There are two belts on the line, and a whopping 12 fights on UFC 216 this Saturday. So rather than the usual preamble, let’s jump right into the odds and see what jumps back out at us on this card. Opening lines from 5Dimes Sportsbook are in bold.
Tony Ferguson (-185) vs. Kevin Lee (+145): I understand why Ferguson is now a -230 favorite in this fight, and I believe he wins, but I can’t say I’m interested in betting him here. To me, there are some answers we don’t have about Lee that keep me from feeling overly confident having money against him. For instance, how will his cardio hold up over 25 minutes (if the fight goes that long). We haven’t seen him slow appreciably across 15, and he has a pretty high-intensity style. We also know the chin isn’t great, but how have his defense and entries improved? Ferguson is a good striker, but his biggest weapon is his volume and pressure, not pinpoint accuracy. If Lee can prove early that he can take Ferguson down (I believe he can), and that threat is present for the entire fight, it should make Ferguson a bit more hesitant to come forward, as it will open him up to more takedowns. This will also be (or at least should be) the first time since the Danny Castillo fight that Ferguson’s opponent will be employing a grappling first gameplan against him. Even beyond Ferguson being a complete dummy in that fight and (rolling for leglocks and the like), Castillo had excellent success against him on the ground. It’s been over three years, and Ferguson has undoubtedly improved on the mat, but it will be interesting to see how he responds to having to work from his back (or even have Lee take his back). In the end, I just think 25 minutes is too long for someone of Ferguson’s activity level to not catch someone with the defensive issues we’ve seen from Lee, but I can see where the path would be for Lee to win this fight.
Demetrious Johnson (-1250) vs. Ray Borg (+800): I’m writing this prior to weigh-ins, so who knows if this fight is even still happening. Assuming it is, I’ll be far more brief than I was in breaking it down last time: Ray Borg is not the guy to stop Demetrious Johnson’s run. He might score a takedown or two in the opening round, but even as good a scrambler as he is, he won’t be able to control Johnson. As soon as this fight requires Borg to compete with Johnson in any other realm, he’s in trouble. Maybe he won’t get finished, but I have a feeling that a pair of weight cuts in a month for a guy who sucks at weight-cutting is going to leave him pretty drained in the championship rounds, and Johnson likely scores a late stoppage.
Fabricio Werdum (-230) vs. Derrick Lewis (+170): So as much as we all love Lewis for his social media prowess, he essentially has one tool in MMA: his ground-and-pound. He happens to be going up against the greatest heavyweight grappler in MMA history. That’s not ideal. On top of that, Werdum is the better striker, and has the patented Rafael Cordeiro left body kick. Lewis was hurt about 12 times to the body by Travis Browne. This is not a good matchup for Lewis. I know, I know, “heavyweights” and all that, but even an aging Werdum who possibly has a depleted chin is just too much for Lewis. Unfortunately, the moneyline of -255 might be the best bet for Werdum, as every avenue to victory is open to him here, and Decision, Sub, and TKO are priced too low (+205, +250, and +385, respectively) to make any particularly appealing.
Kalindra Faria (-270) vs. Mara Romero Borella (+190): I’ve never seen Borella fight, so take this with a grain of salt, but she lost to Anna Elmose. It wasn’t even that long ago (just over two years). I have seen Faria fight, and she’s pretty solid. She definitely would not lose to Anna Elmose. Hard-hitting analysis.
Beneil Dariush (-230) vs. Evan Dunham (+170): We’ve seen enough of Dunham at this point to realize that while he has a ceiling, beating Dariush is certainly within that ceiling, right? And we’ve seen enough of Dariush to know that while he’s talented everywhere, he’s also just unathletic and flawed enough to lose to guys who aren’t as good as him, right? Luckily for Dariush, Dunham doesn’t have the type of quick strike ability which usually causes his downfall. The likely scenario is Dunham plays a bit too tentative here, losing a decision to the forward pressure of Dariush. I’d be interested to see how Dariush holds up if Dunham makes this a wrestling match though. As a sidenote, Dunham is another fighter on this card who has been hurt to the body, and Dariush has the left kick to exploit that. +410 on the TKO prop isn’t quite enough for the shot here, at least for me.
Tom Duquesnoy (-150) vs. Cody Stamann (+110): You know that hype on Duquesnoy is real when you look at this fight from this myopic point of view. French prospect vs. American prospect, and money is coming in on the French guy. Stamann is now a +140 underdog in this fight, which isn’t massive, but is somewhat intriguing to me. The biggest key in this one is whether Stamann’s speed will hold up at 135, as he’s almost certainly the stronger and more powerful of these two fighters. If he is fast enough, I think his boxing is good enough to put hands on Duquesnoy’s chin, and that could be trouble for the 24-year-old. Full props aren’t out quite yet, but the +476 on Stamann ITD (or the TKO number, if it’s significantly higher), are on my short list for round robin legs.
Lando Vannata (-260) vs. Bobby Green (+180): This has all the makings of a close fight, so I’m not surprised the line has hardly moved. This could also be an infuriating fight to watch as a bettor, as both of these fighters have tendencies that can get under your skin. Vannata seems more concerned with effecting cool-looking offense than winning fights, while Green seems like he’d be just as at home delivering a 15-minute monologue as in a cage. Both guys have very good striking skills underneath those things though, and I could easily see another split decision loss that Green ends up upset about because he doesn’t realize the judges aren’t awarding debate points. Nothing on the board is appealing to me as a bet on this one.
Poliana Botelho (-150) vs. Pearl Gonzalez (+110): Generally when it comes to mid-level striker versus mid-level grappler in women’s bouts, I side with the grappler since the power threat isn’t there from the striker to warrant respect and help keep distance. All five of Botelho’s wins are by TKO, so maybe that isn’t the case here, but I can’t help but think this fight ends up being more about her takedown defense than anything, and we don’t have a great gauge of that yet. She is from Nova Uniao though, so if there’s anywhere that someone will come into the UFC ready to stuff takedowns, she’s in the right place. I’ll be staying away though.
Walt Harris (-300) vs. Mark Godbeer (+220): If you’re ever looking for (more) proof that the UFC’s divisions are becoming diluted, just remember that Walt Harris was the underdog (and lost) to Soa Palelei in the UFC in 2014. In 2017, he’s more than a 3-to-1 favorite. He probably wins this one too, since Godbeer doesn’t have the grappling necessary to shut down Harris’ offense. Unlike the Werdum/Lewis bout, the puncher’s chance has a much bigger probability of coming into play here, but once again I’m not seeing anything I really want to bet here.
Magomed Bibulatov (-405) vs. John Moraga (+285): Aside from catching a guillotine on a takedown attempt, what is Moraga’s path to victory in this one? The fact that Bibulatov (currently -600) is going to close around the same number against Moraga that he did in his UFC debut against Jenel Lausa just shows how impressive he’s been in his career thus far. Moraga is the biggest test he’s faced, but stylistically it’s a good matchup for Bibulatov. Moraga isn’t a high output fighter and he’s too content to give up takedowns in order to look for his guillotine. That means he’s likely in for 15 minutes of a tiny Chechen on top of him. I’d like to see some finishing ability out of Bibulatov at the UFC level before we start talking about his as a legitimate contender, but this probably isn’t the fight for that.
Brad Tavares (-155) vs. Thales Leites (+115): I’m not seeing what has pushed Tavares up to nearly 2-to-1 in this fight. These guys are both on the same level to me, even considering Leites’ age. They struggle mightily against the best fighters in the world, and beat pretty much anyone outside of the top 15. Leites is better on the ground, underrated on the feet, and a bigger threat to finish this fight. Tavares could keep this standing and win a decision, but even if he keeps it standing there’s no guarantee this fight is his. At +165, Leites may be worth a shot, and upwards of +350, Leites by decision is worthy of my consideration for a round robin.
Matt Schnell (-190) vs. Marco Beltran (+150): This is now a pick ’em. At that price, I like Schnell. Beltran has shown holes defensively in all aspects of his game, and while Schnell isn’t a world-beater, he’s dangerous everywhere. Maybe the Beltran’s win over Marlon Vera is influencing this movement, but that victory looks much more impressive now than it actually was (and what I mean by that is Vera won that fight), and Beltran has been consistently outgrappled in the UFC. If Schnell comes in with a grappling gameplan, I think he picks up his first UFC victory.