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Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Riding a 13-fight winning streak into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, former World Series of Fighting bantamweight titleholder Marlon Moraes was thought to be a surefire UFC title contender when he entered the promotion. Raphael Assuncao, 11-1 in his last dozen fights, owns wins over Moraes and current UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and feels he is long overdue for his crack at the gold. The stakes are high for both Moraes and Assuncao in their main event rematch on Saturday in Fortaleza, Brazil, as it amounts to a de facto title eliminator.
What about you? Well, you can up your own personal ante if you’re willing to throw down a little cash on a wager or two.
UFC Fight Night 144 may lack the star power and overall punch that the company’s debut effort on an ESPN platform enjoyed, but it is still topped with a fight that should give us our next 135-pound title contender and the greatest featherweight ever, Jose Aldo, taking on fast-rising contender Renato Carneiro. Plus, it features a plethora of interesting prospects. More importantly for our purposes, across a 13-fight card, there is only one betting favorite above -220. It has been quite some time since we had a UFC card -- any card, for that matter -- with such a bevy of well-made fights with tantalizing lines.
To put it plainly, this is the kind of event you can make money on -- if you’re sharp enough. With that in mind, let’s hit the grindstone, hone our edges to a fine point and figure out how to get in the cut by betting on UFC Fight Night 144:
Straight Up CashJose Aldo (+125)
This line may surprise some folks, but pleasantly so. The real eyebrow-raiser for me isn’t that Aldo is the underdog but that he opened as a -120 favorite and folks immediately started hammering Carneiro to flip the line. Sometimes it pays to jump on a line immediately, but this is one of those cases where patience is a virtue, as we’re now headed into the fight with a fantastic, bet-worthy line.
I’ve been high on the 29-year-old Carneiro since he burst on the scene in Jungle Fight nine years ago. In fact, I fretted and rued the fact that he took significant time away from the sport to pursue law school, worrying that MMA was missing out on one of its developing top-flight prospects. Fortunately, “Moicano” got back in the fight game sooner rather than later and has blossomed into an elite featherweight contender in the Octagon, transforming from a slick grappler to a well-rounded, clever fighter who is able to use his improved standup and sharp submission game to outmaneuver and outwit his opponents. Is that good enough to beat the greatest featherweight of all-time? I’m thinking no.
Naturally, I have some of the same anxieties about Aldo’s current form that those who have bet against him do. He has been fighting for nearly 15 years -- since he was a teenager, in fact -- and in recent years injuries have started to pile up and have robbed him of some of the explosive athleticism that marked his early career. He has lost three of his last five fights and been stopped via strikes in each of those losses. With that said, the losses consist of Conor McGregor catching him quick and cold, plus two beatings against a younger, fresher Max Holloway, who isn’t just the current top dog at 145 pounds but has a style made to terrorize Aldo over 25 minutes. Consider that sandwiched in those five fights was his second win against Frankie Edgar, perhaps the most consummate and impressive victory of his career. Plus, in both Holloway fights, Aldo was the ring general, winning rounds out of the gate before the “Blessed” one took over. Against Jeremy Stephens in July, he ate the power-punching Iowa native’s best punch -- his devastating right uppercut -- marched right through it and destroyed “Lil Heathen” with a left hook to the liver.
Even if he’s an “old” 32, Aldo still has the goods, and there’s a reason oddsmakers installed him as the initial favorite. “Scarface” has retooled his style in recent years, eschewing his jabs, low kicks and counterpunches for a more free-swinging, power-punching style, for better or for worse. In this case, I think it’s for the better. Aldo specifically requested a three-round fight for this bout, and based on his performance against Stephens, the Nova Uniao product seems much more willing to let his limbs fly in a 15-minute affair. More than that, even if Aldo is deteriorating and talking about potential retirement when his current UFC deal is done, Carneiro represents a preferential style matchup. Despite his thoughtful jabs, low kicks and counter rights, “Moicano” lacks the stopping power with his strikes to slow Aldo’s forward pressure. He’s still at a technical striking disadvantage and is unlikely to take down the former champ, given that Aldo might be the best takedown defender in MMA history. Aldo may not be long for the Octagon, but being able to get the legend at +125 against a still-developing fighter with a made-to-order style for him? This is why we gamble.
Straight Up PassRaphael Assuncao (+145)
I haven’t seen too many people picking Assuncao to win his rematch with Moraes outright, but the nature of gambling doesn’t preclude those same people from being tempted by a betting line; your gun-to-the-head fight pick may not be congruent with your betting instincts. Case in point: While it seems like the vast majority of MMA folks like Moraes to even the score against Assuncao in their second go-around, Assuncao opened as high as +175 on some sportsbooks and has been bet down to +145 on average. Clearly, some people somewhere are betting on him.
I would caution against this. I’m sure those taking a flier on Assuncao are doing so due to the veteran earning a split decision over Moraes in their first meeting nearly 20 months ago, along with the fact that he’s a buttoned-up, difficult fighter to look good against. The problem there is that the vast majority of people, myself included, thought Moraes deserved a 29-28 decision over him -- check the MMADecisions record of media scores for confirmation -- and while the fight was close, it was still poorly scored, as all three judges inexplicably gave Assuncao the third round.
In fact, if we analyze the first Assuncao-Moraes encounter and consider the circumstances of this rematch, things seem to line up in an especially favorable fashion for Moraes. Whether it was the pressure of his anticipated UFC debut or just poor strategy, Moraes was far too passive in the opening round against Assuncao -- even by the standards of a natural counterstriker -- and allowed his fellow Brazilian to take the period based on a few clean right hands. Over the final 10 minutes, Moraes grew more active and began chewing up Assuncao’s lead leg with strong low kicks while also drilling him to the body. This is the sort of offense that pays much richer dividends in a 25-minute bout, which bodes well for “Magic Marlon” headed into the rematch.
While he remains a counterfighter at heart, Moraes has been more aggressive in his subsequent UFC appearances, leading to highlight-reel knockouts of Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera. He is the far more dynamic and powerful striker in this pairing, and he now has another 10 minutes to use his more varied striking offense to try to clunk Assuncao. Even if this fight is bound for the full 25 minutes, Assuncao’s willingness to cede low kicks and body shots in the first fight makes it more likely that Moraes, who has the legitimate five-round experience that Assuncao lacks, should be able to pile up the points late in the contest. This is Moraes’ fight to lose, and even a just-in-case bet on Assuncao is likely a waste of coin.
A Prop-ular BetCharles Oliveira Wins by Submission (+180)
This is a bit of a logical and mathematical proposition for me, as I’ve become a big proponent of Oliveira’s opponent. David Teymur has looked increasingly impressive and commanding throughout his five-fight winning streak. It boggles my mind that a guy this talented couldn’t at least make it deeper into the horrible 22nd season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which featured Artem Lobov in the final. Nonetheless, Oliveira is ranging from -115 to -125 as a slight favorite. Given that kind of line, we need to rationally ask ourselves, “How does Oliveira win fights?”
Twelve of Oliveira’s last 13 wins have come by submission, and “Do Bronx” has submitted some major players at 145 and 155 pounds. He has only gone to the judges’ scorecards three times in his 11-year, 34-fight career. There are no two ways about it: The Brazilian is a kill-or-be-killed fighter, and while he has shown a propensity to be his own worst enemy -- whether it’s his repeated weight cut failures or mental lapses in fights that get him finished -- he is a one-of-a-kind marvel on the ground. I can’t in good conscience call him the greatest grappler in MMA history, but I am comfortable calling him the most dynamic submission artist in MMA history when it comes to his offensive technique, creativity and finishing ability. He’s no Fabricio Werdum or Demian Maia when it comes to all-around grappling prowess, but he’s the closest thing we have to a young Rumina Sato dazzling us with highlight-reel submissions in the late 1990s.
Yes, Oliveira is prone to getting lit up by superior strikers, and while Teymur certainly fits the description, the Swede has become more reticent to fire his hands as his competition has improved in the UFC, preferring to stay on his bike, using elusive movement and his speedy kicking offense. Teymur has shown generally strong takedown defense, defending at an 82 percent clip in his UFC tenure, but the difficulty for him here is that Oliveira doesn’t need a clean takedown in order to claim a dominant position or a submission. If the Brazilian can simply track down Teymur while he’s on his bicycle, even a blown clinch takedown can lead to a scramble in which “Do Bronx” can grab a limb or take the back. He’s even capable of pulling guard and finding a sweep or submission.
Teymur is a nifty fighter and still improving, but if you’re telling me that a fighter is as high as -125, notches virtually all of his wins via submission and is +180 to tap his opponent, that math doesn’t work in a logical sense. However, it certainly works in our betting favor.
An Un-propular BetMax Griffin Wins Inside the Distance (+230)
Headed into his bout with Thiago Alves, Griffin deserves to be the 2-to-1 favorite. While he’s only 2-3 in the UFC, all of Griffin’s losses have come to fighters that pose fairly difficult style matchups for him: Colby Covington, Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Curtis Millender. However, Alves is 35 years old, and the toll on his body goes even further than that. He has been fighting for nearly two decades, and he has undergone 10 surgeries over his pro career. Remember, it was eight years ago that he went under the knife to correct an arteriovenous fistula in his brain that nearly forced him to retire. Alves’ time in the fight game has not been kind to his body.
Does that mean he’s going to get finished here? I wouldn’t bet on it with so many other intriguing lines at which to throw money. It’s definitely a possibility given the wear and tear on his body, and we saw Millender level the Brazilian with a knee almost a year ago. With that said, excluding a doctor halting him against Carlos Condit after he had his nose turned upside down, Alves has only been knocked out twice proper in his long career: against Millender and via a low-percentage, fortuitous upkick from Jon Fitch over eight years ago. In fact, the Condit fight actually serves as a reminder of Alves’ undeniable toughness. Even with his nose smashed to bits, streaming blood and eating massive punishment from Condit, “Pitbull” kept marching down the former World Extreme Cagefighting champion and wasn’t keen to quit.
Alves may be a shell of the fighter that lit the world on fire in 2007-08, and the explosive athleticism that marked his game is all but gone. Still, he’s tough as nails and remains a difficult out, even in a deteriorated state. More than that, Griffin is at his best when he plays matador, using slick lateral movement and his long jab to set hard right-hand counters. With somewhere between a six- and eight-inch reach advantage, “Max Pain” is likely to play the outside counterpunching game; and Alves has never been an especially high-output fighter who gives counterstrikers a lot on which to capitalize. Alves is more than likely going to lose his fifth fight in his last six, but he still has the mettle and chin to last through 15 minutes of Griffin’s jab-cross tactics.
An Accumulation ContemplationMarlon Moraes (-165)
Jose Aldo (+125)
Anthony Hernandez (-150)
Total Odds: +502
I already expressed my fondness in straight-up situations for both Moraes and Aldo. The strongest and best parlays in MMA tend to be built on strong-but-undervalued favorites under -200. In this case, Moraes fits the bill perfectly for the reasons I outlined above. He should have won the first fight; he has only gotten more impressive in the Octagon since the first Assuncao fight; and the leg kicking and body attack he put on his fellow Brazilian in the first fight should pay much richer dividends in a five-round affair. At -165, he’s a safe and solid piece to a three-team parlay.
As for Aldo, he opened as a favorite for a good reason, and now, he’s all the way down to +125. It’s one thing to come across a sweet underdog; it’s another thing when said underdog is one of the best fighters in MMA history and opened as a -120 favorite just over a month ago. He may not be the Aldo of old, but +125 means an implied winning likelihood of 44.4 percent. You really think there’s only a 44.4 percent chance the guy who left Stephens’ intestines on the floor a few months ago can’t figure out how to bust Carneiro’s chops for at least two of three rounds?
Hernandez, meanwhile, punched his ticket to the UFC with a brutal 40-second knockout of the previously unbeaten Jordan Wright in Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in June. Unfortunately, “Fluffy” had his win taken away by the Nevada Athletic Commission after testing positive for the most potent and insidious of all performance-enhancing drugs: marijuana. All jokes aside, the Californian is an intriguing prospect who has been flying under the radar. Despite winning most of his pro fights with a diverse series of guillotine choke setups and finishes, Hernandez has a rocket of a right hand, and he showcased it on Wright’s face.
Opponent Markus Perez is a capable grappler with a diverse, technical submission game, but so much of his success depends on whether he can close the distance and buy early takedowns. When he can’t, he gets stuck on the feet and pelted, whether it’s from distance, as was the case in the Eryk Anders fight, or getting smothered and dirty boxed against the fence like he did in his last outing against Andrew Sanchez. Hernandez is unlikely to find his trademark guillotine against Perez, but his ever-improving standup and takedown defense should allow him to crack the Brazilian liberally on the feet.