Looking at the fights on this card, I was initially pretty excited—lots of close fights usually means it’s a good card for betting. However, as I started breaking down the fights, I quickly found that most of the odds are fair, and most of the close fights have a few too many x-factors for me to feel comfortable betting. On top of that, the lack of uneven fights means there aren’t too many parlay opportunities that are sticking out to me. That said, let’s get into what wagers I like most for this card.
Vinc Pichel is a TUF alumni coming off his first win in the UFC and is a nearly 2-to-1 dog against veteran kickboxer Njokuani. I like Pichel here as a live dog.
Pichel, even though he’s 31 years old, only has 9 pro fights under his belt. He’s a huge lightweight that relied on his power punching early in his career (against lesser competition), and as of late has shown a bit more well-rounded game. He’s not really an expert in any area, but style-wise, I think he has the tools to pull it out against Njokuani.
By now, we know well what Njokuani can and cannot do. He’s a fantastic kickboxer to watch. He uses his fast punches and kicks in great variety to pick apart opponents and can pounce with knockout strikes when his foe is hurt. His takedown defense is relatively porous, but he does have great ability to get back to his feet, particularly if he has access to the cage to wall walk. He is certainly faster than Pichel on the feet, but he’s been hit against less technical strikers that are willing to go forward.
Pichel was absolutely ragdolled by Rustam Khabilov, but I don’t put much stock into that loss as it was not only a horrible style matchup for Pichel’s pro UFC debut, but also… uhh… Khabilov is in a different stratosphere. In Pichel’s second UFC fight, we saw him have some success on his feet against the taller Garett Whitely, and more importantly, we saw Pichel throw himself into a sound strategy of ground control. Pichel, while not a dazzling wrestler, showed some smart technique against the cage to land multiple takedowns, and once on the ground, he looked to pass using a knee-slide (a great guard pass for MMA and no-gi bjj where you go through the guard, rather than around it). I would like to see more aggression on the ground in terms of ground and pound, but Pichel seemed to have good awareness of what it takes to win rounds.
No doubt about it, Njokuani is significantly faster than Pichel and a more technical striker. Pichel is efficient on his feet, though, and relatively disciplined defensively and offensively. When faced with a rushing opponent, Njokuani prefers to back away then back away some more, and Pichel does have a strong leaping hook. Look for Pichel to at least threaten with this punch when Njokuani gets too satisfied with backing away and not countering. If Pichel can get Njokuani against the cage, Pichel has the skills to put him on his back at least momentarily, which is huge in terms of judging. Take into account Njokuani’s age and the number of fights he’s had, and I fully expect to start to see him on a sharp decline in his career. If that decline hasn’t started already, this could be it.
As I said above, I think Pichel is a live dog. Right now he’s sitting at +195, which may move a bit closer after weigh-ins. Style-wise I see this as a much closer fight, and as long as Pichel stays above +185 I’ll take him for a small play.
This is really the only fight on the card that stuck out to me as unrealistic odds. I like Chiesa, the TUF winner, over the Brazilian Trinaldo. Chiesa is a slight favorite and the line is moving closer to even.
Chiesa is a lanky lightweight that heavily relies on his grappling and submission savvy (particularly opportunistic back-takes) to control and grind down opponents. He’s competent on the feet and uses his length very well, particularly when he decides to unfurl a long left. The length on his punches allows him to engage in grappling exchanges on his terms; opponents will have trouble closing the distance. Against the veteran Jorge Masvidal, Chiesa dropped Masvidal with a punch coming out of the clinch. I think this punch says more about Chiesa’s overall development as an well-rounded MMA fighter, and less about the singular discipline of "striking." The timing on the punch, transitioning from clinch to striking, showed real awareness that I love to see out of developing fighters. Not to sound too Rogan-esque, but we should see a better Michael Chiesa each fight. What scares me a bit about Chiesa is that he’s almost too relaxed on the ground and can be lazy. Against Colton Smith, for example, Chiesa had his back taken early. He won’t be able to get away with these lapses against higher level competition.
Trinaldo, however, won’t be able to capitalize on any such error. Trinaldo is a hulking lightweight that has shown serious cardio problems in the past. On the feet, he likes to use leg and body kicks in volume and can throw looping punches with power. He’s a fantastic grappler that prefers to be on top, but I’m not sold that his wrestling is good enough to get on top of Chiesa, or at least keep Chiesa off his back if he does engage in a grappling match. Also, unlike Chiesa, Trinaldo doesn’t seem to blend striking and grappling together in a fight—he’s in one mode or the other. Most troubling for Trinaldo, though, is his cardio. Chiesa is tailor-made to deal with a fighter that fades. Chiesa’s grinding and active style should wear down the Brazilian, whose offensive output drops significantly later in fights even that he’s winning. Any sort of grappling exchange tends to zap Trinaldo’s stamina, and I suspect Chiesa will take advantage of this, possibly earning a late-round submission finish.
Did I mention that this is Trinaldo’s first fight outside of Brazil, where he’s a huge fan favorite? I’m usually hesitant to bet big on TUF winners, because even I’m susceptible to UFC marketing every TUF champ as the next Fedor-Jesus, but here I think Chiesa should be a much bigger favorite than he already is. He opened as a -135 favorite but that line is actually moving closer to even. I’m going to ride that out and take him as close to even as possible. Right now Chiesa is at -125, and I’ll be taking him for a big play (4-5 units).
Realtalk, Barao is a stud and Dillashaw lost 2 fights ago to Rafael Assuncao. Dillashaw is a fantastic and supremely athletic fighter, but Barao is on a totally different level both in striking speed and power, and overall grappling. Importantly for betting, Barao (like other Nova Uniao fighters) is a talented finisher that seizes on submission opportunities whenever he can—usually after he’s daze his opponent with masterful striking. Dillashaw, on the other hand, was KO’d by flyweight John Dodson.
I think the most likely outcome here is Barao beating Dillashaw on the feet with a variety of kicks and long punches, hurting Dillashaw, and latching onto his neck for the finish. Dillashaw, while never submitted, hasn’t shown me anything to lead me to believe that he can escape this fate. Barao, however, knows exactly how and when to finish fights. I see good value in Barao by submission at +300 and I’m taking that for a small play.
Last event I wrote about: UFC on Fox 11
2 fight Parlay: Browne at -240 and Masvidal at -240 (Risk 1 unit to win 1 unit)—I lost. The Masvidal fight went exactly as I predicted, but Browne laid an egg for me.