The UFC invades Houston, Texas this weekend with a blockbuster that is stacked from top to bottom. Despite losing possibly one of it’s more intriguing match-ups when the Heavyweight tilt between Dave Herman and Mike Russow was scrapped, the card still offers a number of potential slugfests and back and forth brawls.
The main event features the trilogy fight between Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. The co-main event features Featherweight kingpin and destruction specialist Jose Aldo taking on the newly dieted Kenny Florian. Rounding out the main card is a possible Middleweight number-one contender’s bout between the always trash-talking Chael Sonnen and former US Marine Brian Stann, a rematch featuring Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia and a Lightweight bout between rising contenders in Joe Lauzon and Melvin Guillard.
In my opinion this card is full of excitement from top-to-bottom both in entertainment value (let’s be honest, if a Lightweight bout between Jeremy Stephens and Anthony Pettis is on the undercard, the main card must be stacked!) But it is also full of gambling opportunities. Those of you who have read my previous entries would know that I love a good underdog and there are a number of live underdogs in this one (at least in my opinion) so let’s take a look at some of them. As always all betting lines are the current best available market lines from Best Fight Odds (www.bestfightodds.com)
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Middleweight Bout: Steve Cantwell (-140) vs. Mike Massenzio (+125)
Steve “The Robot” Cantwell is a 24-year-old former Light Heavyweight fighter. He was the last reigning WEC Light Heavyweight Champion, before the promotion folded it’s heavier fighters into the UFC. Cantwell is a Muay Thai fighter who fights out of the One Kick’s Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition to his solid striking he has a black-belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and is perhaps most famous for breaking the arm of UFC newcomer Razak Al-Hassan. Cantwell is making the drop to Middleweight for the first time in his career after a recent skid at 205 pounds. He has a career record of 7-4.
[adinserter block=”2″]Mike “The Master of Disaster” Massenzio is a 28-year-old fighter from New Jersey. He fights out of the Team Ironhorse MMA Gym in Patterson, New Jersey. Like his opponent his skills lie in his black belt BJJ level skills, backed by decent wrestling and improving Muay Thai skills. He is a former NAGA and Grappler’s Quest Champion. He is returning to the Middleweight division after a failed attempt at 205 pounds. Massenzio has a career record of 12-5.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: This bout sees the former WEC Light Heavyweight champion as a slight favorite. I’m inclined to agree with that, but there is always the chance that Cantwell’s weight-cut goes poorly, or he struggles to make weight. If that’s an issue, he might tire easily and allow Massenzio the chance to get back into the fight. The grappling is likely a wash, with the edge to whoever gets the takedown and Cantwell is likely the better striker, so because of that I’ll pick him. Although, with potential weight cutting problems, I’m not betting on it. Steve Cantwell by Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Middleweight Bout: Aaron Simpson (-325) vs. Eric Schafer (+325)
Aaron “A-Train” Simpson is a 37-year-old fighter from Colorado. He is now a member of the Power MMA team in Phoenix, Arizona. Simpson is a wrestler first who is rapidly improving his boxing skills. Simpson was a former NCAA All-American wrestler for Arizona State University. He uses his strong wrestling base to control the pace of his fights and control his opponents, choosing whether to use stand up, or his ground and pound skills. He is entering the fight on a two-fight winning streak. Simpson’s career MMA record is 10-2, with his only losses coming against upper-tier Middleweights like Mark Munoz and Chris Leben.
Eric “Red” Schafer is a 34-year-old fighter who is making his return to the UFC after a brief absence. Schafer’s main strength is a black belt level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills. Of his 12 career wins, 9 of them have come from Submission. Schafer’s weakness has long been his ineptitude with the striking portion of the game, so he will likely be an underdog in the fight standing. Schafer’s MMA record is 12-5-2.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: Simpson is a huge favorite and it’s not really hard to see why. He possesses better stand up skills and better wrestling, meaning it will be tough for Schafer to get the fight to the ground where he could exploit his grappling advantage. With no ability to get the fight to the ground, Schafer will struggle standing and will take some big punches before finally being overwhelmed late in the second round. If you don’t mind laying big money you could place a small wager on Simpson, but there are other fights I like better, so I’m laying off. Aaron Simpson by 2nd Round TKO
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Featherweight Bout: Zhang Tie Quan (-120) vs. Darren Elkins (+110)
Zhang “The Wolf” Tie Quan is a Chinese fighter who is likely a potential investment for the UFC. The UFC gaining popularity in a country as big as China could be huge business for the company, so some fans have accused the UFC of giving him beneficial match making, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in this close Featherweight bout. Quan is a Sanshou Kickboxer who is also a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He has ten career victories by submission and has finished the fight in all 13 of his career victories, all but one in the first round. The member of Team Quest China and China Top Team holds a record of 13-1.
Darren “The Damage” Elkins is a wrestling based fighter from Hobart, Indiana. He is a member of the Duneland Vale Tudo Gym in Hobart. Elkins holds career victories over a number of notable fighters including Michihiro Omigawa, Duane Ludwig and Pat Curran. Elkins has fairly mediocre stand up and often uses his smothering wrestling to control his opponents on the ground and uses ground and pound to earn rounds on the judge’s scorecards. His professional MMA record if 12-2.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: Elkins is seen by many as a live underdog and money has actually been coming in on him recently, closing the line closer to a Pick’Em contest. However, I think he is being overvalued here. He is a strong wrestler and could possibly blanket his way to a decision, however, his stand up skills aren’t great and his submission defense has been exposed in the past, most notable to Charles Oliveira. Zhang is an excellent grappler and is very crafty on the ground, don’t count out the Chinese grappler getting hold of a limb and forcing a submission. At -120, the line is fairly well set, but Zhang could be good for a bet up to about -130, so I’ll make a small one here. Zhang Tie Quan via Submission in Round Two
Preliminary Card (Facebook): Heavyweight Bout: Joey Beltran (+210) vs. Stipe Miocic (-230)
Joey “The Mexecutioner” Beltran is a Mexican-American fighter from San Diego, California. The 29-year-old fighter is somewhat of a gate-keeper for the Heavyweight division in the UFC and will be welcoming a highly touted prospect to the cage on Saturday night. Beltran is a straight up brawler who is extremely tough. He is somewhat undersized for a Heavyweight, usually weighing in at a soft 240 pounds and standing just over 6′ tall. He is a member of the Alliance MMA gym, where he is continuing to add more levels to his skills, including a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Beltran has a career record of 13-5.
Stipe Miocic is an American fighter of Croatian descent. The 29-year-old is a relative newcomer to the sport of MMA, but is a highly touted prospect who is making his UFC debut. Miocic has a very strong background for MMA, as he was a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler at Cleveland State University. He also won the Golden Gloves Championship as an amateur boxer. He holds an undefeated professional record of 6-0, with all of his wins coming by way of strikes.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: Miocic is a big prospect with a seemingly perfect skill set for MMA. He is a strong wrestler with great technical boxing skills. At 6’4″ and 245 pounds, he is a very large man and will not be overwhelmed by some of the giants that inhabit the UFC’s Heavyweight division. There’s always the chance he chokes because of the “big-stage gitters” but Miocic holds the wrestling and boxing advantage over Beltran. Although Beltran is very durable and tough to finish, there’s no reason to think that the brawler can pull off an upset here. But remember, everyone said the same thing when Beltran faced Rolles Gracie in the latter’s UFC debut. Not interested in laying the huge juice, so I’ll stay away. Stipe Miocic by TKO in Round Three
Preliminary Card (SPIKE TV): Lightweight Bout: Anthony Pettis (-270) vs. Jeremy Stephens (+250)
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis was the final WEC Lightweight champion and rose to instant fame for his now YouTube famous “Showtime Kick” where he scaled the cage to deliver a kick straight to Ben Henderson’s face. He was promised a Lightweight title shot when he entered the UFC, but due to a draw between Edgar and Maynard in their last fight, he chose to fight instead and lost a decision to Clay Guida, in a fight where Guida simply outmuscled and out-wrestled the youngster. Pettis is a 24-year-old fighter from the Roufusport gym in Milwaukee. He has an extensive background in martial arts including a 3rd degree black belt in Taekwan Do and a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Showtime also possesses great stand up skills, with solid Muay Thai fundamentals backed by a great striking coach and loads of creativity. Pettis has a career MMA record of 13-2.
Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens may have one of the worst nicknames in the UFC, but he is no joke. The 25-year-old fighter from Iowa likely has a lifetime employment gig from the UFC due to his fan-friendly fighting style. Fighting as a professional since the age of 16, Stephens is very experienced for his young age and has a strong striking style backed by Muay Thai and Boxing skills. Stephens fights out of the Alliance MMA gym in San Diego, California. Stephens is mostly known for his exciting stand up style and his heavy hands. He holds a career MMA record of 20-6.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: This is actually one of my favorite bets on the card. I think that at +250 Stephens is being significantly undervalued. Pettis (despite being one of my favorite fighters) isn’t likely to try and out-wrestle or grapple with Stephens so throw those advantages out the window. This fight is likely to be a three-round (or shorter) kickboxing contest. Pettis should have the edge here, as he’s quicker and more technically sound, but he’s been hit before and Stephens ends fights when he hits you. Pettis should be the favorite, but not by as much as he is. Getting 2.5-to-1 on Stephens seems like a bit of a trap, but if it is, I’m falling head over heels into it. Jeremy Stephens via TKO in Round Three
Preliminary Card (SPIKE TV): Middleweight Bout: Demian Maia (-260) vs. Jorge Santiago (+255)
Demian Maia is a 33-year-old fighter from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is one of the world’s best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners who currently competes in MMA. He is also a former Judoka in addition to being a 3rd degree black belt in BJJ. Maia has also recently shown an improvement in his boxing skills, likely attributed to his time spent training with Wanderlei Silva at the Wand Fight Team gym. The former Middleweight Number One Contender holds a career MMA record of 14-3 with 8 wins via Submission.
Jorge “Sandman” Santiago is a Brazilian fighter from Rio de Janeiro. He is a former Sengoku Middleweight Champion. Santiago is a somewhat erratic fighter who is known for his talent potential, but often failing to live up to it. Santiago is also a black belt in BJJ, but is nowhere near the level of grappling when compared to his opponent in this fight. However, he is also a strong Muay Thai fighter, who will possess a standing edge against Maia. Santiago is a member of American Top Team based in Coconut Creek, Florida. He holds an MMA record of 23-9.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: Ugh, I can’t believe I’m actually going to say it, but I like Santiago in this fight. I’ve hemmed and hawed about this one for the majority of the week, but I think he holds a significant stand up edge and should have the ability to at least keep himself out of trouble on the ground. He’ll also likely be the stronger wrestler, mainly from being in the cage against more wrestlers during his career, so I think he may be able to keep the fight standing. If Maia tries to test out his improved striking for too long, he may find himself too far behind on the scorecards to catch back up. But then again, Santiago has a way of losing fights he should probably win. A quick check on my sports betting account says a parlay with Santiago and Stephens will pay $45 on a $5 bet, if you’re feeling lucky take a swing. Jorge Santiago via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Lightweight Bout: Melvin Guillard (-340) vs. Joe Lauzon (+310)
Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard is a 28-year-old fighter who is finally living up to all of the hype he had as a young man. The former cast-member of the Ultimate Fighter Season 2 is a kickboxer with strong wrestling and a brown belt in Judo. He trains with Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Guillard has a very fan-friendly style incorporating the speed of his stand up attack with his extremely heavy hands. Guillard enters this fight on a five-fight win streak stopping his last two opponents in the first round. Guillard’s career MMA record stands at 29-8-2 with 1 No Contest.
Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon is a 27-year old from Brockton, Massachusetts. He is a boxer and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter who is more known for his excellent grappling skills than his technical boxing skills. Like his opponent Lauzon was also a cast-member of the Ultimate Fighter, although Lauzon was on the fifth season of the show. Of twenty career victories, Lauzon owns 16 by way of Submission. He holds a career record of 20-6.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: This one seems eerily similar to Guillard’s fight against Evan Dunham. Everyone said that if Dunham could just wrestle the fight to the ground he would likely exploit Guillard’s Achilles heel, his inferior grappling skills. In that fight, Dunham was asleep before he ever dragged Guillard to the ground. This fight is much the same, although Dunham tested his stand up a little more than Lauzon is likely going to. At over 3-to-1 there might be a chance that Lauzon snags a limb and earns a submission but it’s more likely that Guillard obliterates him and steamrolls his way towards a Lightweight title shot. Melvin Guillard via TKO (but for those of you interested, that $5 Parlay with the addition of Lauzon now pays out $190….)
Main Card (PPV): Featherweight Bout: Leonard Garcia (+205) vs. Nam Phan (-210)
Leonard “Bad Boy” Garcia is a 32-year-old fighter from Texas. He currently trains with Greg Jackson’s Submission Fighting. He is a boxer who is most well-known for his exciting brawling style which is great for fans, but not always for himself. Garcia is also a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, although he rarely shows it off in fights, choosing instead to slug it out on the feet. Garcia continually moves forward, winging huge hooks and looping punches towards his opponents. When they land they can definitely do damage, unfortunately they don’t always hit their marks. Garcia is 15-7 as a professional but has never been stopped by strikes. Garcia actually holds a win over Phan in a fight that took place nearly a year ago, although the decision was hotly-contested and most people feel that Phan won the fight.
Nam Phan is a California based fighter, who is most known to casual fans from his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter: GSP vs. Koscheck. Phan is a very well-rounded fighter with a number of martial arts backgrounds on his resume. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a black belt in Karate and a black belt in Quyen Dao. Phan also has strong Muay Thai skills with great counter punching ability. Despite struggling in his past two outings, he has shown strong footwork and good counter-punching skills, which will be on full display against a fighter like Garcia. The member of the Ma Du Academy in Garden Grove, California holds a career record of 16-9.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: This fight is just a watch for me. It holds a lot of interest to me as a fan, but nearly none as a bettor. The fact that Garcia won the last fight was absolutely nuts to me and I don’t feel like losing money on that again. Garcia will likely again move forward behind looping punches and a brawling style while Phan will use effective footwork, kicks and counter-punching to be more effective. Plus after losing the last one in controversial fashion, Phan might have the judge’s looking for a reason to balance the score. Nam Phan via Unanimous Decision
Main Card (PPV): Middleweight Bout: Chael Sonnen (-260) vs. Brian Stann (+230)
Chael Sonnen is returning to the UFC after a miraculous loss to Anderson Silva in a fight where he gave it away in the final round, followed by a failed drug test and a slew of personal problems. He has not fought since that loss to Silva in August, 2010. The usual trash-talking expert has remained relatively low-key for this fight, although he has been openly campaigning for a rematch against Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. Sonnen is a wrestler with a smothering top game, serviceable boxing skills and horrible submission defense. Sonnen is a member of Team Quest Oregon and the former Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Alternate has a career record of 25-11-1.
Brian “All-American” Stann is a former US Marine turned professional fighter. He is one of the best ambassador’s of the UFC which has likely caused the lack of trash-talk from his opponent in this fight. Stann was a struggling Light Heavyweight in danger of being cut from the UFC, but since a drop to Middleweight he has rolled with three straight victories all by way of stoppage and with a win over Sonnen is likely staring at a shot at the Middleweight title. Stann is a kickboxer with good Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Submission wrestling skills. He is a black belt in MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) and is also a member of Jackson’s Submission Fighting camp, where he has excelled under the tutelage of coach Greg Jackson. Stann’s MMA record as a pro is 11-3.
Betting Analysis: I’m going to go ahead and warn you that I hate Chael Sonnen. I think his style is boring, but I did predict him to stand a good shot at defeating Anderson Silva in his last fight. However, I do like Stann in this fight for a couple of reasons. One is the number of distractions and time off in Chael Sonnen’s life. The failed drug test, money laundering case, etc… has to be wearing on him mentally, and any time that a fighter takes more than a year off of fighting, you have to worry about ring rust being an issue. Stann has also shown improved submission skills and takedown defense since his switch to Jackson’s. If he can keep the fight on the feet, he will have the chance of putting his hands all over Sonnen who’s stand up is technically sound but is nowhere near elite level. It’s a long-shot, but I think there’s a bit of value on Stann at +230, so I’ll make a small wager on him. Brian Stann via TKO in Round One (by the way, that $5 parlay with the addition of Stann is now up to $619)
Main Card (PPV): Featherweight Championship Bout: Jose Aldo (-320) vs. Kenny Florian (+300)
Jose “Scarface” Aldo is the reigning and defending UFC Featherweight Champion. From Manaus, Brazil Aldo is a Muay Thai Fighter with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is rarely used. Aldo is one of the fastest fighters in the UFC with great hand and foot speed as well as massive KO power and finishing ability. He is a member of the famed Brazilian camp Nova Unaio. Aldo has a number of highlight reel clips on his YouTube channel including stoppage victories over Mike Brown, Cub Swanson and Manny Gamburyan.
Kenny “Ken-Flo” Florian is a long-time UFC fighter from Westwood, Massachusetts. The 35-year-old fighter is making his third attempt at a UFC title, this time at an even lower weight class than the first two times. Florian is a very intelligent fighter who often has excellent game plans entering his fights, but who is known as a bit of a choke-artist, often coming up short in title fights or other big fights. Florian is most notable for his hosting duties on MMA Live as well as his other analyst jobs for MMA. He is perhaps best known to long-time fans for his stint on the first season of the Ultimate Fighter where he actually fought as a Middleweight. Florian has a career record of 15-5.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: A lot of people are making a big deal about the recently released YouTube video of Jose Aldo struggling to make weight for UFC 129 and his subsequent performance at UFC 129 (the video has recently been changed to private.) However, to play that card one has to look across the cage and see a former Middleweight fighter who is making the cut to 145-pounds for only the second time. All of that aside, this is Aldo’s fight to lose hence the heavy favorite status. He holds the stand up edge, the grappling is likely a wash and Aldo is the younger, more athletic fighter. These guys are both finishers, so this fight could end at any time, but even ignoring Florian’s obvious penchant for choking in big fights, it’s not hard to see why Aldo is such a big favorite. Despite the long odds, I think this line is fairly well set and I’m not interested in laying cash down on either fighter, so I’ll just be watching as a fan for this one. As for a prediction, I’ll take, Jose Aldo via TKO Round Three
Main Event (PPV): Lightweight Championship Bout: Frankie Edgar (-125) vs. Gray Maynard (+120)
[adinserter block=”2″]Frankie “The Answer” Edgar is the reigning and defending UFC Lightweight Champion. He is a 29-year-old fighter from New Jersey. He is a well-rounded fighter, with a number of backgrounds all folded into his MMA game including Wrestling, Boxing, BJJ and Muay Thai. He was an NCAA Division 1 Wrestler at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Renzo Gracie Combat Team from Toms River, New Jersey. Edgar has only one career loss and it was to Maynard in 2008. In his last fight, he fought to a Split Draw against Maynard, in a fight where he rallied from a severe beating in the first round to outwork his opponent for the rest of the fight. Edgar uses his wrestling to earn well-timed takedowns and control the pace of his bouts. He uses strong footwork and strong technical boxing, backed up by an excellent jab to dart in and out against his opponents and outscore them on the feet.
Gray “The Bully” Maynard is a 32-year-old fighter from Phoenix, Arizona. Maynard is a member of the Xtreme Couture Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada. Like his opponent, Maynard was a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler, although Maynard spent his collegiate career at Michigan State University. Maynard’s stand up is somewhat raw and unpolished. He often throws winging, loopy punches, which generate a lot of power, but often leave him susceptible to counters from quicker opponents. Maynard has never been defeated in his MMA career, holding a perfect record of 10-0-1. Maynard relies extensively on his wrestling background in his fights, often searching for takedowns and then unleashing ground and pound on his opponents.
Betting Analysis and Prediction: I picked Maynard to win the last fight, and although I was impressed with Edgar’s comeback, I think Maynard simply punched himself out in that first round and never really recovered. Clearly Edgar can take a punch and stay in the fight, so this fight is almost surely destined for the scorecards. Edgar will try to dart in and out to pepper his jabs at Maynard while constantly retreating and searching for openings to counter his slower opponent. However, I still think that Maynard holds the edge in physical strength and wrestling ability. Those are what he’s going to need to rely on if he wants to win this fight and claim the Lightweight Championship. He’s never shown a problem to be a bit of a blanket, which is likely his best path to victory in this fight. At +120 you’re not getting a lot, but this fight should probably be even, so I’m making a small play on Maynard. Gray Maynard via Unanimous Decision
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