We are coming off the best event of the year so far in UFC 228, a card with such unique and seductive fights that despite a few -1300 and -1800 moneylines, there was an awful lot of fodder for us to bet on. UFC Fight Night 136, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first foray into Russia, is a whole different kettle of fish, making our quest to cash out a little more complicated. While UFC 228 was populated with a slate of tantalizing lines like UFC loyalists Jim Miller and Diego Sanchez getting preferential matchmaking, allowing both fighters to bounce back in the win column as appetizing underdogs, UFC Fight Night 136 is a different story.
To be frank, Saturday’s Moscow card is built on two notions: one, a burgeoning MMA market like Russia will simply be happy to have the UFC finally come to the country and fans will be content to watch their countrymen succeed in showcase fights and two, with nearly 600 fighters on roster, the UFC needs to satisfy their contractual obligations to a bunch of underdogs, quietly moving them into free agency. Those two dynamics are not necessarily conducive to quality betting plays.
C’est la vie. Or, as they would say in Russia, “takova zhizn.” Regardless, even if this card stands virtually no chance of standing up to the historical thrills and chills of UFC 228, there’s gotta be a route to make some rubles betting on UFC Fight Night 136. Let’s figure out how it’s done:
Straight Up Cash
Mark Hunt (-190)
That Hunt isn’t a bigger favorite actually has little to do with the fact he’s a 44-year-old, grizzled veteran, but rather that he’s facing a fighter in Alexey Oleynik, who happens to possess one of the most incredible, low-percentage specialty maneuvers in the history of MMA with his patented Ezekiel choke. Plain and simple, there’s no real way for a fighter to fully prepare for Oleynik's bread and butter technique, since so few fighters can pull it off or replicate the Boa Constrictor’s trademark squeeze. Sure, Hunt’s main deficiency is still his submission defense, but the “Super Samoan” is unlikely to engage on the ground in this fight, recognizing it’s Oleynik's clearest and perhaps only path to victory.
On the feet, Oleynik can flash some power with his strikes, but he is generally plodding. He also has a woeful gas tank, whereas Hunt has a wealth of cardio-intensive experience, whether it’s his background in one-night tournaments in K-1, or even going into the fourth and fifth rounds during his UFC tenure. “Mr. Hunto” is also blessed in that even when he is visibly tired and sucking wind, he never truly “gasses” in the sense that despite his fatigue, he always continues to throw strong strikes and a solid level of volume, most recently evidenced in his fourth-round knockout of Derrick Lewis in June of last year.
Oleynik is not without his advantages. He’s got underrated pop in his punches, he’ll enjoy an eight-inch reach advantage over the squatty Hunt, and of course, he’s the master of a submission that no one ever sees coming. However, he is glacially slow and plodding in the standup and absorbs 3.49 significant strikes per minute. So long as Hunt willfully disengages from any grappling exchanges, Oleynik should simply be target practice for the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix champion. A straight bet on Hunt will make you sweat a bit early as he will need to navigate around Oleynik's repeated attempts to ensnare him in the Ezekiel choke, but the likely outcome is that Hunt eschews the grappling all together and dents his foe on the feet repeatedly en route to a late-round stoppage.
Straight Up Pass
Nikita Krylov (-125) vs. Jan Blachowicz (+105)
This is some cautionary advice pertaining to both sides of this light heavyweight fight. Blachowicz started as a -130 when lines opened, with folks betting the returning Krylov into the favorite position. However, even with Blachowicz as an early favorite, I would have been sheepish about betting on either man. It’s simply too hard to tell exactly what we're going to get in this fight, given both men’s flaky fight styles and histories.
Blachowicz, 35, has looked better than he ever has over his last three outings, including avenging a previous loss to British puncher Jimi Manuwa this past March. His use of the jab, counterpunches and mean kicks to the body will present problems for Krylov. However, “The Miner” has landed a whopping 6.55 significant strikes per minute while in the Octagon, and Krylov’s recent rehabilitation tour under the Fight Nights Global banner saw him rip off a string of quick, nasty knockouts over solid opposition. Both men are adroit at hurting their opponents, then diving on them for quick, mercy kill-type submissions, as well. Despite both men having real finishing ability, this has the makings of a sloppy brawl, with both 205ers depleting their questionable gas tanks if neither one of them is able to find a stoppage in the first half of the fight.
Both Blachowicz and Krylov have serious offensive weapons combined with major defensive liabilities. It should make for a damn fun fight to watch, but given their proclivities and shortcomings, it’s probably best to avoid investing confidence or cash in either fighter, given what a free-for-all this is likely to turn into.
A Prop-ular Pick
Jordan Johnson Wins by Decision (+220)
I was shocked to find this darling of a prop bet. Both Johnson and his opponent Adam Yandiev enter the bout with stout 9-0 records and Johnson is a righteous -260 favorite straight up. However, I am perplexed as to why oddsmakers are favoring the former Iowa Hawkeye wrestler to actually polish Yandiev off inside the distance.
Yandiev has never been to a decision in his career thus far, finishing off all nine foes in his pro MMA campaign, but he has largely feasted on inexperienced, subpar opposition and has had an easy time slamming his opponents around, casually choking them out with his mauling grappling style. That will have no purchase against Johnson, who as mentioned, was fine enough of a wrestler to get a gig on a perennial powerhouse squad like the University of Iowa.
Sure, Johnson was able to finish off his first five opponents, but he’s gone to four straight decisions and hasn’t been able to find a stoppage so far in the Octagon despite going 3-0. While he is dropping to 185 pounds which suits his stocky frame better and he continues to show improvement with each fight working with John Crouch at the MMA Lab, Johnson’s style simply isn’t conducive to racking up knockouts or submissions against high-level opposition. He is a smart but often aimless boxer and while he possesses strong wrestling, he isn’t a big ground-and-pounder or natural submission ace. He is, for all intents and purposes, a classic grinder. In a matchup where he’s facing a fellow rugged wrestler, even if he has the technical and experiential advantages, he’s probably won’t be able to find the stoppage even if he is likely to get his hand raised. Johnson’s sharp counters and superior grappling will carry him to victory here but his trend of 15-minute affairs should continue, so this prop seems like a slam dunk.
An Unprop-ular Pick
Desmond Green vs. Mairbek Taisumov Doesn’t Go to a Decision (-160)
Mairbek Taisumov is 6-1 under UFC employ and has five straight knockouts. Meanwhile, Desmond Green has some serious power in his hands when he chooses to open up. However, I emphasize the latter here, as Green, win or lose, tends to lull opponents into his style of fight.
This fight is likely to be largely contested on the feet. Green, a former wrestler for the University at Buffalo, has takedowns in his arsenal but largely uses his wrestling to stay upright, working a low-output, sprawl-and-brawl game. I have no doubt that Taisumov will spend the majority of this fight hunting down a circling Green, launching volleys of punches and heavy kicks. It will almost certainly be enough to curry favor with the judges and get him the win, but despite his 24 stoppages in 26 career wins, Taisumov is going to find it hard to register a knockout or submission against a fighter as avoidant as Green.
For all Taisumov’s thrilling offense and Green’s athletic gifts, this has the makings of a frustrating fight to watch given how little Green likes to engage, preferring to counter with his strikes and defend takedowns. Green generally stays far away from his opponents, looking for the perfect single shot to end a fight, which almost never works. Taisumov will take the victory with his aggression and volume against the far more passive fighter, but Green’s evasive, passive tactics figure to stymie a serious chance at seeing another highlight reel from “Beckan.”
An Accumulation Contemplation
Mark Hunt (-190)
Jordan Johnson (-250)
Khalid Murtazaliev (-150)
Total Odds: +256
As mentioned, this card is an awkward mixture of tune-up fights for big Russian betting favorites and tightly-matched bouts with unreliable, mercurial characters like Blachowicz-Krylov and Andrei Arlovski-Shamil Abdurakhimov. There’s little sense in parlaying a ton of -500 and -600 favorites like Ramazan Emeev and Alexey Kunchenko, given the scant payoff and potential for upsets. So, we parlay the most sensible favorites with decent lines attached to them.
I’ve already made the case for both Hunt and Johnson to get their hands raised and both are sturdy favorites in matchups where we have solid, reliable ideas about how they’re going to attack their opponents. If we’re looking for one more link in the chain to create the classic three-team parlay and we ignore the glut of showcase fights for heavily favored Russians, the only sensible option is to throw in the debuting Murtazaliev, who despite stepping into his fight with C.B. Dollaway on short notice, is getting a preferential style matchup in his UFC debut.
Dollaway was originally set to face Omari Akhmedov who wound up injured, then M-1 Global champion Artem Frolov, who suffered the same fate. However, despite stepping in with just over a week’s notice, Murtazaliev will be insulated by the fact he’s based out of Moscow and won’t need to worry about travel. His two career losses, both to Abdulsupyan Alikhanov, were highly competitive brawls, exactly the sort of fight that Dollaway will look to avoid. Excluding his March disqualification win over an overzealous Hector Lombard who punched him after the first-round bell, the only fighter Dollaway has beaten in the last four years is a faded, 205-pound incarnation of Ed Herman. He is now 35 years old, has suffered a slew of injuries and even in his prime, suffered from a shallow gas tank that often saw him struggling to hold on to decision wins in the later stages of a fight. Dollaway is also highly susceptible to body attacks, which happens to be a major part of Murtazaliev’s striking arsenal. “The Doberman” may find some success with his wrestling early, but Murtazaliev is a seriously tough customer who will punish Dollaway to both the head and body and should be able to wear him out with his powerful barrages of strikes. Even if Murtazaliev doesn’t get a stoppage, his head-body attack should tire Dollaway out and force him into ugly, desperate wrestling that should allow the Russian to get his hand raised in his promotional debut.