It's fight night and so we are back again with another gambling preview of the fights, the odds, and my own personal break down of where the value lies. Last week we called the Shevchenko upset so let's see if we can make it two in a row for women's MMA upset picks.
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 is calculated using the closing odds for each fight.
Doubly as always, I'm just 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.
On paper, this looks to be the easiest fight Robbie Lawler has had in some time, at least stylistically. Lawler is one of the premier sprawl and brawlers in MMA today. On the feet he can do a bit of everything, but the hallmarks of his game are tight footwork, a snapping jab, which he follows with a right hook or straight left, and his left body and head kick. The jab is really the most critical tool for Lawler. When he is working his jab well, everything else comes smoother and more effective. When he forgets about it, he starts ceding range and initiative. Lawler is the very good defense fighter, with excellent head movement, which he uses to stay in the pocket and counter with heavy hooks. Lawler has also become a very good clinch fighter, employing powerful knees to the body and elbows, and breaking tie ups with strikes.
Perhaps Lawler's biggest area of improvement in recent years is the ferocity of his takedown defense. He sprawls with authority and always punishes his opponent with elbows or knees, extracting a toll for every shot, and disincentivizing further attempts. When you boil it down, this is really the crux of Robbie Lawler the champion. Lawler has mountains of experience and understands where and how he wants a fight to take place; he then achieves this by sending clear messages and dictating the engagement.
Tyron Woodley is a hyper-athletic wrestle boxer, though he has appeared lately to be moving away from the wrestling and focusing more on power punching. The power punching is a legitimate end game, though as Woodley is one of the hardest hitters in the division and quicker than just about everyone, allowing him to close distance unexpectedly to land his right hand, which is his power shot. 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, rarely using his left hand. Being extremely reliant on his power side hasn't stopped him from being effective, but it does make him relatively predictable.
As stated, Woodley is a fantastic wrestler when he is committed to the takedowns, but lately he seems to have moved away from that. Against Lawler, he will likely have a hard time securing the takedown, but would be best served to continue trying so as not to just cede an entire area of the fight. Should he secure a takedown, Woodley is a good controlling grappler, though not much of an advance and finish threat.
I think this fight ultimately comes down to the first 9 minutes. Woodley is an extremely talented fighter, but he's fighting well out of his depth from a skills perspective and he has a history of fading as the fight goes on whereas Lawler has proven himself to be one of the very best at turning it up late. If the fight goes to a third round and Woodley hasn't either already built up a huge lead or at least landed something to change the texture of the fight, he is going to be in deep trouble in the championship rounds.
While a good wrestler, Woodley is not going to have extended success taking Lawler down and will likely just drain his gas tank faster. This is going to be a fight contested mainly on the feet and that puts the ball firmly in Lawler's court. It's an open stance bout, meaning Woodley's only real weapon - his right hand - has to cover substantially more ground to get to Lawler who is a very good defensive fighter. Also, Lawler's chin is battle tested so Woodley has to land something very clean. If Tyron can buzz Robbie early, he can absolutely finish him. But if he doesn't get it early, it's tough to imagine Tyron landing the kill shot as his arms start to fade.
Ultimately, I am picking Robbie Lawler to retain his title but it isn't without a lot of trepidation. That trepidation comes not from a technical perspective, but from the coalescence of all the external factors at play here. Lawler is 34 and has taken an extraordinary amount of punishment the last few years. Everyone's chin goes eventually and it strains credulity to believe Robbie can continue having wars like this without it cracking. Moreover, I am also fairly confident that Robbie is past his prime, but the depth of skill and strategy he possess is making up for it. Also, Robbie has a habit of getting hit early and Tyron only has about 9 real good minutes in him. The counter to that point, though is that Woodley has been out 18 months so he may start slowly as he knocks the rust off. If so that favors Lawler even more.
The reality is that Lawler is vastly superior technically and the word around the internet is that a majority of the ATT people seem to think Robbie takes this handily. Still, I can't help shake the feeling that Tyron is going to land that kill shot and bring an end to Lawler's Cinderella title run. When Woodley opened up as a +200 underdog I thought that line was tempting. Now that he's dropped to +130 I wouldn't bet it especially factoring in the 18 months layoff for Woodley.
If you watched the pre-fight show then you know I'm picking Kowalkiewicz in the upset and it's mainly due to one thing: that stat up there that has 6.17 next to it. Kowalkiewicz is overwhelming with her volume and activity. She just doesn't stop throwing, which, aside from having the obvious advantage of increasing her potential to land, do damage, and curry favor with the judges, also 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.
But Kowalkiewicz isn't just a mindless swarmer, she is constantly circling, attacking in on new angles, adjusting, and attacking again. The nature of her offense means she can be fairly hittable as a result, but because she is dictating the terms of engagement those shots aren't the best punches her opponents have in their arsenals. There is 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. She also excels in the clinch where she maintains her ferocious pace and works good knees, elbows, and punches while maintaining good position.
On the other end, Namajunas has transformed herself from a kamikaze action grappler into a more measured out fighter with an excellent top game and scrambles. She has good pop in her hands and has developed a nice jab and good straight right to throw off of it. She also has an array of kicks to keep range or attack with, but where Rose really shines is as a grappler. Namajunas is a phenomenal scrambler with excellent striking from top and a good passing game. This is likely the biggest area of advantage in the fight for either fighter, so if Rose ends up on top then things are going very poorly for Kowalkiewicz. However, Rose is a subpar wrestler both offensively and defensively and Karolina is a very good sprawl and brawler.
Namajunas is the more well-rounded fighter and has some clear paths to victory, but I think this fight favors Kowalkiewicz stylistically. Rose's best path to victory is to get the fight to the floor, but she doesn't really have the wrestling acumen to accomplish that. That means this fight will most likely play out on the feet and there, Kowalkiewicz possesses most of the advantages. While Rose has become a good out fighter with a good jab, it isn't good enough to consistently dictate the range or pace of the fight. Kowalkiewicz is going to be able to press Rose, trap the hands, slip on the way in and throw 3 punches for every one of Rose's.
The biggest thing that gives me pause here is that Rose is an excellent athlete and has the potential to progress rapidly so there is some question as to how much better she looks now from the Tecia Torres fight. In that fight, Namajunas had serious troubles with Torres throwing in combination despite having a sizeable reach advantage and the fight happening at a much slower pace. Still, only 3 months off doesn't seem like enough time to expect massive improvements from Rose that would cover those holes meaningfully.
If Rose is disciplined and sticks to the outside counter game, she will be able to score effectively by nature of being the heavier hitter and likely wins the first round. However, as the fight progress I favor Kowalkiewicz to overload Namajunas with effective combinations and take a close decision. But if Rose starts feeling the pressure of Karolina and responds by reverting to a wilder form of herself, then I heavily favor Kowalkiewicz to win the exchanges handily. In either scenario, I think Kowalkiewicz is pretty undervalued right now.
Matt Brown is violence incarnate. Blending a diverse and deceptively powerful range striking game with a clinch game best described as "woodchipper-esque" 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 tie, hellacious elbows and knees, and a beautiful foot sweep, which he can use as a takedown or just as a way to off balance his opponent to set up more elbows.
Brown is an improving defensive wrestler, though still not a great one and the same can be said of his defensive grappling, though he seems to have made larger strides in that area. Offensively, Brown is potent when he goes for chokes and a fierce worker from top position should he end up there. Brown also works at a great pace and has good cardio.
Ellenberger is quickly turning into one of MMA's bigger "what ifs?" When he is on, Ellenberger blends some of the hardest punching in the division with a powerful and explosive wrestling game backed by dynamite athleticism. The problem is that Ellenberger hasn't been on in a long time. Now some of that is due to the fact that in his last 6 fights he has faced arguably the toughest schedule in the UFC, fighting the number 1, 2, 6, and 8th ranked fighters along with the current champion. But still, the strength of schedule alone doesn't explain Ellenberger's complete lack of urgency in the cage. He has spent much of the last 3 years of his career fighting his opponents without pulling the trigger. You can't win fights without at least attempting to land punches and Ellenberger seems averse to doing that.
The unfortunate thing for Ellenberger here is that this is actually a very winnable fight. Brown is a great fighter with very exploitable deficiencies and on paper Ellenberger is the type of guy who could take advantage of them. Brown is very durable, but Ellenberger thumps in a way that makes durable not matter. Brown isn't a good defensive wrestler and Ellenberger has explosive takedowns with authoritative finishes. Brown's a clever grappler, but not particularly adept at getting back to his feet. If Ellenberger could tap into that potential that previously made him one of the most exciting prospects in the division then he could definitely upset the apple cart here. Realistically, though, I don't see that happening. Ellenberger's willingness to let a fight get brought to him and his suspect cardio are the exact opposite ways you want to fight Matt Brown in and I expect to see a full display of Wall and Maul from Brown. I do think Brown is a fairly safe bet and expect a lot of people to parlay him with Masvidal, which isn't the worst idea, though like I said, there is a way for Ellenberger to sneak one here.
Erik Perez is a tough, aggressive, well-rounded fighter who can do a bit of everything, but doesn't do anything super well. He's got good pop on the feet, but his stand up is a bit awkward and brawl-y and as a result he's also pretty hittable, especially early on. He does a good job of blending attacks and is a solid wrestler, both on offense and defense, though not a spectacular one and one top he is better than average at passing and controlling. Perez has a decent gas tank and applies pressure well, but not in the way that makes him a lock to win every round 3 he fights and while still a young guy, the knock on Perez lately has been that he doesn't seem to be improving much.
None of that matches up particularly well with Cisco Rivera. Rivera doesn't have as many tools in his bag as Perez does, but the one's he packs are more effective. At his core, Rivera is one of the biggest power punchers in the division who has some crafty ways to set up his kill shot. At his best, Rivera is actually a very good defensive fighter using angular footwork, a popping jab, and sturdy low kicks to dictate range. He also works well off the counter, using good slips to set up power left hooks and straight rights. The problem is that Rivera can be goaded into brawling exchanges and once he's in that room, he is much more hittable and more susceptible so counter takedowns. If it does go to the floor Cisco is still a below average grappler so should Perez score takedowns, he could absolutely snatch up a submission on Rivera. That is a tough proposition, though since Rivera has turned into a much better defensive wrestler and Perez is an opportunistic takedown threat but not a brilliant wrestler.
All in all, I think the odds in this fight are flipped from how they should be because this fight just lines up better for Rivera. Rivera is the better, more technical fighter on the feet and even if he does get drawn into a brawl, Perez is hittable and Rivera is one of the biggest hitters at 135. I don't see Perez consistently landing takedowns so I definitely favor the guy with the thudding power and craftier set ups and I definitely don't think he should be as high of an underdog as +160. I'd believe in betting Rivera up to +100 so the extra 60 points is attractive.
If Serrano weren't 36 years old he'd be a great prospect. He's hyper-athletic, has good power for a flyweight, and he's a natural fighter. He seems to intuitively understand how to integrate techniques and given some time he could develop into a good striker. His biggest flaw is that he does that thing a lot of really athletic guys do and throws flashy, exciting techniques while foregoing the fundamentals to properly set them up. Best case scenario for fighting like that is you build a dope highlight reel ala Jon Jones, worst case scenario you spend a lot of time spinning fruitlessly and tiring yourself out; Serrano is closer to the former than the latter. He also doesn't seem super comfortable when being pressured.
Benoit is a primarily a power puncher who stays in fights by virtue of being a tough dude. He will have a technical advantage on the feet over Serrano, but his defensive wrestling is not very good. He is actually pretty good at creating scrambles from his back, but even though he had success against Josh Sampo and Sergio Pettis doing this, he still would give up another takedown. He's also coming in on short notice so it's not like he has been preparing counter wrestling techniques in anticipation of this bout. Ultimately I favor Serrano's wrestling chops and athletic superiority to carry the day here, but I think the odds are probably correct. And of course, I've said before, don't bet on short notice fights. You just can't be confident in your prediction, especially when it's fighters like this green.
When making his UFC debut, Nikita Krylov looked like he was going to be a quick washout, but since then he dropped to 205, reshaped himself, and has made big improvements every time he steps into the cage. On the other side, Ed Herman is a hard-nosed veteran with all the skills you would expect out of someone who has been fighting in the UFC for 10 years.
This is another classic vet vs up-and-comer fight, a dynamic in which I tend to favor the younger fighter and do so here as well. While not a world beating athlete, Krylov is still a plus one, and will carry a good size advantage into this fight and a tremendous speed advantage over one of the slowest fighters in the UFC. Herman was a career middleweight and while he won't be wildly undersized at light heavyweight, judging off the weigh-in he isn't coming into this fight in the best shape of his life, which is cause for concern because Krylov comes out of the gates like shotgun blast, swarming with a volume rarely seen in the upper weight divisions. But, while he's giving up all the athletic advantages, Herman does possess many of the technical ones. Herman has cleaner technique on the feet and he's a far better grappler.
The problem is that Herman has never been a great defensive fighter and the sheer diversity and volume of attacks that Krylov throws and throws with power is going to overwhelm Herman. On the feet Herman is too slow to effectively keep standing against Krylov's barrage and though at one time the clinch might have been a safe space for Herman, Krylov's clinch game is very active and punishing and I'd favor him there. That leaves the ground as the only viable options for Ed Herman, but Herman has never been a great offensive wrestler. Should he get Krylov down, he does have a very big edge there as Krylov's reckless abandon creates a lot of opportunities for decent grapplers to put him in terrible positions. Still, at the weigh-ins yesterday Krylov looked in phenomenal shape and Herman did not. Couple that with the physical advantages and Herman's decline and I like Krylov to make it 5 straight. Alhough I said Herman is the better grappler (and I think that's true) Krylov is very opportunistic with his submissions and I envision him hurting Herman and then taking the back and locking up a rear-naked choke, which he seems to have tremendous squeeze with. A ton of money came in on Krylov in the last few days and there is a reason. Krylov should win, but the odds are terrible.
I'm not going to bury the lede here. I expect Jorge Masvidal to whip Ross Pearson pretty cleanly. Masvidal has almost all of the advantages going into this, not the least of, which is that Pearson dropped to featherweight for a minute because he felt undersized at lightweight and this fight is at welterweight. He's also coming in on a 3 week turnaround and this will be his 4th fight of the year. It's a fine line between staying sharp and being over-active and Pearson's newfound Donald Cerrone level of activity is a cause for concern.
Pearson is a boxer, first and last, and he's a good one. He can fight at multiple ranges and is strong in the pocket. He has good footwork and good head movement, though he's still hittable on the feet. He has some pop in his hands, particularly on the counter, but he isn't what you would call a big puncher. While there is more craft to his game beyond this, there aren't really any more tools. Pearson is a very good defensive wrestler, but he isn't one to shoot for takedowns so expect this fight to be mostly contested on the feet.
And that is a problem for Pearson because Masvidal is a technically superior fighter there to go along with his size and power advantages. Masvidal is a great counter fighter with good power who can operate at all ranges. He has sneaky ways to hurt incoming opponents and possesses a more diverse array of attacks than Pearson on the feet. Unlike Pearson, though, Masvidal does have an offensive wrestling game, which isn't superior, but is definitely better than average and his timing on single legs is tricky enough to be successful. He should have a marked advantage should this turn into a grappling match as Masvidal is a very good grappler (he tapped Michael Chiesa who we've seen to be no joke on the ground) with better than average ground and pound.
In short, Masvidal has the same tools as Pearson, but he's also got more in the toolbox. Masvidal has all the advantages here and frankly, you could make the argument that Masvidal should be on a 7 fight win streak right now. And that is the one, biggest concern for picking Jorge here. Masvidal has been on the losing side of 3 split decision and that is due, in part, to his tendency to let the action come to him. Volume has lost him several fights in which he looked technically superior purely because he didn't feel the need to throw since he wasn't getting hit cleanly himself. Still, I think Masvidal's depth of skills should lead to him outclassing Pearson over 3 rounds and think the line is close to right. I expect Vegas to get a lot of Masvidal-Matt Brown parlays, which pays out at +100 or if you are the kind of person who wants more of a thrill to cheer for, Masvidal by decision is +106. Neither of those really appeal to me, but they don't look like bad bets if you're just trying to liven up your viewing experience.
Don't bet low-level heavyweight MMA. Hamilton can do a bit of everything and has a decent size advantage. Don't bet low level heavyweight MMA. Grabowski is a good top position grappler, but not great anywhere else. Don't bet low level heavyweight MMA. The odds on this fight seem spot on because after about 8 minutes this is going to be a competition between who wants it more since neither have particularly good cardio. Don't bet low level heavyweight MMA. I favor Hamilton here because he fights out of the better camp, is the better striker, and I think the better wrestler, but really and truly, don't bet low level heavyweight MMA.
I'm not gonna go in depth on this one. Wilson Reis is a fair wrestler and a fantastic grappler. He's also competent on the feet, but he can be hurt and Sandoval has power to make him pay if he can land the shot. Sandoval is a good fighter who would've been on his way to the UFC sooner rather than later, but he's coming in on short notice and is an undersized flyweight who hasn't beaten the best competition in the world. Sandoval can probably beat a lot of guys in the UFC but this is a bridge too far. Unless Reis has really just mails it in because of the change, I expect him to win handily. The odds are pretty spot on here and, as always, don't bet on short notice fights because they are total crap shoots.
Graves is an athletic you guy who is at his best when he's hustling from top position. He's a pretty good offensive wrestler who prefers outside single legs but he can chain attacks off of those entries. He's also showing consistent improvement training out of American Top Team, though I do worry some about his cardio. On the feet he is very rudimentary offensively but pretty good at parrying punches on defense. He's also good at landing punches on the breaks from clinches.
Velickovic is a smooth southpaw striker who is big for the division. He's previously fought at middleweight and wasn't undersized there at all. He has good leg kicks and does his best work on the counter, though he does have some pop in his left hand, which he will throw as the lead pretty often. Although he is a better striker than Graves, he struggles with a lack of volume and is often content to throw one at a time rather than in combination. He's also very hittable on the feet but he has a good chin, which covers up for that. His biggest deficiency is his defensive wrestling. He can scramble in grappling exchanges and has a submission acumen but nothing that should pose a huge threat to Graves.
The key factor in this fight is Graves' wrestling, which looks good enough to take down Bojan. Bojan does have a size advantage and is a southpaw, so if he waits for Graves to come to him and uses his size to wear Graves down, he could definitely win this fight. However, I don't see that happening. Since Bojan is a southpaw, this will be an open stance contest, which means that the stepping straight left he frequently leads with will have to cover a lot more ground, giving Graves ample opportunity to shoot a reactive takedown counter, which has proven to be very effective against Velickovic. Grave's rate of improvement and better wrestling should allow him to take Velickovic down and he's likely good enough to hold Bojan down. At least long enough to wins rounds. That means Bojan needs to really hurt Graves on the feet when he gets the chance but Graves has pretty good hand blocks and looks to have a speed advantage here as well. I just don't think Bojan throws enough in combination to rack up tons of points standing and I expect Graves to be able to score takedowns. That being said, there is no way on Earth you should lay those odds on Graves who is still very green.
This could be a fun little fight to open the card with. Arzamendia is a national champion Muay Thai practitioner and Brown is almost exclusively a grappler so we have the basic texture of a striker vs. grappler match-up.
Aggression is the name of the game for Arzamendia. He is pushes a high pace but may not actually have the cardio to totally back that plan up as he appeared to be fading before being knocked out by Marco Polo Reyes. He throws good leg kicks and mixes combinations pretty well but he does his best work with knees in the clinch. He's a surprisingly decent offensive wrestler with a well-timed reactive double when opponents press the action on him, but his aggression also translates to his top control, causing him to lose position in pursuit of attacking. One major concern for Arzamendia is that he's very hittable in exchanges and his chin isn't suspect yet but is definitely a person of interest. This is exaggerated by the fact that he has a tendency to step forward with his back foot when throwing his overhand, squaring him up for counters and taking away his base, giving him nothing to absorb the punches with other than his face. Before Polo Reyes slept him (off a clinch when Reyes stance was squared), Arzamendia was hit several times while squared up and each time is jarred him.
This likely won't be much of a concern against Brown, though. Brown is a rudimentary striker and looks to be significantly slower than Arzamendia as well as giving up 3 inches of reach. Brown's best bet would be to get this to the floor but he hasn't shown himself to be that great of a wrestler. He is a sneaky scrambler, though and should Arzmendia shoot in on him, he has a good guillotine choke, a technique Arzamendia is susceptible to. If Brown does end up on top he has good control and looks to punish as he passes.
All things considered, I favor Arzamendia in this fight but wouldn't be surprised if Brown pulled it off. In a striker vs. grappler match-up whoever can control the wrestling usually wins and Arzamendia is the better wrestler of the two. He also has all the intangibles working in his favor. He is several years younger and Brown is traveling into Atlanta from Australia. I think the odds here should probably be flipped but the question in betting this fight is how confident do you feel about a read on 2 guys who have done most of their work on the regional circuit against middling to poor opposition?
And there you have it. Enjoy the fights this evening 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 this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)