For me personally, as a lifelong Clevelander, this is the card of the year. We get to see a wrong righted and see the greatest heavyweight of all time get his belt back.
My hometown loyalties and fandom aside, the rest of the card is really fun as well, and simply put, I can’t wait for Saturday. There are a lot of very live underdogs.
As always, cash, single entry, picks and bets come after weigh ins.
Update before weigh ins: the Kenney/Bermudez fight has been moved to a catch weight at 140 lbs.
Update after weigh ins: All fighters are on weight, even Romero despite needing an hour more than everyone else.
Early Prelims On Fight Pass
Sabina Mazo, -105, 8000 vs Shana Dobson, -125, 8200
Fight is at 125 lbs and is +240 to end inside the distance.
This opening fight is a low-level one, but is quite interesting. Make no mistake, Sabina Mazo was not at all awe inspiring in her UFC debut. The 22 year old showed she has a long way to go, but I still believe she should be favored in this fight. Both she and her opponent strike at just a moderate pace, and to get this out of the way, a finish will almost certainly be needed to see either to the optimal. Now, she definitely has a little bit of power and still has a pair of impressive head kick KOs on her resume. She will have the easier path of the two in landing heavy strikes as her opponent is just not sound at defending head and body strikes and keeps her hands extremely wide. It will be key for Mazo to defend takedowns as she showed she’s inept off her back, but her opponent only tends to shoot reactively, so it may only be a concern if Mazo gets her in trouble. It should be noted the first round of her debut was by far her worst round in that fight, and jitters may have played a role there. The most likely path to victory is a decision but I’m leaving room for a KO here for the once highly touted prospect.
Shana Dobson makes her fourth walk to the octagon and enters her seventh overall pro fight. She’s 1-2 in the octagon (including TUF) and 3-3 overall, but there’s a mammoth note to be made. Her opponents in her three wins never won another fight in any promotion and none have had a single ensuing fight in the UFC. Each time Dobson has fought anyone with a shred of ability, she’s lost. She’s a striker who has had some nice reactive takedowns but has shown no submission acumen nor an ability to control on top. She does have some pop to her shots and throws both punches and kicks with power, but her striking defense is a bigger concern than her offensive striking is a threat. She can truly be hurt both to the body and to the head and I believe she will be on the wrong end of a decision. Her paths to victory are also decision and an outside shot at a KO, but I would deem both avenues less likely than Mazo.
This fight is almost assuredly the one on the card that will be ignored from an ownership perspective, and perhaps rightfully so. I still want low to middle of moderate exposure on Mazo. Dobson is more difficult for me to force into builds and her range is from low exposure to fade candidate.
Kyung Ho Kang, -180, 8900 vs Brandon Davis, +150, 7300
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +100 to end inside the distance.
Brandon Davis enters his second fight at bantamweight. He is quite large for the weight class. We often worry about chin issues with a bigger weight cut, but he ate big shots and kept on ticking in his bantamweight debut before he finished the fight in the second round. He will be the better striker in this fight and that’s where he will want the fight to take place. His opponent is far more dangerous grappling and attacking submissions than he is striking, so despite Davis having arguably equal or better BJJ in this fight, he’ll want to bang it out on the feet, wear his opponent down and strike his way to a decision or KO win.
Kyung Ho Kang is fairly well rounded, but I’ve never been impressed by his standup game. He’s certainly most effective when grinding on opponents and looking for chokes. He may we’ll be able to get Davis down in this fight but also may have a difficult time holding him down to work towards said submissions. His only path to the optimal is an early submission and I wouldn’t deem that to have a high-percentage chance of happening. I also have a difficult time envisioning how he’d take a decision win.
I really question this line, as it should be very tight and Kang’s price is a rough one. The submission path to optimal keeps him in the build but just at low to low end of moderate exposure. Davis is certainly far more attractive and at price can find the optimal in a decision win, but he is also in play for a KO and should see at least middle of moderate exposure with room for more.
Hannah Cifers, -300, 9200 vs Jodie Esquibel, +240, 7200
Fight is at 115 lbs and is +300 to end inside the distance.
Jodie Esquibel is a fighter I am always quite happy to see listed on cards. As you’re scratching your head at that statement, let me tell you why. She is a human punching bag that’s really durable, keeps coming forward and exchanging, but throwing without much power. Read: she’s a fighter that’s been very consistent and easy to have a read on. While she throws plenty of volume herself, the number of significant strikes she absorbs is truly something to attack. Her opponents can be pencilled in for triple digits in that category and she continuously fires volume back. She’s not out of the question for a volume-based decision win, but that’s her only path to victory.
Hannah Cifers is a moderate-volume striker that will see her largest SS count of her career in this fight, and she does bring a different element of power that Esquibel doesn’t have. It’s not necessarily one-punch-KO power, but there’s more mustard on her shots. She’s the better striker and as long as she lets her hands go in volume, they will find their home. She is most likely for a decision win but we really can’t rule out a KO as the fight wears on.
At pricing, Cifers is more floor than ceiling, but that’s not to say the ceiling isn’t attainable. It’s difficult to envision any win where she’s sub 80 points with room for triple digits. She should see middle to high end of moderate exposure in builds. Esquibel isn’t a fade as she’s got the volume output to take a decision and her salary is dirt cheap. She’s low end of moderate, and it should be noted that her floor in a loss could see her to the optimal if we have fewer than two underdog wins (not a likely scenario given the card).
Prelims On ESPN
Manny Bermudez, -135, 8400 vs Casey Kenney +105, 7800
Fight is at 135 lbs and is -165 to end inside the distance.
Both fighters and the promotion have agreed to change this fight to a catch weight bout at 140 lbs.
Casey Kenney had a terrific showing in his debut with the promotion, showing real grappling acumen that I wasn’t aware he had in his skill set. He was particularly good in scrambles and was able to get the fight to the floor himself. He gets a different grappling test in this fight as he’s moving from facing a pressure wrestling style to one of a truly savvy submission hunter. His grappling ability could even work against him in this aspect as hitting the floor puts him in the danger zone. He likes his get ups, and he should, but he would risk falling into a submission if he skips any steps at any point. He’s going to be the better striker of the two and has pop in his strikes, so if he’s able to keep this a standing affair, he’ll have a clear path to a decision or KO victory. I do worry he’ll accept a grappling nature to this fight as he did in his last one, and that puts him in very real danger of being submitted.
Manny Bermudez is a submission grappler and quite a large bantamweight. He’ll have 3 inches of height and 4.5 inches of reach. As virtually always, he won’t be the more technical striker. He will have the length and maybe the power edge, but he’ll be looking to grapple. He is undefeated and eight of his last nine wins have come via submission. He just transitions so beautifully from one submission attack to the next and it’s the most likely outcome in this fight that he finds one. It should be noted he doesn’t seem to love getting hit and has never had his chin truly tested, so that may be something to watch for. Submission is his path.
The pricing in this fight is really one to attack as there’s a DK ceiling to be had. Kenney isn’t a fade and should be around low to middle of moderate exposure. Closer to middle of moderate is more comfortable. Bermudez’ path is more clear, and the ceiling is real at quite a reasonable price. He should be at the high end of moderate to high exposure.
Christos Giagos, +165, 7200 vs Drakkar Klose, -200, 9000
Fight is at 155 lbs and is +185 to end inside the distance.
Christos Giagos is a rounded and fairly long lightweight who likes to strike on the outside and keep distance. He will have a 2 inch-height and 1.5-inch reach advantage in this one. He likes to mix it up and is sound with takedowns as opponents close distance. He does have power and throws in flurries as opposed to constant pressure and engagement. This style is potentially one that could frustrate his opponent, or as it’s been, one that could drain the tank of Giagos himself. He fades both late in rounds and late in fights overall. I believe him to be the better grappler of the two and also the one that will be more eager to initiate grappling. While decision is the most likely path to victory, both KO and submission are in play as well.
Drakkar Klose is a striker who throws moderate output. He’s got a bit of a rounded game as he’s a sound wrestler but doesn’t often offensively grapple in MMA and more so doesn’t have the greatest top control. He’s generally a pressure fighter, and will have the cardio edge. Round 3 will very much be the round he’s most looking forward to. He will have the more consistent volume but can be caught on a counter if he recklessly moves forward. A decision win is the most likely path but it’s also quite possible he pounds out a gassed opponent late.
I see this fight as being a lot closer than the betting line suggests, and in turn, I think the favorite salary is a rough one to pay. Klose is just low exposure and a fade candidate at price. Giagos on the other hand has the favorable price and is a middle of moderate exposure.
Raphael Assuncao, +145, 7500 vs Cory Sandhagen, -175, 8700
Fight is at 135 lbs and is +180 to end inside the distance.
Raphael Assuncao returns after dropping his last fight ensuing an 11-1 run in the UFC. He’s got a completely rounded skill set and is among the elite. He’s long been a fixture in the top five of the bantamweight division and is the acting gatekeeper in this fight. The most interesting aspect of this fight is pace and who can control it. Assuncao has never been a high-pace fighter, and is quite calculated while his opponent operates at a much higher pace. This could work in either’s favor. If Father Time has caught up with Assuncao, it could lead to him being overwhelmed and potentially even finished. It could also set up big counters that Assuncao is quite good at. If there’s any grappling in this fight Assuncao is better, but it feels more like it will be a standing affair. His most likely path to victory is decision with a later KO being a distant second.
Cory Sandhagen is a very long and ascending bantamweight. He will have 6 inches of height and 4 inches of reach in this one. As mentioned, his volume is greater than Assuncao’s but he will have to be careful to not be reckless as he is in true danger of eating big counters here. As also mentioned, his movement is good and he can land plenty of strikes and will probably be the most dangerous in the first round before Assuncao can fully make his reads. All in all I think it’s most likely the volume wins out and Sandhagen takes a decision win in this one. He could find a finish but Assuncao is truly tough and decision remains most likely outcome.
This is a fight we’re only getting exposure to in builds as defense to variance outcomes. The fight is close and both fighters can win and both could find a ceiling, but if the fight plays out as expected, this one wouldn’t sniff the optimal. Just low end of to middle of moderate on Sandhagen and low to low end of moderate on Assuncao.
Devonte Smith, -750, 9500 vs
Clay Collard, +475, 6700 Khama Worthy, +515, ????
Fight is at 155 lbs and is
-395 -420 to end inside the distance. Clay Collard returns to the octagon after a four-year absence while fighting in regional promotions, and it’s puzzling that he’d want this fight if he had any other path back to the big stage. He is somewhat of a wild striker and wrestler. He keeps his hands very low which is the loudest of alarms to go off against his opponent’s combo of quickness and power. The betting line says it all here, but there is a longshot path to winning. He will have to wrestle the whole way and hold his opponent down. Controlling his way to a decision call or a late finish due to exhaustion is the path.
Devonte Smith, a product of my hometown of Bedford, Ohio is a truly ascending striker with a unique skill set. His jab is lightning and vicious and his strikes just have a sneaky level of real power overall. I’m not done with the jab — it could be the best in all of MMA — truly elite. His one loss was two and a half years ago to John Gunther and he’ll want to address the holes that were there. Gunther showed huge chin and used the grinding wrestling style to eventually ground and pound out an exhausted Smith. Those problems have been sewn up for the most part with his gym change, though we haven’t had much of a chance to find out how severe those problems might still be as he has finished all six fights since then, and five of those were in Round 1. He’s a KO threat from the first punch, and that is by far the most likely outcome of this fight.
Clay Collard has withdrawn from this fight and is being replaced y Khama Worthy on just four days notice. Worthy is a friend and former training partner of Devonte Smith. Smith left the Pittsburgh regional scene years ago and that is where Worthy is being called up from. He’s a striker that is willing to brawl, but this style raises two large problems for him. First, his chin. He’s been knocked out five times and that has been the case every time he stumbled upon a future UFC fighter on the regional scene. Second, the brawling seems to be the only way he gets clean shots home and his defense just disappears and he is quite available to be hurt. He also doesn’t have much of a ground game to speak of and the grinding wrestling tiny worry from Collard for Smith disappears with the opponent change. The only path to victory is landing something extremely lucky in an exchange.
Collard is a wild card as he’s been out of the big show for a while, and likely is the better wrestler here. His cardio is also likely an advantage so we’re not going to fully fade, at least not in MME. Just low exposure probably puts you level with the field and that’s all you need. Smith is a high exposure for the reasons listed above and he’s the only fighter on the card with a minus personal ITD line, and that is over two to one. Worthy is truly a fade. Him surviving the first round would be as high a variance outcome as we will say.
Main Card On PPV
Derek Brunson, +125, 7400 vs Ian Heinisch, -155, 8800
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -130 to end inside the distance.
Derek Brunson is a guy who has been ranked in the middleweight division and will be for a while longer, but has lost every time he runs into elite competition. He has both one punch power and his wrestling is quite good. He’s a legitimate KO threat in any fight he walks into, but isn’t the most technical of strikers by any means. He generally doesn’t like to get hit and is fairly easy to finish once hurt. He will have to counter well as he’ll be pressured throughout the fight, but 2 inches of height and 5 inches of reach can go a long way in making this an attainable goal. While he probably has the better wrestling (both are good), if he uses it he enters a realm where he does not have the better BJJ, and will be in danger on the floor. His most identifiable path to victory is a first-round KO before the tank is drained and the power is still there. Just judging by the stylistic matchup, he will have a hard time getting a decision call.
Ian Heinisch is now ranked and gets a step up in competition. He’s got a well-rounded skill set, and this fight will be a sound measuring stick as to where he’s truly at. He will pressure at every turn and never stop moving. He is available to be hit at times and may have his chin really tested in the first round. He has the better BJJ but will likely be unable to dictate getting the fight to the floor as he won’t be able to complete takedowns here. He will likely land more volume and is almost certainly the victor if the fight goes the distance. He will have to find a finish to hit the optimal at price.
Brunson has a true ceiling path with an early KO and can’t be ignored at price. Somewhere between low to middle of moderate is enough. As mentioned, Heinisch needs a finish to hit the optimal so he’s capped at middle of moderate as well.
Gabriel Benitez, +220, 6900 vs Sodiq Yusuff, -275, 9300
Fight is at 145 lbs and is -140 to end inside the distance.
Gabriel Benitez is a southpaw striker who throws all of his power from that left side. His left kick at all levels is his most dangerous strike. He throws really nice leg kicks that his opponent has had trouble dealing with in the past, so keeping range and throwing those early will be a huge key. He needs to keep the fight at kicking range as he’ll be at a boxing disadvantage and will find himself in trouble if he finds his back on the fence. His best path to victory is tearing up the leg early to find a decision or late finish win, and will be at a big disadvantage the more this fight becomes a boxing match.
Sodiq Yusuff is a striker entering his third fight in the promotion and will be the overall better striker in a fight where any grappling at all would be quite surprising. He has real power in his hands, but we need to see more to know the true level of it. He needs to not let Benitez settle in and get his kicks going, and be a little aggressive in closing distance early. He will land the better shots overall and is equally in play for a KO or a decision win.
Benitez has a path to victory and at that salary, simply isn’t a fade. You don’t need much, just low to low end of moderate exposure. Yusuff remains a big favorite but the line has dropped 40 points at the time of this writing, and it will be interesting to see how that line plays out in the coming days. I still want middle to high end of moderate exposure on Yusuff.
Yoel Romero, -150, 8600 vs Paulo Costa, +120, 7600
Fight is at 185 lbs and is -350 to end inside the distance.
Yoel Romero is more of a question mark for hitting weight than normal after receiving a $12M settlement. That amount of money is enough to bring any man’s motivation into question, but I will operate as if he’s fighting as normal. He remains a massive middleweight who throws very heavy actions in flurries, with real breaks in between, and remains very dangerous with true one-shot power. It is worth noting he’s seen every single one of his fights over the past six years hit at least the third round, and as a favorite, that wouldn’t find the optimal. As mentioned, he is a decorated wrestler but his opponent’s black belt may make him think twice about that avenue in this fight. This is a different test of sorts for Romero as he will just cover up while he rests at times, and he will be getting hit with heavy shots during those breaks. He will be at a volume disadvantage so a decision win isn’t quite likely here. I think it’s KO or bust for Yoel.
Paulo Costa has a tremendous physique and is a well-rounded fighter that throws with power. He’s 12-0 with 12 finishes all in the first two rounds, but certainly gets his most difficult test to date, by a wide margin. He is an intelligent, pressure striker and has pop in all his shots, but doesn’t really have the one-shot kill power. He definitely attacks the body well with both punches and kicks, and the mix up works well for him for finding finishes. He certainly will be throwing with more volume in this fight, and in the unlikely event it goes the distance, he’ll almost assuredly be on top. KO is also his most likely avenue to victory, and it’s an attainable one via atttrition.
Romero needs an earlier KO than what he’s been producing for quite some time now, and that’s not ideal for favorite pricing. We do assume this is something of a step down in competition and it’s maybe more likely to happen, but I think just defensive exposure on him is best — middle of moderate or less. Costa as the underdog is perhaps equally if not more likely for the early finish and will require at least as much exposure as Romero. Either way, leather and limbs will be moving with force in this one.
Anthony Pettis, -135, 8300 vs Nate Diaz, +105, 7900
Fight is at 170 lbs and is +155 to end inside the distance.
Anthony Pettis is coming off a very impressive KO in a fight he was losing. He’s been around long enough that a mini bio is far from needed. Suffice it to say he’s quite well rounded and high level. His head kick will be his most dangerous weapon in this fight, and it will be paramount for him to keep out of boxing range, or he will suffer the same beating he took from Tony Ferguson. While both fighters are BJJ black belts, I certainly would take his opponent’s grappling skill set over Pettis’. When this fight was announced, I didn’t expect Pettis to be favored, and even at the low favorite pricing, he requires a finish in the first two rounds to sniff the optimal. I don’t believe he can get a submission in this fight and I don’t believe he’ll have enough volume to win a decision, so he needs the KO. Here’s some alarming figures: since 2012 (13 fights, four of which went the full distance) he has one total takedown and has eclipsed 56 SS just one time. He hasn’t had a first-round finish since 2013 and has just one second-round finish since 2015. I don’t believe he should be favored here, and with just the KO path, I won’t have much of him.
Nate Diaz returns after a three-year absence. He’s fought the best of the best at lightweight and is coming back specifically for this fight. Author note: It had originally slipped my mind that the Conor fights were at welterweight and not lightweight. He will have superior boxing and better BJJ, and will just have to close distance and stay out of kicking range. There is an element of potential rust to his game because of the absence, but even if that mitigates his skill set by 20%, I would still prefer him in this fight. He’s very much in play for a decision win or late KO, as I don’t envision much grappling in this fight.
As mentioned, Pettis’ path to the optimal is quite sketchy, and he’s just low to low end of moderate exposure. Díaz is more defined with the more favorable price, and is middle to high end of moderate.
Daniel Cormier, -145, 8500 vs Stipe Miocic, +115, 7700
Fight is five rounds at heavyweight for the heavyweight championship and is -350 to end inside the distance.
Take my thoughts on this fight with something of a grain of salt as Stipe is the one fighter where I have a hometown fandom allegiance.
Daniel Cormier is forced to take the rematch he’s been avoiding at all costs. He wanted the low hanging fruit of Brock Lesnar and settled for similar in Derrick Lewis, but now he’s left with no choice but to give Stipe Miocic his due. There’s still a puncher’s chance that DC could repeat his upset, but that’s what’s problematic about this line. It was an upset then and would again be an upset now. DC shouldn’t be favored here. He doesn’t have a real advantage in this fight and with the amount of excess weight he’s still carrying, his cardio to go five rounds has to be a massive question mark. Go back and watch that first fight again if you haven’t. DC was truly sucking air after two minutes. He also had an egregious eye rake that will be interesting to see if he has a short leash in that aspect in the redux. I’m really not sure he has the athleticism at this size to complete many, if any takedowns here, so he will have to find a KO again to win, and it can happen early as the weight he’s carrying helps that cause.
Miocic waited as patiently as any man would to get the belt back he defended a record setting three times. It is truly egregious it took this long, but that wait is over. Stipe again will be taller, longer, the better striker, the one with the superior movement and the one with the takedown defense to dictate where the fight takes place. He will likely again pour on the volume and perhaps use his knees more, as they were effective in the first fight. The longer the fight goes, the more the advantage is Stipe’s, and it’s likely that if the third round starts, the fight is already decided. I don’t envision grappling getting past the clinch much so his paths to winning are both KO and decision.
I do think DC’s price is a negative value while Stipe’s is quite a positive one. Given that fact I think DC should be middle of moderate exposure and Stipe should be a high exposure.
*Post weigh in update* DC weighed in at 230 and isn’t carrying nearly as much weight as I estimated. This quells most of my cardio concerns on him. An unrelated thought and a subjective one: watching them both hit pads on Embedded, Stipe looked truly better and lightning quick.
Cash and Single Entry
This main event isn’t a perfect one to stack for cash, but it is indeed one I think we should use and the two heavyweights are the first fighters in. The next fighter in is massive favorite Devonte Smith and the best salary value on the card, despite being the highest price. Our next fighter is a nice underdog value that likely gets 15 minutes of scoring whether he wins or loses, Christos Giagos. The last two fighters in are high volume striker and salary value Cory Sandhagen and the grappling floor and ceiling of Manny Bermudez. A possible and sound pivot in a two for two swap off the last two fighters is Nate Diaz and Hannah Cifers.
Single Entry will look a good bit different from cash this week. We are obviously only playing one side of the main event, and I think Stipe is the correct path. Smith stays in the lineup for sure. Bermudez stays in as well. Now we veer towards picking a side of a fight highly likely to have a KO in Romero/Costa. If going in the direction of Romero, you almost have to leave salary on the table. The lineup would then be completed with Diaz and one of Davis or Brunson, leaving a bit of salary on the table. If going Costa, Sandhagen is a sound pairing with Diaz.
Picks and Bets
Picks with personal confidence percentage:
- Stipe 70%
- Diaz 68%
- Costa 52%
- Yusuff 83%
- Heinisch 73%
- Smith 100%
- Sandhagen 70%
- Giagos 55%
- Bermudez 75%
- Cifers 90%
- Davis 60%
- Mazo 60%
- Mazo -120
- Davis +165
- Bermudez -140
- Giagos +140
- Diaz +105
- Stipe +110
Some partial unit punts:
- Davis ITD +445
- Cifers by KO +650
- Costa by KO +205
- Diaz ITD +350