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UFC on ESPN+ 6 in Nashville: Full Breakdown

We’re a fight short this week as we enter with only 12 fights scheduled prior to weigh-ins. This card has a mixed bag of newcomers and vets, and some intriguing stylistic matchups. There are a couple candidates to be snoozers, but it should be worth the time to sit down and watch.
I will get bets updated as prop lines roll in and will get cash game plays in here by Friday evening. Weigh-ins often offer new information so any pertinent updates will come after that. Until then, let’s get to the fighters and MME thoughts.
Update: one fighter missed weight. Luis Pena came in 2.5 lbs over. His frame is likely too much to remain at 145 lbs going forward, but this is an advantage for him in this fight.

Prelims on ESPN+

Eric Shelton, -180, 8700 vs Jordan Espinosa, +150, 7500

Fight is at 125 lbs and is +170 to end inside the distance.

Eric Shelton is a five-fight UFC vet that hasn’t seen any of those five fights end inside the distance (ITD). He’s a low output counter striker whose strategy entails drawing opponents in and shooting takedowns. He wants top control for as much of a fight as possible even if it’s just sitting in guard. He has some pop in his right hand, but doesn’t let it fly often. His neck will be at risk if/when takedowns are stuffed as his opponent is quite savvy at gradually sinking in D’Arce chokes from a front headlock position.
Jordan Espinosa makes his UFC debut after his second ITD win on Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) in as many years. He’s a sound boxer and Thai boxer with pop in his punches and has shown sound takedown defense as well. He’ll probably be at a disadvantage if he ends up on his back and will need to return to his feet immediately. He’s savvy in grappling scrambles, however, and will just need to avoid being controlled. There is talk of his gas tank being an issue and his output will decrease in volume as the fight progresses, but the power remains.
With Shelton being the favorite, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he returns favorably on his price without a big right hand getting home early. He’s just a small MME exposure while I’d look to have roughly triple the exposure Espinosa as an underdog with a sound chance of winning, either ITD or via decision.

Chris Gutierrez, -220, 8300 vs Ryan McDonald, +185, 7900

Fight is at 135 lbs and is -140 to end inside the distance.

What an unfortunate fight from a DFS perspective. These fighters are not dissimilar and have a combined one UFC fight between them. The betting public strongly believes Gutierrez outclasses McDonald, and the line has shifted over 150 points in that direction.
Chris Gutierrez is a kickboxer that appears mostly able but tentative and did not move forward or throw anything with power in his UFC debut. He was ultimately controlled on the floor and submitted in the second round. He did attempt some offense from his guard in the first round but became more of a deer in headlights in the second round as the grappling wore on. Neither fighter has much high-level competition to base analysis on, but Gutierrez last fight is the only UFC caliber competition on either resume.
Ryan McDonald makes his UFC debut after compiling a 10-0 record on the Nebraska regional scene. He has sound kickboxing, but it’s difficult to tell at what level in relation to his opponent. He’s capable of taking the fight to the floor and has pros and cons down there. His transitions aren’t great until an opponent gives his back, and he does well with that particular transition. His ground and pound is a little sloppy and unlikely to finish a UFC competitor.
With the unfortunate high degree of unknown in this bout, combined with middling pricing and a -140 ITD line, it’s necessary to get exposure to both sides in MME. The range of outcomes here is wide and if one of these fighters is just in over their head (as the public believes MacDonald is), it could lead to a quick finish and a score that finds its way to the optimal. Exposure to both sides is warranted, but the ownership on Gutierrez will be massive. It’s playing with fire to attempt anything resembling a fade. I can say I don’t need to wait till later in the week to say Gutierrez is a cash lock on value and ownership levels. 

Angela Hill, -155, 8200 vs Randa Markos, +125, 8000

Fight is at 115 lbs and is +330 to end inside the distance.

Angela Hill is a high output Thai striker/boxer that is certainly not an elite talent, but is established in the middle of the pack and a threat to win against any non-elite opponent. She enters a classic striker vs grappler matchup here and dictation of where the fight takes place will be key. She’ll be defending takedowns for 15 minutes as she’s the better and busier striker.
Randa Markos is a grappler and low volume striker eager to grapple throughout any fight. She ultimately wants takedowns and to grind top control but is also content to hold clinch control. This is unideal for DK scoring. Her opponent is not one easily taken down nor controlled so she may need to strike more than she’d deem ideal in this fight.
Any Markos fight is always a real risk to be a DK scoring dud. Markos herself is in the bottom one percent of fighters in terms of likelihood of cracking triple-digit scoring. She can be considered as a fade, or for just a dabble of exposure. Hill brings striking volume that can’t be faded and you’ll need moderate exposure on her.

Alexis Davis, -150, 8600 vs Jennifer Maia, +120, 7600

Fight is at 125 lbs and is +260 to end inside the distance.

We have another unfortunate matchup here from a DFS perspective, this time not because of what we don’t know but because of what we do. Both Alexis Davis and Jennifer Maia are slow-paced Thai strikers and both double as BJJ black belts that lack wrestling chops. They are both content holding clinch control. This is the least likely fight on the card to find usefulness in DK scoring.
The betting line on Davis has plummeted, and she’s the best fade candidate on the card, given pricing value. Maia could easily flip to a favorite at fight time and she needs to be in the build as a comparatively highly likely underdog to win, by pricing.

Frankie Saenz, +135, 7800 vs Marlon Vera, -165, 8400

Fight is at 135 lbs and is +125 to end inside the distance.

Frankie Saenz is a veteran freestyle fighter. He previously got some fights near the top of the bantamweight division but couldn’t find a win when paired with a higher quality opponent. He mostly tries to box while mixing in takedowns, and is a sound wrestler, but is not incredibly well versed in BJJ or submission attack. He wants to strike to lead into ground and pound, and has adequate but not scary power.
Marlon “Chito” Vera is somewhat of a freestyle fighter with a BJJ base. He throws heavy punches and kicks but lacks a technical striking nature. He is a strong grappler with a black belt but often ends up in his guard from being mostly a subpar wrestler. The most maddening thing about him is that he often is not focused or aggressive in the first round. He ends up in some bad spots and gets touched by his opponents before coming out firing in the second round. In his previous two fights, he lost Round 1 against inferior opponents before finding a finish in Round 2. He is much longer as he’ll have a 2-inch height and 4.5-inch reach advantage.
Vera’s performances are quickly but subtly becoming ones to attack from a DFS perspective. If he continues to be in bad spots early in fights and is ultimately finished, his opponent will find himself in the optimal. If he continues to bounce back and finish fights in the second round, he’s a great bet to land in the optimal. Saenz isn’t generally a finisher, so he’s definitely going to be on the lesser end of the exposure in comparison to Vera, but I do want both sides of this one, at least moderately. 

Bobby Moffett, -170, 8800 vs Bryce Mitchell, +140, 7400

Fight is at 145 lbs and is -115 to end inside the distance.

Bobby Moffett is a BJJ fighter entering his second UFC fight and makes no action without the thought of how it leads to a grappling exchange and gets the fight to the floor. Nine of his 13 wins have come via submission, including his last three via D’Arce choke. Those three include his UFC debut and his fight on DWCS. His striking seems to carry power but is surely nothing special. It’s just used to get inside and get the fight to the floor. He will be the larger and stronger fighter.
Bryce Mitchell is eerily similar to his opponent in the sense that he is a better grappler than striker and wants to get the fight to the floor. Also like his opponent, nine of his 10 pro wins have come via submission. He also enters his second UFC fight off of his stint on TUF (The Ultimate Fighter). His striking shows some promise in spurts but he doesn’t generally throw a lot before attempting to get the fight to the floor. He has a flexible rubber guard that’s worth noting. He showed gas issues in the third round of his debut.
This fight is likely to have a good deal of grappling and is one that should score better than a striking exchange fight. While Mitchell is a talented fighter, I believe he’s at a disadvantage on the floor and could be submitted, but it’s not also very much in play that he could hit a triangle from the bottom. Both have submission ceilings with the edge being on the Moffett side. Use both in the build but with more exposure to Moffett.

JJ Aldrich, +205, 7300 vs Maycee Barber, -255, 8900

Fight is at 125 lbs and is +115 to end inside the distance.

JJ Aldrich is a well-rounded fighter, but not a scary one. She’s got sound striking technique and is a capable grappler, but enters a spot where she is likely overmatched. She does have a path to a point-winning decision, but any scoring ceiling is an extremely low percentage one.
Maycee Barber is a truly legitimate prospect (20 years old) entering her second UFC bout. Already 6-0 as a pro with five coming by way of finish, she’s a vicious striker and truly exciting. She moves up to 125 lbs for this fight and was already powerful at 115. She’s going to be dangerous in this division. If there’s a worry, she may be too overzealous for ground and pound and can put her limbs at risk on the floor, but has shown escapability. I’m excited to see the next step here.
Barber brings a favorable salary and a scoring ceiling and should be an ample part of the build. Aldrich is fully optional but it’s a conservative play to get a tick of exposure with it remaining to be seen how Barber performs up a weight class (I likely won’t do that).

Luis Pena, -260, 9200 vs Steven Peterson, +205, 7000

Fight is at 145 lbs and is -110 to end inside the distance.

Luis Pena is another fighter from season 27 of TUF and is an insanely long and tall featherweight. He will have 5 inches of both height and reach here and he does know how to use it. His punches and knees will be truly dangerous here and despite being as lean as he is, he does carry power. He’s been set up with an extremely favorable matchup by the promotion as his straight punches and knees should be able to get home at will.
Steven Peterson is a striker that prefers a brawling and pressuring style but has truly atrocious striking defense as he moves forward. His style and ability level are effective for regional scenes but are generally exposed at the high level. He had a lot of problems with the only slightly longer Brandon Davis and this fight is a much taller task.1 He is willing to grapple but if Pena attacks this fight appropriately, Peterson should have no opportunity to get inside to get the fight to the floor. He’s probably not at a grappling advantage if he were to get it down.
Pena is set up with a “gimme” here and I’ll be attacking the fight as such. He should be an ample part of the build with variance exposure to Peterson. Peterson will be outclassed but is not afraid to throw or brawl and has the literal puncher’s chance.

Deiveson Figuerdo, -145, 8500 vs Jussier Formiga, +115, 7700

Fight is at 125 lbs and is -130 to end inside the distance.

Deiveson Figuerdo is a Thai striker and boxer that isn’t really a high output striker, but has real pop in everything he throws, even his jab. He will mix in takedowns as they present themselves, but the goal there is to land some ground and pound, and submission attack is secondary. He’s got sound BJJ but he will be at a disadvantage in that department, as Jussier Formiga has some of the best BJJ skills in the weight class. Figuerdo would do well to strike as often as possible in this one, and he can find a KO on anyone.
As mentioned, Formiga is a BJJ fighter and is most comfortable on the floor. He doesn’t have much pop in his hands and doesn’t throw much volume. He will be in massive danger standing if he can’t get the fight to the floor. His ceiling scoring output outcomes all lie with a submission in the first 10 minutes. We know Figuerdo is the better striker, and though we can’t be certain Formiga is the better grappler, it is highly probable.
Both fighters have a path to the optimal lineup, but the much clearer path lies with Figuredo via KO. His strikes are truly dangerous and I believe the undefeated fighter remains that way come Saturday. Figuerdo should have moderate to high exposure in the build while Formiga should have variance/lower level exposure.

Jesus Pinedo, +245, 7100 vs John Makdessi, -320, 9100

Fight is at 155 lbs and is +115 to end inside the distance.

Jesus Pinedo is a still-developing talent. He’s five years into his pro career despite being just 22 years old. He has a sound level of ability but isn’t fully polished. Both he and his opponent lost their originally scheduled opponents to injuries, and now Pinedo is facing a class jump the promotion didn’t originally plan for in John Makdessi. Both are strikers, but Pinedo will be the more eager to get the fight to the floor. He will, however, have real problems completing takedowns against the veteran, and will likely be facing an uphill battle standing for the majority of this bout. It should be noted he had five takedowns in his UFC debut, but it’s unlikely that feat is replicated against this opponent.
Makdessi is a veteran striker who doesn’t move at a fast pace but is competent, if not overly powerful. He’s nearing a full decade with the promotion and has a strong track record of beating opponents he’s expected to beat and losing to those above his station. He is also a decision fighter more often than not, particularly in wins, and will be a longshot for the optimal lineup at his price, should we hear the final Round 3 horn.
Makdessi isn’t incapable of finishing this fight early, but it certainly isn’t a high-percentage outcome. He likely falls short of a high score, particularly at his price, and shouldn’t occupy more than a moderate-level exposure in the build. Makdessi has been KO’d in two of his last six fights (albeit by higher level opponents) and it’s not impossible it happens here, and it would be a boon at this price for Pinedo. This isn’t a fight to attack heavily, but give the exposure edge to Pinedo.

Curtis Blaydes, -270, 9000 vs Justin Willis, +215, 7200

Fight is at heavyweight and is -135 to end inside the distance.

Curtis Blaydes is an elite heavyweight wrestler, who has seen his chin melted twice by Francis Ngannou while finding success against all other opponents. He’s very good at getting the fight to the floor, controlling, passing and landing ground and pound. He is a top-notch DK scorer in fights in which he doesn’t get slept and is a favorite to find himself in the optimal whether he wins by finish or decision. His grappling style is perfect for DK scoring.
Justin Willis is a kickboxer who does have power in his striking, but he’s not on the power level of the aforementioned Ngannou, who has been Blaydes’ Achilles heel. He’s had four UFC fights (all wins, three by decision) where he’s not had to deal with Blaydes strengths, as he’s not seen an attempted takedown by any opponent. His takedown defense, if better than our wildest imaginations, would win him this fight, and he would be at a distinct advantage in standing exchanges. This is a highly unlikely scenario, and we will likely see him on his back quite a bit in this one.
As mentioned, Blaydes’ style is perfect for DK scoring. He should see massive exposure in your build. Finding a KO is not out of the realm of possibility for Willis and he should have some level of exposure, but the split here should be wide.

Anthony Pettis, +305, 6900 vs Stephen Thompson, -395, 9300

Fight is at 170 lbs and is a five-round main even fight that is -130 to end inside the distance.

Stephen Thompson is an elite striker but one of the lowest volume strikers at the highest end of the 170-pound division. In fact, four of his last five fights have gone the full 25-minute championship distance. Here’s the bad part of that: without scoring any grappling points at all, he cleared 53 significant strikes just once in those fights. These fighters have similar styles as they both throw heavy kicks and outside shots, and not in volume. His path to any DK viability at price lies wholly and completely in a KO in the first 10 minutes. Noting that, Anthony Pettis has been finished inside the first 10 minutes just once (the one time was a corner stoppage after a full ten minutes) in 21 UFC appearances, and it feels unlikely he’d be caught with something quite familiar to him from the outside without fatigue playing a factor.
Pettis makes his 170-pound debut after a long and high-end career at 155 pounds spanning eight years. He’s also a low volume tae kwon do striker whose scoring ceiling lies in finding a finish. He is a better grappler than Thompson and a real submission threat, but it’s an unlikely occurrence he’s able to get this fight to the floor, given their styles. He is, however, a legitimate one kick KO threat, which is sound for being the cheapest salary on the card.
It feels gross to stay underweight on or fade main events, but this one is truly gross. Playing either fighter is hoping for a highlight reel KO sooner than can be realistically hoped for. Thompson is a true fade candidate as his floor, median and ceiling outcomes pale in comparison to most of his salary piers. Pettis’ salary makes him not a fade candidate, but also someone you can’t be overexposed to. When a salary this small smashes, they’re needed for the optimal. See Masvidal, Jorge last week.

Cash Looks

Chris Gutierrez at -235 priced at 8300 remains a cash lock. Angela Hill is the next fighter in as the next best value favorite that throws in volume for 15 minutes. High median and ceiling outcome favorites Maycee Barber and especially Curtis Blaydes need included. That leaves us with needing our two underdogs, and Jordan Espinosa is by far the best of that group. With the remaining salary, the choices come down to Saenz, Maia and Mitchell and I would prioritize them in the order listed. The main event remains a gross one for using either fighter, let alone stacking.

Bets

The main event doesn’t offer a sound bet unless you’re confident in punting with Pettis.
The co-main offers value on playing Blaydes from a props angle. Playing him at +240 by KO in conjunction with him by decision at +160 brings cheaper risk than playing him flat at -265.
Pinedo by KO at +975 is fine partial unit punt.
Figuerdo flat at -145 and Figuerdo by KO at +175 are sound value.
Pena by KO at +550 is a real value.
Barber has too many avenues of winning to pinpoint one. Can play her flat but it’s never fun laying more than 2:1.
Moffett by sub at +240 is screaming value.
No attractive bets in the Vera fight.
No attractive bets in the Davis fight.
Hill flat at -150 is a great play.
No attractive bets in the Gutierrez fight.
Espinosa flat at +120 is a great value.

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