Welcome MMA bettors, speculators, and gambling lurkers! We’re back at it again for another week of comprehensive gambling analysis from your friends at MMA Fighting. This weekend’s fight card breaks a long drought of non-PPV UFC cards and it’s headlined by one of the best title fights possible, so it should be a good weekend.
For those of you who are new here (or for those who have forgotten), this aims to be an exhaustive preview of the fights and the odds, with 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 Johnson at -800 means he should win the fight 89 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 Odds Shark. 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. As always, I'm trying to provide the most thorough guide I can for those who want to legally bet or those who just enjoy following along. If you’re 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 do the damn thing.
Demetrious Johnson is attempting to tie Anderson Silva’s record for most consecutive UFC title defenses at 10, and standing in his way is veteran fighter Wilson Reis. If Reis wins, it would be a remarkable accomplishment for a fighter mostly viewed as a gatekeeper to the best of the best.
Johnson is one of the best fighters in the history of MMA and, at this point, he has a credible argument for being the best ever. In a macro sense, Johnson has no weaknesses at flyweight. On the feet, he employs a pressuring game plan with phenomenal footwork and elite speed and athleticism. He can work combinations to pile up points and he has sneaky power as well; but really, his striking serves to set up his clinch and grappling games.
Johnson is the best clinch fighter in MMA not named Jon Jones. His ability to control opponents and attack with knees, punches, and elbows all while constantly moving and shifting the angle of attack is something to marvel at. Henry Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist and Mighty Mouse absolutely undressed him in the clinch in under three minutes.
As good as Johnson is in the clinch, he’s only slight less accomplished as a grappler. Mighty Mouse has unrivaled talent at reactive shots and he has a diverse array of finishes for his take-down attempts. Once on top, he is ferocious with his blend of control, punishment, passing, and submissions.
Though the merit of Reis’ title shot has come under scrutiny (Reis has one win over a ranked opponent and he essentially got this title shot because Johnson has beaten everyone else), that should in no way undermine the talent the Brazilian brings to the table. Reis is a capable fighter with skills in every phase of the game. On the feet, he’s a powerful southpaw with solid defense who works in combinations. He also has an underrated kicking game and footwork. That being said, Reis comes from a BJJ background and that remains the linchpin of his offense.
Reis is an excellent wrestler with clean entries and authoritative finishes. He’s also a dogged wrestler, willing to shoot frequently and continue working until he finishes the takedown. On top he has exceptional control and passing. He looks to punish opponents with big power strikes, opening up opportunities for submissions.
Johnson’s struggles have come when he’s been physically outmatched by bigger men, a la Tim Elliott and Dominick Cruz. That ain’t Reis. The weakest part of Johnson’s game is his defensive wrestling, and Reis has the offensive chops there to make him work for it some, but realistically, Reis is just outmatched here. Aside from all the glowing praised heaped upon Mighty Mouse, he also happens to have most of the intangible advantages here; his mental toughness and will are off the charts and he may well have the best fight IQ in the history of the sport. I struggle to see Reis having even more than a modicum of success here. The pick is Johnson by fourth-round TKO and honestly, he’s mathematically a fine bet here. I’m not suggesting you bet the house on him by any means, but Johnson wins this fight 95 times out of 100. Given the width of the line though, maybe just add him in a small parlay bet to boost the value a smidge.
Waterson is a striker by trade — as the "Karate Hottie" moniker would infer — but she’s also a more than serviceable grappler. On the feet, Waterson has a good understanding of range and angles to go along with her diverse striking game. She fights long, using a variety of kicks and a steady jab to maintain distance, which also makes her difficult to hit.
On the mat, Waterson is a very solid grappler with extremely underrated wrestling and a controlling top game guided by good positional awareness. Waterson’s biggest weakness is her size. A former atomweight, Waterson is definitely small for the division, though her plus athleticism helps to close this gap against most fighters.
At only 24, “Thug Rose” is still developing as a fighter despite being one of the best 115 pounders in the world. Namajunas has transformed herself from a kamikaze action grappler into a more measured out fighter. 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. Still though, Namajunas does her best work as a grappler where she is a phenomenal scrambler with excellent striking from top and a good passing game. Namajunas’ biggest issues appear to be mental, as she has a tendency to get overwhelmed by a relentless offensive attack, getting stuck on the receiving end instead of changing the terms of engagement.
The UFC’s new ownership very clearly would prefer a Waterson victory here (WME-IMG now represent her) and I think they will actually get their wish. On the feet, I favor Namajunas’ size, but Waterson’s craft will keep her competitive and her pressuring style will bring her into the ranges at which she will be most effective. Karolina Kowalkiewicz ran roughshod over Namajunas in the clinch, and though Waterson isn’t as good there, I still think she can win those exchanges. Moreover, Namajunas is a better defensive wrestler, but Waterson is actually an extremely crafty takedown artist. I think she can ground Namajunas and control from top position without getting swept or submitted. The pick is Waterson in a really fun fight and I like her for a bet at plus money.
Ronaldo Souza is arguably the best middleweight on the planet right now, but with Michael Bisping tying up the 185-pound belt fighting guys outside of the top of the division, he’s left to take fights like these against underrated, highly-ranked middleweights. Conversely, Robert Whittaker is the dark horse of the middleweight division and a win here would be the biggest one of his career and earn him a title eliminator bout next.
“Jacare” is a probably the best grappler to ever crossover into MMA (though Demian Maia may argue the point). He’s a multiple time BJJ world champion and the strongest part of his game remains his takedowns, top control, and submissions. Souza is still an elite athlete despite his advancing age, able to cover distance quickly and finish takedowns with authority. He’s not a one dimensional fighter though. On the feet, Jacare pressures behind good footwork and he has power in his strikes.
Whittaker is predominantly a counterstriker. Though he’s small for the division, Whittaker uses this to his advantage, darting around with light feet and quick hands. He maintains distance well, works at an excellent pace, and he has surprising power in his hands when he commits to it. Also, as the numbers indicate, Whittaker is nearly impossible to takedown, with excellent defensive wrestling backed up by his mobility and footwork.
“Bobby Knuckles” is about to do the UFC a favor and clean up some of the backlog of contenders awaiting Michael Bisping should he ever choose to actually face one because this fight is just a bad matchup for Souza. Jacare’s pressuring style plays right into the very effective stick and move countering game plan of Whittaker and Whittaker’s elite takedown defense mean Souza will be stuck on the feet with him. The volume, speed, and movement of Whittaker will be too much for Jacare (who I think is fading physically) and Whittaker will pile up points in route to landing a late knockout blow. Whittaker by KO in the third round and I love him for a bet.
Jeremy Stephens is looking to get back on track in the featherweight division after coming up short against Frankie Edgar in his last outing. He faces the up-and-coming Renato Moicano, who is looking to announce himself as a real threat in one of the UFC’s hottest divisions.
Stephens is a power puncher, pure and simple. Over the years he has evolved from a hard-hitting brawler into a more refined fighter, but the general gist of his game remains the same: land big shots until the opponent drops. He accomplishes this by using sharp footwork and a pressuring style dictated by a thudding jab. Stephens’ biggest weakness are his low volume on the feet and his mediocre wrestling and grappling skills.
Moicano is a big, athletic featherweight with an aggressive style who pushes a high pace behind a pressuring counter game. He’s a good clinch fighter and offensive wrestler and once on top, he’s dangerous striker and pass-and-sub guy. Moicano’s biggest weakness is his aggression and defense, which can get him hit a fair bit.
This is a pretty close fight. Moicano looks like he might be a real talent in the division and his pressuring style and volume can win him rounds against Stephens, but also create openings for Stephens to counter him with power punches. Ultimately, this might be a little too much too soon for Moicano, but his potential for growth and his avenues to succeed make me lean towards him slightly. The pick is Moicano by decision and I like him for a bet.
Volkov is a tall heavyweight at 6’ 7” and he uses that height to stick on the outside with kicks and long punches. He’s also got pretty good footwork for the heavyweight division and is a solid defender of takedowns. Nelson is a longtime UFC veteran who, at this point, is almost nothing beyond an enormous overhand right and a historically brilliant chin. Nelson also is a respected BJJ black belt, but those skills have been almost forgotten by him in favor of huge KOs.
I don’t think Nelson can effectively take Volkov down, and, more to the point, I’m not even sure he will try to. That means the arithmetic in this fight boils down to: does Nelson land the big right hand? Because if he doesn’t, Volkov almost certainly wins on volume. Volkov’s head is pretty hittable but he’s proven himself fairly durable and his outside game eight-inch reach advantage (plus seven-inch height advantage) make it more likely that Nelson comes up empty here. The pick is Volkov by decision, and at these odds he might be worth a bet or a parlay inclusion.
Williams is a good athlete with solid wrestling and decent top control, but he’s facing the best pure prospect in all of MMA. Duquesnoy is an elite level athlete and an aggressive striker with a diverse set of weapons and a preternatural sense of timing and distance. On the floor, things get no easier, as Duquesnoy is a strong wrestler with great scrambling ability.
Duquesnoy is already a top-15 bantamweight and he’s fighting a guy who hasn’t competed in almost two years. Williams’ wrestling maybe keeps him afloat for a while, but he’s bring a knife to a gun fight here. Duquesnoy knocks him out in under eight minutes. That being said, no one should ever in their life bet on a young kid making his UFC debut at damn near -800 odds.
Green is a striking technician with good defense and solid wrestling, both offensive and defensively. His biggest problem comes from inconsistency and a tendency to showboat without backing it up with offense. Magomedov is a technical counterstriker who builds momentum as the fight goes on. He has fantastic defensive wrestling and will occasionally mix things up with surprisingly effective takedowns.
I doubt either man will be able to wrestle effectively here, and in a striking battle, Magomedov is a touch more technical. Green’s inconsistency and lack of cage time recently also aids the Dagestani. Magomedov wins a lackluster decision, but the odds are far too long here and a bet on Green is justifiable from a value perspective, though I don’t personally feel confident entrusting my betting money on him.
Louis Smolka (+220/31%) vs. Tim Elliott (-260/72%)
Smolka is a rangy flyweight who prefers to stick on the outside and kick opponents or engage in scramble-based grappling affairs. Elliott is a good sized flyweight with a funky, scramble based game on the mat and a pressuring style on the feet.
This fight should be ridiculously fun, but Elliott appears to have all the edges. He’s throws close to the same volume as Smolka on the feet but he’s a better defensive fighter, and on the mat, Elliott should be the better scrambler to go along with having a superior offensive wrestling game. Elliott controls the tempo and exchanges, winning a fun decision. At these odds, there’s a credible bet on Smolka here, but ultimately, I would pass.
Sterling is one of the brighter prospects at 135 pounds who has had a rough go of it lately. He’s a former two-time NCAA D-III All-American who is best served as a grappler, but is using his striking more and more, lately to his detriment. Mendes is a former world champion BJJ black belt with solid, consistent takedowns to back up his elite ground game.
This is a really dangerous fight for Sterling. Sterling got out-grappled by Bryan Caraway, so Mendes could really put to the wood to him there, and Sterling’s stand-up is still so nascent, it’s not clear he will have a huge advantage there despite Mendes’ own striking deficiencies. Still, Sterling’s six-inch reach advantage plus his tendency to kick from range probably lets him eke out at least two rounds to win a tedious decision. That being said, the odds here are wildly out of whack and I highly recommend a bet on Mendes for value.
Clark is a former Juco national champion wrestler. He’s a phenomenal athlete with good timing on his takedowns and clean, powerful finishes. Collier was a big middleweight and now he’s jumping up to 205. He uses his size and high-output kickboxing game to win blood-and-guts fights because he’s not a defensive minded fighter.
Collier can wrestle and scramble well enough to make this interesting, but in the end, Clark is just a far superior athlete. Clark wins a back-and-forth decision, but if you’re gonna bet on this one, Collier has the value. I’d pass though since there is plenty of other action elsewhere on this card.
Smith is a big middleweight and he’ll have a sizable size and reach advantage here. He’s a striker by trade but he has terrible takedown defense, and though he’s active off his back, he’s not super threatening. Sanchez isn’t shy about engaging in a striking battle and he’s a pretty good counterpuncher. He also has a solid wrestling game to fall back on.
Smith is the bigger man but Sanchez has more tools. I expect he’ll be competitive on the feet and able to take Smith down with relative ease. Sanchez wins an easy decision, but these odds are far too long to put money down on it.
Coy is a former NCAA D-1 All-American wrestler with a pressuring, grinding style. He’s a serviceable striker as well with an active jab. Cummings also has a wrestling background but on the JUCO level. He likes to pressure forward and he’s an adept counterpuncher with big power in his hands.
Cummings has a six-inch reach advantage here as well as being the better, more powerful striker, and probably the better submission grappler as well. Cummings’ defensive wrestling has also proved stalwart and I expect Coy will get stuck on the feet with Cummings, who will eventually land the knockout blow midway through the fight. Again, though, don’t put your money on lower tier fights with odds this long.
Evans-Smith is a big bantamweight with a wrestling background. She’s a decent top control artist but mostly she prefers a high volume kickboxing attack on the feet. Vieira is also a big bantamweight, but she has a judo background and does her best work controlling on the mat. She’s a willing striker but she’s defensively porous.
Evans-Smith relies a lot on her size and athleticism and Vieira can compete there, but her tendency to get hit often is a big problem. Evans-Smith takes a decision, but pass on a bet here.
- Michelle Waterson at +115
- Robert Whittaker at +180
- Renato Moicano at +160
- Augusto Mendes at +330
- Parlay Demetrious Johnson and Alexander Volkov
Fine bets but not suggested.
- Bobby Green at +300
- Louis Smolka at +220
- Jake Collier at +130
That’s all folks. We had a good week last week, ending up +210 total on our suggested bets and +215 on our possible bets. Hopefully we’ll keep that momentum going this week.
I hope everyone enjoys the fights this weekend (especially those adventurous souls who intend to stay up for RIZIN). Good luck to those who need it, and 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.)