I’ll be betting her straight at plus money.
Dominick Cruz is probably the most cerebral fighter currently in MMA, and the bedrock of his game is his tactics and game planning. Everything starts with Cruz’s footwork. Cruz moves in a never-ending series of pivots, switches, and shuffles that constantly renegotiate his angles of attack and allow him to pick his spots to engage when he is at the biggest advantage.
The second pillar of Cruz’s game is his wrestling. Though he’s gained notoriety for his footwork in the context of his range striking game, his shifty angles and constant shuffling wouldn’t work as well without the threat of a takedown coming from an offside angle. Cruz has described his style as taking the traditional eight limbs of striking and adding a ninth, his wrestling, to create a new blended style of combat. That isn’t far off from the truth, as the same movements that Cruz uses to avoid attacks or set up right hands also introduce clean entries for his wrestling game. As a wrestler he finishes well in part because his shots are always set up well and his command of range and angles makes him extremely difficult to takedown defensively.
Cody Garbrandt is much the inverse of Cruz. Garbrandt may well be the best athlete in in the bantamweight division, and his game is built around speed and power and a surprising amount of fundamentals for one as young as he is. Garbrandt earns his keep with his boxing acumen. He possesses kill-shot power and has the fastest hands in the bantamweight division and quite possibly all of MMA. He operates behind a tight jab and fundamental footwork and he can attack all levels and mix his speeds well. He’s not the most defensively sound striker, but his power, speed, and volume in the pocket have more than made up for that so far in his career.
Outside of the boxing, Garbrandt is of the Team Alpha Male mold in that he’s a good, explosive wrestler with some variety to his entries and good finishes. On top, his speed and power let him be a strong ground-and-pounder, but he’s not a submission threat and we know very little about his defensive wrestling and bottom game.
On paper, everything here lines up for Cruz to have a good night. Garbrandt is a next-level athlete and one who may well hold gold eventually, but he is still young in his development and likely taking too big a jump up too soon. Cruz has a massive edge in championship experience and, loathe though Garbrandt may be to admit it, Cruz has made a career out of beating up Garbrandt’s teammates. Granted, Garbrandt offers new and different threats in that regard than his compatriots, but at a basic level, Cruz knows how to prepare and attack Garbrandt and Garbrandt’s team has shown a complete inability to functionally come after Cruz.
Moreover, the other aspects of this fight seem to favor Cruz. Garbrandt is a fighter who relies heavily on confidence and, to borrow a phrase from Jon Jones, Cruz is balls deep in his head. Cruz’s game relies on opponents targeting his head and missing a lot and all indications coming into this are that Garbrandt will be happy to headhunt. The biggest danger for Cruz is that he often relies on the smallest of spaces to stay safe and Garbrandt is athletic enough to ruin Cruz’s calculations and blast him. Garbrandt’s hand speed, power, and craft mean he could absolutely lamp Cruz at any point in time, but that is certainly not the most likely result.
To me, the smart call is Cruz wins either by decision or a late stoppage, but I think the odds are perfect and I wouldn’t advise a bet. However, ‘Garbrandt Inside the Distance’ is +225, so if you wanted to hedge Cruz straight with Garbrandt ITD, you can basically guarantee yourself a tiny win.
In many ways, T.J. Dillashaw is Dominick Cruz-lite. He moves with the same shift-step footwork and constant barrage of angles that Cruz uses, though he employs a more diverse striking acumen and less wrestling. In lieu of the wrestling sinew of that game, Dillashaw replaces it with an abundance of volume, working at a very high pace and mixing in a variety of attacks. This results in a much more offensively minded style of fighting rather than the cautionary, defense first of Cruz.
Preferably, Dillashaw wants to operate in close quarters where his angles and volume pile up damage and wear opponents down. When compelled, he is a solid offensive wrestler, but lately he hasn’t opted to use this skill set much. He is a phenomenal defensive wrestler though and he very rarely ever ends up on his back.
John Lineker is a tiny man who hits extremely hard and is very bad about making weight, thus hurting his full potential. Lineker's game is built entirely around his pressure footwork, adamantium chin, and big power combinations. He forces opponents back up against the cage and unleashes hellacious combinations of body-head strikes until the opponent falls over unconscious. He is more than willing to take five to land one with the idea that his one will hurt you more than your five hurt him. This is a solid bit of calculus for Lineker, as he has one of the best chins in MMA history and it is honestly friggin’ astonishing the amount and type of strikes that bounce of his head without ill effect. Michael MacDonald, one of the biggest hitters at 135, landed flush on Lineker multiple times and it dinged off his cranium like rain on a windshield. Same for John Dodson, who landed a clean head kick that didn’t so much as cause a backwards step. At this point anything short of a baseball bat probably isn’t going to disincentivize Lineker, and that plus him being tough to take down and working a relentless pace is how Lineker has won his fights.
The line here is off but the result is right. Lineker arguably lost to Dodson, and Dillashaw has the skill and athleticism to functionally replicate that same game plan more successfully, so he should in fact be the favorite. However, whether Dillashaw will choose to operate on the outside is another question entirely. Dillashaw’s style is to work volume inside and it’s easy to see him trying to do the same with Lineker; while that plan might work for a short period of time, Lineker is bringing more power to bear in these fights and a complete inability to be phased, where Dillashaw is not. Exchanging punches with John Lineker has historically had the same success rate as doing so with the Diaz brothers, so if Dillashaw gets trapped in this kind of fight, Lineker will have a good night. If he doesn’t though and uses his wrestling to stifle Lineker and prevent him from gaining any momentum, Dillashaw should be able to eke this one out on points. The latter seems just a bit more likely, but in my head this is close to a 50-50 fight and thus I love a bet on Lineker at odds so wide.
Dong Hyun Kim is a southpaw grinder who can operate competently at range, but does his best work in the clinch and on top. Or at least he was. As of late, Kim has abandoned his grappling heavy clinch-trip-smother game in favor of being a brawls-out-baller who throws everything but the kitchen sink at opponents. This stylistic shift has turned him into one of the most exciting fighters in the welterweight division and has led to some awesome bits of offense on his part, but also led to Tyron Woodley punting him out of the cage in 61 seconds.
Tarec Saffiedine is a crisp, technical striker who works at a high pace but doesn’t really have a ton of finishes or finishing potential. He relies heavily on being able to dictate range and working behind his jab and leg and body kicks. He is an exceptionally good defensive wrestler, but he can be backed up by consistent pressure since he lacks the power to really keep guys off him.
The big question here is what type of Kim shows up? He’s been off for over a year and if that time off made him reflect on his newly aggressive berserker style of fighting and reevaluate those choices, he could easily win a clinch heavy grindfest. But if instead he charges forward recklessly, Saffiedine is going to chew him up on the feet. Considering Kim’s time off and Saffiedine’s stellar takedown defense, I am going to side with Saffiedine winning more exchanges and taking a close decision and as a result I like a bet on him at plus money.
Louis Smolka is a large flyweight with a developing striking game and a top-shelf ground game. On the feet, he is building an arsenal of kicks which help him take advantage of his big frame and he operates at a high pace. In the clinch, he uses his length well to work knees, trips, and throws. Once on the mat, Smolka is a monster from top position with heavy passes and even heavier ground striking. He's also an excellent scrambler.
Ray Borg is a young, athletic prospect who excels at blending his offense together in highly effective combinations. He’s still young and doesn’t have a ton of craft on his feet, but he is a very good wrestler and a lightning quick scrambler and grappler with a penchant for landing strikes on top and finding subs.
Borg is the better athlete and probably the better scrambler, but he’s also facing a considerable size disadvantage, coming off almost a year long layoff, and badly missed weight on Thursday. If Borg can work takedowns and maintain control, he will win. And if Smolka can keep it at range, his superior striking should carry the day. Coming in overweight is sometimes to the heavier fighters advantage, but such a bad miss suggests Borg’s camp didn’t go as planned. Given that, and his size and layoff disadvantages, my pick is Smolka by decision and I like a bet on him at plus money.
Johny Hendricks is a former welterweight champion whose career is basically in free fall at this point. I was one of the last holdouts on the “Hendricks is just in rut” train but after blowing weight yet again it seems that is no longer a defensible position.
At his best, Hendricks is a well-rounded wrestle boxer with absurd power in his left hand and an elite wrestling game to allow him to dictate the terms of any fight. He’s a beast in the clinch and a solid worker on top, though not dominant. The problem is we haven’t seen even a reasonable approximation of Hendrick’s best in years and it seems more likely than not that he’s shot.
Neil Magny is an enormous welterweight who can do a bit of everything, but he does his best work as a top position grappler where can use his long limbs for effective ground-and-pound and where he excels at taking the back in scrambles. On the feet, Magny wants to operate either far on the outside, where he can pop his opponent with his reach and snapping front kicks, or he wants to be in the clinch, where his enormous frame and underrated trips allow him to take people down.
Magny greatest strengths are his tremendous cardio and excellent fight IQ which allow him to make up for his athletic deficiencies. Where Magny suffers is that he is a slow starter and his stand up defense is lacking. He doesn't move super well (he's very prone to getting backed into the cage) and for all his length, he can't really keep opponents on the outside because he lacks an authoritative jab. Athletic fighters who can work in the pocket have had success at finding his chin, but so far Magny has been durable enough to survive past these scares.
This is a simple one to call. Hendricks blew weight again and appears to be completely done with high-level MMA. Magny is the type of fighter who won’t blow your hair back but he has a rock solid process that allows him to hang around at the upper echelons of the division. Magny wins by decision and I like a bet either on him straight or on Magny by decision at +175.
Mike Pyle (+160/38%) vs. Alex Garcia (-170/63%)
Mike Pyle is the textbook definition of a savvy, veteran technician who can do a bit of everything and do it all fairly well. He’s a sharp counterpuncher, slick submission grappler, and sneakily violent in the clinch, and he knows how to read a fight well enough to put himself in advantageous positions. He’s also 41 years old and fading fast.
Alex Garcia is a good prospect that had people talking early because of his phenomenal athleticism and powerful wrestling acumen. But he hasn’t shown the type of growth usually expected of a real prospect, which has tempered expectations for him.
Pyle is the more technical fighter but he’s also 41 years old, with a failing chin and lowering athleticism. Garcia might have to eat some shots but he should be able to work takedowns effectively at the very least, and even more likely, just land something hard on the feet that puts Pyle away. The pick is Garcia by KO but the odds are more or less correct, so no bet.
Antonio Carlos Junior (-135/57%) vs. Marvin Vettori (+125/44%)
Carlos Junior is a big middleweight with a large reach for the division. He’s athletic and improving in all areas, and he’s already a fantastic top position grappler and decent takedown artist. Vettori is also a young, athletic fighter, but he has the advantage of being a southpaw and a shot-for-shot bigger puncher. He’s also a solid takedown artist, but his defensive wrestling needs some work and he doesn’t have much high-level experience.
If Vettori can keep it standing, he has a good chance to land something big and take this one. But I think Vettori’s defensive wrestling will be his downfall. Carlos Junior is a solid offensive wrestler and a handful when he gets on top of you, and I expect him to be able to do that to Vettori and never let him up. The pick is Junior by decision, but the odds are good so pass on a bet.
Brandon Thatch (-170/63%) vs. Niko Price (+160/38%)
Thatch was once a hotshot prospect made of violence and aggression, and while he’s still violent, the expectations for him have been tempered considerably by his lacking grappling game. Thatch is a striker in the mold of Matt Brown, an aggressive pressure fighter who does his best work in the clinch. He’s huge for the division and at range he has power, but he doesn’t work in combinations and is pretty hittable, not extremely durable, and prone to tiring. He’s an okay first level defensive wrestler, but when a fighter gets in on his hips, he’s probably getting taken down and his grappling game lacks fundamentals.
Price is a bit of an unknown. There isn’t much tape to view on him, but what there is suggests he’s an aggressive striker who comes forward and works in combinations behind long, powerful punches. He also appears to be as aggressive on the ground as he is on the feet. Considering I haven’t seen much of Price, I can’t feel confident in any pick here. Thatch has clear liabilities to exploit but who the hell knows if Price can do so. The pick is Thatch by TKO because he’s a known commodity and an offensive dynamo, but don’t bet on this fight.
Alex Oliveira (-105/51%) vs. Tim Means (-115/53%)
Alex Oliveira is a lightweight who is finally making the jump up to welterweight after failing to make 170 pounds several times. He’s an athletic specimen of the first order and a developing technician, and he does his best work in in the clinch where he works powerful knees and solid takedowns.
Tim Means is a pressure fighter along the lines of Brandon Thatch, but a much better one. He’s big for the division and uses his long frame to strike a distance. He’s also very adept in the clinch, throwing hard elbows and knees and using his length to get leverage and control, and he works a high volume game.
This is a very close fight but I think Tim Means has enough craft to his game to make up for his athletic disadvantages. Oliveira will concede to fighting at the range and pace of Means, and losing that fundamental battle will likely cost him the fight. Means by decision is the pick, but the odds here are perfect so no bet.
And that's all folks. 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
(Editor's note: All of this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)