Beyond The Odds series shines a spotlight on the intangibles of three fighters for each UFC card. Here are 3 of the more intriguing fighters competing at UFC on ESPN+ 9 this Saturday as we head north of the border to Ottawa, Canada.
Matt “Robo” Sayles has been groomed under the tutelage of Dominick Cruz and Eric Del Fierro since entering through the doors at Alliance MMA as a high school student. 8 years of earning his stripes training with some of the brightest minds in the industry payed dividends, as Sayles’ high volume kick-boxing attack was enough to catch the eye of Dana White, and send Sayles on his way to the big show. The now 25 year-old, 7-2 California product takes on hometown Canadian, Kyle “The Monster” Nelson at 145 lbs.
Last time out, we saw Matt Sayles take a unanimous decision loss to heavy-hitting Brazilian, Sheymon Moraes, in a heated back and forth affair. It turns out there was much more to the story than meets the eye. Sayles absorbed four separate eye-pokes during the bout, resulting in a torn retina that eventually required surgery. Despite the injury in his UFC debut, Sayles showed he was comfortable in the pocket against a high-level opponent, landing crisp strikes, showcasing great footwork, and slipping punches with regularity. Sayles started slow, though finished with a very strong third round. In the end, it simply wasn’t enough.
Kyle Nelson, 12-2, fighting out of Musoka Kickboxing, spent the latter part of this fight camp preparing for Matt Sayles at The UFC Performance Institute. Nelson makes his return to the Octagon after taking a 2nd round stoppage loss to Carlos Diego Ferreira. “The Monster” brings a high-paced, grinding style in the hopes that it may break the will of his opponents.
Kyle Nelson could be in for a rude awakening here, as there appears to be a significant discrepancy in speed, timing, athletic ability, and overall skill-set in favor of Matt Sayles. Sayles’ willingness to close distance and meet fire with fire is what makes this matchup captivating, as he’s shown no hesitation in heading to the mat or sticking to his bread and butter on the feet. I think we’ll see Matt Sayles, the -225 favorite with a $9,100 DraftKings price, roll here in spectacular fashion.
Shane “Hurricane” Burgos gets the opportunity of a lifetime, as he takes on fading former WEC superstar, Cub Swanson, who has dropped his last three fights and nears the end of a hard fought career. Swanson, a pioneer at the featherweight division, hasn’t looked the same since a blood and guts war versus Doo Hoo Choi in 2016. If we take a deeper look into Swanson’s competition through the years, he’s fought a who’s who at 145lbs, and his only losses are to such fighters as Max Holloway, Renato Moicano, Frankie Edgar 2x, Brian Ortega, Jens Pulver, and Shannon Gugerty.
In this matchup, Cub Swanson will be giving up 5.5” in reach to a 28 year-old Burgos, who brings high volume boxing and a frenetic pace to the table. According to Fightmetric, Burgos lands at an impressive rate of 6.54 significant strikes per minute. The other side of this coin is that Burgos often leaves his hands down relying on head movement, and he’s there to be hit, as he absorbs 5.47 significant strikes per minute. We’ve seen Shane Burgos rocked in a number of his fights, including bouts against Kurt Holobaugh, Calvin Kattar, and Charles Rosa. I’m not so sure Swanson is going to be the one to continue this trend.
This matchup should come down to pace, will, striking prowess, and whoever is more defensively sound. At this stage in their careers, I lean towards the 11-1 Tiger Schulmann’s Mixed Martial Arts fighter to get the win. Don’t be surprised if you see a finish. At -170 on the betting line, and $8,800 on DraftKings, Shane Burgos is worth a play.
The main event of the evening features an intriguing matchup between top 10 lightweights, “Ragin” Al Iaquinta and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Iaquinta, 32 years-old hailing out of Long Island, New York, is a polarizing figure who epitomizes the spirit of hard working, straight shooting Long Islanders. Iaquinta enters this bout with a 14-4-1 record, as he continues his rise throughout the ranks. In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani, Iaquinta made no bones about how he sees this fight going as he states “My hunger, my drive, is all coming together at the right time. I think that I’ll break anybody.” Al Iaquinta possesses a diverse skillset between his sharp boxing, BJJ, wrestling, cardio, and will to win. Add in the synergistic relationship Iaquinta has with his coaches, Matt Serra and Ray Longo, and you have a recipe for success. “Ragin Al” should never be counted out, as we’ve see him implement solid game plans in recent fights against Kevin Lee, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Diego Sanchez, and Jorge Masvidal.
The grizzled veteran, Donald Cerrone, now 36 years of age, continues to defy time, as he holds an impressive professional record of 35-11. Cerrone, who appeared rejuvenated after the birth of his son, has recently gone on to dispose of both Mike Perry and Alexander Hernandez in dramatic fashion this past year. We know exactly what Cerrone brings to the table. “Cowboy” is a versatile fighter who possesses impressive standup, a strong clinch game, high level ground skills, and the composure to weather most early storms. If we take a look at the metrics, Cerrone averages a mediocre 4.20 significant strikes per minute, while absorbing 4.06 significant strikes per minute. Be aware that Cerrone will hold a 3” reach advantage in this matchup with Iaquinta. I expect this fight to head everywhere early. Cerrone will look to keep range, and Al may lead the dance, darting in an out with well timed power punches and grappling exchanges. Cerrone may look to land the same counter knees that were so successful in his last fight versus Hernandez.
When it is all said and done, I have faith that Matt Serra and Ray Longo will be difference makers in helping Iaquinta execute a masterful game-plan against a very tough opponent in Donald Cerrone. Look out for fluid movement, well-timed level changes, crisp boxing, distance management, and elite cardio to seal the deal down the stretch. At $8,400 from a DraftKings perspective, and -110 on the betting line, I’m picking Al Iaquinta to get the win.