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.
For those of you who are new, this aims to be an exhaustive preview of the fights in context with the odds, and doubles as a 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 Cub Swanson at -650 means he should win 87 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.
The main event this weekend is the strangest one yet in the WME-IMG era of UFC ownership. Featherweight title hopeful Cub Swanson takes on the man best known for being Conor McGregor’s training partner, Artem Lobov. Swanson is on an impressive three-fight win streak, and his situation is a paradox...as in, a win does almost nothing for him while it could also earn him the next featherweight title shot. A win for Lobov would be by far the biggest of his career and get him his first UFC ranking.
Swanson is primarily a striker who relies on good footwork and angles to set up stinging punching combinations. He’s one of the better athletes in the division and you can see that in the way he explodes into punches. He’s also is a thudding kicker and a dangerous counter-puncher when he’s in the pocket. Though sometimes he can be drawn into ill-advised brawls, he’s fast enough and powerful enough to come out ahead in those too.
Aside from striking, Swanson is a well-established veteran who can compete in all phases. He’s an underrated offensive wrestler with a variety of finishes and on top he’s a pretty solid control player. If Swanson has a semi-glaring weakness, it has been his defensive wrestling, but that doesn’t figure to come into play much here.
Lobov gets a fair amount of criticism for his uninspiring record (13-12-1,) but he’s actually a pretty solid fighter whose record is more reflective of the tough competition he’s faced than anything else. Lobov’s a striker by trade, and his style looks more and more like McGregor’s each time out, featuring non-standard movement and rhythm. He’s marketed as a “power puncher,” but that’s not entirely his game nor is he what you might consider a volume striker. Rather, he’s a combination boxer with some pop in his hands and an aggressive, countering style. While he has found a way to make this work for him, it also puts him in range to be hit and his defense isn’t very good, as he tends to be overly reliant on his chin.
Beyond striking, there isn’t much to Lobov’s game. He’s an above average defender of takedowns and a competent offensive wrestler on occasion but that is about the extent of it.
Cub Swanson is just a much better fighter than Artem Lobov in every area of the game. Even if Swanson brawls with Lobov (the best chance Lobov has to emerge victorious), Swanson is still likely to win and if he fights a precise, technical fight. If Cub does that, this is all one-way traffic from the jump. The only fear here is that Swanson’s battle with Doo Ho Choi irrevocably altered his career (a thing that has been known to happen with post-Fight of the Year candidates). However, I don’t think that’s likely since the bulk of that fight was, in actuality, Swanson putting the wood to Choi.
The pick is Swanson by third-round knockout, but there’s very little meat on these bones so better to pass on betting.
The co-main event of the evening is also a strange one. Al Iaquinta, a man who retired from MMA recently (and may or may not really want to keep fighting), faces Diego Sanchez, a stalwart from the first TUF (who seemingly wants to keep fighting past what is good for him). A win for Iaquinta puts him back in the top-15 position, while a win for Sanchez lands him in the vicinity of that conversation as well.
When last we saw him, Iaquinta had developed into one of the more technical boxers in the division. He pumped a frequent jab and had solid footwork, allowing him cut angles for his excellent counter-punching game. Assuming he’s still the same guy, Iaquinta mixes his levels of attack well and works his combinations at a good pace. He also has pretty sharp defense anchored by strong head movement in the pocket. He ties everything together with stalwart takedown defense that can thwart all but the very best wrestlers.
Sanchez is one of the most well-known commodities in the UFC. He’s a high-octane southpaw who is more than happy to throw hands, but does his best work as a top position grappler. On the feet Sanchez presses forward and throws hard combinations, but he’s not much of a technician, and his lack of defense means his willingness to brawl is more of a liability than a benefit. What his brawling mentality does accomplish is win rounds in the eyes of the judges, despite sometimes getting out-landed. His age and deteriorating durability make this a much more dangerous gambit than it used to be.
Sanchez really butters his beak as a wrestler and grappler though. As you can see from the stats, he’s not a particularly deft finisher of takedowns, but he is tenacious. When you continually shoot shot after shot, your percentage is going to be low. Once on top, Sanchez can really start going to town, working the opponent over with punches and control and racking up damage in short order.
The biggest question in this one is this: How is Iaquinta going to look after two years away from competition? Sanchez is in his twilight, but he’s still not a fighter you want to face if your heart isn’t in it; there are very few men who “want it more” than Sanchez.
All that said, this is a dreadful style matchup for Sanchez. “Ragin’ Al” is a much better striker and “Lionheart” won’t be able to get him to the mat. Expect Iaquinta to box Sanchez up for 15 minutes before taking a wide decision, but be mindful of putting money on a guy coming back from a two-year layoff and facing a man who’s won a questionable decision or two in his time.
In the evening’s only light heavyweight contest, former interim title challenger Ovince Saint Preux takes on the hard hitting Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Saint Preux is in desperate need of a win to stop his three-fight losing streak, while de Lima is looking to notch the biggest win of his career and announce himself as a force in the ultra-thin 205-pound division.
Saint Preux is a former University of Tennessee football player, and as you might expect, he’s a phenomenal athlete. In fact, I've often felt he resembles a Jon Jones from earlier in his career. Saint Preux has similar ridiculous physical gifts that allow him to perform funky, unpredictable offensive feats. However, unlike Jones, OSP hasn’t built up the fundamentals that create a cohesive and threatening fighter. The end result is that OSP might pop off and ruin anyone’s day, but he might just as easily lose fights he should win on paper.
As a striker, OSP is huge and rangy with an 80-inch southpaw reach. He has an awkward striking game built around power and speed and he’s a good counter-puncher because of his timing. He's not a phenomenally technical wrestler, but he's explosive enough — and physical enough — to score takedowns and his top game includes potent striking and unorthodox submissions. His biggest weakness other than inconsistency in process is his cardio which takes the sting out of his offense after a couple of rounds.
Cardio isn’t a strong suit for de Lima either because the Brazilian is an all-out fighter. De Lima throws caution to the wind from the opening bell and unloads vicious punches and kicks, breaking opponents under the ferocity of his attack. Because he’s an enormous, powerful man, this strategy has proven effective, though it’s always a gamble. If his opponent can weather the storm, de Lima is basically dead in the water. Furthermore, as the numbers would suggest, de Lima is a horrid defender of takedowns, and that — given his cardio troubles — make him a dangerous, if easily exploitable, fighter.
This is basically a question of whether or not you think de Lima can bulldoze Saint Preux early. While it’s entirely possible that he can, de Lima’s defensive wrestling gives me pause that he will. OSP isn’t the best wrestler in the world but he’s good enough to take de Lima down. The pick is OSP by TKO, late in the first round, and if he dropped to the -150 range, I like him for a bet.
One of the few fights with real stakes on the card, former flyweight title contender John Dodson is looking to rebound from his controversial split decision loss to John Lineker by taking on former bantamweight title challenger Eddie Wineland in a fight that will keep the winner relevant in the divisional title picture.
Dodson is one of the best pure athletes in MMA. Among the fastest men at flyweight since moving to 135 pounds, Dodson is a blur to most of his opponents. It isn’t just his blinding speed though; Dodson’s also one of the pound-for-pound biggest punchers in the entire sport. With the recent retirement of Anthony Johnson, you could argue he now occupies the top spot.
But Dodson's hyper-athleticism and power are a double-edged sword. Like Yoel Romero, Dodson is often confoundingly inactive, lying in wait for the moment to go hyper-dynamic on his opponent. Dodson has the speed, technique, and skill to beat anyone at 135 pounds and below, but his suspect cardio and poor decision-making have cost him time and again. That said, in his last fight Dodson put forth a focused, intelligent game plan that should have been enough for him to get the win. If Dodson has finally learned to put some process behind his natural talents, the rest of the division better watch out.
Wineland is also a striker though far less dynamic than Dodson. He’s a sharp boxer that operates behind a stiff, punishing jab. From there he moves laterally and cuts angles to find openings for his combinations. He’s defensively solid if you can get over the fact that he carries his hands low, but like Dominick Cruz, he does this to goad opponents into head hunting where his excellent head movement and footwork allows him to slip and counter with power. He’s also a stalwart defender of takedowns which lets him operate in his preferred phase of attack. That’s mostly the extent of the 32-year old Wineland’s game, and — though he’s on a winning streak — there are legitimate concerns that, after 15 years of fighting, he may be on his decline.
The last time Wineland fought a powerful striker who was faster and more athletic than him, he was marking up Renan Barao before catching a shotgun blast to the face. That is more or less how I see this fight going. Wineland is a skilled striker and his size and technique can create problems for the diminutive Dodson but eventually “The Magician” is gonna plunk him in the side of the head and that’ll be the ball game. I like Dodson to win by second-round KO. Betting Wineland is actually justifiable but if you’re going to do so, only go small.
Joe Lauzon meets Stevie Ray in a competitive lightweight scrap that doesn’t have much divisional relevance but should be fun nonetheless.
Aggression is the name of Lauzon's game. He's a powerful puncher and wrestler who comes out of the gate like hell on wheels, leading to him being one of the all-time leaders in bonus award wins. That aggression also has the downside of meaning he tends to fade pretty hard in fights if one can weather the storm (he has two decision wins in a 39-fight career). However, he has lately been pacing himself more and remaining competitive past the 8-minute mark.
On the feet, Lauzon mostly throws big power strikes, moving forward and either shooting a takedown or grabbing the clinch. His defense is poor (look at those stats), but he’s got a good chin and his pressure makes up for it. He’s a nasty clinch fighter, and on the floor, he’s a fierce transitional grappler with excellent ground and pound.
Ray is a southpaw striker and a fairly deft one at that. He prefers to throw in one and two punch salvos, dictating pace and distance with one-two's and lead left hands. He also has an array of kicks but those are most thrown as a way to set the range and not as a real damaging attack. Ray is constantly moving on his feet, circling and resetting the distance to look for his preferred angle of attack. This style of attack means his volume is a little low, but when he does sit down on his punches they have some good pop. Beyond that, there’s not much else to Ray’s game. His takedown defense is still a work in progress, and on the mat, he’s a competent grappler but not really a threatening one.
This fight mostly depends on how well Ray can stay on his feet. If Lauzon can work takedowns, he should maul Ray on the mat. If Ray has improves his defensive wrestling enough, Lauzon is too hittable to win the rounds. The former seems much more like and Lauzon can at least compete on the feet until he can get his wrestling going. Also, Lauzon should own the clinch here. The only worry for Lauzon really is getting hit coming in, and while he has a lot of miles on him, Lauzon’s still proven to be a durable guy and Ray isn’t a huge threat to finish. This pick is Lauzon to win a decision and I like him for a bet at these long of odds.
A potential banger of a welterweight matchup opens up the FS1 main card. Jake Ellenberger is coming off a slightly controversial loss to Jorge Masvidal whereas Mike Perry tasted defeat for the first time in his most recent outing against Alan Jouban. Both men need a win here to remain relevant in the division, and while Perry is looking to take down the first real name fighter of his career, Ellenberger’s job may be on the line here.
Ellenberger is one of the more frustrating fighters in the world. He’s a great athlete with all the tools to excel in the upper echelons of MMA (and, for a time, he did just that) but the last four years have been plagued by inconsistency for the Nebraskan. When he’s on point, power is the name of the game for Ellenberger. He blends some of the hardest punching in the division with an explosive wrestling game. However, more often than not it looks like Ellenberger doesn’t want to be in the cage and his lack of urgency has been anathema to victory for the one-time title hopeful.
On the other side, a lack of fight enthusiasm is certainly not Perry’s problem. Perry turned heads with his boisterous debut last year, knocking out Hyun Gyu Lim at UFC 202 after some antics at the weigh-ins beforehand. While his personality has made Perry a guy the UFC is keen on, his skills are not to be overlooked. Though still young in his career, Perry has many of the hallmarks of a fighter with a bright future. He's a great athlete with tremendous speed and power and he pushes a very high pace. His striking game is narrow — relying mostly on a left hook and overhand right, supplemented by leg kicks — and he doesn't try to get too far outside his wheelhouse but his natural timing and sense of when and where openings should be exploited makes him highly effective. There is a depth to his game that belies his young age and given some development, Perry could be a legitimate threat in the division.
As is always the case with Ellenberger, this fight isn’t so much a matter of if he has the skills to win — he does — but does he really want to compete? Even if he does, Perry is a pretty tough style matchup for him as durability and volume have never been strong suits for “The Juggernaut.” Ellenberger has the wrestling chops to make Perry work but in a contest between a fighter with questionable intensity and one with multiple face tattoos, you have to go with the latter. Perry scores a knockout at the end of the first round and he should probably be in the -200 to -220 range so I like him for a bet.
Leites has been in MMA long enough to have skills in all phases. On the feet, he’s a good counter-puncher with legitimate power but he butters his bread as a top position grappler. He's a solid chain-wrestler from the clinch and once he's on top he has a great pass and punch game to go along with his elite submissions. Alvey is a relatively slow-paced (though he throws more than Leites) southpaw with big power and outstanding takedown defense. His biggest weakness is that he relies almost entirely on the counter which means he is prone to giving rounds away due to inactivity.
This is a pretty rough style matchup for Leites. Alvey’s stellar defensive wrestling mean Leites will mostly be forced into striking where his pressuring game puts him right in the wheelhouse of Alvey’s counters. But if Leites’ chin can hold up – something it has been doing a good job of against stiff competition – then his pressure might be able to win rounds from Alvey who is taking a pretty big leap up in competition. Still though, this is a fight between guys trending in opposite directions and in those situations, hitch your wagon to the rocket not the anchor. The pick is Alvey by third-round knockout and I like him for a bet.
Ortiz is a talent flyweight who has only lost to the best in the division; it just so happens that three of his last five fights have been against Wilson Reis, Jussier Formiga, and Joseph Benavidez. He’s a scramble-based grappler who can exchange on the feet as well but he’s not the best athlete or technician and that’s why he has fallen short against the elite of the division. Moreno is an up-and-coming flyweight who has impressed in the UFC after getting bounced early from TUF 24. He’s dangerous in all phases with good combination boxing and a talent for sneaking to the back.
Ortiz struggles against guys who are more athletic than him and can win the scrambles, two categories under which Moreno falls. Moreno also has a five-inch reach advantage and he’s more active on the feet. This will be a fun, back and forth affair but Moreno should come out ahead more often than not. The pick is Moreno by decision and I love him for a bet at these odds.
Holtzman can fight everywhere though none of it will wow you. He’s physically strong and a decent athlete, with solid wrestling and top control as well as good elbows in the clinch. McBride doesn’t have a lot of tape on him other than the kicking he suffered at the hands of Nik Lentz his last time out. He’s a tall lightweight who prefers to grapple and his striking needs a good deal of work.
The athletic gulf in this contest looks to be substantial. Holtzman is hittable on the feet but he throws competent combinations with some pop on them whereas McBride leaves his head on a tee and throws from his hips. Holtzman is a good enough wrestler to keep things standing and in the clinch and at range, he should bust up McBride. The pick is Holtzman by TKO in the latter half of the fight but since I still haven’t seen a ton of McBride, I wouldn’t bet this.
Penne is a former title challenger who’s made her way based on her grappling skills. On the feet, she has solid technique but she doesn’t sit out on here punches and she’s far too hittable, though she is shoe leather tough. On the mat, she’s a potent combination of sweeps from the bottom and passing + control from the top. Taylor has a background in Muay Thai and she’s still a striker in MMA but at 5 feet tall, she’s adapted her game to a more fitting style. Taylor prefers to stay at range before leaping in for single-shot punches that are thrown with power. She’s speedy and mobile with this plan and her right hand packs a wallop, but it’s a low volume attack that doesn’t score well with judges unless she connects with something clean.
The simple truth is, Taylor is an atomweight and she isn’t just slightly undersized, she’s wildly undersized at strawweight. Penne will have a 5-inch height advantage and a 7-inch reach advantage come fight night. Moreover, Taylor has been muscled around in the clinch before as a result of her diminutive stature, and Penne is likely to do the same here and on the floor. The pick is Penne by submission in the third round and she’s a fine bet at these odds.
Davis is a jack of all trades fighter who fought for the UFC bantamweight title once upon a time, getting obliterated by Ronda Rousey in 16 seconds. Despite that quick failing, Davis is a very durable fighter who works aggressive, combination boxing on the feet and a swift, lethal attack on the floor.
Dandois is basically like if a blind person with only a loose grasp of MMA tried to build Ronda Rousey in create-a-fighter mode on a UFC game. She’s a judoka of some accomplishment on the European circuit and that is the beginning and end of her game. She uses head throws and her long legs to attack while on the ground.
Once she makes her debut, Dandois will possibly be the worst striker in the modern era of the UFC. Davis isn’t Sugar Ray but she’s a spirited boxer and an excellent grappler in her own right and I would be shocked if she didn’t put the wood to Dandois here. Then again, Dandois has managed wins over Marloes Coenen and Megan Anderson so I guess anything is possible. Still, Davis by TKO in the middle of the fight, and if you want to throw her in a parlay, go for it.
Barberena is a rugged, durable fighter who lacks the athleticism to compete at the highest levels of the sport but is a tough out for anyone. He pressures in combination on the feet and he’s good in the clinch and on top but he rarely looks to take it to the ground. Proctor hasn’t competed in over a year due to injury. He’s a striker with good power and an aggressive submission game when things hit the floor or he has an opponent hurt.
This fight figures to be a good, old-fashioned dust up between two guys with no interest in taking the other down. Proctor is faster and has more power but Barberena is more durable and throws more volume as well as being the better clinch fighter. Barberena’s toughness means he should walk through Proctor’s early offense and take control in the clinch and at range where Proctor is hittable. The pick is Barberena by decision but the odds are long on him so pass on a bet.
Sandoval is a squat, athletic wrestle-boxer from Team Alpha Male. His offense is built around slinging heavy overhand rights and following them up with lefts to the body or explosive double-leg shots. Schnell is tall for the division at 5-foot-8 and he uses his length to his advantage, snapping off combinations that he punctuates with leg kicks on the feet and using his long legs to attack relentlessly from the bottom with armbars and triangles.
Things don’t look good for Sandoval here. He’s giving up six inches of height and six inches of reach to Schnell and his tendency to stand outside of his opponent’s and then explode forward won’t work nearly as well with that much distance to cover. Even if he does succeed with his takedowns, Schnell is too tricky off his back and will have Sandoval playing defense all night. The pick is Schnell by submission in the second round. And I like him for a bet at plus money.
- Lauzon at +170.
- Perry at -170.
- Alvey at -105.
- Moreno at +170.
- Penne at -130.
- Schnell at +105.
- Saint Preux and Davis parlayed at +117.
That's all folks. We had a good showing last weekend, going 3-2 on our bets — with two of those being underdogs — for a total earning of +227. Hopefully we will do as well this week. For those of a more auditory inclination, I broke down fights with Nick Baldwin and Wes Riddle on Before The Battle, so here’s that.
Otherwise, enjoy the fights everyone, 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.)