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If you’re an MMA fan, betting is likely the last thing on your mind right now. Even in a sport of upsets, how would you have guessed right on an upset like the Ultimate Fighting Championship sending one of the 10 best fighters ever to One Championship for Ben Askren?
Yes yes, it’s that sort of week, where a major news story overshadows the actual fights themselves. Nonetheless, on Saturday night, UFC Fight Night 138 takes place in Moncton, New Brunswick, with a light heavyweight headliner between Volkan Oezdemir and Anthony Smith at the top of the bill. Is it the creme de la creme? No. But, us fight fans are still magnetized to the 205-pound division and once Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson 2 goes down later this year, we’re gonna have to find some new title challengers, so all these fights have significance.
So, open your eyes and your wallets. There’s more to the fight game than just Ben Askren’s trolling videos on social media, you know. While we contemplate the shape and form of the UFC and One Championship to come, let’s figure out how we can make some coin in the meantime with :
Straight Up CashVolkan Oezdemir (-170)
Longtime readers and listeners will be well-appraised of the fact I’ve got a soft spot for Anthony Smith. He’s 13-2 in his last 15 fights despite leaping up a weight class and he always brings the fire in the cage. He’s an eight-point striker who backs down from nobody, mixes it up with every opponent and for a lower-level UFC card, makes an ideal main event foil. Unfortunately in this case, I think that’s that is liable to lead him to ruin.
Smith is pure offense. He throws caution to the wind, he engages his opponents’ at their strengths and simply tries to overwhelm him. What makes his game work more than anything else is slick and devastating clinch game, where he grabs a single or double collar tie, then can suddenly dish out devastating knees and elbows in the blink of an eye. If he can find ways over the course of this fight to initiate the sequences, he has an inside track to a stoppage and at worst, at least a way to generate some eye-popping offense. I just don’t think Oezdemir lets it get to that point.
Oezdemir’s entire game is based on both distance and activity. He lands a whopping 5.91 significant strikes per minute, and keep in mind that stat includes Daniel Cormier taking him to school in his UFC 205-pound title challenge. Hell, keep in mind, that number takes into account the fact he probably deserved to lose his UFC debut on short notice to Ovince St. Preux, but was able to sway the judges with his volume from distance. The Swiss fighter is not a defensive specialist and Smith will have the chance to rock him on the counter, but Oezdemir’s faithful jab, low kicks and body kicks will keep his opponent away from him for the vast majority of their main event encounter, stymieing Smith’s best and most lethal weapons.
Both men have some pop in their hands, but it’s going to be Smith trying to swing and initiate that sort of firefight. Oezdemir, not even just because he finished his training camp at Tristar MMA, is the party more likely to stay avoidant and land his shots from the outside. Also, do keep in mind that even if he works a counter-centric kickboxing game, Oezdemir has dusted 11 of his 15 pro MMA wins and Smith has been knocked out in eight of his 13 MMA losses. It’s hardly beyond the pale that even a circling, conservative Oezdemir might land a heavy right hook and be able to follow up for the stoppage within 25 minutes.
Straight Up PassAlex Garcia (-190)
I’m not sure this is something you would have wanted to bet on in the first place. But, just in case you had some compunction to do so, let me tell you to stay the hell away.
Court McGee hasn’t fought in a year while dealing with a constellation of injuries and he hasn’t actually gotten his hand raised in over two years. I’ll fully admit, this is dangerous territory, but Alex Garcia, fight in and fight out, is an experiment in how willing you are to give credit to an awesome athlete who isn’t necessarily a great fighter. If McGee was healthier and coming off a victory, this betting line might be literally flipped entirely. This entire line is predicated on unsureness about McGee’s fitness and what he can offer coming off the mend; if we sized this up in a hypothetical situation as “Both fighters are at their maximum physical capacity, who do you got?” no one on this planet would take Garcia.
Garcia is only 31, which only serves to underscore the idea everyone has while watching him: this guy could be something. He has a phenomenal grappling base, he is a beast in the clinch and naturally hits hard. Unfortunately, it’s the same thing every time out: he has seven minutes, if that, in his gas tank and completely runs out of steam once a fight gets going.
McGee is by no means a technician, but he motors through fights by tiring his opponents out. The man literally flatlined from a heroin overdose; he will never stop fighting in the cage. I have my reservations about how good he looks after a year away from competition, but against a low-output fighter who is all-too-reliant on his athleticism, I think McGee turns it nasty, figures out a way to land flurries of strikes, buys small takedowns and ultimately ekes out a razor-thin decision. Whether he does or doesn’t get his hand raised, McGee’s nastiness is enough to make you look elsewhere if you’re just looking for a smooth bet.
A Propular BetCourt McGee by Decision (+240)
Now, granted, there are safer bets than this. Andre Soukhamthath by decision is +140 and Sarah Moras to win by decision is +160. Undoubtedly, those bets have a level of security this one doesn’t have. But since we are on the topic, let’s expound.
As mentioned above, this comes down to whether or not you think McGee is going to get his hand raised after nearly a year away from the cage. More than that, given his fighting style, I think his bout with Garcia is going to come down to a contentious decision. McGee is never shy about eating strikes to parlay his way into the clinch and get his dirty boxing game going, which could lead to him eating some heavy shots early on. Still, he’s got a mean chin, covered up suitably with that thick chinstrap beard and his style is made to run Garcia’s shaky gas tank down to empty.
We are likely looking at a duel of 29-28 scorecards here; maybe that’s something you don’t want to bet on and I wouldn’t fault you for it. But this is going to be a fight where Garcia comes out hot, McGee figures out how to get his game off and overwhelms his opponent late. Plain and simple, if you think McGee can carry it off, you know how he is going to do it, and betting the prop at +240 makes more sense than hitting him straight up at +160.
An Un-Propular BetMichael Johnson by Stoppage (+175)
Again, when I do these props, it’s not necessarily whether or not I think it could happen or not. At his best, Michael Johnson is a murderous puncher and can make anyone at 145 or 155 pounds have their eyeballs spin around in their skull. I’ve singled this one out for a reason.
As you’re likely appraised of now, Johnson is a late replacement for Zubaira Tukhugov, after he dove into the cage at UFC 229 and tried to flex on Conor McGregor. But, even more than that, Artem Lobov is a running punchline for MMA fans who shrewdly realize that he is only still under UFC employ because of his association with McGregor. You brain is pleading with you: this man does not belong in the Octagon and Johnson is a low-key, underrated smasher. I hear you and follow your brain trail. But, like any MMA fight, you need to ask yourself, “How do these styles line up?”
The answer is “Not well.” Anyone with a brain knows that Johnson in an infinitely better wrestler, on top of having natural pop in his hands that could put Lobov on his seat. However, it takes two to tango; what do you think Lobov is going to do in this fight? Lobov is a natural counterboxer who spends the vast majority of every fight he’s in circling away and looking for the perfect punching opportunity. When faced with someone who had the advantage on him in every exchange, what do you think he’s going to do? Conor’s best boy is just going to circle, circle, circle, then circle some more.
I don’t want to be dismal, but this fight, unless Johnson lands a jab-hook from the depths of hell, is going to be awful to watch. The minute Lobov is fearful of his takedown -- that’s from the opening horn -- then gets a taste of his power, he’s going to turn tail. We like to imagine that superior fighters are able to put down stopgap opponents with purchase, but that’s entirely dependent on style. Lobov is a runner and Johnson will be frustrated chasing after him for the better part of 15 minutes. Even if you know who the better fighter is by miles, give this prop a pass.
An Accumulation ContemplationVolkan Oezdemir (-170)
Gian Villante (-245)
Steven Ray (-150)
Total Odds: (+273)
Don’t worry, I can already hear your heart catching in your chest over having Villante as part of a three-team parlay. Hear me out.
So, first of all, I’ve already explained why I think Oezdemir’s distance-based kickboxing style will allow him to top Smith, regardless of if he has to keep it up for five rounds or if he is able to land a crushing right hand and seal the deal. That’s not the thing making you crease your eyebrows.
Yes, Villante. Again, all of these articles are predicated on the idea of what is most bet-worthy on any given UFC card. I was thinking long and hard as to whether or not replace Villante with Sean Strickland at -120 against Nordine Taleb. However, you never know what you will get with Strickland; Taleb can lob some mean strikes while Strickland likes to rely on an unreliable jab and hurt himself on the judges’ scorecards. I can easily see that fight turning into a nip-and-tuck bit of nastiness on the scorecards. For a classic three-team parlay, we want something we can bank on and feel familiar with, so that’s how I approach it.
Now, Villante is typically the last kind of fighter I would advocate anyone betting on. He absorbs a truly shocking 5.29 significant strikes per minute and is honestly one of the worst notable defensive fighters I’ve ever seen in MMA. At the same time, he is a plus athlete who throws in volume, can strike and wrestle and more than anything, he’s facing a 38-year-old Ed Herman, who even a decade ago, was one of the slowest fighters ever. The man throws strikes and shoots takedowns like he is submersed in deep water. If anything could protect Villante, it’s facing a fighter that seems like he is perpetually encased in gelatin.
As for Ray, the Scotsman isn’t top scratch on the UFC roster, but he’s someone who is entertaining and exciting enough to stick around. He lost a squeaker to Kajan Johnson coming off a nasty knockout loss to Paul Felder. However, he smashed Ross Pearson and Joe Lauzon in his previous fights. He’s a sassy wrestle-boxer. “Braveheart” will never contend for a title, but this line feels like oddsmakers selling him short despite facing inferior competition. I expect liberal boxing combos and well-timed takedowns over Jessie Ayari to earn him a 15-minute decision at the very least.
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