By: Lee Berthiaume
Welcome back to profitville, the town where value never sleeps and MMA bookies are giving away cash faster than Travis Browne can say “Bellator”. We sat last weekend’s unpredictable event out, opting instead to gear up for this stacked card, but we’re still riding a 3 event win streak netting over 10 units of profit in the process. Hopefully you all made it out of last weekend’s UFC with the tapout shirt still on your back, but If not we’ve got some solid plays lined up for this Saturday night’s star-studded UFC 214 card where a nicely compiled set of matchups are sure to bring some promising opportunities your way. So put on your man-thong and swimming goggles and let’s dive into this triple title-fight card head first.
Renan Barao, You Are Temporarily Off the Fade List, Don’t Blow It
Not long ago, Renan Barao was riding a 9 year, 32 fight win streak, which is virtually unheard of in a sport like this where padded records aren’t exactly the norm. He earned that record by beating the best that his division had to offer at the time and he often did it in impressive, leg-numbing fashion. Cut from the same cloth as his long-time training partner Jose Aldo, Barao is a nasty striker with nearly impenetrable takedown defence and a slick ground game in his back pocket for a rainy day. 3 years after losing his title courtesy of a shocking beatdown (and subsequent second beatdown in the rematch) courtesy of TJ Dillashaw, many MMA pundits were questioning, with good reason, Barao’s ability to rebound from that type of career derailment. After dropping a close decision loss to the hard-hitting Jeremy Stephens as his welcoming to the 145 lbs division and then winning a somewhat unimpressive decision over Phillipe Nover, he’s being billed by fair-weather fans as overrated, shop-worn and mediocre. For various reasons he likely isn’t quite the dynamo he was when he stood atop the Bantamweight mountain chopping down every challenger who tried to dethrone him, but at just 30 years of age and no longer cutting as obscene an amount of weight, Barao may still have enough fight left in him to pull off the upset as the betting underdog over his opponent, Aljamain Sterling on Saturday night.
Sterling is a high-level grappler who is consistently attempting to round out his skillset with a top-notch camp in Serra-Longo Fight Team. The 27 year old utilizes an effective distance kicking game to rack up points on the judges scorecards, but has not yet developed very effective hands to complement that portion of his standup skills. Being a young fighter on the rise, Aljo’s route to success in this matchup is likely to use a point-fighting strategy while employing a high-volume, cardio-based approach that allows him to squeak out a close decision over the former Champion. While it certainly isn’t impossible to envision this happening, especially if the ghost of Renan Barao shows up, the line in this fight seems to be released backwards. Sterling should not be the favorite, especially since this is a 140lbs catchweight bout, Barao should. As such, the smart bet here is to play the more seasoned fighter who has an excellent stylistic matchup in front of him, at plus money to boot.
Risk 4 units on Renan Barao to win 4.48 units
The Unlikely Career Resurgence of Demian Maia Stops Here
As a long-time Demian Maia fan and someone who has gotten frustrated watching Tyron Woodley fight at times, it’s difficult to go against the underdog here, but emotional bettors are broke bettors. The run that Demian Maia is currently on has been a thing of beauty to watch unfold. His improved takedown ability has translated so well at 170 lbs that he’s now regarded as one of the top takedown artists in the division. That’s an extremely rare feat for a world-class BJJ artist. Combined with a smothering top game that immediately forces seasoned grapplers to play defence, Maia is a stylistic nightmare for most fighters on the roster. As soon as he takes you off your feet your chances of getting vertical again before the bell sounds signifying the end of the round are slim to none. There is an old Carlos Machado quote that fits Maia perhaps better than anyone else competing in the sport today: “The ground is my ocean. I’m the shark, and most people don’t even know how to swim”.
Tyron Woodley is also a very proficient MMA wrestler, but given the stylistic matchup he will likely be using that wrestling in reverse. He knows very well how dangerous the 39 year old Maia is on the mat and that’s a game that he will not be too keen on playing. Instead, he’ll be using a counter-wrestling approach to try to keep the fight vertical and use his speed, athleticism and power to put Maia’s lights out. One of the worries for Woodley backers in this one is that he has shown a willingness to voluntarily back himself up against the fence throughout his career. Although those were completely different matchups, if he finds himself up against the fence in this one, the patented Demian Maia back-take will be a serious threat regardless of his ability to remain on his feet. Maia’s movement and balance from that position is phenomenal and he uses brilliant technique to transition from the clinch to back control as his opponents dig for underhooks or whizzer and adjust their hips to counter the takedown.
Despite being an extremely dangerous opponent and one with a significantly larger frame (not in terms of bulk, obviously), Maia is giving up a little too much athleticism in this one and he’s likely to get clipped at some point as he tries to close the gap. One takedown may be all that he needs, but Tyron has the perfect combination of takedown defence, strength and athleticism to avoid the mat altogether. After a few failed takedown attempts, we can expect to see the Champ land a career-ending bomb that sends the Brazilian crashing to the mat, ending his dreams of wearing UFC gold after a valiant run at the title.
Risk 3.62 units on Tyron Woodley to win 2 units
A Battle Between 2 Future Contenders
The matchup between 28 year old Renato Carneiro (Moicano) and 26 year old Brian Ortega is an important bout between two top 10 ranked, up-and-coming and undefeated prospects looking to move their way further up the featherweight rankings. It’s a high quality piece of matchmaking that promises to be an action-packed affair.
Moicano sports both a height and reach advantage, with a 3 inch gap in both departments. He also seems to be the cleaner striker and holds the edge in both offensive and defensive takedown ability and is proficient on the mat as an added bonus. Brian Ortega, on the other hand, is a submission specialist with excellent cardio, a granite chin and a relentless style. He has a will to win that many fighters his age are severely lacking and he has put it to good use so far in his young career. Although his go with the flow approach has been nothing but effective up to this point, this may be the fight where he finds out that it may need some fine tuning in case the finish doesn’t materialize. As aggressive and capable as Ortega is standing, he has often been a little too willing to stand and trade, given that his forte is grappling. The hole in his skillset appears to be a lack of offensive wrestling in comparison to others at the highest level of the sport. In each one of his last 3 consecutive fights, Ortega pulled off a stoppage in the very last round while likely being behind on the scorecards. As impressive as that is in terms of heart and git-er-done-dedness, dropping rounds then rallying for comebacks doesn’t exactly instill confidence at the bettor’s booth, unless you’re hunting for a submission or round 3 prop bet, that is.
We are looking for Ortega to show little regard for winning rounds once again while Moicano keeps it standing and uses his height, reach and superior striking ability to outpoint him on the feet. He may mix in a few late-round takedowns to impress the judges if any of the rounds are close, but his route to victory lies in effective striking.
Risk 4.2 units on Renato Moicano over Brian Ortega to win 3 units
When in Doubt, Assume They’ll Drag It Out
Although there are many question marks surrounding Alexandra Albu that can’t be answered by glancing at the abundance of butt shots she has floating around the internet, in the name of research you should probably cross that off your list anyway. The karate black belt and former competitive bodybuilder has only had a handful of MMA matches and hasn’t fought in a while so it’s tough to accurately gauge her entire current skillset but her opponent, Kailin Curran is more well-known to fans having competed in the octagon 5 times, though only managing to pull off one victory in all of those outings. The experience edge goes to Curran and while Albu will no doubt be in excellent physical condition, finishes in the women’s strawweight division are few and far between so a small play here on the reasonably priced over 2.5 rounds prop is justifiable.
Risk 1.6 units to win 1 unit on the over 2.5 rounds prop in the Kailin Curran / Alexandra Albu bout
The Third Time Is Not A Charm
Volkan Oezdemir stepped into the octagon on short-notice and pulled off a tight split-decision upset victory over UFC veteran, Ovince St Preux. The 27 year old then returned as a 4:1 underdog against surging prospect Misha Cirkunov and scored a quick 28 second knockout with an extremely short punch that temporarily turned the Latvian-Canadian’s lights off. These 2 victories quickly propelled him near the top of the division to a #5 ranking after just two bouts inside the octagon. While the kickboxing specialist has notched up victories over two named opponents, it is not extremely clear if his skillset quite matches his ranking just yet. At 27 years of age he certainly has time for improvement and has likely already begun to fill the holes in his game, but in the past he has shown to have fairly poor cardio and becomes increasingly more hittable as the fight goes on.
At 37 years old, Jimi Manuwa is 10 years the elder. While that’s usually a red flag in this sport, we’ll try not to read too much into it. Manuwa is a solid striker with ferocious hands. He also has a fair amount of UFC experience, going an impressive 6-2 in the UFC up to this point. Although he isn’t the most well rounded fighter on the roster, he is tenacious and has the type of fight-changing power that will serve him well in this matchup, especially if Oezdemir starts to fade and leaves openings like he has in the past. Jimi has historically made excellent use of body shots and he very well may utilize those to set up the kill shot. This one should stay on the feet for as long as it lasts, but Volkan will likely be the one getting tucked in for bed a little early on Saturday night.
Risk 2.57 units on Jimi Manuwa over Volkan Oezdemir to win 1.5 units
As usual, our 5 plays this week offer a little bit of everything – a few favorites, an underdog and an over/under play. It’s like the old saying goes, “variety is the spice that brings cash for life” or something to that effect. So let’s keep this streak going and cash those tickets on what is bound to be one of the best events of the year.