Welcome MMA bettors, speculators, and gambling lurkers! We’re back at it again for another week of comprehensive gambling analysis from your friends at MMAFighting.com. This weekend is a sneaky good card headlined by some legends potentially getting put out to pasture in violent and depressing ways.
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 Belfort at +315 means he should win the fight 24 percent of the time). If you think he wins more often than the odds say, you should bet it because there's value in the line.
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. 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 get to it.
Belfort is the last remaining relic of the early days of the UFC, having made his debut at UFC 12. Though he’s closing in on 40, Belfort is still, somehow, one of the better athletes in the middleweight division, when he’s on point. He still maintains speed and power to make him dangerous at least, but lately that danger is only present for the first four minutes before he either tires or loses confidence (it’s hard to tell which is the culprit, really). He doesn’t throw in volume but his single strikes are enough to end a fight if they land. Other than that though, Belfort doesn’t bring much to the table anymore. A veteran of 20 years, he can, theoretically, do everything and present danger, but lately that just hasn’t been the case. He’s pretty much all-in on the knockout.
Gastelum is one of the best welterweights in the world and, by virtue of middleweight being a thin division and his own inability to properly manage his weight, he’s become one of the top 185 pounders as well. Aggression and pace are the basis of Gastelum’s game and, at only 25, he is only getting better. Gastelum comes forward from the jump and rarely relents, throwing jabs and hooks to corral opponents up against the cage, where he can unload with flurries or shoot in on the hips. As a wrestler, he favors an explosive double-leg, and on top he is ferocious with his striking. He’s also proven adept at scrambling to the back when the option is presented to him.
This fight is one-way traffic for Gastelum. One of the biggest weaknesses of a prime Belfort was being a bit of a front-runner who breaks under pressure; a substantially diminished Belfort doesn’t figure to fair very well against the unrelenting pressure Gastelum brings. Outside of one last Hail Mary (possible considering this is Belfort’s likely retirement and it’s in Brazil), Belfort is in for a world of hurt. The pick is Gastelum by first-round stoppage and Gastelum is a fine inclusion into a parlay.
Former light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua returns to the cage against Chris Weidman’s training partner, Gian Villante, in a bout with low stakes but potentially fun action. Neither man is close to contention, nor figures to ever be (or be again in Shogun’s case) but this could be a good, old-fashioned slobber-knocker for as long as the chins hold up.
Rua is a former UFC champion and he got there on the back of lethality in all phases. On the feet, Rua has thudding kicks and some of the hardest pure punching in the division. Recently, he’s developed into more of a counterpuncher, relying on expert timing and shot selection to brutalize his opponents. Rua is also dangerous in the clinch, where he has some of the most vicious knees in the history of the sport. While he’s a poor defensive wrestler, on the floor, Shogun is a dynamic grappler with an excellent array of sweeps.
Villante is a bit of a brawler, robust for the division and packing a wallop. While he can work jabs and kicks on the outside, more often than not Villante finds himself getting into pocket exchanges. His power and volume make this a solid proposition for him, but he also lacks defense and gets hit a lot in these exchanges. Outside of that, Villante is a good defensive wrestler and competent, if unexciting on the mat.
It’s hard for me to envision Shogun as a favorite over anyone these days considering how shopworn he has look of late, but I understand why he is here; despite his decline, Shogun is still a potent offensive force and Villante is far too prone to getting hit. If Villante cracks him early or Shogun shows up out of shape, Villante could easily win this fight, but the more likely scenario is Shogun bides his time and lands a big counter that shuts the lights off on Villante. The pick is Rua by KO in the second round, but I wouldn’t feel confident with money on this one.
Two top-10 lightweights meet in a bout that, under normal circumstances, would put them a win or two away from a title shot. However, in today’s current back-logged lightweight division, the winner here needs to really show out to make enough of an impression to get themselves into true title contention.
Edson Barboza is one of the best pure strikers in the UFC. An absurd athlete, Barboza is an out fighter, pure and simple, and he blends power and speed together in a lethal combination on the feet. Barboza prefers to operate at range where his devastating kicks can be most effective, but he’s also developed a strong interior game as well, working combinations in the pocket and attacking all levels of his opposition. Footwork, pace, and a bulletproof takedown defense are all skills which Barboza excels at and make him a handful for anyone in the division.
Beneil Dariush is the opposite of Barboza, a pressure fighter who does his best work as a submission grappler. A Rafael Cordeiro product, Dariush excels at coming forward behind his jab and left body kick. Once he has his opponents back against the fence, he enters into the clinch where he is adept at mixing knees and elbows to create openings for trip takedowns. On the floor, Dariush is one of the best grapplers in the division, if not the UFC. A multiple-time BJJ world champion at lower belt rankings, Dariush is a slick control-and-pass grappler with lethal finishing skills.
This is a classic matchup between a pressure fighter and an out fighter. Historically, Barboza has struggled with consistent pressure and Dariush is nothing if not persistent in that regard. However, lately Barboza has become much better at maintaining his preferred range and the development of a pocket boxing attack has allowed him to thrive even when his opponents don’t choose to give him the space to uncork his vicious kicks. Since it seems unlikely that Dariush will be able to take down Barboza, this fight figures to be mostly a striking bout, and in that, I favor Barboza’s speed, power, technique, and volume to bust up Dariush. The pick is Barboza by decision, but the odds are good so I don’t advise a bet.
This is a gangbusters flyweight matchup that would position the winner on the shortlist for next flyweight title challenger. Jussier Formiga is the one-time flyweight kingpin and since joining the UFC has been just a hair’s breadth away from challenging for the belt. Ray Borg is the young up-and-comer looking to establish himself as a real threat to the upper echelon of the division.
Formiga is a Nova Uniao product and one who has grown tremendously in the last few years. Previously, Formiga made his bones as a slick grappler, particularly adept at finding the back against even elite competition. To make this happen, he’s a fair wrestler and smothering control artist. However, Formiga is no longer a one-trick pony, having developed a competent counter-striking game to back up his lethal grappling.
Borg is also a grappler by nature, but one more reliant on scrambles than Formiga. He excels at leaving room for his opponents to move and then beating them around the turn to snake to the back. As a striker though, Borg is still developing. His punches are mainly used as a diversion for his takedowns and he has yet to prove himself dangerous on the feet.
A couple of years from now, this would be Borg’s fight to lose. He’s much younger and a better pure athlete, but at this juncture, his game doesn’t matchup all that well against the savvy grappling of Formiga. Borg needs takedowns to win this fight and Formiga is an exceptional counter wrestler. Moreover, when Borg attempts to wrestle with Formiga, he is creating the openings for Formiga to get to the back — a skill he is one of the very best in the world at. Plus, while he’s not Jose Aldo on the feet, Formiga is a more polished striker at this point and enjoys a fairly substantial reach advantage. If Borg has made great strides (possible at his age, working at Jackson-Wink) then perhaps he outboxes Formiga, but the more likely scenario is Borg suffers a classic prospect loss to one of the best in the division. The pick is Formiga, and if you can get him at plus money, I suggest a bet.
Bethe Correia is a former title challenger, oft derided for her performances thus far in the UFC. But Correia has made serious improvements in the last couple of years and figures to be a tough out for Mario Reneau, who has underwhelmed considering her physical tools.
Correia plies her trade on the feet, cutting angles and burying her opponents under a high output of punches. What she lacks in power she makes up for with volume, and she can both pressure and fight on the counter. Aside from that, Correia’s doesn’t offer much else though. She is a solid defensive wrestler, but she rarely looks to shoot takedowns of her own or play on the ground.
Reneau is a well-rounded fighter who’s competent in all phases and is still a plus athlete despite nearing 40. On the feet, she’s quick with her punches but often throws single strikes. On the ground, she’s a BJJ black belt but she rarely shoots for takedowns. Once there though, she has excellent passing skills and she is also a threat off her back. Reneau’s best area is probably the clinch, where she can overwhelm less physical opponents like she did with Milana Dudieva.
Reneau has the tools to win this bout but the style matchup doesn’t favor her. Correia may not be the most skilled fighter in the division, but she is tough and scrappy and makes the most out of her talents. She also has good enough footwork and defensive wrestling to make this a striking matchup, and though Reneau may be slightly more technical, Correia’s volume should win the day. The pick is Correia by decision and betting Correia at plus money isn’t bad.
You may remember Tim Means and Alex Oliveira fought just a few months ago at UFC 207, a debacle of a fight where Means illegally kneed Oliveira in the head multiple times and Joe Rogan and Marc Ratner got confused about the legality of the knees. In the end, Means was lucky to escape with a No Contest instead of a DQ, and now the two welterweights meet again to settle up.
Oliveira is an athlete, pure and simple. He throws strikes in single shots and most carry serious power and speed. His wrestling is also good, relying on explosion to force the issue rather than a depth of technique, and on the ground he is very competent. Oliveira’s big weaknesses are his cardio, which is questionable at times, and his over-reliance on his athletic gifts instead of steady fundamentals.
Means is a pressure fighter with a long frame for the division, who drowns opponents under a barrage of straight punches on the outside, that turn into knees and elbows as Means moves to the clinch, his preferred range. Inside, he’s a handful with his strikes, but he also has a solid wrestling game he can use in tie-ups, and he’s excellent at passing and punishing on top.
We saw this fight just a few months ago and it was pretty clearly heading towards a Means victory. I see no reason why this time would be any different. In their first fight, Oliveira’s success was short lived and almost entirely based on the fact that he’s a better athlete. He certainly could uncork another spinning back kick and body Means (he always the potential to do that), but the much more likely scenario is Means chips him down with elbows and punches before getting a stoppage in the second round. I like Means to win, but the odds are too long to warrant any plays.
This fight is hot fire. Trinaldo is an athletic (but aging) southpaw with big power and sharp technique and distance management to back it up. Lee is also an explosive athlete, but his best success comes as a result of his wrestling. Lee is competent on the feet but where he excels is with his shot double leg takedowns and top control. Trinaldo is certainly dangerous, but Lee is 12 years younger, has seven inches of reach, and can exploit Trinaldo’s weak takedown defense. This is close to a pick ‘em fight, but ultimately I’ve gotta go with the younger grappler to win a close decision. That said, there may be a touch of value on Trinaldo here, and if you wanted to take that, I wouldn’t fault you for it.
This is a super interesting fight between two very accomplished grapplers. Moraes is a multiple-time world champion in BJJ and Ramos has an ADCC title to his name. Moraes is a better striker at this point (though not by leaps) and has better footwork, whereas Ramos is less reckless than Moraes with a touch more power and a much better wrestling game. Ramos is also a lightweight moving up here and coming in on short notice, which gives me pause. Still, Moraes isn’t a great defensive wrestler and his propensity for wild swings on the feet will open him up for takedowns. Against a lot of guys that might be okay, but Ramos is probably better on top than Moraes is on his back. Thus I like Ramos to win a decision, and I like a small bet on him since the odds are so far apart.
Yahya is a grappler by trade with a deep background in competition jiu-jitsu, and his game looks like that. He almost exclusively looks to take opponents down, and though he’s not a great wrestler, he’s dogged in his pursuit of them. Soto is also best as a grappler, but he has a deeper striking game reliant on pressure, although he’s not a good defensive wrestler. That will be his undoing, as Yahya is relentless enough with takedowns that he should secure them, and Soto, while good on the ground, will be a step behind. Yayha wins a decision, but truth be told, the odds are a bit long on him here so I’d pass on a bet.
Prazeres is a former BJJ player of some accomplishment who is built like a pile of bricks and can wing punches with power, but does his best work on top. Burkman is a savvy veteran, well-versed in all areas and possessing his own power and a solid two-way wrestling game. This is a tough fight to call. Burkman has a clear size advantage (four inches of height and five inches of reach) and also has an edge in style (“Trator” wants to work from on top and Burkman is the better wrestler). That being said, Burkman has been on a major skid, hasn’t looked great since dropping to lightweight, and may well be done as a fighter. The pick is Prazeres, but that’s mostly a fade of Burkman and I wouldn’t suggest you put money on Burkman despite the odds being off here.
Jason is an archetype we’re seeing more and more in MMA: a great athlete who can threaten anywhere but lacks the fundamental sinew that stitches a full game together. He could win in a flash or he could stand idly on the feet or allow himself to be taken down and chase submissions fruitlessly off his back. Kennedy is the opposite of Jason. He’s not a phenomenal athlete and he employs a hard-nosed, grinding style backed by solid top position grappling and durability to win rounds and fights. Kennedy is younger, bigger, more likely to improve, and has a big stylistic advantage here, thus, he wins this fight more often than not. As stated, Jason is always a threat, but considering Kennedy’s edges, I like him to win and I like him for a bet if the odds stay here.
McLellan is an everyman, competent at most phases but nothing stands out. His biggest strengths are his toughness and his willingness to attack the body with kicks and punches at range. “Borrachinha” is a TUF: Brazil 3 castoff who has put together wins on the regional circuit on the back of his natural athleticism and power. This looks to be favorable for the Brazilian, who is the much more threatening fighter; however, on TUF, Borrachinha’s cardio was a concern and since then he hasn’t had to fight past the first round, so it possible McLellan weathers the early storm and takes over late with body work. But still, the more likely scenario is Borrachinha finishes McLellan. Bet-wise, the line is off and McLellan has value, but I wouldn’t advise it.
That's all folks. Enjoy the fights everyone 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.)