This is the type of fight that makes betting on MMA, still a young sport, fun and sometimes easy. Johnson, while sporting a perfect 9-0 record with 8 early finishes, is severely outmatched here, and the close odds are truly perplexing. At the risk of readers skipping my brief analysis below, I’m taking Matthews in this fight and I’m taking him big.
Johnson is a product of the recently-exposed (thanks to Bloody Elbow) Xplode Fight Series. His biggest win to date is a split decision against a 12-12 featherweight; a fight in which he was very nearly finished and should have been called a draw. His last fight before entering the UFC was against—no joke—a fighter who at the time was 0-11 with 11 losses in the first round. Dashon Johnson is a much tougher man and a better fighter than I will ever be, but he is not in any way, shape, or form prepared for the UFC.
Briefly, on Johnson’s skills: he is an all-around fighter that will spam punches, particularly looping right hooks, and often look to take the fight to the ground where had can quickly finish outmatched opponents. In all honestly, it’s difficult to get a read on his skills since his opponents generally lack the technical ability to be competitive, and Johnson can do what he pleases. Even against his low level of competition, he has at times been held against the cage and controlled in the clinch. For what it’s worth, Johnson does appear to have decent hand speed and some explosion in his takedowns—still taken with a massive grain of salt.
Matthews is a very young Australian prospect that lost his fight to get into the TUF Nations house. He is a well-rounded fighter that generally prefers to do his best work on the mat, where he’s both positionally strong and opportunistic with his submissions. He’s big—6 foot tall—and likes to impose his will from the clinch on the way to takedowns. He’s not especially impressive on his feet, but his basic 1-2 and 1-1-2 combos serve him well. Importantly, he has in fact faced adversity in his career; he was in a mounted crucifix in his profession debut, only to reverse the position and finish with strikes from the top-turtle position. Moreover, the loss on TUF likely served as a learning experience for the young fighter as he got a taste of top-tier competition. Matthews is a strong athlete with decent upside.
I can’t understate how much of a jump up in competition Matthews is for Johnson. This will be Johnson’s first fight outside of the Xplode promotion, and he’s traveling across the globe to fight in Matthews’s backyard, nonetheless. Matthews has a significant size advantage over Johnson, and as I explained above, a huge advantage in the experience department. Stylistically, I suspect Matthews will damage Johnson briefly on the feet before quickly controlling him against the cage, taking him down, where he will overwhelm the smaller Johnson on the mat and finish with ground and pound.
The close odds here are preposterous to me. At -135 I’m taking Matthews big (5-6 units). If you’re comfortable with another fight, throw him into a parlay (consider Neil Magny, or see below for my suggested parlay). When I last checked Matthews had moved to -140, so I’d jump on this line quickly.
This should be a fun fight to watch. Based largely on the style matchup, I’m taking Hioki for a small play here as a live underdog.
We’re already pretty well acquainted with these two featherweight veterans. Both men are tall, lanky fighters that possess fantastic grappling and generally prefer to do their work on the mat. Oliveira has consistently shown an improving muay thai attack, but is still limited on the feet, both defensively (particularly against straight punches to the head), and offensively in terms of striking power. He has decent kicks, which he can use freely because he doesn’t fear the takedown. On the ground, he’s true a submission artist that can creatively attack limbs and neck from any position. He is always a threat to anybody in the division on the ground.
Hioki is a similar fighter in that he prefers the fight to happen on the mat. On the feet, he’s similarly limited in terms of power, and defensive openings. He has a good front kick to the body, but he is generally pretty easy to hit and often too complacent in his willingness to eat punches. He’s a master in the clinch, particularly his body-lock takedown, often into mount. He’s more position-oriented than Oliveira and likes to go through multiple position progressions before actively looking for a finish. His biggest weakness throughout his UFC career has been his complacency in fights; he’ll sometimes accept a takedown and work an ineffective guard, or once he gets a takedown, not work enough ground and pound.
The key difference here is that Hioki will enter grappling exchanges with the goal of gaining top position. This is a goal I think he can achieve. Oliveira is not especially strong in the clinch, and the way he extends his punches often leaves him open to underhooks. Once Hioki has the underhooks, Oliveira is going down 9 times out of 10. Hioki was able to outwrestle strong wrestlers Ricardo Lamas and Darren Elkins in certain clinch exchanges, so he should be able to impose his will against the weaker Oliveira. Again, Oliveira is a submission threat from any position, particularly with chokes against Hioki, who can be a bit careless with his neck, but I think Hioki’s high level experience should keep him out of trouble long enough to win the fight.
I do give Oliveira a slight edge on the feet, mostly due to the variety of strikes that he throws and Hioki’s porous punch defense, but Oliveira is no world class kickboxer and he won’t be able to do enough damage on the feet to slow Hioki’s clinch attacks. Additionally, while Hioki has faded in previous fights, bringing his cardio into question, this fight is taking place in New Zealand, which doesn’t require the rigors of travels from Japan to the U.S. which historically has hurt Japanese fighters.
This is a close fight, and I don’t expect a finish to occur. Overall, I do think Oliveira is the better fighter, and Hioki is probably facing the decline of his career, but styles make fights. Hioki will go into the fight with the goal of taking down and controlling Oliveira, something he can do. Oliveira, on the other hand, will likely have to find an opportunistic submission, and I don’t like his chances of finding one against the veteran.
Hacran Dias v. Ricardo Lamas
Wagering on this is strictly a value play. I wouldn’t recommend taking action here if you’re very risk averse or a conservative gambler. However, if you like making multiple bets on one card or spreading out your wagers, I like Dias here in the upset.
I see Dias as undervalued and Lamas as overvalued due to name recognition and Lamas’s recent title fight. To be certain, this is by no means an easy fight for Dias, and if the lines were even I would be all over Lamas. However, at Dias as a nearly 2-to-1 underdog in some places, accounting for the stylistic problems Dias presents, I like the value in the dog.
Hacran Dias trains out of Nova Uniao alongside Lamas’s last opponent, Jose Aldo. Dias has a similar striking style to another teammate, Renan Barao, in that he likes to use long, powerful punches while planting his feet. Unlike his teammates, though, Dias has a very grappling-heavy attack. He has strong wrestling and technical takedowns that chain one move together after another. He shines most brightly when he gets on top, where his control is absolutely vice-like. Like other Nova Uniao fighters, Dias looks for head and arm chokes often and is excellent at passing the guard. His path to victory against Lamas will probably be a relatively boring, grinding affair that sees Dias working hard to secure a takedown, and being conservative to maintain position.
On paper, Lamas is the better wrestler, but I’m not sold that he is in fact better than Dias in this realm. Lamas was put on his back multiple times against Hatsu Hioki and got into some hairy grappling exchanges with Cub Swanson (before Swanson became careless). He is a better overall striker than Dias, both in terms of power and accuracy. However, as Aldo showed, if his opponent can consistently back him up, forcing him to fight on the retreat, Lamas’s kickboxing can be stifled. Coming from such a good camp, I expect Dias will have the confidence and ability to quickly earn Lamas’s respect and force Lamas to become a defensive counter-puncher—something he’s not necessarily accustomed to. Once Dias has slowed Lamas’s attack on the feet, he’ll be able to comfortably impose his grappling game.
Sometimes we see fighters come back better than ever after badly losing a title fight (Chuck Liddell, GSP, Cain Velasquez), and in other instances we see a precipitous drop-off (Dan Hardy, Patrick Cote). Sadly, I think Lamas falls into the latter category. He’s an exciting fighter for sure, and certainly deserves a top-10 ranking currently, but I think Dias has the tools and camp behind him to expose Lamas.
Right now Dias is at +170 and that line may move closer to even in the next 24 hours. I’m taking Dias for a small play up to +160. Any lower than that and I’d stay away.
Parlay: Jake Matthews (-140) and Antonio Braga Neto (-155), (1 unit to win 1.82 units)
See above for my discussion of the Matthews/Johnson fight. I’m very confident Matthews will take the easy victory.
Antonio Braga Neto is fighting TUF alum Clint Hester. Hester apparently has a background in professional boxing, and does have decent striking, particularly with his variety of punches at medium distance, and knees up close. His offensive wrestling is not terrible, but he does have weakness in his takedown defense and overall defensive positional grappling—something I think Neto will capitalize on.
In short, Hester is the type of fighter that will almost always beat a jack-of-all-trades; he’s athletic and big and will exploit his physical advantages over those types. However, unless Hester has significantly beefed up his skills in any one area, he’ll usually lose to a fighter that has a strong base in one background. That is, Hester will be out-boxed by a very strong boxer, held down by collegiate wrestlers, and submitted by BJJ specialists. Nothing in his training or progression thus far leads me to believe he’s ready for the particular threats Neto poses.
Antonio Braga Neto is a legitimate world class jiu-jitsu player. In 2011 he dominated Andre Galvao in pure jiu-jitsu. Not many people, and certainly not Hester, are prepared for the ground attack that Neto brings. To be sure, Hester has a clear advantage on the feet. Neto is hyper aggressive on his feet, and will push forward with punches and kicks to close the distance. His takedowns in open space are not particularly great, but he does work well with trips and throws from the clinch. Even if he cannot get the fight to the ground, Neto is comfortable with pulling guard or dropping for a leglock. What’s more troubling for Hester is Neto’s recent proclivity for rolling into kneebars from his back. This means that even if Neto doesn’t cleanly get a takedown or even completely pull Hester into his closed guard, Hester is in submission trouble. Hester’s best chance of winning is to tag and KO Neto when he’s rushing in, but Neto should be aggressive enough with his strikes and clinch game to quickly shut down Hester’s punching. Hester was taken down Dylan Andrews, a mediocre grappler, and in this fight just one takedown could be enough for Neto to apply his fight ending submission skills.
Even after all that praise I just threw on Neto, there are enough questions about him that I don’t really like betting him straight up as a favorite at -155. He doesn’t have a ton of high-level experience and doesn’t fight very often. If you can find him around -140, I’d suggest a big play, but I’m much more comfortable with the value of putting him into a parlay with Matthews. The payout here is decent for a relatively modest risk. I’m making a moderate play on Neto and Matthews to both win.
Last event I wrote about: UFC 173:
Michael Chiesa v. Franciso Trinaldo: I picked Chiesa and won. Fight played out as I predicted, but be careful moving forward; I suspect Chiesa will start getting over-valued.
Renan Barao v. T.J. Dillashaw: I picked Barao by submission and lost. Not much lost here, since I bet it at +300, and I’m fine losing a bit of cash to see such an awesome performance!