Parlaying and Praying: UFC 237 ‘Namajunas vs. Andrade’

By Jordan Breen May 10, 2019
UFC 237 goes down on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Ultimate Fighting Championship now has just one Brazilian champion, but the odds suggest it is going to get a second. Should we bet on it?

Strawweight queen Rose Namajunas will make the second defense of her title at Jeunesse Arena, where she takes on Brazilian powerhouse Jessica Andrade on enemy turf. It will be Namajunas’ first time fighting outside the United States and oddsmakers are not viewing the scenario as a hospitable one: Andrade opened as a -120 favorite and has actually climbed to -130 since. Nonetheless, the bout is intriguing on the whole and in the betting sense, with “Thug Rose” having taken back-to-back wins over former pound-for-pound ruler Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who previously dominated Andrade. The Brazilian’s recent tear and the dynamic style clash only enhances the situation.

Speaking of Brazilian champions, we also have two former longtime UFC champions and MMA legends on the bill, as Anderson Silva meets big hitter Jared Cannonier and Jose Aldo faces surging Aussie Alexander Volkanovski. Both betting lines are competitive, but is it worth plunking down some coin on a pair of aged all-timers? Let’s find out as we figure out how to make some money on UFC 237:

Straight Up Cash

Jessica Andrade (-130)

Obviously, if we’re using classic, dopey MMA math, this seems like a silly line. Two years ago, Andrade was outclassed in her first UFC title challenge against Jedrzejczyk, while Namajunas soundly toppled “Joanna Champion” twice. However, we know that styles make fights, and even with Namajunas constantly improving -- it’s hard to tell even at this point how much of her potential she has actualized -- Andrade is a pretty miserable matchup for her.

Namajunas’ improvement, her emergence under the tutelage of Trevor Wittman and her wins over Jedrzejczyk have been largely predicated on the development of her jab, which is the straw that stirs the drink for the rest of her traditional martial arts-influenced striking. The problem: Despite her dynamism on the feet, she’s not a major combination thrower. By no means is Andrade a defensive specialist, but her defense is her offense. She absorbs 5.04 significant strikes per minute, but that’s largely informed by the fact that she lands a staggering 6.58. More than that, Andrade, a former bantamweight, is a brute and among the hardest hitters in the division. Yes, she will eat punches, but she has always demonstrated a strong chin and is comfortable eating a few shots to get in her more devastating pops. Namajunas has shown a tough jaw in her own right but has still been susceptible to counters over the years, and while Andrade isn’t a classic counterpuncher, she’s also not going to stop attacking in any instance, so anytime Namajunas opens up, she’s susceptible.

The tricky element here is the grappling department. Namajunas, for all her striking prowess, is really at her best when she’s working a fast-paced, scrambling game on the ground. She’s lightning-quick, aggressive in pursuit of position and submissions and has a natural knack for taking the back. Andrade has been tapped before, albeit at 135 pounds, but her preference for powerslamming opponents and recklessly trying to pound on them could afford Namajunas some opportunity to flex her most natural skill.

With that said, Namajunas cannot match Andrade’s pure horsepower in the wrestling and ground-and-pound game, and she certainly hasn’t faced any women who are going to pose the physical, predatory threats “Bate Estaca” will. On top of that, it’s still worth considering that Namajunas is fighting in Brazil, having never competed outside the United States and just spent 13 months on the shelf due to a lingering spinal injury. Namajunas may up her game again and surprise us once more, but I think the smart money here is on Andrade.

Straight Up Pass

Alexander Volkanovski (+120)

Volkanovski, 30, is just entering his prime. He has won 16 fights in a row and owns a perfect 6-0 mark inside the Octagon. This bout with Aldo is not just perfect matchmaking, but in many folks’ eyes, it represents the ideal situation for “Alexander the Great” to break out and emerge as a featherweight title contender. Are they wrong? I’m not quite sure, and that’s why this puppy is a hard pass for me.

Regardless of outcome, Volkanovski is an awesome, exciting fighter who is still improving every time out. Even if he fails to get the W here, he’s not going anywhere. However, I think there are two aspects we have to consider: one, Volkanovski’s style, and two, this is Aldo. This cuts two ways, but we’re not talking about the Aldo who lorded over the featherweight division. Post-championship Aldo is a completely different beast, for better and for worse, and I contemplate heavily if it may be the latter for Volkanovski. The Aussie’s style is predicated on almost unfathomable, relentless pressure. He lands a massive 6.06 significant strikes per minute while averaging 3.37 takedowns over 15 minutes. I would never be so disrespectful to re-appropriate the nickname of a fighting legend, but Dutch kickboxer Ramon Dekker was “The Turbine from Hell.” If I had to bestow that tagline on any fighter today, in any combat sport, it would be Volkanovski. It is truly impressive the way he combines clean boxing technique, surprisingly adroit wrestling and overwhelming ground-and-pound at a ceaseless clip. Even so, Aldo is not Jeremy Kennedy or even a post-United States Anti-Doping Agency Chad Mendes.

The sticking point here is that Aldo, even though we view him as a faded force and even as a fighter who is perpetually talking about retirement after nearly 15 years of fighting, can still fight like few others. No, he’s not at the peak of his powers and he’s been usurped at 145 pounds by Max Holloway. However, there has been a shift with Aldo in his post-title run. There’s no more measured, technical mastery, no more brilliantly defensively jabbing and ripping off his opponents’ legs. Old Man Aldo is just vicious. He openly engages in firefights and flexes the punching power that we thirsted to see more often during his historic six-year reign atop the division. He is no longer the top of the heap at featherweight, but he is by no means a spent force and now fights with a devil-may-care attitude that, when combined with his skill, could spell ruin for Volkanovski in a single exchange. Even if he willingly ate shots in both fights, Aldo just clobbered Jeremy Stephens and Renato Carneiro, two respectable divisional contenders.

Volkanovski’s offensive game tends to be so effective because his opponents are constantly off-balance, as he brilliantly blends his striking pressure, crafty takedowns and ground-and-pound in endless, seamless fashion. Well, Aldo may have the best takedown defense in MMA history and has been taken down just twice in the last six years. If Volkanovski is eating winging power shots and Aldo is limp-legging out of all of his takedowns, this could get messy quickly, especially knowing how fiery Aldo can get fighting in front of a Brazilian crowd. By all means, I support the MMA circle of life, and seeing a new 145-pound contender emerge -- one who would make for a killer fight against Holloway -- would be spiriting. I just won’t be betting it.

A Prop-ular Bet

Jared Cannonier-Anderson Silva Goes to Decision (-155)

Cannonier is a potent puncher. Silva, one the greatest fighters ever, is 44 years old and clearly just going through the motions. Could we get a finish here? Sure. Maybe Silva is clowning around and gets bopped in the face like he did in his first fight against Chris Weidman; or maybe Silva gets five seconds of inspiration, combined with 22 years of technical striking mastery, and goes Bruce Lee on Cannonier’s face. However, based on recent history, what are you betting on?

I think -155 is a great number here. Silva has an official win in one of his last seven fights and, frankly, should be 0-6 with a no-contest, since the judges appointed by the New York State Athletic Commission decided to waylay Derek Brunson and cheat him out of a righteous victory. More than that, it’s not that Silva has lost obviously -- Cannonier is a -130 favorite -- but simply how “The Spider” has chosen to fight. I think the -130 straight-up number is a good play. For another $25-dollar risk, you’re insulated against any hinky, suspect judging like we saw in the Brunson contest should Silva’s annoying act happen to curry favor on the scorecards.

Again, this is not a vote of confidence in Cannonier. He’s a one-dimensional power puncher, who, to his credit, has trimmed down from heavyweight to a middleweight and prospered as a result. He’s facing a much more experienced, exponentially more skilled, infinitely more accomplished fighter. However, in the twilight of his career, Silva has truly embraced the perplexing, mercurial aspects of his personality, and it has manifested in his fighting. By simply taking the decision prop at -155, you’re getting a solid number for a fight in which Silva is likely to goof about and fight in the vein of self-preservation while Cannonier carries the rounds. Plus, you have the safety net in case Silva suddenly sparks to life, maybe one last time, and authors a vintage knockout.

An Unprop-ular Bet

Clay Guida-B.J. Penn Will Not Start Round 3 (-130)

This one is seductive for a whole host of reasons, chiefly the severe depreciation of Penn’s competitive ability and his recent, intimately troubling legal issues. Penn has always been a fighter who survived and thrived on his natural talent. Now that it is decaying, it lays bare just how sad the latter portion of his career has been. The man literally hasn’t won a fight in the over eight years. A fan who fell in love with this sport as a result of Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey would scarcely have any idea what a phenom Penn was in his prime, even if his rash and wild personality undermined him at every turn. Does that mean he is going to get finished?

This is more dependent on Guida than Penn. Guida -- always a bridesmaid and never a bride -- is like a metronome. We know how he is going to function. Actually, for betting purposes, this is the kind of line you look for, as you have at bare minimum, perfect information on one fighter. People tend to think of Guida as this hyperactive, grinding machine, but the fact is he only lands 2.33 significant strikes per five minutes, compared to 2.39 absorbed. However, this goes beyond the stats, because the primary way Guida sways judges is that he gets copious amounts of takedowns and lands short shots inside the clinch that don’t register under FightMetric count as significant strikes. Simply put, Guida is a motor engine and has found ways to game the system and the eyes of judges over the years, just because he never stops moving, throwing and attacking, even if he’s doing so in a fashion that you recognize won’t result in a stoppage.

I have little doubt that Guida is going to get his hand raised here. He is one of MMA’s all-time gamers, and even when he is technically or athletically outclassed, he gives the yeoman’s effort and will go down on his shield. Penn is essentially a shambling skeleton fighting for reasons known only to him. His family is wealthy, and unless his legal bills have piled up so high, I’m not entirely certain why he would subject himself to this kind of thing, although I imagine there is a nicety to just getting beat up for 15 minutes for high six figures. With all of this said, maybe part of Penn’s predilection for extraneous scrapping is that he’s a natural fighter, which I assume is informed by his having a mean chin. Guida is not a notable puncher, nor is he really a powerful ground-and-pounder. He is about pace and tempo. No doubt, he will run Penn out of gas and overwhelm him -- maybe we’re looking at 30-26 or 30-25 scorecards -- but he’s not a natural finisher, and even with Penn in a truly depressing personal and professional position, his chin should carry him through 15 minutes of embarrassment.

An Accumulation Contemplation

Jessica Andrade (-130)
Luana Carolina(-170)
Irene Aldana (-350)

Total Odds: +261

OK, I’ll admit this may be a bit of a soft three-team parlay since we’re betting straight favorites. If you’ve got the crystal ball-level sight, by all means, switch it up. You want to take Antonio Rogerio Nogueira to put one on last great boxing performance against Ryan Spann? Do your thing, but frankly, I’ve had a bunch of a parlaybusters recently, so we’re going to play it closer to the vest.

Andrade is the iffy part here, just because Namajunas is so good, is constantly improving and is just a pure gamer. “Thug Rose,” a nickname she got as a teenager because of her mean mug, is even more fitting as she grooves into being an elite professional prizefighter. Even if I’m taking Andrade to land harder shots to win a judges’ decision, I don’t doubt for a second that Namajunas could snap her mind into another place, hit a go-behind, take the back and choke her out. I think Andrade’s pace, output and overall hitting power wins the bout, but I’m on tenterhooks wondering how Namajunas might adapt and flourish.

Carolina, who got her UFC gig after a win over Mabelly Lima on Dana White’s Contender Series, has almost every physical advantage against Priscila Cachoeira. Unfortunately for her, Cachoeira is still defined by the fact that referee Mario Yamasaki played bystander while Valentina Shevchenko beat her brains in for nearly 10 minutes, but even if that might be prejudicial and cruel, it’s still reflective of her complete lack of defense. Carolina is a cleaner, savvier striker, and while she has largely feasted on weak opposition outside of Lima, she should be able to successfully counter Cachoeira’s careless standup, dictate range and tempo and secure a decision. As for Aldana … it’s easy to make fun of Bethe Correia due to the fact she got lamped by Ronda Rousey in half a minute and continues on with her brash personality, hip gyrating and general lack of technique. However, it’s not as though these tropes are generated from thin air. Correia is truly a sloppy fighter who makes up for a lack of technique with pure aggression and tenacity. I don’t see that playing against Aldana, who maybe hasn’t lived up to initial expectations since emerging as a prospect but is still a fastidious, clean boxer who should be able to easily play matador to Correia’s bull while boxing her up and taking the W.
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