Parlaying and Praying: UFC Fight Night 151 ‘Iaquinta vs. Cowboy’

By Jordan Breen May 3, 2019

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Betting on a fight between a beer-swilling cowboy and a vulgar, antagonistic real estate broker seems like a fever dream, but that’s exactly the prospect being offered by UFC Fight Night 151, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday heads back to Ottawa.

The UFC’s second trip to Canada’s capital city will be headlined by a clash of colorful characters as Donald Cerrone takes on Al Iaquinta in a lightweight affair. Admittedly, it’s not the strongest of UFC offerings, but it’s still anchored by two of the sport’s boldest personalities, both of whom almost always engage in entertaining fights. Better for our purposes, it’s a tightly matched slate of bouts, meaning it’s not filled with big favorites and no-hope underdogs. Just a few smart calls on a card like this can get you in the cash.

Emblematic of this dynamic, there has been a handful of fights on this card with considerable line fluctuation over the last two weeks, several of which have seen the betting favorite flip. Certainly, the betting public has been enticed by some of the potential here, so let’s figure out how to get the green -- well, this is Canada, so hopefully some pink and brown, as well -- on UFC Fight Night 151:

Straight Up Cash

Al Iaquinta (-115)

I know the section being called “Straight Up Cash” quietly implies that this fight pick is a mortal lock, but that’s not the case. Obviously, the line on this fight is close, and with good reason. In fact, Cerrone opened at -105 and got up over +130 before settling down to near even odds. Clearly, some folks are betting on Cerrone, who has won three of his last four after being seen as a decaying fighter following a three-fight losing streak. Nonetheless, gun to my head or wallet here, I ever so slightly favor “Raging Al.”

In the broad strokes, Iaquinta and Cerrone have a lot in common. While Cerrone might have three inches of reach on his opponent, both are well-rounded kickboxers who fight long and rangy. “Cowboy” might be the more active and diverse kicker, but Iaquinta still effectively and cleverly works heavy low kicks into his output. Statistically, they are highly similar strikers, with Iaquinta landing 4.30 significant strikes per minute to Cerrone’s 4.20, while both absorb 4.05 on defense. Both are underrated wrestlers, as well, although Cerrone is more comfortable attacking opponents when he is on his back. Iaquinta, who suffered two early career losses to Michael Chiesa and Mitch Clarke via submission, has considerably improved his defensive and transitional grappling. He managed to shuck off many of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s late takedowns despite already being worn out from the Dagestani’s relentless, powerhouse wrestling and escaped Kevin Lee’s back-control attack in his upset win in December.

The biggest threat to “The Ultimate Fighter 15” finalist is Cerrone’s scrambling and submission ability, but it’s hard to imagine that Iaquinta’s ever-animated corner of trainers Ray Longo and Matt Serra will not be imploring him to keep things standing. Fortunately for him, Cerrone probably won’t have too many reservations about engaging him. Also, Iaquinta is a particularly adroit counterpuncher with more pop in his hands than Cerrone and has had considerable success countering opponents off of their kicks -- strikes “Cowboy” will throw and throw often. Cerrone has been knocked out over the years by superior punchers, and he has even been outworked by superior boxers with strong defensive wrestling, a la Leon Edwards. This is not a slam dunk by any means, but Iaquinta deserves to be the slight favorite here, so this is a righteous play.

Straight Up Pass

Derek Brunson (-110)-Elias Theodorou (-110)

This fight has basically maintained its even-odds status since it was announced, and in a way, it makes sense when you consider the style matchup. I will say outright that I favor Brunson ever so slightly, but am I ever going to advise someone to bet on him, especially in a pick-’em fight? Absolutely not.

Brunson, a three-time Division II All-American wrestler at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, came onto the scene reliant on his powerhouse wrestling. Remember, he took down Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero multiple times. Then he found out he packed a wallop in his hands and went on a five-fight winning streak, which may have been both a gift and a curse. By becoming overly aggressive on the feet and preferring to strike, Brunson has revealed his own volatile mortality, losing several fights by forcing the standup and getting clocked by his opponents, most recently evidenced in his back-to-back losses to Ronaldo Souza and Israel Adesanya in 2018. Quite simply, Brunson has proven to be his own worst enemy.

Meanwhile, Theodorou, while being a plus athlete himself, has found success by utilizing a high-volume, disjointed style. He alternates between awkward salvos of kicks and prolonged clinch battles, which has made it exceedingly hard for fighters to look good against him. He lacks the striking power that has really been Brunson’s downfall, but he’s great at muddying up fights and, even if he loses, making his opponents fight within his own ugly paradigm. Almost all of Brunson’s stoppages have come early in the first round, where he can just jump on his opponents and land hands, but Theodorou will almost assuredly string him out early, maintain distance and kick at him. If Brunson gets annoyed or frustrated, it’s uncertain how he will end up attacking Theodorou and how effective he will be. Brunson’s punching power and wrestling advantage give him the slight nod, but given his flaky past and Theodorou’s penchant for disrupting opponents in ugly fights, I’m not touching this one.

A Prop-ular Bet

Brad Katona Wins by Decision (+325)

This one shocked me. First of all, Katona opened as a -230 favorite before a large amount of money coming in on opponent Merab Dvalishvili made him a +150 underdog. Of all the fights on this card that have had real flux on the odds, this one is the most puzzling by far.

Katona isn’t flashy, but he’s effective. He’s undefeated and won “The Ultimate Fighter 27,” albeit a weak season, for a reason. I suppose I can understand that some folks are banking on Dvalishvili’s relentless grappling attack to stymie Katona, who despite being the more well-rounded fighter won’t enjoy the straight wrestling advantage that he normally enjoys. However, since his spinning backfist win over Raufeon Stots, Dvlaishvili has become overzealous in his standup attack -- a reality that could lead to his getting countered by Katona’s sharper striking, particularly his jab and lead left hook.

This fight is by no means a walk in the park for Katona and it is going to be a grind, but he was the opening favorite for a purpose. Given that the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native isn’t a natural power puncher and his submission wins have largely come from top-position pressure, he’s going to have to keep it up for 15 minutes. With that said, the Canadian seems to have the smarts and skills to capitalize on Dvalishvili’s bull-in-a-china-shop routine. The disparity in Katona at +150 to win and +325 to win a decision -- the overwhelmingly likely route to a potential win -- demands some attention.

An Unprop-ular Bet

Donald Cerrone-Al Iaquinta Goes Over 3.5 Rounds (-110)

This one is a bit more nuanced and is a combination of math, logic and the style clash. In theory, this doesn’t seem like a bad prop. Sure, it’s possible that Iaquinta or Cerrone could score a stoppage before three and a half rounds, but -110 is a pretty good number for a very possible outcome. There’s simply a better way to maximize your money if you’re betting on the length this fight lasts.

I do think it’s more likely that this fight goes longer than 17 and a half minutes. I mentioned above that I believe Iaquinta will try to keep things standing and pick smart counter shots to bust up Cerrone with his superior hands. I don’t think he will tempt the ground with the slick grappling “Cowboy” wields, and his rugged chin should save him from getting knocked down and jumped on the way Cerrone has submitted so many others. I think this is a battle of striking attrition, regardless of who you favor in the contest.

Why pass on this prop? Well, if we do go beyond three and a half rounds, we likely we have settled into a particular striking rhythm, rinsing and repeating, and that dynamic suggests we’re going to go the full 25 minutes. When we do see fourth- and fifth-round stoppages at this level, they tend to come in a different kind of attritive fight, where one fighter is simply wearing out another with relentless top pressure and ground-and-pound, either trapping him or getting a mercy-kill submission. That doesn’t seem likely in this fight, so avoid it if you think we’re in for an early stoppage; and if you think we’re going past three and a half rounds, bet the prop on the fight going to decision at the much juicier +155.

An Accumulation Contemplation

Brad Katona (+150)
Andrew Sanchez (-170)
Juan Adams (-130)
Total Odds: +602

Putting together a three-team parlay that has a decent payout can be tricky for a card like this, but I think this one balances risk and reward effectively. As the best underdog on the card, Katona seems like a must to include, and his number really improves the multiplier here. If we remove Katona and replace him with, say, Walt Harris at -165, the total odds drop to +351.

Sanchez, another forgotten “Ultimate Fighter” winner, would be a much larger favorite taking on Marc-Andre Barriault if he hadn’t been clobbered via strikes in three of his four career losses and wasn’t facing a really potent puncher. It would also help if he had fought more than twice in over two years. That being said, despite “El Dirte” not being any sort of electrifying prospect and being a little chinny, Barriault for all his punching power doesn’t have much beyond that, has faced mediocre competition and possesses a really weak defensive wrestling game. Sanchez, so long as he doesn’t get clipped with the hands, shouldn’t have a problem exploiting Barriault’s shoddy grappling.

As for Adams, he is a highly intriguing prospect and should stay undefeated. Arjan Singh Bhullar is a stout, smothering wrestler but doesn’t have much in the way of offense beyond grinding with short punches on top. He’ll have to offer something more to deal with Adams, who is a physical freak at a brickhouse 6-foot-5 and 265-plus pounds. “The Kraken” is at his best when he can get on top and use his brutal ground-and-pound to pulverize opponents, but in his UFC debut against Chris de la Rocha, he showed surprisingly good cardio and tempo for a heavyweight his size, as well as an impressive jab and even some thudding kicks. He should be able to thump Bhullar standing, and if he winds up on top somehow, it’s going to get ugly.
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