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 little less exciting without Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson, but we will valiantly trudge forward regardless.
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 Woodley at +150 means he should win the fight 40 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 go.
Tyron Woodley is a hyper-athletic wrestle boxer who focuses on a stripped down power punching game. The power punching is a legitimate strategy as Woodley is one of the hardest hitters in the division and quicker than just about everyone, allowing him to close distance and unexpectedly land his money shot, the right hand. 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 as far as variety, rarely using his left side at all. Being extremely reliant on his power side hasn't stopped him from being effective though as he has a myriad of feints which allow him to sneak in punches and he also does a good job of mixing up his speeds.
Woodley’s secondary offense, and arguably his most potent, is his explosive wrestling game. On the feet, he pressures forward which allows him to work into the clinch where his physicality and head control allow him to grind with great effect. A former two-time All-American, Woodley still has the instincts and skill of a high level wrestler as well as a solid power double leg, but he isn't an especially great shot takedown threat. He is however, a phenomenal defensive wrestler and when he does secure takedowns, he's ferocious with his ground striking.
Stephen Thompson is an elite level striker whose game revolves around distance management and timing. He prefers to operate at the very end of striking ranging where he can land a variety of kicks and he uses excellent footwork and movement to maintain that range. When a fighter closes the distance on him, he lands punishing straight counter punches and then angles out well to reset.
The rest of Thompson's game is built to keep him in the zone he wants to operate in. He's a strong clinch fighter with good footwork and leverage and the ability to disengage quickly. He's also a very strong defensive wrestler as his distance management and angles make it really difficult to get a clean look at taking him down. Thompson is a better version of Lyoto Machida: a high level karateka and kickboxer, but one who isn't as single-minded in his desire to counterstrike which allows him to throw at a good pace and win rounds much more decisively.
When these two first fought, Thompson was lucky to walk away with a draw, winning the tight rounds but suffering the force of Woodley’s predatory offense in the others and that dynamic likely remains the same here. Thompson’s offense is built to score points and win rounds much more effectively than Woodley’s. Woodley’s offense is built to win fights in violent fashion.
The question for this fight is who will make the biggest adjustments from their first contest? Woodley barely used his wrestling at all in their first encounter and the one time he did take Thompson down, he delivered serious punishment. On the other hand, Thompson threw much less volume than he normally does and, if he can be more aware of the power punching of Woodley, looks to have an edge here. Ultimately, this fight is razor close one. I’m picking Thompson to win because, in the aggregate, I think he will win more fights by virtue of consistent offense. That being said, Woodley is the more dangerous finisher and he’s being undervalued at the books right now. I suggest betting Woodley at any plus number. Also, Woodley-Thompson ends in a draw is +5500 which implies a less than 2% probability of occurring. Considering the dynamic of the fight (Woodley having more potent offense, Thompson winning more rounds) that seems like it is far more likely to occur and thus I also think a small bet on Fight Goes to a Draw is decent value.
Lando Vannata is the new darling of UFC fans and with good reason. He is a legitimate prospect with a funky, forward thinking game backed up by a lot of talent. He’s the product of years of Brandon Gibson training and he’s the purest example of that lineage of fighter. He has excellent footwork and timing for a guy so young in his career and he operates a flashy, off kilter attack that causes a lot of problems for his opponents. He’s got serious power and operates at an extremely high pace. That pace also makes him hittable but his defense is pretty solid and mitigates a lot of the worst of it. Vannata is also is a decent wrestler when the occasion calls for it but mostly he prefers his fluid striking offense.
David Teymur is also a hot shot prospect with a striking background, being very accomplished on the European Muay Thai circuit. He prefers to work at long range, firing off a sharp jab and thudding kicks. He follows these up with a powerful straight left hand that can turn off the lights his opponents. He is also an excellent defensive wrestler, sporting a perfect takedown defense so far in the UFC. When opponents fail to take him down, they often wind up in the clinch where he frames well and throws good elbows. His biggest weakness is his defense though and his hittability is cause for concern against a banger like Vannata.
This is a banger of a fight between a clean, traditional striker and a dervish of creativity. The question becomes who can impose their game plan on the other. I don’t expect either fighter to be able to run away with this one, but ultimately I do think Vannata’s range of offense is the difference here. He can compete (and win) against Teymur at range and his unpredictability gives him a slight edge there and his wrestling and timing give him a viable secondary option to win the fight. The pick is Vannata by KO late in the fight, but that being said, the odds here are a mile off and Teymur is worth a bet at this rate.
Rashad Evans hasn’t fought in almost a year due to medical problems but now he’s back and making his middleweight debut against…. Dan Kelly. Evans is an explosive athlete, light on his feet, with accurate, powerful combinations when he chooses to throw. That caveat is important though because Evans often will sit back doing nothing, losing rounds to inferior fighters strictly on the basis of not putting actual offense together.
Evans’ best skill set is his wrestling. A former D-1 collegiate wrestler, Evans can finish a variety of takedowns with authority but he does his best work off a blast double leg. Once on top, he has excellent control and can pound opponents out with aggression. He’s also an excellent defensive wrestler but he’s not much a submission artist, having attempted none despite his many years in the promotion.
Dan Kelly is a judoka by trade and a good one, having competed in the Olympics four separate times. He’s also an acceptable striker, especially on the counter. He’s slow and plodding though and his body is shop worn from years as a high-level athlete.
Evans is a former champion and a guy who, when at his best, could be competitive against almost anyone in the world. The problem is, Evans hasn’t looked anything close to his best in years and at this point it seems like he’s on his way out of the fight game. Kelly is surging but he’s also almost 40 and not close to the level of competitor Evans was. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen here. I’m picking Evans by decision, but there’s no confidence in anything and thus no bet.
Alistair Overeem is looking to rebound from his loss to current heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic by taking on Mark Hunt in a matchup between former K-1 World Grand Prix champions. Overeem is still one of the most athletic heavyweights on the planet and that athleticism is backed by a deep well of knowledge and technique. Lately, he has opted to use a stick and move game plan where he can employ power strikes at opportunities of his choosing. His grappling is a fall back option for him and a very dangerous one at that. He’s punishing from top position and a sneaky good submission threat.
Mark Hunt is old for the division at 42, but despite his age and physique, he’s still a fairly good athlete. Hunt is almost entirely a striker and he’s one of the best in the division. He has an excellent understanding rhythm and he uses that to set up his power punches, particularly his left hand which can end anyone’s night in a hurry. Outside of striking, Hunt is a good defensive wrestler and surprisingly good on top when he winds up there. He’s also shored up a lot of his submission defense liabilities.
This is a close fight between two very high-level strikers past their primes. Overeem has more tools in the box, but Hunt’s focused striking game figures to give Overeem and his suspect chin a lot of problems. If Overeem can maintain a focused game plan of staying either all the way out or clinching, he should win. But that’s a tough task against a crafty striker like Hunt. I think Hunt eventually lands the left hand that puts Overeem in a bad spot and from there it’s academic. The pick is Hunt by KO, and I like a bet on him as well.
Cooper is a quick paced striker with good footwork who also has an active submission game off of her back. Calvillo is a good athlete with strong wrestling and excellent positional control on the ground. This is a two outcome fight: either Cooper keeps it standing and wins with volume or Calvillo takes her down and wins through grappling. Calvillo is coming in on short notice here but she is the more physical, powerful fighter and she can likely get the fight to the floor, take the back, and finish it. The pick is Calvillo but she is making her UFC debut so you should pass on betting this.
Marcin Tybura (-160/62%) vs. Luis Henrique (+140/42%)
Tybura is a well-rounded fighter who keeps a high pace on the feet, throwing powerful punches and kicks. He’s even better as a top position grappler and he’s a good enough wrestler to get the fight to the ground more often than not. Henrique is a jiu-jitsu player at heart but one with power and an explosive takedown game to back it up. On top, he is punishing and a solid submission hunter. Henrique is the youngest fighter in the heavyweight division and he’s athletic enough to expect big improvements between fights for him. This fight is tougher to call than usual, but I think Tybura’s more advanced, voluminous striking will carry the day. The pick is Tybura by late TKO.
Bektic is probably the best prospect in MMA at the moment. He is a blend of athleticism, power, and skill that portends greatness and future title contention. He is sharp on the feet and works in combination but he really excels in explosive takedowns and vicious ground and pound. Elkins is one of the best examples of a grinder in MMA. He can do everything but what he wants to do is stifle his opponent’s offense with clinches, takedowns, and control. Straight up, the odds are off here. Bektic is going to win but Elkins is the kind of durable, rugged fighter than can upend the rise of overconfident prospects in a hurry. I won’t suggest betting on Elkins because it’s likely a losing bet but there is some value in his line. All that said, I think Bektic marches on, winning a dominant decision and betting Bektic by decision at -105 is actually a very attractive option.
Alcantara is a well-rounded fighter who is super dynamic. He has power on the feet but his best skill is grappling where he has strong takedowns and excellent transitions into submissions. Sanders is a hot prospect who can also do a bit of everything, excels in transition, and is a dynamic finisher. Alcantara has a size advantage but Sanders is a bit more technical on the feet and five years younger. Also, Alcantara is known for cardio issues and Sanders is tough enough to survive any early onslaught and take the later rounds. The pick is Sanders by decision and I like him for a bet so long as he stays under -120.
Godbeer is a striker by trade who mixes punches and kicks but doesn’t have much else to fall back on. Spitz is a large heavyweight who likes to operate at range behind his jab but does his best work as a grappler. That should be enough to win the day here against Godbeer who has shown an unfortunate combination of being both willing to grapple and not exceedingly good at it. The pick is Spitz by submission and while the first rule of MMA betting (don’t gamble on low level heavyweight fights) would normally apply here, the idea that Godbeer is a 60% favorite almost makes me want to throw the rule book out the window.
Pedro is a big light heavyweight with some athletic promise. He throws sharp punches but mostly he’s a grappler with good takedowns and heavy control and submissions. Craig is an aggressive, come forward fighter who fires off punch-kick combinations and isn’t afraid to pull guard where he uses his long limbs to snake in submissions from his back. On the feet, Craig’s volume might give him the edge but I expect Pedro’s physicality and wrestling to keep this fight on the ground. Craig is slick there but likely not slick enough to catch Pedro who excels with top pressure. The pick is Pedro by TKO late in the second round but I would pass on betting this.
Morales is young, athletic fighter, equal parts skill and aggression. He can counter slickly but is also prone to bursts of wild offense. He can also scramble well but his cardio is questionable. Soukhamthath is a striker who fights well at range behind his jab or in close with knees. This probably plays out as a striking match and in that case Morales’ power, speed, and volume will likely carry the day over the somewhat tepid Soukhamthath. The pick is Morales by KO in the middle of the fight, and if you want to bet this, I wouldn’t do so but I also wouldn’t blame you.
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.)