By: Lee Berthiaume
Here I am, sitting in an airplane on my way to Las Vegas for International Fight week to enjoy the finest festivities that the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has to offer. Although there have been a few disappointing changes to the back-to-back fight cards (namely the loss of potential barnburners in Lawler/Cowboy and TJ/Cody), fans are still being treated to some excellent matchups this weekend.
In Friday night’s main event we have top 5 Lightweight, Michael Johnson battling it out with UFC newcomer and absolute madman Justin Gaethje, in what has “fight of the year” potential. On Saturday night we’ll get to experience the best possible matchup the 185 pound division, if not the entire sport, has to offer as 40 year old freak athlete Yoel Romero takes on surging knockout artist, Robert Whittaker. To cap things off, the curtain-closer is a stellar rematch between the lioness of the 135 lbs division, Amanda Nunes who will be battling striking sensation, Valentina Shevchenko in a battle that is likely to end with an exclamation mark one way or another.
Re-cap of UFC/Bellator weekend
In our last article we gave out 5 plays for the combined UFC/Bellator weekend, going 4-1 while netting a tidy 4.62 unit profit. In the Bellator event our lone underdog, Douglas Lima pulled through with a decision victory over former UFC and Strikeforce standout Lorenz Larkin while 20 year old Conor McGregor sidekick, James Gallagher put on a brilliant performance making quick work of karate stylist, Chinzo Machida. Our title fight bet unfolded as expected with a closely contested match between Phil Davis and Ryan Bader that heard the final bell. During the UFC event the following night Tony Martin showcased improved striking and cardio as he outhustled and outlanded Johnny Case, while we suffered our only loss of the weekend when Jeremy Kimball landed a short little right hand that clipped Josh Stansbury awkwardly behind the ear, shutting off his ability to defend himself. All-in-all it was very profitable weekend for us and we’re looking to carry that money-making momentum into fight week.
As always, I have 5 money-making, bookie-breaking plays lined up for you. So sit tight, pay attention and find out how you can make some extra beer money in the Sin City this weekend.
If You Don’t Recognize His Name, You Will Soon
Much like the Bellator event where we capitalized on the public overvaluing the name value of a “UFC fighter” and giving too much credit to the “level of competition” angle, Michael “The Menace” Johnson is being overvalued by the public in the main event slot where he will be squaring off with a UFC newcomer who is the absolute definition of action, in Justin Gaethje.
NCAA Division 1 All-American, Justin Gaethje is a relentless, wrestling-based fighter who brings heavy hands, thunderous leg kicks and pressure, pressure and more pressure. The intensity that he fights with is a thing of beauty. One of the most aggressive fighters on the planet, Justin loves to get in the pocket and swing for the fences, looking to break his opponent’s will, then jaw, and in that order.
An entertaining fighter in every sense of the word, Gaethje isn’t without shortcomings. At times, he’s so aggressive that he leaves openings for his opponents to land clean on him, something that a hard-hitting sniper like Johnson will no doubt be looking to capitalize on. Gaethje also fights at a pace that’s nearly impossible to keep up, so in this weekend’s 5 rounder he could be a little short of oxygen if an early finish doesn’t materialize. The last criticism of the soon-to-be fan-favorite is that despite being a very capable wrestler, his lust for violence causes him to throw caution out the window and go after each opponent head on with little regard for gameplanning or point-fighting. He’s in there to cause destruction, plain and simple. There’s no wrestling for the judges’ decision with this cat, he’s in the business of bringing the pain. Although his route to victory in this matchup would likely be a little clearer should he choose to implement a wrestling-heavy approach to exploit Johnson’s lack of grappling chops, given his mindset it’s tough to see it happening. He is most likely going to come out like a bulldozer looking to destroy his high-level opponent in brutal, violent and entertaining fashion.
Will Gaethje be able to avoid eating a clean counter from sharp-shooting slugger Michael Johnson, given his history of engaging in firefights with his chin in the air? There is no certainty in this game, but sitting as a 1.5:1 underdog in this very evenly matched fight, he is clearly the right side to play, as far a betting goes.
Risk 2 units on Justin Gaethje to win 2.9 units
Let’s Run it Back, One Last Time
To culminate an 11 year trilogy, 2 elite Heavyweights nearing the tail-end of their career will be squaring off one last time. In a division that has always been slightly shallow and short on exciting title contenders (Francis Ngannou aside), a clean win in a fight like this would put the victor not too far off from earning yet another title shot.
These two last locked horns back in 2011 under the Strikeforce banner, with Overeem taking the unanimous decision victory after Werdum was unsuccessful in scoring takedowns and got outpointed on the feet. Both guys are a little older and have made adjustments and improvements in their respective careers since then, but regardless this one is expected to play out more or less the same. Werdum has become a more proficient striker since that time, but he’ll be turning 40 years old this month and likely doesn’t have the wrestling needed to get a monster like Overeem to the mat. Aside from clipping Overeem’s questionable chin during a bull-rush, he doesn’t have much of an avenue to success here on the feet. He’s unlikely to out-strike Overeeem for 15 minutes and will struggle to secure takedowns, meaning he’ll either end up losing another decision or get finished via strikes sometime during the contest.
Although heavyweight is the most volatile of all divisions and one single punch can quickly change the outcome of a fight, getting Overeem as a small favorite in a stylistic matchup that seems tailor-made for him is a no-brainer play, despite his inconsistency and possibly fading chin.
Risk 3 units on Alistair Overeem to win 2.5 units
Last Chance at the Big Dance
The loser of 4 of his last 5 fights, Travis Browne has all the physical tools to be a force in the division but seems to always find a way to underperform. A once highly-touted prospect, he has never lived up to his potential. Possessing excellent size, speed and athleticism for a heavyweight, the 6’7″ fiancé of Ronda Rousey has suffered setback after setback. This is a do-or-die situation for him here as he will likely be cut from the promotion should he suffer another loss. Luckily for him, he’s being given an excellent stylistic matchup in Alexey Oliynyk.
At 40 years old, Oliynyk is a talented submission artist who pulled off a highly unlikely Ezekiel choke from underneath the mount position in his last bout against Viktor Pesta. If the fight hits the floor “The Boa Constrictor” is always capable of snatching up a submission, but it’s unlikely that he has the takedowns or athleticism needed to get Browne to the mat. His gas tank is also dwindling as he ages and the speed discrepancy on the feet will be substantial. Obviously it’s hard to get that warm and fuzzy feeling when betting Travis Browne as a favorite, but this really is a matchup where he should walk away with the victory and his current line as the favorite is justified.
Risk 3 units on Travis Browne to win 1.56 units
Part 2, Extended Version
Much like King Kong Bundy favored the 5 count in Pro-Wrestling back in the day, Valentina Shevchenko absolutely favors the 5 round matchup this weekend. In this rematch between the two best 135 ladies on planet earth, Amanda Nunes has proven that she is able to bulldoze through anyone in the first round. She comes out hard and she come out fast and has the skill and tenacity to overwhelm her opponents early on, as she has done in her last two title fights, disposing of both Meisha Tate and Ronda Rousey in quick and brutal fashion in the very first round. She is undoubtedly the best 1st round fighter on the planet.
Nunes has the perfect combination of size, strength, skill and confidence needed to remain champion for years to come, that is, if she doesn’t allow her sole weakness — cardio, to be exploited.
Dominate early and fade late has been the theme of Nunes’ career and it was the exact story of the first encounter between these two ladies. Nunes was all over Shevchenko during the first 2 rounds, only to have the roles reversed as Valentina caught her stride and began to capitalize in the 3rd round, but ultimately fell short on time and lost the decision. Now the stakes are even higher and there’s an additional 10 minutes getting tacked on to this bout, which has been scheduled as a 5 round Championship match for all the marbles.
There’s no doubt that Nunes has the ability to use her size, strength and grappling to take down, work over and finish off Shevchenko early in this bout. The problem is, she also had that ability during their first encounter early in 2016 in what was only Shevchenko’s 2nd octagon appearance, but failed to seal the deal, despite earning the decision. Luckily for her it was only scheduled for 3 rounds, as all indicators pointed to Nunes being stopped had there been another round or two for Shevchenko to work, which there will be this weekend.
Although Nunes holds many advantages in this bout, she likely needs an early finish to win this bout. We are banking on Shevchenko being able to survive the early onslaught once again and flip the script towards the end of round 2 or 3 before securing a late stoppage over the exhausted Champion somewhere near the end of the 4th round, hopefully setting up a 125 lbs catchweight superfight somewhere down the line between her and her former Muay Thai adversary, 115 lbs Queen, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Risk 3 units on Valentina Shevchenko to win 2.88 units
A Dog With a Path
In a matchup that can be viewed as fighter vs athlete, Brad Tavares will be taking on Elias Theodorou. Tavares is a solid fighter with good takedown defence and effective striking whereas Elias is a great athlete who uses a distance kicking game and lots of grinding to win close rounds. Elias is the definition of a point-fighter, but he’s an effective one.
This matchup comes down to Tavares’ ability to effectively keep his back off the fence, keep it standing and out-box Elias. As with all of Theodorou’s fights, this one is likely to be a close bout, but despite his ability to win close rounds, Elias should not be the favorite in this matchup. We’re taking the dog at plus money to out-fight the point-fighter.
Risk 2 units on Brad Tavares to win 2.1 units