Donald Cerrone and Mike Perry make for an interesting matchup for gamblers. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
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The Ultimate Fighting Championship will stage its 25th anniversary card on Saturday, right back in the city where the Octagon first touched down: Denver. At the same time, UFC Fight Night 139 is hardly the biggest story of the week; in fact, it may not even make the medal podium.
Between the Floyd Mayweather-Tenshin Nasukawa debacle, ongoing reconciliation of the Ben Askren-Demetrious Johnson trade between the UFC and One Championship, Miesha Tate getting a One vice presidency gig and a slew of announced UFC bouts -- including a champion-versus-champion showdown between Henry Cejudo and T.J. Dillashaw -- this card has been put on the mental back burner. Nonetheless, this card has a potential “Fight of the Year” in its main event, all-action bouts and some highly interesting prospects. We could do a lot worse. We could also do better. We could make some money on this puppy.
If anything, we’re already lucky headed into the card, as slated headliner Frankie Edgar was forced to pull out of the fight just over two weeks ago. Yet in an era when there’s no telling if we’ll get an adequate replacement fight on short notice, especially for a main event, we have Mexican dynamo Yair Rodriguez stepping in for Edgar. That substitution, as I mentioned, could produce a dynamic conducive to some high-octane offense, potentially in a thrilling, memorable scrap.
I would never wish misfortune on a legend and swell guy like Edgar, but if his misfortune can be our luck, let’s figure out how to get to the pay window betting on UFC Fight Night 139:
Straight Up CashChan Sung Jung (-115)
As always, the usual caveat: This is far from my most confident bet on the card, but I appreciate that there’s an inherent magnetism and excitement in betting on a main event. I’m here to please. If I led this article telling you about how Beneil Dariush was going to jab and sprawl-and-brawl all over Thiago Moises, you’d be justifiably perturbed, like, “Is this dude screwing with me right now?”
First of all, one major reason to consider this play: Jung opened as a -300 favorite against “Pantera” and has dipped to essentially even money on most sportsbooks, which means that folks are pouring on Rodriguez late, so if you like the play, this is the best line you’re going to get on “The Korean Zombie.” Moreover, even with this being only Jung’s second fight in over fight years, due to a combination of his mandatory South Korean military service and injuries, Rodriguez is still coming into a five-round bout on just over two weeks’ notice.
Is he actually going to win? I certainly like his chances. Keep this in mind: Jung, 31, has four career losses; two of them were rip-off decisions against Masanori Kanehara and Leonard Garcia, and one of them was to the best featherweight ever in Jose Aldo. Now, the sticky part is that the other one is his infamous head kick decapitation against George Roop, which has some currency here, as the best part of Rodriguez’s game is his dexterous and unpredictable kicking game, not to mention the fact that he has a three-inch leg reach advantage over Jung. Still, I think this is a stylistic advantage Jung can navigate and overcome.
Even if it’s his lone fight in a half decade, Jung’s return to the UFC 20 months ago against Dennis Bermudez showed off more disciplined, clever boxing than he has ever displayed, culminating in his savage, right shovel hook knockout of “The Menace.” More than that, Jung has more experience in longer fights and is generally able to pick up momentum, whereas Rodriguez tends to excel over the first 10 minutes. In his only 25-minute affair, Rodriguez won a righteous decision but really lost steam against Alex Caceres. On top of that, because he’s “The Korean Zombie,” we inherently expect Jung to brawl and go shot for shot, but he’s a vastly more experienced, creative and trickier grappler than Rodriguez, who is often baited into giving up shoddy takedowns before having to scramble to his feet. Jung is not a man with whom you want to scramble. The Korean needs to work a diligent jab-and-counter game early to figure out Rodriguez and get a feel for his kicking game. However, as the bout rolls on, he’s the far more varied offensive fighter and has more ways to finish. Plus, the line on him will only get better by fight day. I like “The Korean Zombie” to find his diet of brains in Denver.
Straight Up PassGermaine de Randamie (-175)
As always, a necessary qualifier: I think de Randamie is going to win this fight, even if it will be her first appearance since winning the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight title against Holly Holm 20 months ago, her absence the result of a nagging hand injury. She has four inches of arm and leg reach on opponent Raquel Pennington, combined with superior technical striking ability. This is not about whether or not I like “The Iron Lady” to win; it’s about whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze at -175 and if there’s a potential for an upset.
The 30-year-old Pennington will be fighting for just the second time in two years after her lopsided loss to UFC champ Amanda Nunes in May. It wasn’t just a nasty thumping, as she also reaggravated a leg injury she sustained in a hunting accident 13 months ago. These are causes for concern and part of why I like de Randamie to win, but they don’t disqualify her chances of springing the upset. Pennington is legitimately rugged in the cage and has often managed to overcome technically superior strikers and grapplers with sheer force of will, pressure and a sneaky submission game.
De Randamie may statistically have defended 86 percent of her takedowns in her big-fight appearances by FightMetric count, but her last three opponents haven’t even pushed the issue and she still shows clunky fundamental takedown defense. She is going to look to work a distance-based striking game, relying on quick punch-kick combos. However, Pennington has had success in the past against styles like this. See her fight with the aforementioned Holm, as she took it to a close split decision by walking through Holm’s tactics and landing the more thumping punches. Also concerning, de Randamie is at her best when she can land hard strikes from distance, move into the clinch and follow up with nasty short punches and knees. Against Pennington, running into close quarters seems like a hugely unnecessary risk and comes with the potential danger of being taken down or tapped in a scramble. If you’re just straight picking fights, sure, take the Dutch cop, but if you’re betting, there’s too much risk versus reward here, so look elsewhere.
A Propular BetDavi Ramos Wins by Submission (-210)
I am conflicted here. I think Donald Cerrone is going to beat Mike Perry in the co-main event, and not only is he a +170 underdog, but he’s +550 win by strikes and +625 to win by submission. However, I do think Cerrone has lost a step, and Perry, despite his lack of defense, has never been finished in his career. Jung is +150 to win inside the distance and has the benefit of 25 minutes, striking firepower and a superior submission game to Rodriguez. Normally, I wouldn’t be touting a -210 line like this, but it seems like free money.
Ramos is a legitimate world-class grappler. Opponent John Gunther may “officially” have an undefeated 5-0 record, but his stint on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 27 was a disaster, as he looked horrible against eventual finalists Joe Giannetti and Michael Trizano; it included his running neck-first into a Giannetti guillotine that resulted in his getting choked out cold in 17 seconds. In his official UFC debut against Allan Zuniga, he desperately had to hang on to win a majority decision after nearly having a heart attack in the third round. He is a rugged wrestler, no doubt, but he has exhibited very few skills beyond that in any shape or form.
Ramos’ two career losses are understandable. He lost to David Rickels in Bellator MMA because he was facing a more complete MMA fighter at a time when he was just dedicating himself to this sport seriously; and his loss to Sergio Moraes completely makes sense, as he faced a more experienced fighter who is an even better grappler with some pop in his hands, even if he is wonky on the feet. Ramos completely crushed two more tenured and well-rounded fighters in Chris Gruetzemacher and Nick Hein in his last two outings. Also, while labored, Ramos showed more striking ability in order to set up his takedowns in the Gruetzemacher fight than Gunther has ever shown. Considering the Brazilian is a -1000 favorite and an internationally elite grappler but only -210 to tap a one-dimensional wrestler, I’ll take that cash all day.
An Un-propular BetPerry Wins by Knockout (-120)
As I just referenced, I like to win his fight more than any underdog on this card, yet I’ve talked to a few folks who weren’t just confident about Perry but confident in him to finish. We can’t overlook the fact that “Cowboy” is 35 years old, 1-4 in his five fights and now directing his own camp at his BMF Ranch in Edgewood, New Mexico. At the same time, Cerrone has lost to elite fighters, all of whom are particularly skillful, technical strikers who took his defense to task. Perry, while more than just a one-punch fighter, is a straightforward brute, and I think Cerrone can manipulate him in multiple phases of the game.
Does Cerrone’s 4.04 significant strikes absorbed per minute inspire confidence? No, but Perry absorbs an even sketchier 4.59 per minute while being less accurate, less well-rounded and not having the excuse that Nate Diaz once punched him 8,000 times in 15 minutes. In his loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio, Perry was getting hit with some absurd strikes while completely unprotected, and in his win against Paul Felder, he was still getting socked with Felder’s broken arm. This is just considering the striking game.
Statistically, Cerrone isn’t a great takedown artist, but over the years, he has grown infinitely cleverer at using his strikes and feints to get his opponent on the mat. More than that, the part of “Cowboy’s” attack at which I’ve always marveled the most is that he can activate his grappling game based off his standup, dropping an opponent before locking up a fight-ending submission out of the ensuing scramble in the blink of an eye. Cerrone has struggled with fighters who rush him and get in his face, which Perry is likely to do, but unless his chin is completely shattered -- keep in mind, he made it 15 minutes with Robbie Lawler -- and even if he doesn’t pull off the upset, Cerrone can make it the full 15 minutes with a wild-swinging brawler who relies on lunging punches and wild knees in the clinch.
An Accumulation ContemplationCerrone (+170)
Luis Pena (-170)
Total Odds: +615
Now, this is tricky, but I’m trying to have some stones about this one. This card has a lot of close fights independent of the line, but we want to make some money. If you’re not feeling brave, you can play Mark De La Rosa, Devonte Smith and Maycee Barber for +147 odds. With that said, this is the UFC’s 25th anniversary, so let’s try to get it a little spicier.
Cerrone is the major multiplier here, and I explained my preference for him as the most intriguing and likely underdog on the card to cash. As for Dariush, the line on him is directly impacted by the fact that he is 0-2-1 in his last three fights. However, the Kings MMA product was hit by the most dramatic knockout of 2017 by Edson Barboza, let himself get sucked into a brawl with the ever-tough Evan Dunham and got caught cold by Alexander Hernandez, who we found out in a hurry is the real deal. Dariush isn’t a great tactician and has a penchant for getting caught with some silly shots, but offensively, he has the entire package. Dariush has an outstanding jab and use of distance and diverse and sharp kicks; plus, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has competent grappling. More than that, while Moises is a talented sleeper, he’s a grappler still learning to strike and he is replacing Gruetzemacher on three weeks’ notice. At -150, Dariush is one of the safest close favorites on the card, so he’s made for a three-team parlay.
Beyond Dariush, we have Pena, who probably would have won “The Ultimate Fighter 27” at 155 pounds had he not gotten injured. Now, the “Violent Bob Ross” faces Trizano, the season’s actual lightweight winner. Trizano seems like an ersatz version of the classic Team Tiger Schulmann fighter, as he has a distance-based striking game, some generic combos, slightly above-average wrestling and a little bit of a submission game; ironically, for a known karate school, Team TSK tends to turn out generic MMA fighters like a factory. On the other hand, Pena is infinitely more dynamic, with creative striking from multiple ranges, flexing with lunging strikes, pop in his counterpunching and heavy clinch knees. More than that, he’s a natural submission finisher, especially in transition once he starts piling up the punishment on his opponent. Bank on Pena showing himself to be the real top dog on “The Ultimate Fighter 27.”