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UFC 202 odds and gambling strategy guide

Esther Lin

It's fight night and so we are back again with another gambling preview of the fights, the odds, and my own personal breakdown of where the value lies. Fights with debuting fighters get less in-depth analysis because stats aren't available and same goes for fighters with only a couple of UFC bouts.

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 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.

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Breakdown

Let's not bury the lede here: Nate Diaz should in NO WAY be an underdog here. Conor McGregor is a wonderful fighter, but Nate Diaz is a stylistic nightmare for him and this fight is going to look very much like their first encounter. For all the excuses and explanations made for that fight, the fact remains that Nate Diaz came in on 10 days notice and summarily whooped Conor McGregor. Now, Nate Diaz has had a full fight camp, and I expect him to do so again.

First, let's dispel a couple of prevalent myths surrounding the first fight. McGregor was not killing Diaz in the first round nor was Diaz "close to falling." McGregor did win the first round, but if you re-watch it, he never has Nate seriously in trouble and he is exerting a ton of energy in order to win the round. For every left hand he landed on Diaz, he was catching check hooks on the way in, and Nate was rolling Conor's punches extremely well. Conor did have a lot of success with a rear-hand uppercut when Nate would dip his head, but his other punches were mostly mitigated by the defensive acumen of Nate. Conor also showed a real difficulty in dealing with an active lead jab from southpaw Diaz, and I believe Nate's chipping away with strikes is just as much to blame for the "loss of energy" from Conor as Conor's explosive knockout attempts.

Let's also dispel the myth that Conor McGregor can't grapple. He was more than adequate in the ground exchanges before getting rocked. Yes, Nate Diaz will have the advantage if the fight goes to the ground, but Conor didn't get tapped because he is bad at BJJ. He was mercy tapped after Nate chewed him up on the feet. I'd also like to say here that McGregor doesn't get enough credit for the way he fought after he was clearly done. Despite being cooked, McGregor continued to throw and throw accurately, albeit without the pop normally associated with his punches. The ability to no sell being hurt with effective offense is an extremely valuable thing and something worth remembering.

McGregor is a great boxer with elite power at 145 but he has become extremely reliant on his power left hand and the power doesn't translate fully up to 155, especially against a man like Diaz who has an iron chin. He also suffers tremendously from not enjoying his normal physical advantages, struggling mightily to navigate the range advantage Nate had. I would argue that Conor lost not because he got tired but that he was winning because he was doing things that would exhaust him. In order for Conor to look good, he had to explode to cover distance and connect. In essence, Conor only looked as good as he did because he was sprinting. If you were to enter into a marathon and dead sprint the first 100 yards, you might be in the lead. But to then say, "well I only lost because I got tired" is a fundamental misunderstanding of how things work. You can't sprint 26 miles and Conor can't explode into shots for 25 minutes while keeping the volume he does. It just isn't realistic.

And finally I want to talk about what I view as the real determining factor in making a selection here: inherent style. Fighters develop a style that they are comfortable with and it becomes their gospel. It is exceedingly rare for a fighter to be able to fight against type. Conor's style as pressure-volume-power puncher isn't built to succeed against Nate Diaz. In the history of MMA, no one has been successful at fighting the Diaz brothers on their terms, and essentially that is what McGregor's style is. For McGregor to win he has to fight counter to his natural instincts as a fighter, and I don't believe he will do that.

McGregor could very well win if he employs a disciplined game plan for five rounds. He does have the speed advantage over Nate, he has better movement at distance, and he has an underrated kicking game which could prove very effective against Diaz. He would need to stay on the outside and use a lot of leg kicks much like Carlos Condit did against Nick or Michael Johnson did in the first round against Nate. He would also be well served to use his snapping front kick to the midsection of Nate often, both to mitigate the cardio advantage of Diaz and as a way to counter Diaz's length advantage. The question is, will he be able to do this while Nate is in their jawing at him and when he is landing punches?

And that is the thing, Conor will land punches. Though their styles are actually quite different, the Diaz brothers share the trait that they are there to be hit. And when people start landing on them they feel good and start unloading, not realizing that they aren't landing cleanly and they are taking just as many good punches in the exchanges. This is essentially what Conor did in the first fight, and he got chewed up for it.

Before this week, I was actually very conflicted about this fight because I think McGregor is a truly special talent and for all the star power Nate has garnered recently, he is a very exploitable fighter who was, realistically, a mid top-10 lightweight. But after this week I am relatively confident that Diaz is the owner of acres and acres of prime real estate in Conor McGregor's head. This week, Conor has shown a real issue with confronting the fact that Nate genuinely doesn't care about him. The dirty secret here is that for as much as Conor McGregor says he "doesn't give a f*ck," he actually gives lots of them and Nate Diaz truly couldn't care less.

After his loss to Diaz, I was impressed with the introspection and self-awareness of McGregor. But then he started trying to justify his loss more and saying that he will KO Nate in the second round. If he fights in a way that to secure a second-round KO over Nate Diaz, this fight will be a carbon copy of their first fight. For Conor to win, he needs to have made a fundamental shift in style and have done so over only a few months of training. For Nate to win, he just has to be himself. Moreover, even if he does start out with the appropriate strategy, how can anyone feel confident he will stick to that when actually in the cage. Conor flipped out and started throwing Monster energy drinks across a crowded room when Nate walked out of a press conference and chucked a water bottle at him. Do you really think he is going to circle away snap a low kick when Nate is talking shit to him in the middle of a fight? Do you think John Kavanagh will be able to rein Conor in in the corner? I have very little faith in either of those things.

One last thing to consider, there is a moment in round 2 before the end of the fight where McGregor loses. He cracks Nate with his best punch of the night and Nate eats it and then immediately starts jawing at him. In that moment, you can almost see the last effort of Conor to finish him, and Nate absorbing it like Sebastian Shaw and then turning it up. Conor McGregor is insanely mentally tough. Nate Diaz is tougher. In a battle of wills, Nate Diaz is going to break him..

Nate Diaz is going to win this fight and there is no world in which he should be a betting underdog.

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Breakdown

Anthony Johnson is MMA's premier knockout artist. In all reality, he is likely the hardest hitter in the entirety of MMA, regardless of weight class. Johnson isn't just raw power though, he has a good amount of depth to his game. Though primarily an orthodox fighter, Rumble can switch stances and has a good jab from either side as well as using thudding leg kicks to great effect. His willingness to throw combinations mixing punches instead of just ending combinations on kicks show the diligent hours of work under dutch stylist Henri Hooft. Where Rumble excels the most though is his understanding of range and timing. He very rarely requires any time to adjust to his opponents making him able to come out of the gate strong and put fighters away early before they get a sense of the distance.

Johnson is also an excellent wrestler, having powerful takedowns of his own and being extremely difficult to takedown. His takedown defense is enhanced by his control of range and the fear of God he puts in fighters when he hits them. After getting buzzed by Rumble early, Phil Davis only shot from 30 feet away which has no chance of working against Rumble. Johnson's biggest weakness is his cardio and ground game. When opponents dictate the terms of engagement against him, Johnson has been known to break, and if you can get him down, he isn't the best at getting back up or at staving off submissions.

For years, Glover Teixeira was the guy fans wanted to see in the octagon, and it is apparent why. He has an excellent pressure game on the feet that is backed up by well-rounded offensive skills. Glover has a meat and potatoes style of striking centered around a sharp jab, straight right, and a left hook. While not the most diverse attack, Glover's pressure footwork, speed, and timing make it a highly effective one. He also has true power meaning that combination can shut the lights out on most men. Where Glover really excels though is on the ground. He has a very underrated wrestling game and can chain singles and doubles off of duck-unders to great effect. Once on top he is a hellion, punishing and passing until he can lock up a submission.

Can Glover Teixeira get the takedown? That is the only salient question about this fight and your answer for it should be the guiding principle for any bet made. If this stays on the feet, Johnson is bringing a howitzer to a gun fight and despite Teixeira's good chin and own power, Glover is getting put away. If Glover can pressure Johnson backwards and secure takedowns, he is going to break Rumble and then submit him. We should be able to tell the texture of this fight after the first minute based on who is controlling the center. If Glover is pressuring Johnson back, I like his chances to secure takedowns and navigate the minefield that is the limbs of Rumble. If Glover is content to sit back and counter, Rumble is going to tee off.

Maybe it's just the fact that I can't forget how Rumble got taken down and tapped by Vitor Belfort, but I seem to be giving Glover much more of a chance in this fight than most other people. Ultimately, I'm too much of a coward to pick Glover outright, but I would in no way be shocked if he won this one and Teixeira by submission at +365 is an intriguing flyer option.

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Breakdown

Since moving to welterweight, Donald Cerrone has looked better than ever, and not just because he is picking up good wins. Cerrone's game has long revolved around his rangy kicking game but he was always defensively porous and underutilized his actual punches. Because he didn't have the best boxing game, Cerrone has always been susceptible to a consistent pressure game. But now, Cerrone has 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 tightened up his footwork and pivoting some as well making him much less easy to exploit. On the floor, Cerrone is the same dynamic finisher he always has been with excellent top control and crafty back takes.

Rick Story is MMA's most well-trod spoiler. He's a southpaw pressure fighter who moves forward inexorably behind solid boxing combinations and sharp low kicks. Story is particularly adept at working the body where he digs in with strong hooks one inside phone booth range. Story wants to get into the clinch where he has bull strength and an array of trips and takedowns at his disposal. On top Story is a nightmare to shake off and has a good arm-triangle choke he frequently looks for.

Even as recently as a year ago, Rick Story would have been a favorite coming into this fight. He is, in many ways the exact stylistic match-up that has given Cerrone tons of problems in the past. He pressures forward consistently and responsibly, his posture and defensive grappling from top position are smothering, and he has an authoritative body attack which has always been Cerrone's Achilles heel. He's also a lefty which has been another spot of bother for Cerrone. But recently Cerrone has looked so improved in his movement and range attack that this fight is much more difficult to call. Despite Cerrone's improvements and physical advantages, I still favor Story's stylistic edges and rugged toughness to pull this one out in what is probably the closest contest on the card.

Cerrone definitely has ways to win and should he continue to build on his recent improvements it is possible he keeps the fight outside and outpoints Story. But because I view this as a nip-tuck affair Story at plus-money is worth a play to me.

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Breakdown

Cody Garbrandt may well be the best athlete in in the bantamweight division. He has elite level speed and power for the division. He is well ahead of the curve in his craft and is able to flow into counter punches better than most at his stage of development. Garbrandt is also a good wrestler with a seriously punishing top game, albeit one that foregoes control elements in favor of big punches.

Takeya Mizugaki is a veteran's veteran who is probably underrated in every aspect of MMA. Mizugaki is a sneakily powerful striker who can work from the pocket and does a good job of attacking the body. He thrives in grappling exchanges where in top position he "embraces the grind."

This is a chance for Garbrandt to hone skills against a durable guy who will make him work for it. I think Mizugaki will give Garbrandt more trouble than he expects but ultimately will be undone by the physical gifts of Garbrandt. I "No Love" to win by decision, but I do think the odds are a bit off here. An 18% win probability seems a tad low for Mizugaki considering the very real possibility that Garbrandt is overlooking Mizugaki, but that isn't the type of bet I'd recommend.

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Breakdown

I'm gonna be honest, betting on women's MMA is a pretty bad idea unless it is the most elite competitors. Mid and low level WMMA fighters are still developing in many ways and it makes things a crapshoot. Kind of like heavyweight. You never know when a women in dominant position will go for a head and arm throw and suddenly they've give up their back and are getting choked out.

With that in mind, I'll keep this one short. Pennington has more craft to her game and has faced the tougher competition. Phillips is more athletic and powerful but her striking is wild. On the feet, Pennington should have the edge, and also in the clinch. Phillips may have the slimmest of advantages on the ground but Pennington is solid there as well. A majority of the advantages favor Pennington in most phases of the game, but I wouldn't feel comfortable laying these odds on her.

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Breakdown

Randa Markos is a quick and competent boxer with a poppy right hand. She's a good scrambler and active GnPer who has shown consistent improvement her last few times out. She's also made real strides in her striking defense which can only help her going forward.

Casey is all about that offense. She has an active submission game on the floor and her high strike volume is matched only by the even higher amount she gets hit. In her last fight, Casey looked spectacular with crisp boxing on the feet and murderous ground striking. She's also the bigger, more athletic fighter in this contest.

I honestly just don't feel very confident either way here. I favor Casey's physical advantages and offensive output but she has been known to make poor decisions mid-fight and Markos has the veteran savvy to win. And of course, the same thing applies for this fight as the Pennington-Phillips fight: mid-level WMMA is risky to bet on. I would pass.

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Breakdown

This is one of the more intriguing fights on the card. Magny can do a bit of everything but work is as a top position grappler where can use his long limbs for effective ground and pound and he excels at taking the back in scrambles. On the feet, Magny wants to operate either way 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. He also has tremendous cardio and excellent fight IQ. 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 back 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.

A former light heavyweight, Lorenz Larkin has really found his groove since dropping to welterweight. Larkin is a pure striker and a darn good one at that. In contrast to Magny, Larkin moves very well on the feet, cutting angles and layering his defense. He has great quickness and thrives in the pocket, throwing in combination or firing off a sharp, stinging jab. He also has a sneaky lead rear right hand that he throws off a shift step forward which catches opponents off guard. He also has good leg kicks which could bear fruit against Magny. Larkin is a good defensive wrestler, having only give up one takedown since dropping to 170.

This fight comes down to who can dictate the zone of combat. If it stays on the feet, Larkin is going to chew Magny up; if Magny can initiate scrambles and takedowns, Magny will hustle on top. At range, Larkin has most of the advantages other than the reach of Magny. Larkin is faster, more powerful, more athletic, has a more diverse arsenal of attacks, better defense, and just an all-around superior technical acumen. Magny needs to initiate clinches and work his strong body lock trips to score points. I favor Larkin to keep the fight where he wants it and to be able to extricate himself from Magny's clinch attempts. Magny's tendency to get hit early make Larkin a threat to finish the fight early, but at the very least means Larkin will almost surely win the first round. Unlike Hector Lombard, Larkin won't gas out and I believe he will take a competitive decision.

As far as a bet, Larkin at plus-money appeals to me but I should say that Neil Magny is one of those fighters I consistently predict incorrectly. In gambling, it's important to know your limitations and Magny has been one of mine. Like I said, I still see the value but don't say I didn't warn you.

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THE OTHERS

Hyun Gyu Lim (-270/73%) vs. Mike Perry (+230/30%)

Don't bet on debuting fighters. Just don't do it. Mike Perry has the bones of something good, but he is very green and needs much more time to develop. He's got big power but a very rudimentary game and his grappling game is mostly unknown. Conversely, Hyun Gyu Lim is enormous for the division and packs tons of power. On the feet he is a bit wild but he's a monster in the clinch with big time knees. I doubt this one goes to the mat which means we are in for a wild ride as the two men go hammer and tongs on each other. Those are exactly the types of fights you should avoid in betting, especially when the odds look like this. I favor Lim's physicality here and think he gets a late stoppage.

Tim Means (-440/81.5%) vs. Sabah Homasi (+350/22%)

This violates two sacred gambling rules: 1) don't bet on short notice fights and 2) don't bet on debuting fighters. Homasi took this fight with on 10 days notice and will be making his UFC debut. To make matters worse, he is debuting against a horrid style match-up for him. Homasi a powerful striker and he is going to throw until one guy falls down. Tim Means is huge for the division, exceedingly durable, and better defensively. All things factored together and I very much expect Tim Means to go to work here and earn a stoppage but heavens no do not lay -440 on Tim Means.

Artem Lobov (-115/53.5%) vs. Chris Avila (-105/51%)

Artem Lobov is a tough, veteran guy who hits very hard and will keep coming until the final bell. On the feet, he has big power but not really the craft to set anything up and basically relies on the same couple of counters to find success. He isn't a great defensive wrestler and is very controllable on the floor.

Avila is a superior technical fighter with the bones of a good striking game that resembles the Diaz brothers with whom he trains. His ground game isn't very well known but it's relatively safe to assume that a Cesar Gracie trained fighter is at least competent on the ground and that means he's the superior grappler here.

I'm of two minds on this fight. On the one hand, I am firmly against betting on debuting fighters. On the other hand, I have very little confidence in Artem Lobov and Chris Avila is the younger, better athlete with a significant reach advantage and better all-around skills. Avila is improving and working with a team where he will continue to improve whereas Lobov hasn't shown much growth as a fighter. Ultimately, I'm picking Avila to win but betting this fight is just too risky.

Colby Covington (-345/77.5%) vs. Max Griffin (+285/26%)

Colby Convington is an All-American wrestler and his game is predominantly that, with his striking really only serving as an entry in to grappling exchanges. Griffin is strong man with pretty good movement on the feet and big power in his strikes but who isn't a spectacular grappler. Even after hurting Randall Wallace, Griffin still lost the grappling exchanges and gave up his back multiple times. Against Colby Covington, that probably spells disaster. Griffin could always land the big shot early but that seems doubtful, especially since Griffin has a tendency to not immediately finish hurt opponents. Covington should win and may even get a stoppage here but I wouldn't recommend putting money on it.


Alberto Uda ( +150/40%) vs. Marvin Vettori (-170/63%)

Uda is a former amateur Muay Thai champion with a BJJ black belt out of Nova Uniao. At 6-foot-3, he is big for the division and he likes to employ long kicks at range - especially a front kick - but his bread is buttered in the clinch where his enormous frame allows him to land good knees from double collar tie position. He also has an array of trips from here and on top he is a consistent ground and pounder, though he doesn't finish with true authority.

Training out of Kings MMA, Vettori is a young guy with an aggressive style and sneaky submission game who thrives in scrambles but is still very green in his career and will be at a substantial size advantage. Vettori is probably the more technical of the two on the feet and should have the cardio edge over Uda who has been known to slow down after the first five minutes. I favor Vettori both technically and factoring in his projected growth as a young fighter with some promise working with a great fight camp, but this isn't the kind of fight you bet on.

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And there you have it folks. But before I go, please take the time to answer the poll below. I am considering doing a video accompaniment to go along with these breakdowns in the future and would like your opinion on if that is something you would be interested in. Also, please feel free to share any suggestions you might have about these articles or things you would like to be included that I haven't.

Enjoy the fights this weekend. Good luck to those who need it and if you've got any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JedKMeshew

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(Editor's note: All this advice is for entertainment purposes only.)