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.
As always, a disclaimer: 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 Miocic at -145 means he should win 59 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.
In the main event, Stipe Miocic defends his heavyweight title against the last man to beat him, Junior dos Santos. For Miocic, a win solidifies himself as one of the best heavyweights ever and ties him for the most successful heavyweight title defenses at two. For dos Santos, it’s possibly his last shot at UFC gold and a chance to reclaim the title he lost to Cain Velasquez.
Miocic is the quintessential jack of all trades, master of none. He can box, he can wrestle, and his game is held together by his combination of athleticism, durability, and cardio. More often than not, Miocic prefers to use his boxing. He throws a very high volume and he does so with technical proficiency. His striking is built around sharp footwork and a snapping jab-cross combination. He can apply pressure (leaving discernible openings for his opponent), but he’s much better on the counter, slipping and shifting into a pretty check hook and an excellent back-stepping cross-counter.
Aside from boxing, Miocic has had clear success working his wrestling and ground-and-pound. He has good entries into single leg takedowns (particularly off the counter) and clean finishes. His top game is like his stand-up, lots of volume that wins rounds and wears his opponents down. He doesn’t look to pass much but he will posture up and land good strikes from inside the guard and he doesn’t need much space to do so.
Like many aging fighters (aging in cage-time, not years of life), dos Santos appears to be fading physically, though he has more than made up for this with serious technical and strategic improvements. For most of his career, dos Santos was an athletic power-puncher with sharp boxing and quick hands. He was also impossibly durable and difficult to take down, a combination which led him to the heavyweight title.
The problem for dos Santos was mostly strategic. He never possessed great footwork and was prone to crumble under consistent pressure, like Cain Velasquez put on him in their second and third meetings. Dos Santos has made huge improvements in his movement, and that could pay big dividends for him in Dallas. If his last fight with Rothwell is any indication, today’s dos Santos is happy to stay on his bike, moving and countering in combination, or throwing straight shots to the body of his opponent.
There are a ton of variables to this fight. JDS’s strategic approach has improved in large part because his durability was greatly diminished by the beatings he took from Velasquez. He also hasn’t been all that active lately, whereas Miocic has been busy. Still, dos Santos is a specialist while Miocic is an all-rounder. If Miocic can’t take dos Santos down, the fight should favor the former champion. If dos Santos stays moving and forces Miocic to pressure, there will be plenty of openings to hurt the champion. The basic math for the main event is this: Miocic is too hittable and dos Santos is too violent. The pick is dos Santos by KO in the second round, and I like him for a bet at underdog odds.
In the co-main event, Joanna Jedrzejczyk takes on one of the toughest tests, defending her strawweight title against the young bruiser, Jessica Andrade. A win for Jedrzejczyk puts her one away from tying Ronda Rousey’s women’s record of six straight title defenses, and likely sets her up for a fight with Rose Namajunas later this year. For Andrade, a win would be the culmination of the promise she has shown since dropping down to 115 pounds.
Jedrzejczyk is one of the best strikers in MMA today with a wealth of expertise stemming from her time training kickboxing under Ernesto Hoost. Jedrzejczyk works behind a piston-like jab which sets up the rest of her offense. From that, she attacks the head and body in combination and with volume. The volume is key for Jedrzejczyk. She’s not an enormous one-hitter-quitter type puncher but she has good power and the amount of heavy punches she lands wears opponents down rapidly.
The rest of Jedrzejczyk’s game compliments this all very well. She has excellent footwork and distance management, allowing her to maintain her preferred punching range. When fighters can work their way inside on her, Jedrzejczyk is a handful on the interior as well with her elbows and knees and she’s an elite defensive wrestler and she’s good at making fighters pay for failed takedown attempts.
Andrade is an exceptional athlete with a game built to maximize her explosiveness and power. From the opening bell, Andrade pressures opponents and looks to unload Tekken-style hook combinations to the body and head. She has great hand speed, so when she does corner a fighter she can unleash dozens of shots in mere seconds. She’s a powerful puncher but — similar to John Lineker — Andrade’s punches aren’t out-cold KO shots. They’re thudding shots that overwhelm whoever is eating a dozen of them in rapid succession.
Andrade is also an excellent wrestler. Formerly a powerful 135-pounder, Andrade at strawweight is one of the division’s strongest competitors, and she uses that physicality to bully opponents with explosive wrestling and clinch control, the latter of which she uses to drag opponents to the mat. On top, Andrade is tough to shake and utilizes that same power to land heavy strikes. She’s no slouch in transitions either, as she has an excellent guillotine.
Andrade may be Jedrzejczyk’s toughest test in the division. Her speed, pressure, power, and stamina pose a host of problems for Jedrzejczyk, who often wins by relying on those very attributes. Still, Jedrzejczyk is a far superior technician and she has gotten increasingly better at playing the matador, a skill she’ll need to use here.
What puts me over the edge toward the champion, though, is the clinch fighting. Andrade is strong, but she’s still small in stature and tends to get lazy in the clinch, whereas Jedrzejczyk’s frame and slashing elbows should score points and give her another phase of the game to operate in. In the end, Jedrzejczyk just has more areas to succeed in and more depth of skill to make those areas the ones in which the fight is contested. The pick is Jedrzejczyk by narrow decision in the ‘Fight of the Night,’ but I favor placing a value bet on Andrade since the odds should be close to even.
Demian Maia takes on Jorge Masvidal in a fight that may well determine the next welterweight title challenger. Maia has been on a tear recently, winning six in a row over top competition, and a win should guarantee him a chance at the belt. Likewise, Masvidal has looked sensational since moving up to 170 pounds and a win over Maia would be the biggest of his career and give him an excellent case for a title shot.
Maia is a throwback to a simpler time of MMA, when pure specialists roamed the land. Despite the increasing prevalence of focused striking games as the dominant skill set, Maia succeeds by being the very best grappler in MMA, along with being an incredibly effective wrestler. Maia's game is all about getting a tie up with his opponent, and from there it is a decision tree of options. In the clinch, he has foot sweeps and throws or he can drop levels to attack the legs with chains of singles and doubles. He’s not the cleanest nor the most explosive finisher, but he is dogged in his pursuit of takedowns and, if all else fails, he’s not averse to pulling guard and transitioning from that into a roll up single or using an excellent arm drag to sneak around to the back.
Once on the ground, nobody is better than Maia. His game is fundamentally flawless, prioritizing positional dominance over everything. He moves through positions seamlessly, finding his way eventually to mount or back mount where locks in a fight-ending choke.
On the feet, Maia... well, he's there. He knows how to punch and kick but still looks gangly and uncomfortable doing so. His striking mostly exists to disguise his relentless takedown attempts. Predominantly, he uses a jab feint to set up his outside shot. Beyond that, there isn't much to write home about here because everything is just a prelude to the grappling game.
Masvidal is a well-rounded fighter and an exceptional technician. A seasoned veteran who began fighting in boatyards as a teenager against much larger men, Masvidal is a defensive genius on the feet. He has layers of defense that set up a strong counter-punching game, but he’s not restricted to that. Masvidal can fight at all ranges and moving in all directions, specifically behind a piercing jab and stinging low kicks. When openings arise, Masvidal has excellent timing and enough power that when he sits down on shots, they can hurt opponents.
While striking is his bread and butter, Masvidal is well-versed everywhere else. He has an offensive wrestling game that's better than average and his timing on single legs is tricky enough to be successful. Masvidal is also a very good grappler — remember, he tapped Michael Chiesa, which is nothing to sneeze at — and he has above average ground and pound. His biggest weakness is a general lack of volume and a tendency to do “just enough” to get it done rather than putting a mark on the fight. That kind of complacency has burned him with judges more than once. However, in his most recent outings he appears to be fighting with greater purpose, urgency and — frankly speaking — a meanness, something that bodes well for his run as an elite welterweight.
As with all Maia fights, this is a classic striker versus grappler affair. In a just world, Maia would tap Masvidal quickly and take his rightful title shot this summer, but we all know MMA is far from just. Even so, I’m going to side with Maia here. Masvidal is a much better striker and an excellent defensive wrestler, but Maia is the bigger man, and he has taken down better wrestlers than Masvidal. Realistically, two takedowns is all he needs to win the fight. The pick is Maia by boa constrictor in the second round, but if either guy gets to over +100, there’s value in betting that.
Frankie Edgar takes on Yair Rodriguez in a showcase bout between the aging veteran and the new kid on the block. Edgar is a former lightweight champion who has twice come up short against featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo. A win over the young, hotshot prospect Rodriguez likely cements his bid for a third title shot, if Max Holloway unseats Aldo later this year. For Rodriguez, this is his chance to announce himself as one of the truly elite at 145 pounds. With the UFC loving his ascension and his star power in Mexico, a victory here may well earn Rodriguez the next shot at the champion, regardless of who holds the strap.
Edgar is a classic wrestle-boxer and one who has continued to make technical improvements despite being a long-tenured veteran. He has quick footwork which allows him to dart in and out of exchanges on the feet, working head-body combinations and piling up points. This isn’t the most threatening offense but it’s consistent, it wins rounds, and builds momentum for Edgar who gets stronger as the fight progresses.
Edgar’s constant boxing attack also creates big opportunities for his wrestling. Edgar disguises his entries behind strikes beautifully, and he has a variety of finishes either from a single or double leg position. Once he gets his opponent to the ground, Edgar has ferocious ground-and-pound. This has been an area where he has shown his biggest improvement over the last few years. Edgar is absolutely ruthless on the floor.
Rodriguez is a highly-touted prospect with a creative and brutally violent striking arsenal. He has an array of vicious kicks and functional footwork to maintain a long distance where he can use those weapons the most efficaciously. He’s still developing a boxing game, especially on the interior where he is hittable, but he has excellent speed and power when he does punch. He also switches stances effortlessly which creates a lot of uncertainty in the defense of his opponents.
Despite the gushing about his striking acumen, grappling is probably the strongest part of Rodriguez's game. He’s a sneakily good offensive wrestler and an improving defensive one, aided by his ability to maintain a long range. As a top position grappler, Rodriguez works sharp ground-and-pound and he’s good at passing and holding position. From the bottom, he’s even more aggressive, constantly moving his hips to find attacks but quick to stand back up if he’s not finding a sweep or submission.
Can Edgar work takedowns? That’s the fundamental question here because if he can’t he’s going to get lit up. Rodriguez is younger, faster, longer, and he’ll force Edgar to wade through brutal salvos of offense to try and get takedowns and I just don’t see it happening. Rodriguez announces himself as the next featherweight contender, stopping Edgar in the third round with something magical and violent and I like him for an underdog bet.
In the pay-per-view opener, Krzysztof Jotko welcomes former two-weight WSOF champion David Branch back to the Octagon in a bout that was bumped up from the undercard after Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis was cancelled this week. A win here puts either man right in the thick of the middleweight rankings and should earn the winner a bout with one of the many highly-ranked contenders trying to standout in a crowded title hunt.
Jotko is a young, rangy southpaw who throws straight punches and a variety of kicks. He doesn't have a lot of power but he piles up volume and he has fantastic takedown defense to keep things where he wants them. Jotko also has a complete ground game, more than holding his own in prolonged grappling exchanges with BJJ black belt Thales Leites. He has underrated offensive wrestling, good control on top, and excellent submission awareness.
Branch is a well-rounded fighter, who is competent on the feet but does his best work from top position. He uses long jabs with the occasional straight right to maximize his 81-inch reach until he can work his way into the clinch or a shot-takedown. From there he has an excellent combination of control, striking, passing, and submissions to give anyone in the division problems.
This looks to be a pretty straightforward affair: either Branch gets takedowns or Jotko’s volume and kicking game outpoints him on the feet. Jotko is eight years younger, steadily improving, and his takedown defense is great. Branch will fail in the wrestling and though he won’t get embarrassed on the feet, he will clearly lose the rounds. The pick is Jotko by decision and a prop bet on Jotko by decision at +130 is a good bet or parlaying him with another fighter down the card is fine.
Former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez takes on ninth-ranked Dustin Poirier in his first fight since losing the title to Conor McGregor at UFC 205 last year. A win doesn’t exactly return Alvarez to title contention (such was the nature of his demolition), but it is at least a chance to wash the taste from his mouth after his last performance. For Poirier, a win over Alvarez would be the biggest win of his career and earn him another shot at the elite of the division while a loss would likely be the end of any real title aspirations he has.
Alvarez is mostly a veteran wrestle-brawler who has turned into a more refined boxer with his work under Mark Henry. He can operate in both directions on the feet, though he’s less comfortable as a pressure fighter, preferring to stick on the outside, cut angles, and counter. He has good natural power and his right hook to the body is a potent weapon, but he also tends to get hit, especially early, and though he’s ruggedly tough, you have to wonder if his many years in the game and his propensity for brawling is starting to catch up with him.
Aside from striking, Alvarez also has a strong secondary line of attack through his wrestling game. He doesn’t have the most explosive shot or cleanest finishes, but he is dogged in his pursuit of the takedown and his physical strength and endless cardio mean he can grind fights down to a halt if need be. On top, he’s got solid control and striking and he’s pretty good at getting to the back and securing the rear-naked choke.
Poirier is a well-rounded fighter who has found his stride since moving up to the lightweight division. Despite spending a long time as a featherweight, Poirier is one of the biggest punchers at 155 pounds. At range, has a good jab and thudding left kicks as well as a heater of a left straight. But although he’s fine at range, where Poirier thrives is as an inside fighter. He’s an excellent combination boxer in the pocket and he works all levels of the body well. He’s willingness to exchange in close quarters means he gets hit a lot, but it’s a calculated decision based on him bringing more power to the firefight.
Poirier is also an excellent clinch fighter. He has good knees and trips from that range, and he has a nice uppercut that he hides behind his own head before bringing it up the body to score. He’s a good defensive wrestler and he has solid takedowns of his own as well. Once on top, he is a powerful ground-and-pounder with solid scrambling and control.
This is an extremely tough rebound fight for the former champion. Poirier will carry many of the same physical advantages that McGregor did from Alvarez’s last fight and we all saw how that worked out for “The Underground King.” Alvarez gets hit early and often and was especially susceptible to straight left hands, one of Poirier’s best punches. Moreover, Alvarez is easily drawn into brawling exchanges in the pocket and there are few people at lightweight better at that than Poirier. Add in a genuine concern that Alvarez’s best days are behind him and everything seems to be coming up Poirier here. Poirier is still hittable so it’s possible the former champion lands a big shot in the exchanges and knocks him out, but the more likely scenario is that Poirier lands the kill shots and gets his hand raised. The pick is Poirier by first-round KO, but the odds are good here so I would pass.
Skelly is a grinder by trade but one with an aggressive submission game to compliment his NAIA All-American wrestling pedigree. He also showed dramatically improved striking in his last fight which can be attributed to his work with Henri Hooft. He flashed a decent jab and straight right hand to compliment his natural sense of timing. Knight is affectionately known as “Hick Diaz” for his aggressive boxing on the feet and his extremely active guard game. He’s a poor defensive wrestler but his rubber guard creates a world of troubles for fighters looking to take him down.
Can Skelly get takedowns? That’s the key question here. Skelly has improved his boxing but Knight is still the more skilled and more active striker and if it stays standing, Knight is gonna chew him up. This is a razor close fight but I think Knight has improved his wrestling enough to have the advantage here. Hopefully there is some grappling because that could be extremely fun to watch but the pick is Knight by unanimous decision in an extremely fun contest and I like him for a bet at underdog odds.
Reyes is a power-punching boxer with a penchant for getting into brawls. He’s throws excellent combinations in the pocket and both hands have fight changing power. He’s a bad defensive wrestler but he’s active in getting back to his feet when taken down. Vick is enormous for the lightweight division and sports big advantages in reach and height. He’s fights well at range behind kicks and a long jab and he’s uses his frame well in the clinch too. He also has an absolutely lethal set of chokes from the front headlock, making wrestling with him a dangerous proposition.
This fight is much closer than the odds suggest. Vick’s biggest issue is his defense and his propensity for getting hit by left hooks, a specialty of Reyes. Reyes’ pressure and power can certainly create problems for Vick. That being said, Vick is durable and Reyes struggled navigating the distance against Jason Novelli in his last fight, the same reach advantage Vick will have. Vick is a more potent offensive threat than Novelli and with the striking being close to a wash otherwise, I favor the man with the inherent physical advantages. The pick is Vick by third round submission but a value bet on Reyes is suggested since these odds are nuts.
Aguilar is the former number one women’s strawweight in the world (back before the UFC implemented the division). She’s a well-rounded fighter with a high-volume boxing game but she excels with her wrestling and top control grappling. Casey is a big, athletic strawweight who has been improving drastically each time out. She’s uses good footwork and a long jab on the feet to maintain distance and she’s ferociously strong in the clinch and on the floor.
Casey’s biggest issue is her defensive wrestling (which is bad), and Aguilar can certainly test her there, but for “JAG” to do that, she must navigate a substantial height and reach advantage (four inches of both). Aguilar has also been out for almost two years and is coming off a torn ACL, whereas Casey is younger, a better athlete, and should be able to dominate in the clinch with her size and strength. The pick is Casey by unanimous decision and she’s worth a bet if she stays this low.
Sherman’s a light-on-his-feet heavyweight who likes to box in the pocket and has decent kicks at range. He’s a defensive disaster but he’s got a great chin and solid cardio to compensate. Coulter is a well-built, powerful heavyweight with thunder in his punches and vicious knees. He’s coming in on short notice though, and his record has no notable wins.
Sherman’s head never met a punch it didn’t like to get hit by and that spells trouble against a hitter the likes of Coulter. This should look a lot like the Walt Harris, fight where Sherman gets dinged up by the guy with the heavier artillery. The pick is Coulter by KO in the second round, but since he is coming in on short notice and making his UFC debut, I advise caution if you choose to bet him.
Benitez is a southpaw striker who prefers to operate at range, setting the distance with chopping inside leg kicks. He has a sharp counter left straight and he works the body well. Barzola is also a striker but a more athletic and diverse one than Benitez. He has an active jab and throws in combination while also mixing in spinning attacks and a potent wrestling game.
This is a tough fight to call. Barzola will consent to fight at Benitez’s range for the most part and Benitez’s body work and pace should be effective; however, Barzola’s jab and combinations attack the many holes in Benitez’s defense. Ultimately, I think Barzola’s wrestling will be the difference, keeping Benitez guessing and mitigating his superior counter attack. Benitez will win stretches but Barzola will win more of them on his way to taking a razor close decision and as such, I like him for a bet.
Christensen is a big, well-rounded light heavyweight. He’s an active striker who pumps a consistent jab and works in combination on the feet. He’s dreadful defensively but has a good chin, and a BJJ black belt and active clinch give him strong secondary tools. Antigulov is a powerful light heavyweight who’s surprisingly light on his feet. A Russian Master of Sport in wrestling, Antigulov can grind in the clinch or snatch a single leg and work opponents over on top with efficacious punching, passing, and submissions.
Christensen is fresh off a win over another short, stocky wrestler in Bojan Mihajlovic but Antigulov is a different animal, being better in almost every facet of the game and eight years Christensen’s junior. Antigulov needs takedowns to overcome Christensen’s four-inch height and six-inch reach advantage and I think he can get them. I also favor him to win the pressure battle, as both men operate much better coming forward but Antigulov is more adamant. The pick is Antigulov by decision in a close, back-and-forth affair, but with the odds this wide, a value bet on Christensen is worthwhile.
- Junior dos Santos at +125
- Jessica Andrade at +140
- Yair Rodriguez at +105
- Krzysztof Jotko by decision at +130
- Jason Knight at +105
- Cortney Casey at -105
- Enrique Barzola at +120
- Half-bet on Marco Polo Reyes at +350
- Half-bet on Joachim Christensen at +300
- Demian Maia or Jorge Masvidal if either gets to +100
It’s been a few weeks since our last go, and Nashville wasn’t too kind to us. We went 3-4 on bets for a loss of $54 (calculating based on betting $100 per bet). Hopefully we will rebound this week with a lot of underdogs coming through for us. That being said, I am picking a lot of underdogs this week — and a lot of bets in general — so this week could feasibly backfire spectacularly. Only time will tell but pay special heed to the Editor’s Note at the bottom here.
Enjoy the fights everyone, 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.)