Mixed Martial arts fans are in for a treat this weekend. With action in both the Bellator cage and the UFC octagon to keep us amused. As ever with this column we’re trying to find some value selections to hopefully help fill our pockets as we enjoy some high quality violence.
Let’s start with Friday night’s Bellator 161 card. I’m going to try keep the reasoning for these selections short. Due to late pricing from bookmakers we’re a little late with these suggestions.
Kakai vs. Warren
I think Warren has a slight grappling advantage in this fight but his prowess is dwindling, as the years go by. At 39 he may not be as capable as he once was. Kakai has serviceable wrestling skills and is probably the more diverse striker of the two. If he can succeed in cancelling out Warren’s overall grappling game then I give him an advantage in a kick boxing match.
Selection: I don’t think this ends in a finish given both guys styles. You can get both fighters at 2/1 to win by decision. If you’re betting on this fight I’d look towards this prop with whichever of the two you favour.
Yankova vs. Arteaga
The bookies have this set as a one sided bout. I have to say that I think Yankova should be a favourite here; but I don’t think the prices are justified. Yankova has average grappling and muay thai. Even though she has submitted her first three opponents I don’t see this being the way that she wins on Friday if she can pull through. Arteaga appears to have a little variety in her striking, that is interesting. Her fight with Ashley Deen illustrated that she can get the better of a much larger opponent. She also showed a capacity to fight a smart fight and use a small speed advantage to out-work her opponent. It’s really hard to gauge who’s had the tougher path thus far because both women’s quality of opponents have been lackluster.
Selection: This is an underdog or pass situation in all honesty from a win bet perspective. I’ll take the risk on Arteaga as I think Bellator may have underestimated where Yankova is at in her development. Arteaga to win is currently 7/2 to win. If you’re going with Yankova the tko prop is probably your best bet at 7/2 also.
I don’t think there’s any value in the Bellator main event so we’ll move to the UFC’s Saturday night card.
Poirier vs. Johnson
I’m a massive fan of both these guys. Both rarely have dull fights and each of them are deserving of their top 10 ranking in the lightweight division. Poirier is enjoying a career resurgence in the 155lbs division, after being twice on the cusp of title eliminator bouts at featherweight. Johnson returns after a 10 month absence following a decision loss to Nate Diaz.
The striking ability of both men should make this fight a joy to watch for fans. Poirier is definitely the more powerful striker of the two and has the ability to cause any person in the division trouble on the feet. He seems to have regained some quickness following the move back up in weight and looks much healthier. Poirier has also revealed that he’s walking around at a lower weight than when he fought at 145lbs. This is mostly due to an increase in metabolism with no longer having to starve himself, to make the featherweight limit.
Poirier has a nice variety of kicks in his arsenal also, and is getting to be very adept at switching stances as can be seen in the recent Duffy fight. That fight also showed his ability to take a shot has been much better in this weight class than towards the latter parts of his tenure at 145lbs. There he’d been visibly rocked on a number of occasions.
Johnson is possibly one of the quickest boxers in the division and on his night can be an utter nightmare to deal with. His time with the Blackzilians has helped him progress his game beyond what we saw on The Ultimate Fighter. He’s also got a nice kicking game that’s improved under the tutelage of Henri Hooft. Before the Diaz fight we’d seen Johnson out-strike a number of the division’s top hopefuls (Ferguson and Barboza). We’d also seen him lose controversially to Dariush in a fight that he’d largely nullified the Kings MMA product's striking and grappling.
Johnson has excellent defensive take-down skills defending around 80% of the attempted take-downs on him. One area that is still a worry when the fight hits the floor, is his submission defence. Six of his ten losses are by submission. One of them being by D’Arce choke. I bring this up as Poirier is extremely tricky on the ground and has two D’Arce finishes to his name. The only thing for me here is that Reza Medadi is a much better wrestler than Poirier, and I don’t see this fight hitting the ground unless it’s following a striking exchange.
Selection: I think the major thing that separates these two is speed. Poirier doesn’t put opponents off their game during a fight in the same way Diaz does. I think this was a large part of the reason that Johnson lost that fight. As I don’t think that Poirier has the wrestling ability to easily get Johnson down, I’m going to take Johnson at 6/4 to win this.
Brunson vs. Hall
This is a key fight for both men as they look to jump up to the cusp of the top 5 in the middleweight division. Both have the physical gifts to end the fight in an instant and this has potential fight of the night written all over it should both men show up on form.
I say that last statement, as Uriah Hall can be difficult to predict. He's had some incredible highlights (from his TUF knockouts to his flying knee against Gegard Mousasi), but also had nights where he genuinely didn't want to fight. It's this that makes me worry when anyone talks about Hall being a guy to rely on betting wise. Admittedly I bet on Gastelum in the TUF finale because of Hall's previous losses prior to the finale. Whilst he is a terrifying striker at times, he's also got the potential to be very inactive. Witness his last fight to former welterweight Robert Whittaker where he spent large portions of the fight on the defensive with little or no output.
Brunson has raised his level since moving over as part of the Strikeforce acquisition. The 32 year old is 6-1 in the UFC with that only loss being to Yoel Romero. Even in that fight Brunson out-wrestled the former Olympian and was desperately close to winning the bout only to be finished in the 3rd round. He's since rebounded with four wins, including three first round finishes. I think Brunson will have a wrestling advantage, as a former NCAA Division II wrestler. I also think he has a higher fight IQ and an under-rated grappling game.
I think grappling is key in this fight. Hall has struggled in the past with fighters that can hold him against the fence or get him to the ground. He's very inactive from his back, and given his propensity to also be inactive on the feet I think Brunson may attempt to turn this into a grappling heavy bout. If they stay at distance there's a minute chance of a fighter getting rocked and a scramble ensuing.
Selection: I think Hall is terribly difficult to finish on the feet. For that reason I can only see Brunson winning by decision or submission. I think a scenario like Brunson's fight with Brian Houston is extremely possible, if both men are trading; that he could rock Hall and take his back. I could also see him taking Hall down and working to a submission. For that reason I really do like the prop on a Brunson submission at 9/1. I think Brunson's fight IQ wins him this fight but the value for a straight win has disappeared during the week.
As ever these are just suggestions and please do not bet what you can not afford to lose. If you've any suggestions or any selections for the weekend please share them in the comments section. Enjoy the fights.
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