The biggest UFC event of the year (or, certainly the deepest) is finally here and MMA Fighting has decided this would be the opportune time to introduce a gambling piece into the mix. People love fight predictions and while Luke Thomas always does a stellar job with his own prognostications, this will be looking at things from a more comprehensive betting perspective. In short, I'm aiming to provide as much information as possible for those looking to lay money down on fights while also giving analysis on where I think value can be found on a card, and hopefully presenting you with something of value in the process.
Ultimately, any gambling is left up to individuals and I encourage people to only do so both legally and responsibly. Now let's get to it.
*All stats come from FightMetric.
To me, the new main event is the easiest fight to predict on the card. Amanda Nunes is a fast starter who burns out quickly, and Miesha Tate is one of the toughest, grittiest human beings walking this planet. Not only that, but Tate is actually sneakily good at making in-cage adjustments while remaining very aware of the dynamics of a fight as things are unfolding. Tate is going to lose the first round as Nunes marks her up on the feet, but she will throw enough to not just concede the range and make Nunes work in the tie-ups. Midway through the second round Nunes will start to fade and Tate will get her first takedown with sustained control. After that it becomes all one-way traffic for Tate to beat up Nunes before finding a choke late. I feel like the line is a little low (should be around -300) and see Tate as a decent parlay inclusion.
If you're betting on this fight and you aren't betting on Mark Hunt then you might have a problem. I'm not saying Hunt will definitely win — though that is the most likely scenario — I'm saying that betting on Brock Lesnar is like throwing darts at a board blindfolded. We haven't seen this man in five years other than hitting rolling suplexes on a 60-year-old Undertaker, which is about as useful as Chael Sonnen's 'I can tell who is using steroids by looking at them' nonsense.
Now, I'm not one of those people who subscribe to the idea that Brock has a weak chin — I actually think it is fine, Carwin bombed on him and he survived — but I do think his success is predicated on confidence more than most fighters. When he fought Velasquez at UFC 121, he came out like a mad man, jawed Cain several times, took him down, and still Velasquez was no worse for wear. Once he realized that he started wilting. But if Brock comes out, shoots on Hunt, and gets stuffed, then things could go downhill quickly.
Five years ago, this still would have been a challenging style match-up for Lesnar, but a very winnable one. Today, it is of course still winnable, but no one can (or should) feel confident that he'll steamroll anyone coming off such a long layoff. If Lesnar comes out and pummels Hunt from top ride don't be surprised, but don't bet on it either.
The best reason to bet on Anderson Silva to win this fight is because the MMA gods love chaos and nothing would be more chaotic (and disastrous) than that. Giving Silva a +355 line is testament to the hallowed ground upon which he walks in MMA. A Silva vs. Jones line would have see Jon Jones as a -1100 favorite at least. Cormier at -600 is damn near insulting.
To put it bluntly, Silva is old (41), his chin is almost gone (thanks, Chris Weidman), he's tactically self-destructive (thanks, Chris Weidman), he just had his gall bladder removed, he hasn't trained in weeks, and he is going up against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. To make matters worse, Cormier was training to take on the best fighter alive who is still very much in his prime, and most expected Cormier to be competitive in the fight (if overmatched).
Even if both were in the prime of their careers, I think I would actually favor Cormier over Silva because of their styles, and frankly, in an alternate universe, that is a fight I'd love to see. But this iteration of Anderson lost to Michael Bisping (!) even after knocking him out, because (A) he can no longer pull the trigger, and (B) he spent vast parts of the fight trying to recreate his Tony Fryklund KO by throwing nonsensical step-in back elbows instead of just punching the barely conscious man in front of him.
Even in the worst case scenario — that DC is so distraught from the last two days of emotional blips and bloops that it completely takes his mind out of the game — I still just can't see Anderson getting out of this cage intact. Remember when DC mauled Dan Henderson like the bear in The Revenant? This is gonna look a whole lot like that. DC should be at the minimum -800 here so there is value, albeit a low payout.
Like many of the fights on this card, I really only have one question — how will Jose Aldo look after getting slept? If he is no worse for wear, then I think he wins this fight pretty cleanly and here is why: I think much of Frankie Edgar's featherweight run has been overblown. Not that what he has done isn't great (because it is), it's just that the improvements he's made aren't going to manifest themselves in meaningful ways in this fight. Edgar is more comfortable now at 145 pounds and mixes his transitions better, but the stuff that has really impressed people (aside from the emphatic KO of Mendes) has been his merciless ground and pound. The thing is, Edgar has been great at that for years and isn't going to put Aldo on the mat. Why? Because no one puts Aldo on the mat for more than two seconds.
This is going to be a striking affair and I don't believe Frankie has made improvements in the areas he needs to have a legitimate chance in a stand up fight. His power is better, and he can certainly be competitive, but Aldo's jab is going to be tethered to his face in keeping Frankie on the outside. I expect it to look a lot like their first fight at UFC 156, and not unlike many of Edgar's more contentious fights — as in, Frankie doing a lot of moving that looks productive but, realistically, signifies nothing.
Also, let's be honest, for all the concern about Aldo coming back off that loss, he's still only 29 years old and remains the best defensive fighter in MMA history. It would be pretty shocking if all of the sudden this young man who hasn't taken a ton of punishment finds himself suddenly aggressively shopworn. On the other hand, Edgar is past his athletic prime, and has taken far more shots than Jose.
Jose Aldo is, in my opinion, the second greatest fighter I've ever seen behind only Georges St-Pierre. He has the advantages in youth, reach, speed, power, defensive acumen, offensive power and technique, and if he somehow ends up on top of Frankie, that's a murder. Frankie really only has the edge in pace, volume, and variety and it feels like he needs to fight near perfect to win. Had McGregor (one of the most offensively gifted fighters alive and an enormous hitter) not slept him in December, Aldo would be entering this fight as a -200 favorite. I definitely see value here.
How washed is Cain Velasquez? That is really the only question here and that might not even matter. I can think of few worse stylistic match-ups for Travis Browne. Cain's chin is exceptionally sturdy so the chances of Browne firing off a one hitter quitter are negligible and Browne doesn't have good sustained footwork, often backing straight up. Even Browne's best offense, his elbows from clinch sprawl, are useless here as Cain rarely has his head below his opponent's hips, preferring to keep it high and work over his opponent on the cage. That is mostly how I expect this fight to look, only with Cain securing some takedowns and really blasting "Hapa" for most of the bout. That being said, Cain's athleticism is almost certainly fading, he's been out more than a year, and he's a sizable favorite. None of that screams value to me, but Cain might be fair to parlay with Jim Miller if that is your type of thing.
Pena has put together a good run since coming off The Ultimate Fighter, but this seems a bridge too far. Pena fights best when she's on the ground and in top position, but her takedowns often rely more on physicality and athleticism than buckets of technique. Trouble is, Zingano is probably the most powerful woman in the 135-pound division, and the only way I see Pena taking her down is if Zingano goes for a sacrifice throw and Pena counters to top position. Much more likely is that Zingano takes Pena down, or even that Pena eventually gives up a takedown to try and work from bottom. Jessica Eye had some success on top of Pena, and Zingano is a horse of an entirely different color than Eye. If Zingano ends up on top, that's bad news for Pena. Zingano has great power and looks to damage when in that position.
On the feet it isn't much better for Pena. She is willing to engage but has proven to be somewhat reckless, and engaging in a firefight with Zingano is not a recipe for success. Zingano put away Miesha Tate with knees (I mean, the ref stopped it at least) and Tate has proven herself straight up to be one of the toughest individuals in the sport. Zingano is also pretty hittable on the feet, but she's a tough customer, and Pena hasn't really shown the power to favor her in a stand-up affair.
Pena's advantages lie in that she's younger than Zingano, and she's been far busier than Cat recently. Zingano is now on the wrong side of the age curve and hasn't fought in over a year (since losing her title bid against Rousey). Zingano has been a physical monster that often relies on her physicality in fights, but we have no way of telling if that's still the case heading in. Meanwhile, Pena is steadily improving and will likely come into this fight better than ever.
All in all I would favor Zingano to win but think the odds are close to correct and betting on fighters coming off long layoffs and approaching their physical decline is a risky proposition.
A tale of two junior middleweights, this fight pretty much comes down to how much you think "Big Rigg" still has left in the tank versus how much Gastelum has improved after a second fight camp at Kings MMA. I think Hendricks' decline has been overblown. I thought he won the rematch with Lawler, and getting knocked out by Stephen Thompson is more a testament to how great "Wonderboy" is than an indictment of Hendricks. He has taken a fair bit of punishment of late, but he's still in that window of his athletic prime. Moreover, he has real technical advantages here. Hendricks is hittable on the feet but still has the big left hand to dis-incentivize prolonged exchanges, and Gastelum is still piecing together how to work a pressure game and maintaining his defense as he makes his entries.
Also and maybe most importantly, Hendricks can absolutely make this a wrestling match if he is losing exchanges on the feet. Gastelum is a good wrestler, but he was taken down and controlled by Neil Magny. The reason Hendricks got blown up by "Wonderboy" was that, once he was unable to enter the clinch, he panicked and started taking runs in. I don't foresee that as a problem here and expect him to be able to clinch up with Gastelum, work the dirty boxing game, and take him down a couple of times to seal things up. Broad strokes, I envision this looking like the Hendricks vs. Matt Brown fight, only with Gastelum being a better wrestler and slightly less dynamic in the clinch, and would expect Hendricks to win about 60% of the time (-150 favorite) so I believe there is value here.
*** After Hendricks missed weight and and looked horrible on the scale, I would say this is now either a dog or pass situation. Hendricks still has the stylistic advantages but he looked truly awful at the weigh in.
The last time these two fought it was a razor close decision. Since then, Dillashaw has improved immensely while we honestly have very little knowledge of what Assuncao will look like after his long spat of injuries. Assuncao hasn't fought in a long time, and I don't suggest betting on a fighter coming off a year-long layoff, much less a hiatus of two years.
Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I train out of the same team as Assuncao (not with or under him, but he is around the gym frequently and my coaches are tight with him). Since there is some conflict of interests here, I'm going to not make any predictions on the fight.
This is a fight set up for Northcutt to win; Then again, so was his bout with Bryan Barberena, and we all know how that turned out. Still, regardless of any limitations in having his father guide his training, we should all agree that Sage Northcutt should win this fight. He has all of the physical advantages here (except he's giving up two inches of reach) and his speed advantage is going to be something to marvel at. If Sage keeps it standing he is going to light up the very hittable Marin; however, for a sport Karate champion he finds himself shooting doubles an awful lot, and Marin is a pretty fair scrambler. What I'm saying here is that Barberena tapped Sage with a shoulder choke/arm triangle from half guard so don't be shocked if he gets caught again. He is young, super green, and has technical deficiencies that will take time to shore up. I think Northcutt should win but no way would I bet on him at this value.
This might be the best high profile fight Diego Sanchez could ask for. Diego's run as of late has been horrid, populated by losses and mostly bogus wins, but he looked good in his last fight against Jim Miller. Meanwhile, Lauzon has also looked faded but beat Michael Chiesa not that long ago, and as we've seen Chiesa is a damn good lightweight. Still, the style match-up here is horrendous for Lauzon. Lauzon is an absolute hellion for the first six minutes of a fight and then he fades markedly. For all of Sanchez's recent foibles, he's still phenomenally durable having only been finished one time — when BJ Penn got him upside the head with a shin. Any fighter who can weather the Lauzon storm early stands a good chance of winning the fight. Diego can certainly do that, and he tends to get better the longer the fight goes.
The final factor to consider is that even if Lauzon goes hammer and tongs on Sanchez for the first five, Diego is still going to keep coming forward and that style has gifted him a lot of questionable decisions over the years. All told, I would say Sanchez wins this fight at least 60% of the time and see real value in this line.
I have never been a big fan of betting on short notice fights, and this one is no exception. Santos only got the call to fight Mousasi two weeks ago when Derek Brunson pulled out. Fighting a guy like Mousasi with only a few weeks to prepare is not a recipe for success. By all accounts, Mousasi should walk away with this one. He's a better defensive fighter on the feet and is more than capable of getting this to the ground where he will have a clear advantage. But betting him is also dangerous, as Santos is a legitimately talented fighter who is bringing a different style than Brunson. People forget that short notice doesn't just affect conditioning but stylistic preparation as well.
Ultimately, Santos is a very capable fighter but this is an enormous step up in competition for him. If it weren't for Uriah Hall pulling a miracle out, Mousasi would be knocking on the door of a title shot right now. Mousasi should have the edge in grappling and defensive acumen on the feet; however, Mousasi is often content to stay at kicking range which is where Santos is most effective. All told, I feel pretty confident in Mousasi to win but there are too many variables here to feel good about any bet.
Here we've got a battle between two old war horses that should be a fun contest if not competitive. Gomi is older, throws less volume, is a substantially inferior grappler to Miller, and is coming off of a long layoff. Still, Gomi has craft to his stand-up game — he mixes his levels well and can attack with a trick cadence — but really he is looking to land a big shot to turn the lights out and for all the decline Jim Miller has shown, he is still one of the most durable guys in the division. Moreover, Gomi's takedown defense and grappling have just fallen off a cliff. Joe Lauzon instantly took Gomi's back and Miller is a better scrambler than Lauzon.
I think this fight will look very much like Gomi's last fight against Joe Lauzon and expect Miller to find a rear-naked choke somewhere in the first frame. Miller by submission is available at +165 (~38% probability of happening) and that is certainly appealing. Also, Miller straight is the type of bet that many people would normally throw in parlays, though with so many other options this weekend, Miller may get less action so that is something to consider. All in all I think Miller wins this fight at least 3 out of 4 times and probably submits Gomi half the time, so I think there is value here.
(Editor's note: The above advice is for entertainment purposes only.)