Duke’s UFC 257 Breakdown and Predictions!!!
UFC 257 Fight Info — BETS UPDATED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CARD!!!!!
- January 23, 2021
- Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- Main Card: PPV – 10:00pm
- Prelims: ESPN/ESPN+ – 8:00pm
- Early Prelims: ESPN+ – 6:30pm
UPDATES IN RED BELOW:
2 FIGHTS ARE OFF – HAQPARAST IS OUT. AZAITAR IS OUT. THEIR OPPONENTS WILL NOW FIGHT. THE NEW BREAKDOWN HAS BEEN UPDATED BELOW.
Any event with Conor McGregor immediately becomes the biggest show in town. To say I’m jacked up for this card would be the understatement of the century. The main event will garner every headline, every interview, every Sportscenter spot, but there are quality fighters from top to bottom on this card. There are no Roxanne Modafferi types (RIP).
Speaking of which, how’d you like the early start time? As someone who creates content, it was quite the task to properly prepare for three cards and 38 fights, but I loved the quick turnaround. Especially if you have a bad night, you don’t have to stew in your own sorrow for seven days. You get right back on the horse.
Had Magny pulled out the W, I would have called Wednesday a pretty damn good night. I correctly selected 11 of 14 winners. Nam lost a close decision. I even said I was going to be Warrly, and I didn’t (more on that later). Magny just didn’t fight at all like I thought he would. To a much lesser extent, it was the same with Modafferi. She had zero chance in a standup battle and stood. Hello Moras! Every little shred of success Magny had would be followed up with him engaging the clinch with Chiesa. Credit to Chiesa, he was a beast for 25 minutes but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear something wasn’t right with our boy Neil. Perhaps I should have underestimated him one more time!
As for the bets, another night of struggles. Magny would have made it respectable, and I said this system is not for the faint of heart, but really, it should produce nights like this. It’s not fun betting on Modafferi. It’s not fun betting on Silva de Andrade. But I’ll tell ya, Silva de Andrade was in that fight. Rivera technically outstruck Figuereido but lost 29-18 on all cards. Nam lost a barn-burner after a slow first round. We’ll stick to it because I’ve worked with some very smart people to devise this plan, and we’ll trust the math unless it’s completely getting out of hand as long term it should turn a profit. And hell, if I don’t, I’m gone!
Alright, screw 11 for 14. Let’s go 12 for 12 on Saturday. If you’ve enjoyed the flowing nature of these two cards in 2021, get ready for breaks. We have the prelims on ESPN+. They are three really good fights with some spots we can attack, but it also needs to fill 90 minutes. Even if all three go the distance, that’s just 45 minutes of cage time with some rest in between rounds. You get the point. There will be some beer breaks to make sure you can watch all the action. McGregor and Poirier will probably go off some time around 1am on the East Coast would be my best guess. So, if you aren’t a night owl, take a nap at some point in the afternoon because this will be can’t miss.
Let’s get it on!
Pricing = (DraftKings, FanDuel, SuperDraft)
Dustin Poirier ($7100/18/1.6x) v Conor McGregor ($9100/21/1.05x)
If you thought Conor McGregor was going to take his 10s of millions of dollars (hundreds?) and his whisky and sit in the hills of Ireland, you were wrong. He sounds as motivated as ever. It’s funny, what motivates you changes along the journey. At first, it’s winning your first fight. Then you want to be the baddest dude in your town. Then your state. And eventually, your country. Then it’s your first belt. Next, it’s a sponsor and some financial security. Then it’s your debut in a big promotion like the UFC. The climb in and of itself is an awesome motivating factor. The story has been told a million times, but Conor literally had nothing at the start of his career. He was on government assistance and had no choice but to succeed.
Success is a fickle bitch. It can warp the brain and cause good, hard-working people to change for the worse. When you have as much money and fame as Conor, how can you not change? Michael Jordan had a great way of turning ANYTHING into a linchpin for motivation. Conor has a bit of that in him.
He seems to have taken to fatherhood like a duck to water. The video of him and Jr signing the fight posters will put a smile on even the hardest man’s face. Greatness and legacy are his motivators at this point in his career. He’s only 32 and seemingly has a few years left at the top and he’s dead set on anchoring his legacy as one of the best to ever do it. No one likes watching Conor highlights more than Conor.
Conor changed things up a bit with this fight camp. COVID certainly played its part in the camp and the travel, but he spent time in Lagos, (Portugal) Dublin, Dubai, and finished up in Abu Dhabi. He’s saying all the right things to the media. The camp was great. The nutrition is right. The boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu are ready. He specifically called out his conditioning coach as well and feels like he’s improved that part of his game the most in the last year. From strictly a talent perspective, you’d have to give the edge, no matter how small it is in your mind, to Conor.
Plus, we’ve seen this fight before, right? Conor and Dustin fought back in 2014, and it wasn’t particularly close. The fight lasted just 1:46, and a sharp left behind the ear put Dustin face-first on the mat. Here is an interesting question: who do you think has improved more since that fight? To me, Conor was already well on his way to superstardom and had all the skill he needed to get it done. Seven years later, he’s certainly improved parts of his game, but how much? I’d argue Dustin has made similar strides and comes in as a much stiffer test than that fight six years ago.
The worry with Conor, in my eyes, is the level of competition. This is no disrespect to Cowboy Cerrone, who will forever be one of my favorites in the sport, but it’s been over two years since Conor has fought true competition in the octagon. Conor’s 40-second win over Cowboy was a blessing and a curse. It was another show-stopping finish, and the shoulder strikes were a new weapon in his arsenal, but the legend has 40 seconds of cage time since October of 2018. I’ll humor you with a refresher on his skillset…
Unusually long and powerful, a world-class striker with an array of spinning kick techniques. Conor has two weaknesses: gas tank and submission defense, particularly if the gas tank is gone. He showed tremendous heart, heart I didn’t think he still had, in the second Nate Diaz fight. There were chances for him to quit but he persevered and went through two absolute wars. His languid, smooth movement creates angles for him to pounce on any opening that presents itself.
He absolutely destroyed Eddie Alvarez’s will. Eddie’s a fighter I don’t particularly love but has serious chops and was holding the belt at the time of the fight. Alvarez also beat Gaethje for what it’s worth and Conor stopped him. The fight with Khabib was a masterclass by one of the fighters and it wasn’t Conor. Styles make fights and Khabib is just the absolute worst matchup for any human on the planet, Conor included. The destruction of Cowboy’s nose in 40 seconds was the last time we’ve seen him. He’s a once in a generation talent and personality that we likely won’t see again.
Dustin fought Max (W) and Khabib (L) in 2019 and Dan Hooker (W) in June of 2020. That’s three top-level opponents in 18 months. If the knock on Conor is inactivity, we certainly can’t lob that at Dustin. The extremely high level of opponent should bring Dustin in with some confidence, but that is where my question marks start. Dustin really took the loss to Khabib hard. I was worried about his mental state after that fight so to see him come back and beat a quality opponent like Dan Hooker was a massive sigh of relief as a fan of Dustin’s game. It was an awesome fight. An absolute war with both men landing over 150 significant strikes and wearing the damage to boot. I watched the full fight twice during prep because it was so damn good.
You know what I loved about Poirier in that fight? He got better as the fight went on. In the first round, he landed 20 significant strikes to Hooker’s 35. In the second, he landed 54 to Hooker’s 60. At that point, these guys were throwing some serious leather and keeping a ridiculous pace. Something had to give, and that’s when Dustin’s motor kicked in. In the third, he outstruck Hooker 40 to 17. In the fourth, 37 to 10. By the fifth round, Hooker’s face had been through the meat grinder. Hooker spent the entire round with his mouth open. Hooker was striking to the groin just to get a breather. Dustin just shook it off and refused to let Hooker have a rest. Take a guess how the fifth round went.
I went back and watched every fight Dustin had against southpaws. In particular, back in 2013, he fought Erik Koch. Koch isn’t a terrible fighter and has fought in the UFC with moderate success for the better part of 10 years, but he’s not an upper-echelon fighter. And granted, this is seven years ago, and I’ve already spoken about the evolution in Dustin’s game. BUT he was landing massive shots against the southpaw. He submitted Jonathan Brookins in the first. He KO’d Zachary Micklewright in the first. Even Dan Hooker switches stances. He’s had moderate to massive success against southpaws, except Conor McGregor.
Obviously, their first fight happened at 145. This one will be 155. The biggest difference between the two fighters in the first fight was power. Poirier landed a massive left hand to McGregor’s cheek/chin area. It didn’t stumble or wobble or even phase McGregor. He just kept walking forward. McGregor landed a left that was partially blocked by Poirier, and that was the beginning of the end for Dustin. The clean left, whether behind the ear or to the back of the head, was the kill shot and it was over before it really got started. That power will certainly translate, if not improve as they move up a weight class for this fight.
The paths to victory here are clear. Conor needs to be Conor. Use movement to create angles to land the big left and get this one done. He’s put on striking clinics in the past and has said he wants to do as much in this fight.
For Dustin, this fight needs to drag into the later rounds. He just went through a five-round war with Hooker and looked like he could go to a sixth round if need be. His heart and his gas tank are his biggest weapons. If he can chop down that lead right leg of McGregor in the first and survive the power window of Conor, he has more than a puncher’s chance. That is how this fight is priced right now on the market. Dustin at +246 is how Modafferi was priced last time out. Which of those two has a better chance of winning their respective fight? Dustin might even try to take Conor down and wear on him a bit, but in the end, I have this as a striker’s delight and a fun main event for fight fans.
Mentally, Dustin has some hurdles to get over. The press conference didn’t do anything to calm my fears about Poirier’s mental state heading into the fight. I don’t want to say scared, because that’s too strong, but Dustin looks and sounds anxious to be back in front of Conor.
I have the Champ Champ bringing this one home. Conor has never lost a fight due to punches. He’s never lost a decision. His only four losses were by submission. Ask yourself two questions:
- Does Dustin have the ground game to submit Conor?
- Is Dustin Poirier the first man to beat Conor by (T)KO or decision?
If the answer to either one of those questions is yes, then you need to lay some cash on Dustin because I do think the value is on his line. For me, it’s two NOs, so I’m going Conor.
OFFICIAL PICK: CONOR MCGREGOR
Dan Hooker ($8500/19/1.3x) v Michael Chandler ($7700/18/1.35x)
Speaking of Dan Hooker!!!
The #6 ranked lightweight in the world is taking on Michael Chandler here in a dangerous matchup for both fighters. It’s an interesting business decision by Dana White to bring Chandler over from Bellator at 34 years old.
Physically, these two couldn’t be more different. Chandler has the typical wrestler’s build. He’s a 5’8” brick shit house with short, strong limbs. Dan Hooker is long, lean and powerful at 6’ with a 75” reach. It’s a perfect build for his kickboxing/BJJ style. Hooker has wrestled a bit in the past but doesn’t want to mess with Chandler on the ground so he’ll surely try to keep this one standing.
Some of you might not be familiar with Chandler, so let’s talk through his career a bit. He’s an All-American wrestler but isn’t limited to takedowns or else. He can strike and has some sharp striking that’s a touch below Hooker’s. He does have some slight issues with his chin. Most recently in 2019, he lost to Patricio Freire who’s a champion at 145. Patricio, by the way, has a 65” reach. Literally 10” shorter than Hooker… This is the shot that put Chandler down:
A couple of things to dissect here. Chandler has his usual wide base set up. He was lunging in with the left jab to make himself 1) even shorter, and 2) even wider at the base. There weren’t feints in front or leading into the jab either. It was: bounce, bounce, lunge and jab. Patricio was able to time the jab, slip it and come right over the top with the right hand. Here is a better look at the slip and rip from Patricio:
The right hand landed behind the ear, and it dropped Chandler. It was a bit of an early stoppage, to be honest, but the damage was clear. So, let’s head to his last fight against Benson Henderson. Surely, you remember Benson from his earlier days in the UFC. He hadn’t been knocked out in six years before Chandler switched stances and dropped him with a 1-2.
We are talking full extension through the punch. Why am I harping on this so much? This is how he’s fighting against guys who are right around his height. Patricio was 5’5”, and Benson is 5’9”. If he’s overextending himself against fighters around his size, imagine what he’ll have to do against big Dan! His fights against Will Brooks were telling. Brooks is 5’10” or 5’11”, depending on what site you look at and what shoes he’s wearing that day.
When Brooks was able to stay at range and out of the wrestling of Chandler he was picking Chandler apart with that left jab. Brooks tried to come over to the UFC and lost three straight fights before going to PFL. Last but not least, Chandler has had some gas tank issues. He is a muscular guy. We’ve seen him sucking air in the second but where he really has trouble is in the championship rounds.
Dan Hooker just murdered Dustin Poirier for 10 minutes. He slowed down significantly in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, but in a three-round fight, theoretically, he can use that awesome chin and length to just keep Chandler at distance for the third and win a decision. We’ve seen Hooker enough that I don’t need to spend too much time on his game. He can switch stances fluidly. He can throw for power but tends to land volume with supreme accuracy. Dan Hooker can get hit. His face was a mess against Poirier. Edson Barboza landed 126 significant strikes before KO in the third.
Hooker is such a tough man. The ref could have stopped that fight in the second and third several times. Is Chandler on the same level of striking as Barboza and Poirier? Hell no. Hooker has a 77% takedown defense record and will need to keep this one standing to have a chance to get his hand raised.
I would expect Chandler to take the center of the octagon and Hooker to fight from the outside. This is such a tough fight to pick and from a DFS perspective is really interesting. If Chandler can land a few big punches and grab a takedown, he could score really well and win this fight. If Hooker can keep it standing and land a ton of jabs to keep Chandler at length, they both could struggle to make the optimal. Had I not seen studs from Bellator come over to the UFC and flop over and over, I’d lean Chandler. I can’t seem to shake that from my mind, so while I think Chandler has a few paths to victory, I’ll take the UFC vet Dan Hooker.
OFFICIAL PICK: DAN HOOKER
Jessica Eye ($7800/15/1.35x) v Joanne Calderwood ($8400/15/1.3x)
There is a ton of love flying around for Calderwood, and I’m trying to pinpoint why exactly that might be the case. Both of these women have been very active of late, with Jessica even earning her crack at Valentina. She lost, but she got there.
Jojo has really improved her kicking game and turned it into a weapon. She’ll beat up that lead leg of her opponent and did some serious work on Chookagian in the first round. She’s susceptible to the overhand right. She’s not a great wrestler but can catch kicks and wrangle her opponent to the ground. There are pieces of her game to like, but I’m not a huge fan. Keep in mind, she’s coming off of losses in two of her last three and a split-decision win over Andrea Lea. She’s not exactly on fire.
Jessica Eye is probably priced appropriately, but what she does better than Jojo is tying her punches together. She does tend to overextend herself on these flurries, but she’ll likely be the more active, aggressive fighter. I mentioned her title chance against Valentina. Yeah, it didn’t go great. Valentina is a stone-cold killer, and the southpaw was landing vicious body kicks until the hands of Eye dropped, and Valentina went up top with a shin to the head. Eye was out for a while on the mat. It was a KO so bad that I was worried about Eye moving forward. The response in her fight with Araujo was really good to see, and she ate some big shots in that fight.
I do think the slight edge goes to Jessica Eye on the ground. She does throw some kicks to the body and Araujo did catch one in the first and dump her to the ground just like Calderwood likes to do. Ultimately, it depends on which version of these ladies shows up on fight night. They’ve both looked good and they’ve both looked not so good. I have Jessica with the advantage in more areas of this fight, and she’ll be looking to make her way back up into the top 5 consideration with a win.
OFFICIAL PICK: JESSICA EYE
Matt Frevola ($7400/10/1.45x) v Arman Tsarukyan ($8900/20/1.1x) – NEW FIGHT!
Tsarukyan missed weight by 3 pounds. He cut down another 2 but still missed by a pound and will forfeit 20% of his purse.
What a wild morning for the UFC. A rising super star gets caught trying to sneak outsiders into his camp with a mysterious bag and now he’s cut from the roster and his fight is off. More about this on the podcast!
Frevola now takes on Tsarukyan after Haqparast was deemd unfit to fight by the medical staff after what looked like a brutal weight cut. Good for Frevola for still getting a fight. Bad for Frevola in that it’s freaking Tsarukyan stepping in. This is not a good matchup for Frevola and the market has already responded by making him a -700 favorite.
This very well could be a mauling. I picked Frevola to upset Azaitar but I simply cannot find his path to victory in this fight.
Tsarukyan is a stud. The wrestling and grappling are top-notch. His striking is top-notch. He’s young and evolving, but he’s ready for everything coming to him. The loss to Makhachev is nothing to worry about. He gave a good account of himself, and Islam is 7-1 in his UFC career. If you want a striking clinic, go watch his fight against Davi Ramos. He was picking him apart, slipping and ripping and going high to the head with kicks. He bodied Aubin-Mercier who’s physically a beast. His fight IQ is very high for such a young fighter, so obviously, there is quite a bit to like.
Striking? Arman > Frevola
Grappling? Arman > Frevola
Wrestling? Arman > Frevola
Power? Arman > Frevola
BJJ? Arman > Frevola
From a DFS perspective, this should be $10,000/$6000. I won’t have any Frevola because I just don’t even think he’s value for the price. Arman on the other hand will be quite popular and could throw ownership for a loop. Frevola is a tough dude and Arman has gone to a decision in all three of his fights. Considering Frevola’s wrestling acumen Arman could look to beat him up on the feet. There is a scenario where Arman wins and only scores in the 80-90 range which would be right around 9-10x. That is still dang good and fine for cash and GPP.
OFFICIAL PICK: ARMAN TSARUKYAN
Marina Rodriguez ($7000/9/1.6x) v Amanda Ribas ($9200/20/1.05x)
Rodriguez is coming in on short notice after Michelle Waterson had to pull out. That’s a bummer in my opinion because I would love to see these two battle after full camps. I have this fight much closer than Vegas does, but let’s break down each fighter.
Ribas is a rising star in the promotion with a slick ground game and a bit of power to boot. She’s small but very athletic. Her path to this spot is an interesting one. It’s almost as if the UFC is giving her progressively easy fights to build her up to this spot against the Karate Hottie. She gets a really good win over Mackenzie Dern and then follows it up with wins over Markos and Paige van Zant. I don’t really rate the last two as true UFC fighters. PvZ has moved on to bare-knuckle fighting and Only Fans, while Markos has lost three straight.
The Dern fight is the one I spent the most time on. It’s important to know that Dern was a new mom for the fight. She’s looked a hell of a lot better lately than she did in this fight. Ribas was very sharp on the feet, and crucially, was deadly on the counter-attack. Ribas was taken down but was able to get right back to her feet. She also reversed a takedown and took Mackenzie down with a nice Jugo hip throw. She’s so well rounded as a striker.
Marina is a dangerous opponent here. For one, she’s fighting high-level competition. She was beating Cynthia Calvillo until she was dominated in the third round and ended up with a draw. She has a dominant win over Tecia Torres. Obviously, she was the bigger, longer fighter, but she was so sharp from distance and moved out of danger range routinely. Marina has really good timing on her front kick to keep her opponent at distance. She can dig it to the body or take it up to the face. She gave a decent account of herself against Carla Esparza but was taken down five times and lost a unanimous decision. That is the part of the game Ribas can exploit.
I’m taking Ribas to win here, but I don’t think it will be a blow out like it’s priced.
OFFICIAL PICK: AMANDA RIBAS
Brad Tavares ($8900/18/1.25x) v Antonio Carlos Junior ($7500/11/1.4x)
These are two big, bad dudes with very different skill sets. Brad Tavares lands three significant strikes per minute, and ACJ lands 2.92 takedowns per 15 minutes. This very well could be a live bet spot because I’m always worried about how dangerous ACJ is in the first five minutes of a fight. Carlos Junior does gas out. Can he finish in the first? ACJ’s striking has improved, and he has an insanely long 79” reach. He’ll have a 5” reach advantage. He’s what I call an opportunistic wrestler. He’ll catch a kick. He’ll clinch and drag. It’s not your traditional wrestling double leg entry and drive for a takedown.
He got the first-round subs against Boetsch and Marshman, but I’m not getting too excited about that. What I forgot was how dominant he was against Ian Heinisch in the first round. He was ragdolling Heinisch when ACJ was fresh. Halfway through the second round, he was just totally gassed to the point where Heinisch was bullying him in the third. Against Hall, guess where he was in the first? On Hall’s back for several minutes in the first.
How does this guy lose the fight? Uriah got free and started busting ACJ up. Carlos Junior actually dominated the third round to answer some of those gas tank issues but couldn’t get the finish and lost the fight. To be honest, it was an encouraging finish but not a great performance.
Tavares is only 2 fights removed from fighting Israel Adesanya, losing in a five-round fight by unanimous decision. He was murdered by Edmen Shahbazyan in the first round. He was absolutely rocked by a 1-2 before getting finished by a head kick. It’s a tough two-fight stretch for Tavares, who has some real ability and several UFC wins under his belt. I wonder why he’s taken the long layoff. He’s had a few fights canceled in the last year, one against ACJ back in March of 2020. I know he’s had some injuries, had surgery, and is finally ready to go but is that a positive for him? I don’t think so.
Both of these guys have had long layoffs. ACJ hasn’t fought since Sept 14, 2019. Tavares lost to Shahbayan in November of 2019. For me, the sharpness needed to be a striker is a little tougher to get back after a long layoff than some clinch and grapple game. ACJ’s bjj is very good and if he can wrap up a takedown in the first it could be over then. As he showed against Hall, perhaps the cardio issues are a bit overblown. Either way, we’ll know how this fight will go in the first round but for me, I like the dog here.
OFFICIAL PICK: ANTONIO CARLOS JUNIOR
Julianna Pena ($8000/13/1.35x) v Sara McMann ($8200/16/1.3x)
Tough one as I like both of these fighters. Sara McMann was a stud. A workhorse who can wrestle with anyone. BUT she’s 40 years old. Julianna Pena is quite the grappler herself and some nasty ground and pound. Between the two of them, they average nearly 6 takedowns per 15 minutes. The worry for Pena is her 22% takedown defense.
Make no mistake about it, Pena isn’t afraid of anyone. She stood right in front of Valentina Shevchenko and put her up against the fence early in their fight. Valentina got her down, but she stood right back up and got Valentina right back up against the fence.
You could argue that Pena gave Shevchenko the toughest round of her career to that point by someone not named Amanda Nunes. She took her down in the second round and was landing some decent shots until Valentina locked in an armbar and forced the tap. There were so many positives to take away from Pena knowing now how damn good Valentina is but she didn’t even attempt to strike with Valentina. THAT IS A POSITIVE. Having a good game plan is step one, and she was able to execute. She also went three rounds with GdR and landed three takedowns on here before getting choked out in the third. She’s tough as nails too and didn’t even tap. She literally went to sleep. But again, plenty of positives.
Sara McMann is going to look great on the scale. She’s going to say all the right things leading up to the fight with the media. She’s 40 years old, so if she hasn’t figured that part out by now, she never will. Does she have the game to beat Pena? The market thinks so. She’s currently a decent favorite over Pena. Are people just remembering the old days of Sara McMann? She looked really good in 2017 against Gina Mazany, who has to fight Instagram models to get wins. Sara was very impressive against Lansberg, but Lina has ZERO ground game. Zero. Honestly, Lina isn’t great at anything, but credit to Sara for getting the big win.
Both of these women have been in with the best, but Pena has fought the best more recently. The level of competition matters, especially when fighters are at or past the prime of their career. She’s a dog, and this will be no walkover, but I like Pena.
OFFICIAL PICK: Julianna Pena
Khalil Rountree Jr. ($9300/22/1.05x) v Marcin Prachnio ($6900/8/1.6x)
Roundtree initially missed weight but went back and cut the extra pound. After shedding the mask and underwear he was on weight.
The O/U on this fight is two minutes. I’m not kidding. Neither of these men want to be in the cage longer than they have to, and you literally have to pay -125 for a bet that the fight WON’T start round two. From a DFS perspective, we like these types of fights, especially with the new 60 second win bonus.
Rountree comes in as the massive favorite, and obviously, we’ve seen the best and worst of him in the UFC. He was starched by Cutelaba and talking about retirement. He nearly killed Saki in 90 seconds. It’s give and take. Even though he lost to Cutelaba and Johnnie Walker, his least favorite fight of the three was probably his decision win against Anders! He doesn’t get paid by the hour and will look for the kill shot at all times.
Prachnio has been finished in his last three fights, all in the first round by KO/TKO. He does have 10 wins by KO, but at this level, he’s out of his element. Ankalaev is a beast. Rodriguez has big power. But Sam Alvey knocks you out in the first? Prachnio has shown a bit of an evolution to his game. Against Rodriguez, he was switching stances and attacking the lead leg. He engaged in some clinch work against Rodriguez as well, which was a nice change. However, even with a little success in the standup by Prachnio, you were still sitting there just waiting for him to go to sleep. Sure enough, the clinch turned into a modified plum clinch by Rodriguez, who landed one solid elbow and ended the fight.
The only concern I have with Khalil is his mindset. Against Cutelaba, he was talking about some character he’s created. He came out with a street fighter stance. He was talking about his martial arts journey. Dude, just go land that left and win us some money. Even against Cutelaba, he landed some shots that would drop Prachnio. I’ll take Khalil for one more big win.
OFFICIAL PICK: KHALIL ROUNTREE
Andrew Sanchez ($7600/13/1.4x) v Makhmud Muradov ($8600/17/1.25x)
Andrew Sanchez is such a tough out. Muradov looks like the terminator and comes in with a really nice looking record but I’m not immediately grabbing Muradov here. This is why Andrew Sanchez has a better than average chance to win this fight. Muradov took all of 2020 off. That’s extremely rare for a fighter who typically had at least four fights per year and WON six fights in 2019.
Due to COVID, he’s no longer training in the states and went back to Uzbekistan. I fully understand Di Chirico just beat Buckley, who was a rising star, but let’s not act like Alessio is some bonafide 185 stud. Trevor Smith isn’t winning a belt any time soon. On top of that, neither of those fighters are 1/10th the wrestler that Andrew Sanchez is with his 2.65 takedowns per fight.
On top of that, look at the level and frequency of Sanchez’s fights. Khalil Rountree. Anthony Smith. Markus Perez. Marvin Vettori. Most recently, Welling Turman, who he finished in the first round. It’s light years better than what Makmud has faced.
There are a few issues with Sanchez, as well. For one, he’s not really a finisher. He only has two submissions in his career, and while he did KO Thuram in the last fight, his last finish prior to that fight was in 2016 against Eric Spicely. His striking looked much improved but that could be his downfall here.
The other issue is there typically is no plan B by Sanchez if the wrestling doesn’t work. We saw it against Marvin Vettori. Yes, he lasted 15 minutes against that beast and lost a decision, but it wasn’t as if he ever had Vettori in danger. Muradov comes in with a good record against the takedown, but it will be put to the test here.
Muradov could absolutely win this fight. He has sharp striking. His movement is very good. He has power. However, he’s never been tested in this promotion, and Sanchez is nothing if he’s not a complete pain in the ass to fight. Even if Sanchez wins this fight, it’s going to be a sweat.
My worry about Sanchez is how much success he had in his last fight in the stand-up game. For the sake of my pick, I hope Sanchez tries to stand and bang. Muradov will fuck him up. I’m mostly fading this fight from all angles because I simply don’t know what Sanchez will try to do, and I don’t know how Muradov will look after the long layoff. By the slightest of margins, I’ll take Muradov.
OFFICIAL PICK: MAKHMUD MURADOV
Nik Lentz ($6800/8/1.65x) v Movsar Evloev ($9400/23/1x)
I don’t know what Lentz did to the matchmakers, but he’s been getting the brutal end of the stick with these fights. Charles Oliveira looks like a future champion at 145. Without going too overboard, Arnold Allen looks like he could stick around the promotion for years to come and sits at 16-1. Now, he gets a somewhat winnable fight canceled only to be given Movsar Evloev, who is 13-0 and can beat you 100 different ways.
I broke down Lentz for his fight with Grundy before it was called off. He had a MUCH better chance in that fight than this one. Evloev is the future. He is better in nearly every area of this fight except experience. Nik Lentz will need to make this a dirty fight. He can’t stand and bang with Evloeve and he doesn’t want to end up on his back either. The only way forward is to close the distance, use his size and strength to body Evloev in the clinch and then end up on top from some ground and pound which really isn’t even a massive edge for Lentz either. Lentz is a big 145 fighter and I’ll be interested to see how he looks at weigh-ins.
Evloev is tough as nails and has fought through compromising positions. Grundy took him down six times in the fight and nearly had him choked out in the first round of their fight. He’s extremely fast and extremely fit. The gas tank is seemingly unlimited, and there are very few breaks in his fights. He also fights within himself. He’s not trying to knock out his opponent and lets the fight come to him. That composure will go a long way against the veteran in this fight. I do have to call out the UFC website for pumping up their boy. Explain this:
How can you have a 100% takedown defense record….but get taken down six times in your last fight?
Anyway, Lentz could make this ugly, and I do think this line has gotten out of hand, but I’m taking Evloev to win here.
OFFICIAL PICK: MOVSAR EVLOEV
Amir Albazi ($7900/14/1.35x) v Zhalgas Zhumagulov ($8300/16/1.3x)
Zhumagulov is a fighter that is a victim of ‘what have you done for me lately’ syndrome. He came into the UFC with some serious chops and good wins under his belt. He’s responsible for the only loss on Ulanbekov’s record and beat Tyson Name at FNG as well. He’s quite small and has a wrestler’s build but was hesitant in the first round of his debut. Part of me wonders if he was so used to game-planning for a five-round fight that it was a bit lost on him to pick up the pace and win the first. He started to work his wrestling late in the first with some success. Keep in mind, his opponent missed weight by three pounds and had some good wins in the UFC already.
Albazi is a finisher. He has only one win by decision against Jamie Powell in 2017. The other 12 wins were stopped in the first or second round. Obviously, he picked up the submission win over Gordon back in July and gave a really good account of himself. He took the fight on basically a few hour’s notice and showed out with a first-round win. It doesn’t get any better than that but I’m curious to see if he’ll be that 5% sharper with a camp under this belt. If so, that’s a scary proposition. Malcolm Gordon isn’t scaring anyone on his feet, and in fact, was part of one of the more hilarious KOs I’ve seen in his fight with Su Mudaerji, but he’s pretty slick on the ground, and Albazi had his way with him.
This is another fight I’m staying away from for the most part. Albazi has looked good in previous fights but seems a touch green for this level. Zhumagulov is a grinder who will try to win rounds. Once again, by the slightest margin, I’m leaning Zhumagulov.
OFFICIAL PICK: ZHALGAS ZHUMAGULOV
Tsarukyan – Missed weight – new fighter he didn’t prep for
Dan Hooker – too big of a jump for Chandler and his chin issues.
Roundtree – focus issues but should get it done
Muradov – there is a scenario where Sanchez just makes this hell for Muradov
Julianna Pena – My LEAST confident pick and one where I’ll probably have more DK exposure to the McMann side.
(DK) Roundtree Rd1 (-110) – 1.1 to win 1
(DK) Ribas by Decision (+120) – 1 to win 1.2
(Bovada) Evloev/Lentz will the fight go the distance? NO +180 – 1 to win 1.8
(Bovada) Arman Tsarukyan ITD (+150) 0.67 to win 1
UFC 257 Cheat Sheet will be posted on Friday… DON’T MISS IT!