What a stacked card. This is as good as prelims get and I’m very excited for Saturday.
Tournament thoughts are listed in each fight’s breakdown while there will be separate sections for cash/single entry and another for bets.
Early Prelims On UFC Fight Pass
Katlyn Chookagian, -115, 8100 vs Joanne Calderwood, -115, 8100
Fight is at 125 lbs and is +250 to end inside the distance.
Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood is a Thai striker at her base, and a strong one at that. Her pitfalls have been on the ground as her three pro losses have come from ground troubles. She’s been submitted twice and lost rounds due to being controlled on the ground in her lone decision loss. She then didn’t fight for a year between summer of 2016 and summer of 2017 and came back with an improved ground game, even getting her first submission victory. Even with this being the case, she’d be playing with fire to try to jump in the guard of her competent opponent, and is best suited to strike in this one.
Katlyn Chookagian is a fairly well-rounded fighter, albeit with holes that make her output quite projectable. She’s been strictly a striker in the UFC, mostly because her offensive wrestling is nearly non existent. She’s 0/13 on her takedown attempts over her six UFC fights. Her defensive wrestling is stronger however, as only strong grappler Liz Carmouche has been able to land more than one takedown against her. She is a BJJ brown belt and better on the floor than getting the fight there. She is a skilled striker and the majority of the fight will likely take place standing, where she’ll enjoy a 3-inch advantage in both height and reach.
This is a fight that will feature little or no grappling, and with that, there’s not a ton of DK scoring to be accumulated. JoJo is the higher output fighter and would be the exposure edge in MME, but optional for a 20 max. Chookagian is the longest shot on the card (in projected competitive fights) for real DK success and is just variance for MME and fully optional and a sound fade for 20 max.
Grigory Popov, +105, 8000 vs Eddie Wineland, -135, 8200
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +145 to end inside the distance.
Grigory Popov makes his UFC debut, but does it without a lick of green to him. He’s got 16 pro fights to his name and is 35 years old. Despite no UFC fights under his belt, he’s got plenty of experience. His name is a Russian name and it would make one assume Sambo base to his game, but not so fast my friend. He’s a Thai striker at his base but also has submission chops. His pair of gogoplata submission wins probably say more about his opponents than him, but at the very least it shows a sound understanding of submission attack on the floor. His crisp striking will be the point of emphasis however, as his opponent hasn’t completed a takedown in the UFC in his last nine fights spanning seven years. If he plans for it, and is willing, he can certainly put a pace on his opponent, and a finish is in play.
Eddie Wineland is the epitome of the grizzled UFC vet, entering his 20th fight with the promotion (WEC included), spanning 13 years. We certainly have enough film to know what to expect, and that is striking the whole way, usually with more visual excitement than statistical excitement. He has a (very) strong tendency to fight with his hands down and wide, relying on footwork and range as defense, and he can be hit with power. This is a counter striking style and doesn’t lead to a ton of volume, despite being generally fun to watch. Even with 19 fights under his belt in the promotion and nine of them going to decision, he has cleared 67 significant strikes just one time. What’s this mean? Without a KO, he doesn’t have a path to DK viability. Any lineup with Wineland is fully reliant on a finish by strikes.
It would be a shock of sorts if this one hit the floor at any point. Ending inside the distance (ITD) will be the determining factor between DK viability with a KO finish versus a decision that almost certainly boxes the winner out of the optimal. The underdog Popov should have a moderate place in both MME and 20-max as he is the much better bet to find a finish. Wineland on the other hand should be limited to hedge-level exposure in MME banking on a KO and is fully optional for 20-max, with a fade likely being most prudent.
Bevon Lewis, -195, 9000 vs Darren Stewart, +165, 7200
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -175 to end inside the distance.
Bevon Lewis enters the octagon for the second time. In his first outing against Uriah Hall, he truly looked fantastic with crisp and aggressive striking and fully dominated the fight … until he walked into a single counter shot that put him out in the third round. Prior to that he had two KO wins on Dana White’s Contender Series. There’s enough of a body of work to say he’s a truly dangerous striker with a massive frame for the division, but he does remain a little bit green. The one-shot KO raises a question on his chin and his opponent here is much heavier handed than his last opponent.
Darren Stewart is a powerful striker who has seen seven of his nine pro wins come by way of KO. His struggles have come against grapplers attacking submissions and that simply isn’t the type of opponent he’s drawn here. He has never been knocked out and has shown real chin in the past, but this is the best striker he’s fought to date. It should be noted that Stewart sometimes lets his striking volume and effectiveness shrink when he’s worried about defending takedowns on the open mat, and that shouldn’t be a worry here.
While this fight is a race to a KO, there is reason to pause before going extremely overweight in a build. Both fighters are extremely comfortable in the clinch and that can lead to long periods of non scoring, and often sees the early rounds tick by without those heavy early finish points. Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean you should fade by any means as both are quite capable of a first-round finish, and I’d deem it slightly more probable than not. The line, by my view is too steeply shaded towards Lewis and the value comes with Stewart. Both should have an ample part of both MME and 20-max with the exposure edge tilting to the underdog Stewart.
Yan Xiaonan, -170, 9100 vs Angela Hill, +140, 7100
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +370 to end inside the distance.
Yan Xiaonan is a high-volume striker, and a sound one at that. She’s 3-0 in the promotion and has had some serious output in each fight. She’s attempted a minimum of 211 significant strikes in her fights so far, and her significant strike output is landing 317 of 769 attempted through three fights. She is the type of fighter that can flirt with or surpass triple digit DK scoring in a decision win without any grappling points.
Angela Hill is a similar fighter to her opponent. She is certainly more seasoned but is less effective with her striking and more so with her striking defense. She is also a high output striker, albeit not quite at the level of her opponent, and we are highly likely to see 15 minutes of trading in this one.
Neither fighter has a preference for grappling and neither are afraid to consistently let their hands go. The winner of this fight is a good bet to be near or over 150 significant strikes landed and is a reasonable bet for the optimal. Where the ability and projected output difference is reflected in the pricing, both fighters have a clear path to the optimal and need to be involved in any build. The lack of value on the pricing of Xiaonan is unfortunate, and means the exposure should be about even, up to at least a moderate level in both MME and 20-max.
Prelims on ESPN
Ricardo Lamas, +120, 7400 vs Calvin Kattar, -150, 8800
Fight is at 145 lbs and is +105 to end inside the distance.
Calvin Kattar is a striker with an amateur wrestling background who hasn’t generally wanted to take his fights to the ground in the UFC, and it would be prudent for him to avoid the ground in this matchup. He’s a longer fighter than his opponent and probably has a the edge standing, but will be in danger of being submitted on the floor. His DK scoring path is winning by KO as opposed to decision but there’s reason for skepticism on a KO. Despite logging two KO wins in his last three fights, you’d have to go back to 2010 to track down his next most recent KO win.
Ricardo Lamas enters his 22nd UFC/WEC bout, and despite being long in the tooth, remains a high-level and extremely well-rounded fighter without weaknesses. He is savvy and sound striker, if not a high-output one, and a great grappler with a BJJ black belt. As mentioned, if trading punches with Kattar, he’s probably at a slight disadvantage here. The floor will be his friend if he gets in trouble.
I do believe the wrong fighter is favored here — Lamas is more likely to win. That said, a true DK scoring path almost certainly comes from a KO by Kattar or a submission from Lamas. Definitely take more exposure to Lamas in MME with just a tick above hedge/variance level on Kattar. In 20-max, this fight as a whole is a fade candidate, but it’s probably prudent to have at least some Lamas, with Kattar being optional.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz, -120, 8400 vs Alexa Grasso, +110, 7800
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +225 to end inside the distance.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is a high-output Thai striker who has shown a consistent track record of being able to outpace and outclass non-elite fighters. Her opponent is a non-elite fighter and a striker who is likely to be outmatched here. Kowalkiewicz struggles most often against fighters with a strong grappling base. While her opponent isn’t inept, Kowalkiewicz isn’t going to be taken down and submitted in this one.
Alexa Grasso is a striker with a boxing base who doesn’t bring much pace or power. She’s a decision fighter who’s outmatched here and has an extremely rough road to finding DK viability. She’s likely to stand and be touched on the wrong end of a 2:1 ratio for 15 minutes.
I believe this line to be a mistake, and Kowalkiewicz should be at least a -200 favorite in this one. The fighters do have a common opponent in Felice Herrig on whom Kowalkiewicz was able to pour a volume of strikes and take a decision from while Grasso fell short and lost a decision. Grasso can be considered a fade in all formats, even MME where your absolute peak is going to be throwing in single-digit percentage exposure. Kowalkiewicz is the heavier volume striker of the two, but is no lock to have enough of said volume to find her way to the optimal. She’s best for moderate to low exposure in MME and low-level to fade in 20-max.
Pedro Munhoz, +100, 7700 vs Aljamain Sterling, -130, 8500
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +145 to end inside the distance.
Aljamain Sterling is a grappling based fighter who has sound Thai striking as well, and an extremely long frame for 135 pounds. He will have a 6-inch reach advantage and will need to use it to keep his aggressive and dangerous opponent from charging inside and hurting him. His wrestling and BJJ are both extremely high level, and he may opt to attempt to take this one to the ground if he’s getting hurt on the feet, but may have a difficult time finding a submission, as his opponent is a seasoned BJJ black belt.
Pedro Munhoz is also a well-rounded fighter who brings more excitement and power than his opponent in a general sense. There are just a handful of guys at 135 pounds with one-shot KO power, but he’s one of them and is certainly fighting at an elite level right now. His losses have come against savvy punchers (two of which were arguable split decisions, and the other was in his UFC debut against prime Raphael Assuncao) who have neutralized more than beaten him. He’s shown more of a willingness to walk through counter attacks to inflict damage of late, and the results are fun and beautiful.
It’s a travesty of sorts that this fight is not on the PPV main card. It is a title shot eliminator to face the winner of the main event. Despite Sterling being the favorite, he has a lower ITD line than Munhoz, and rightfully so. Munhoz has great power and nasty chokes and is certainly the better candidate for finding a finish. To get there however, he’ll have to have his takedown defense hold up and get inside on the longer fighter. Sterling is the better candidate to win without DK viability and his pricing is unfavorable. Sterling should be a small to just variance part of MME and is a fade candidate in 20-max builds while Munhoz should see moderate to high exposure in both MME and 20-max.
Tatiana Suarez, -865, 9600 vs Nina Ansaroff, +565, 6700
Fight is at 115 lbs and is -180 to end inside the distance.
Tatiana Suarez is truly something to behold. Her chain wrestling and dominance is arguably (bear with me here) the best in MMA. Not just in the division, not just in women’s MMA, but in MMA period. No disrespect to the other elite wrestlers out there, but her combination of mat returning, passing, submissions and mixing in striking is the best I’ve seen. She’s a titan amongst her peers and the line in this fight says it all.
Nina Ansaroff is a sound fighter — pretty good even. She’s a sound striker and decent grappler, at least in defense, but she made a mistake taking this fight. The first time it hits the mat, it will be curtains for her.
We had to wait 10 months for an appropriately ranked fighter to agree to fight Suarez, and Ansaroff was the one to make the mistake. Suarez is the type of overwhelming fighter that, as rare as it is, you root against the quick finish when rostering her on DK. Her grappling output is at the most elite of pace and the longer the fight goes, the more she pours on the points. Suarez is the heaviest exposure on the card in all formats. Ansaroff is optional for a sprinkle in MME if you want to hope for a head kick miracle, but not at all in play in 20-max.
Main Card on PPV/ESPN+
Tai Tuivasa, -135, 8700 vs Blagoy Ivanov, +105, 7500
Fight is at heavyweight and is -170 to end inside the distance.
Blagoy Ivanov is a Sambo based fighter entering his third UFC fight. After an expected loss in his debut to Junior Dos Santos, he was gifted a truly horrendous decision in his encore against Ben Rothwell. He hasn’t shown a ton of power so far, and has been quite content to be a counter puncher. He gets a more aggressive opponent in this one and a chance to show he can bring excitement, but not exactly a result that can be counted on. If he’s able to get the fight to the floor, his background probably gives him some level of advantage there.
Tai Tuivasa is a kickboxer who has seen just one of his nine pro fights go the distance and was handed his first loss in his last fight against common opponent Junior Dos Santos. Tuivasa is the more powerful striker and throws with fight-ending intentions, and has the more identifiable path to DK viability, via early KO.
This fight has the common heavyweight coin flip scenario of being a quick finish or a heavyweight slow-paced snoozer as gas drains. I lean more towards the former but it’s far from a lock scenario. Tuivasa owns the better pace and scoring ceiling attainability and should be the higher exposure in both MME and 20-max, at a moderate level — the salary is too prohibitive to overload. Ivanov needs some level of exposure in any tourney format as well, but at roughly half the level of Tuivasa, or less.
Jimmie Rivera, +270, 6900 vs Petr Yan, -345, 9300
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +120 to end inside the distance.
Jimmie Rivera is a tenured UFC vet and very good counter striker. He enters an intriguing matchup with the faster paced Petr Yan which is a clash of styles. After winning his first five UFC fights, Rivera has dropped two of three and will attempt to get back on track as an ample underdog. He immensely good defensive wrestling and doesn’t generally try to get fights to the ground so we are likely looking at a full standup fight here. The question mark for Rivera here is will he be able to land enough early to gain the respect of Yan and counteract his normal pace.
Petr Yan is quickly ascending in the promotion, winning his first four fights and colliding with his toughest test to date as a large favorite. He has a well rounded game but likely won’t be able to get this one to the floor and will have to win the standup battle, and will have to do so with a KO to return his big DK price. He has the tools to do so but Rivera is certainly a tough out. John Dodson was able to slow Yan’s pace in his last win and for that reason his DK scoring dipped below a good return on price.
As mentioned, Rivera has tools to win, but a win would almost certainly be a decision. Given his tiny pricing, that’s okay and could lend viability. Yan is the much better bet for an ITD win, which he would wholly need to return on his salary. If he doesn’t get that, he’s going to be a net negative in a lineup that could have had Suarez instead. For MME, a variance level exposure to Rivera is sound, while he’s a fade in 20 max. Yan is the low end of moderate in MME. Same with 20 max, maybe just a couple lineups there.
Tony Ferguson, -145, 8600 vs Donald Cerrone, +115, 7600
Fight is at 155 lbs and is -160 to end inside the distance.
On an already stacked card, we now get to the trio of fights that people are paying their money to see.
This fight is one that matches up two fighters that have cult followings, at least as far as fighters go. Both are very very good and perfectly rounded and this is the toughest fight on the card to call.
Tony Ferguson will be the fighter coming forward and going first in this one. That’s generally always the case. He’s much more of a natural stalker than his opponent. This element of his game is at least somewhat likely to be a detriment in this fight, as his opponent sets up head kicks better than anyone, and walking into one of those is obviously doom. Ferguson is inarguably highly skilled but has been in trouble before from walking into big shots. The Pettis and Vannata fights immediately jump to mind in that aspect. While I believe Ferguson to be the better fighter, if (when?) he similarly gets touched by Cowboy, it’s less likely to be trouble he can recover from, but more likely to be the end of the fight. Ferguson will throw heavier volume and I believe him to be the better of the two great ground fighters.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will be the waiting fighter, putting Ferguson in counter danger in every exchange. He won’t be winning on volume and a decision would likely be terrible news for Cowboy. Much like his opponent, his BJJ is much better than his wrestling, and ground exchanges are much more likely after a knockdown than via wrestling. It must be noted that Cowboy’s striking looked better in his last two fights than any other point in his long career.
I’m making no bones about it, this is an extremely difficult fight to call. Either fighter is wholly capable of a finish from the opening bell. I don’t believe this to be a spot to get too cute trying to make a stand on either side. This fight should be on par with the co-main events from an exposure perspective, and no matter who you give the larger exposure to in both MME and 20 max, both fighters need at least moderate exposure in all formats. There’s an extremely high chance the winner of this fight lands in the optimal.
Valentina Shevchenko, -1335, 9600 vs Jessica Eye, +770, 6600
Fight is five rounds at 125 lbs and is -120 to end inside the distance. For the women’s flyweight championship.
I’ve been a fan of Jessica Eye for many years now. She’s a local Cleveland product that has overcome some real difficulties during her career and earned a title shot. She’s a solid striker, she’s got strength, decent wrestling, is tough and is pretty well rounded. She’s a good fighter at 125 pounds. Unfortunately she’s colliding with the elite in her division and doesn’t have a singular advantage anywhere in this fight. The betting line speaks volumes about what to expect.
Champion Valentina Shevchenko is head and shoulders above everyone in her division. The only knock on her is her style doesn’t lend well to DK scoring. Her volume isn’t all that high, and in the past she has only returned scores that would be favorable to this salary level when she found early submissions. Now, don’t get me wrong, an early finish isn’t out if the question but from a DK scoring perspective, she’s still unlikely to outscore Tatiana Suarez in the price range.
An upset here, as the betting line also states, would be one of the biggest title fight upset of all time, if not the biggest. While the salary is prohibitive and she isn’t a better play than Tatiana Suarez by any means, Shevchenko is still going to have a useful DK score, it just remains to be seen if the salary prohibits that score from being in the optimal. Eye is tough and will score some points at the cheapest salary on the card, but she’s a better cash punt in a stack than she is a tournament play. Shevchenko should be as much as you can fit after getting proper exposure to Suarez in all formats. Eye is just an MME punt and not in play in 20-max.
Henry Cejudo, +100, 7900 vs Marlon Moraes, -130, 8300
Fight is five rounds at 135 lbs and is -170 to end inside the distance. For the bantamweight title.
Marlon Moraes has made an ascension through the ranks at 135 pounds, making quick work of the top 10 in his way and is the most dangerous man in the weight class right now, with all respect to his opponent, Henry Cejudo and Pedro Munhoz. Takedown defense will be the name of the game for Moraes in this one. He is the superior and more dangerous striker, and the only thing that could bottle that up is being on his back underneath an elite wrestler. While his BJJ is better than Cejudo’s, his wrestling is so far off, as just about everyone’s is. But he’s got a great shot at a KO here.
Henry Cejudo is an elite wrestler who has seen the other aspects of his game catch up enough to, well, win two belts. I feel like I’m being disrespectful when I predict the KO of a two-belt champ, but he is an underdog after all. Let’s talk about how he can win instead. His wrestling credentials are pristine, and controlling Moraes on the floor for the better part of multiple rounds is the path. Despite great of a wrestler he is, his DK scoring ceiling is not great, and it’s due to how well he controls on the ground while also not striking in volume on the feet. Of course with five rounds, there’s plenty of time to rack up points, and he did KO TJ Dillashaw in his last fight. But note his only triple digit scores in his last seven fights are when he was able to find a sporadic KO.
While this main event can still easily produce a high score, especially on the Moraes side, it’s not one to take 100% exposure to. It’s a tight fight and you’ll almost certainly need both sides in MME. It’s a potential spot to take a stand in 20-max and have increased to excessive exposure to one side. From a ceiling perspective in MME I’d say favor Moraes in the split, at a 2:1 ratio or something approaching that.
Cash and Single Entry
The conservative approach to cash would be stacking both title fights and adding Suarez with a high value underdog such as Munhoz. There is room for a little more aggression on this card for cash if you so choose. The women’s title fight is a fully necessary stack, and Moraes and Suarez are impossible to take out. This means you could attempt to move to strike count reliance and play a combo of Kowalkiewicz/Hill, which brings a superb floor but a questionable median.
We do not stack in single entry so the stack fighters from cash need to be changed out. The fighters to consider adding in are Munhoz, Kowlkiewicz, Hill, Tuivasa, Lamas and probably most importantly, taking a stand on the Ferguson/Cowboy fight.
All fighters are on weight! Card is likely to go on without changes.
- Popov: +120
- Lewis/Stewart ITD: -175
- Kowalkiewicz: -115
- Munhoz: +115
- Lamas: +120, can add or pivot to partial unit of Lamas by sub at +660
- Suarez: -770, whatever you’re profiting at this point in the night, add to it for that amount
- Ferguson/Cerrone ITD: -170
- Moraes: -130