Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
You can sign up for a free seven-day trial of ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC on ESPN+ live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
This weekend, we’ve got UFC 235 on tap, a card headlined by arguably the greatest fighter to ever grace the cage in Jon Jones, defending a title the promotion ripped off Daniel Cormier’s waist, against a largely faceless, anonymous challenger in Anthony Smith. Meanwhile, the media have spent the week fawning over welterweight kingpin Tyron Woodley and his former Mizzou wrestling teammate Ben Askren. It’s basically a Dana White nightmare from five years ago.
But, we know that the UFC’s president likes a good gamble. Why don’t we follow suit and find out how to make some change on UFC 235?
As of the time of typing, Jones is an -800 favorite over Anthony Smith, but that doesn’t invalidate this card. We’ve got an interesting title challenge with Woodley putting his gold on the line against Kamaru Usman, who is riding a 13-fight winning streak. We’ve got the aforementioned Askren making his UFC debut against one of the best 170-pounders ever in Robbie Lawler. We have former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt on the comeback trail, one of the hottest prospects in the game Zabit Magomedsharipov stepping up in competition, plus other blue chippers like Weili Zhang and Macy Chiasson looking to vault into contendership. It’s easy to critique any UFC card in 2019 for not being top-to-bottom solid, but this one is a darn good one. Let’s sweeten the pot for ourselves, then add some additional salt, as we put some sweat into the recipe with some bets on UFC 235:
Straight Up CashTyron Woodley (-150)
The good thing about UFC title doubleheaders is that for the purposes of this column, I get to pick and choose. Obviously, even though Jones is likely to simply crush Smith, a number between -800 and -1000 is not exactly a wise bet. Woodley at -150? Whole different story.
The best you can say for Usman is that he’s got two inches of reach on Woodley and is capable of switching stances. Yet, is Usman the guy going to launch into a full, fight-ending Tekken combo of wild strikes in the heat of a violent bout like Nate Marquardt was? Highly unlikely. I’m actually surprised this line is so close: Woodley has given up two takedowns over nearly nine years and it goes without saying he has massively improved his game over that time. Usman has improved his striking over the course of his MMA career, but “The Nigerian Nightmare” excels when he can land flurries of strikes, close the distance and transition into the clinch, whereas Woodley excels at rocking foes off the counter, hurting them when they rush in, plus has immaculate clinch skills to boot.
It’s hard for me to imagine what advantages Usman can flex in this particular fight. Woodley has virtually every striking advantage. Without having said standup advantage, it drastically reduces the efficacy of Usman’s wrestling, especially since he prefers to get to the body, chain takedown attempts and muscle his opponents. Woodley just isn’t going to let him get anywhere near to him and seek to work a distance-based punching game. Unless Usman can land the best single strike of his whole career, it’s hard for me to imagine him not simply getting trapped on the feet, countered with jabs and hard overhand rights and generally failing to get off any of his offense. This seems like a classic example of styles making fights and -150 on Woodley seems like an easy pass to cut in line and get to the pay window.
Straight Up PassJohnny Walker (-150)
As always, the standard caveat still stands here: this is not saying a particular fighter won’t win, just that the number oddsmakers have attached to them isn’t worth a bet. I enjoy Walker. In the span of just six months, he’s gone from a fighter not even considered much of a prospect on the Brazilian regional scene to racking up several exciting victories and flexing his considerable, boisterous personality. I’m in favor of all of this, just not this particular bet.
Walker is a nearly impossibly tall light heavyweight with a breakneck striking style. Again, I’m in favor of this; the man is damn exciting. That said, he is still a largely flawed fighter. Undoubtedly, Walker’s got eight-point striking technique and his ginormous size makes him difficult to handle, but he’s still a gangly striker, raw on technique, who compensates for his lack of textbook fundamentals with power and surprise. His opponent, Misha Cirkunov, has had some cold water thrown on his status as a potential title challenger at 205 pounds, but he is still a powerhouse wrestler with an excellent, finish-oriented top position game.
As mentioned, I’m not saying that this is any kind of sure bet. If anything, it’s the opposite: all kudos to Walker if he’s able to notch his third UFC win in just over three months and if he does so, it’s likely going to happen with a scintillating knockout. That said, his wins over Khalil Rountree, a physical hoss who can’t fight longer than five minutes and Justin Ledet, a boxer who can’t work more than a jab, weren’t especially threatening style matchups for the Brazilian. Walker’s issues in the UFC are going to come from veterans who can exploit his devil-may-care striking, whether that means a savvier striker, which Cirkunov is not, or a more accomplished grappler, which Cirkunov certainly is. I like this betting line being closer to pick ‘em odds and think Walker is in for a serious stylistic test, so despite all the sudden enthusiasm regarding him being an exciting new face for the UFC, skate on this bet, spend your money elsewhere and see if the man can prove his worth against the best opponent of his career.
A Prop-ular BetJon Jones-Anthony Smith Goes Over 1.5 Rounds
While I’m sympathetic to Smith’s underdog tale and happy to see that such a feel-good, entertaining fighter was in the on-deck circle when the UFC needed a challenger for Jones, I don’t think he’s got much of a chance here. After all, there’s a reason that Jones is anywhere from a -800 to -1000 favorite depending on your favorite sportsbook. That being said, not all one-sided demolitions happen in the blink of an eye. While “Jonny Bones” may be one of the most dominant athletes in MMA history, his beatdowns don’t typically happen quickly.
In fact, if we look through his recent -- or maybe not even so recent -- history, Jones only has one first-round stoppage in the last eight years and that came against Chael Sonnen in a much-mocked and pointless mismatch that almost immediately went down in the annals of MMA history as one of the most goofy UFC title fights ever. That spans a full 13 fights. Literally, outside of Sonnen, the last time Jones stopped a fight in the first nine minutes of a contest was Vladimir Matyushenko in August 2010. Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time and it’s not like this is some fundamental slight on Jones, just pointing out the fact that for all his offensive potency, Jones just doesn’t operate at such white-hot pace.
Jones operates at a deliberate and strategic pace. He usually uses his first round as a feeling out process, throwing range-gauging jabs and kicks. He uses early feinting to put the fear of takedowns into his opponents. In fact, that’s a theme of Jones’ attack: we all revere him as a devastating ground-and-pound artist and frankly, that’s justified. However, he only averages 2.09 takedowns per 15 minutes; part of that is due to the fact that his opponents are seldom able to get back up or lucky enough to get the end of said round, but also consider that Jones’ last 12 fights have all been 25-minute affairs. Is Jones going to roll over Smith? More than likely, but for as much as we may look back on this as a historically noteworthy UFC title mismatch, Smith is not a chump and Jones isn’t a speedy operator. Jones is good enough to end things quickly if he wanted to bumrush Smith, but everything about how he’s fight over the last eight years tell us that’s not likely; a -140 line for Smith to last seven and a half minutes, simply just surviving against a fighter that likes to play with his food, is a generous boon.
An Unprop-ular BetZabit Magomedsharipov Wins Inside the Distance (+185)
In 16 career wins, Magomedsharipov has only gone to the judges on three occasions, and he’s 4-0 inside the Octagon with three stoppages, so it’s not like the Dagestani isn’t a finisher. That said, I would caution against this prop, as I think this is a case of a coveted and talented prospect against a grizzled, rock-chinned veteran and some bettors might be seduced might be seduced by simply thinking “Wow, Magomedsharipov is a stud and Stephens has defensive holes!” In a broad stroke, both of these things are true and no, it wouldn’t be a shocker if Magomedsharipov was able to stop this fight, but I think a lofty line may have some folks thinking this is a sweeter play than it is.
Yes, Magomedsharipov is a flashy striker with some exotic offense, between his powerful combination punching and spinning kicks, but Stephens has been stopped via strikes just twice in 43 pro MMA bouts; one of those was a miraculous and unexpected flurry from Yves Edwards over six years ago and the other time was in his last outing, against the legendary Jose Aldo, who went full-blown savage and destroyed Stephens with a gruesome body shot. Now, Magomedsharipov isn’t purely a sassy standup artist and in fact, he’s got more submissions than knockouts on his resume. However, when you see how Magomedsharipov generates his submissions, it comes based on a constant workrate. What he actually does is use constant barrages of surprising strikes, relentless takedowns and top pressure to create these situations. In fact, the most staggering Magomedsharipov statistic, in spite of the praise for his striking, is actually that he has landed an insane 7.24 takedowns per 15 minutes in four UFC fights, including a staggering 11 against Sheymon Moraes alone.
So, how does that play against “Lil Heathen?" On the surface, Stephens’ 64 percent takedown defense doesn’t seem especially impressive, but outside of giving up five takedowns to Frankie Edgar, it’s not like he’s had many bad wrestling outings. Moreso, what tends to hurt Stephens’ defensive wrestling is when he gets too anxious and overzealous, wanting to initiate a brawl and walks hip-first into a power double. That’s the weird paradox of Stephens: he’s a powerful counterpuncher by nature but he’s impatient to a fault, tending to open himself up to his opponents’ offense when they tease him out and carefully jab, leg kick and pot shot him. Magomedsharipov figures to actively engage Stephens, which should keep him in an honest form of combat and even if he may give up some takedowns, it’s worth remembering Stephens hasn’t been submitted in over 10 years. I think Stephens is the perfect step up in competition for Magomedsharipov and expect the Dagestan native to look fantastic here, but that’s a different story from whether or not he can polish off Stephens within 15 minutes. The UFC put Stephens in this fight for a reason: he’s sturdy and tough as hell, so no matter how much Magomedsharipov thrills you in the cage, better to just enjoy the fireworks, all likely three rounds of them, and find a better prop elsewhere.
An Accumulation ContemplationTyron Woodley (-150)
Cody Garbrandt (-145)
Cody Stamann (-200)
Total Odds: +322
As explained above, not only do I like Woodley in his welterweight title defense, I think the line on him is a complete gift for bettors. Woodley has the stylistic striking advantage against Usman, should be able to thwart his takedowns and create a fight that may not be exciting, but should distinctly play in his favor, allowing “T-Wood” to land the more damaging punches in a low-output contest.
In Garbrandt’s case, I think bettors are advantaged by “No Love” coming off of two harsh knockout losses against former teammate T.J. Dillashaw and dropping the UFC bantamweight title. Certainly, the two losses to Dillashaw revealed some of the shortcomings of Garbrandt’s game and that he may be ripe for exploitation against a clever standup stylist who can close the distance, use feints and land creative barrages of strikes. While Munhoz is not a poor striker by any means, he is certainly a porous one. Yes, he’s got some pop in his punches and is nasty with his kicks to the legs and body, however, he also eats a whopping 5.4 significant strikes per minute, which is a truly horrible statistic for a fighter that primarily operates on the feet. As always, Munhoz is dangerous because he’s got power on the feet and can use that to transition into his ever-worrisome guillotine choke, but Garbrandt is the better pure boxer, has even more fire in his fists and his natural pressuring style should keep Munhoz on his back foot and eating punches for as long as the fight lasts.
As for Stamann, he’s got a little of the Garbrandt effect going on here, likely being a closer favorite than he would’ve been if Aljamain Sterling didn’t hit the Suloev stretch on him last time out. His foe, Alejandro Perez, is a ton of fun to watch and frankly, has drastically exceeded expectations since winning “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America,” going 7-1-1 inside the Octagon. That said, Stamann has fought markedly better competition and has wins over them, taking victories over the like of Tom Duquesnoy and Bryan Caraway. He isn’t a homerun hitter in the standup, but Stamann is a capable fundamental boxer and better, he uses it conjunction with his tough, chain-wrestling attack to keep his opponents off balance. A fighter like Matthew Lopez was able to liberally put “Turbo” on the canvas before ultimately getting cracked; Stamann has better striking and stamina than Lopez, plus the chops to keep Perez grounded for as long as he needs.
« Previous Fight Odds Prime Picks: UFC 235 ‘Jones vs. Smith’ Next Fight Odds Beating the Books: UFC 235 »