Adam Martin’s GPP Plays and Cash Game advice for UFC Vegas 21: Edwards vs. Muhammad
We are back with another great UFC card this weekend, but before getting into this week’s event, let me quickly talk about UFC 259. What a card, and what a night. I picked Jan Blachowicz and Trevin Jones outright, both of whom closed as +200 underdogs, plus Kyler Phillips as a +140 underdog. It feels nice to sniff out those big dogs. All the research truly paid off, and hopefully, it does again this week. After a profitable night last weekend, it’s time to get back to work and jump into Saturday’s UFC Vegas 21: Edwards vs. Muhammad card. Let’s dive in. Below, my complete DFS preview for this weekend’s slate of fights and my bets for the event.
UFC Vegas 21 Card
Leon Edwards ($9000) vs. Belal Muhammad ($7200)
The main event of UFC Vegas 21 sees Leon Edwards take on Belal Muhammad, who is filling in on short notice for Khamzat Chimaev. Beginning with Edwards, he’s the No. 3 ranked welterweight in the UFC, and he’s excellent. The 29-year-old Brit is in his prime, and in this particular matchup, Edwards will be three years younger, hold a three-inch height advantage, and possess a two-inch reach advantage. The last time we saw him was in July 2019 against Rafael dos Anjos when he was able to win a five-round decision over a former UFC champion. That fight was a long time ago, with Edwards missing all of 2020 due to COVID-19 related issues, but he’s finally back now and ready to make a run for the belt. With technical striking skills, underrated wrestling, good cardio, and a solid chin, Edwards is a bonafide contender.
As for Muhammad, he’s a very solid, well-rounded welterweight. The 32-year-old American has really good wrestling skills, especially his power double leg, which allows him to take down the majority of his opponents. He’s a decent boxer who throws a high-volume attack, and generally, he’s very durable, having just one knockout loss in the UFC. Muhammad is an underrated fighter, having won eight of his last nine fights heading into this matchup. He has a lot of heart, and he deserves this big opportunity, but it feels like a bit too much to chew off. Against a sniper like Edwards, Muhammad is going to have to be careful he doesn’t get caught on the chin.
Edwards, to me, looks like a fighter who is ready to fight for a title. He’s well-rounded, in his prime, and it’s time for him to stay active and make a run for the belt. Although I do think Muhammad can have some success in this fight if he commits to his wrestling, overall, this is a tough matchup for him against someone in Edwards who is faster and more technical on the feet. It’s a five-round fight, and considering the durability of both men, there’s a good chance it goes the full 25 minutes. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if this is the fight that Edwards finally gets a finish in. The $9000 price tag is high, but given that it’s a five-round fight, the Brit could prove to be worth his hefty price tag if he’s able to rack up the strike stats and get a finish.
Pick: Leon Edwards
Misha Cirkunov ($8300) vs. Ryan Spann ($7900)
The co-main event is a light heavyweight bout between Misha Cirkunov and Ryan Spann. Cirkunov is an extremely talented grappler who we have seen shine in the Octagon from time to time. In his last fight, he submitted top prospect Jimmy Crute with a Peruvian Necktie, which is a rarely-seen submission in the UFC. That shows you how good Cirkunov is on the ground, and he has the wrestling to get it there. That’s the good stuff about Cirkunov. Here’s the bad: He hasn’t fought since September 2019, he has about five minutes of cardio, and he doesn’t have a great chin. When Cirkunov is the hammer, he’s a tough guy to beat. But anytime he becomes the nail, we have seen him wilt and crack under the pressure and end up getting stopped.
Taking on Cirkunov will be Spann, who is coming off of a knockout loss to Johnny Walker. Watching that fight back, Spann actually did quite well as he was able to drop Walker and also take him down, but he was hurt badly with illegal punches to the back of the head, which the referee didn’t call. That loss snapped an eight-fight win streak for Spann, who we had seen show a well-rounded game throughout that win streak. We’ve seen his submission skills against Devin Clark and his KO power against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, showing a well-rounded and complete skill set at 205lbs. He’s a massive guy in this division at 6’5”, and in this fight, he’ll be two inches taller and two inches longer, not to mention four years younger. Like Cirkunov, Spann’s durability is also a question mark, but overall he does seem like the tougher fighter.
This is a really hard fight to call, even after watching all of their UFC fights back again. It’s a very tight fight that could honestly go either way. Flip a coin in this one. Either Cirkunov gets the submission, or Spann gets the quick knockout, but I don’t see it lasting past the first round. My slight lean is Spann, just because I think he’s a better value at $7900 for DFS. But I think you have to play both sides in this one as it’s just who, but if forced to pick, I will go with Spann.
Dan Ige ($8600) vs. Gavin Tucker ($7600)
In the featherweight division, we have Dan Ige against Gavin Tucker. Ige, in general, is one of the most underrated fighters at 145lbs in the UFC. Despite being a top-10 ranked fighter, he’s not someone you really hear fans talking about, which is a shame because he’s actually a very talented and exciting fighter. Looking back at this career, he’s good everywhere, with some power on the feet, wrestling skills, and nasty subs on the mat. Ige is just a good, all-around fighter, and he comes in here as the favorite defending his spot in the rankings against Tucker.
Getting to Tucker, I left this guy for dead after his beatdown loss to Rick Glenn in 2017, but he really has looked exceptional as of late with three straight wins. Beating Billy Quarantillo in his last fight was a big win for him, and it showed off his improved ground game, which has allowed him to win his last three straight fights. It seems like for Tucker, the layoff that he had ultimately turned out to be a blessing for him, as he seems like a brand new fighter. Having said that, he is 34 years old, and in this matchup, he will give up five inches in reach. I also don’t like his chin, which has to be a concern for him against some with power like Ige. Those are three difficult circumstances to overcome, but based on his recent form, it’s possible he does just that.
This is another really tough fight to call. Ige has been a top-15 talent for a while now, and he has always been a great bet as an underdog, but I’m leaning towards the other side in Tucker here. I have just really liked the improvements I’ve seen from Tucker, and if he can utilize his grappling, I believe he can win this fight. At $7600, I would much rather take a shot on Tucker here in a fight that likely will go the distance. I think Tucker is a live dog here, so at a price tag in the $7000 range, I have to take a shot on him even though I do think this fight could go either way.
Jonathan Martinez ($9300) vs. Davey Grant ($6900)
One of the bantamweight division’s top prospects returns when Jonathan Martinez takes on veteran Davey Grant. Martinez is one of the brightest young prospects at 135lbs. Just 26 years old, Martinez comes into this fight having won four of his last five fights, including a decision win over Thomas Almeida in his last fight. Martinez is exceptional on the feet with dangerous striking attacks and an especially-powerful knee. Martinez has also been working hard at rounding out his MMA game, and his wrestling has gotten better in recent fights. Overall, there’s a ton to like about Martinez, and this could be a guy who will soon be in the top-15 at 135lbs.
Taking on Martinez is Grant, a durable veteran who is coming off of a KO win over Martin Day on Fight Island last summer. Grant has been in the UFC for the last eight years, but he has had trouble staying healthy and has been very inactive over the last few years, generally only fighting once a year. At age 35, Grant is past his prime, but he still serves as a solid gatekeeper in the bantamweight division because he’s very durable and has solid wrestling. Watching Grant’s fights back, he’s actually a very underrated fighter. The problem is that he’s fighting one of the best prospects in the division here in Martinez, and that’s a tough spot for him to be in.
I have to go with Martinez here. He’s nine years younger, he’s the faster fighter, and he’s the more explosive fighter. I do think Grant can possibly make this a gritty fight and make it go the distance, but I do expect him to take a lot of damage over the course of the 15 minutes. Ultimately, I see Martinez winning this fight via decision with the slight chance of a TKO. $9300 is a big price to pay if he doesn’t get the stoppage, but I do consider Martinez one of the more-likely winners on this card, and he could be someone who you want to play in cash.
Manel Kape ($8700) vs. Matheus Nicolau ($7500)
Two flyweights go at it when Manel Kape fights Matheus Nicolau. Starting with Kape, the former RIZIN bantamweight champion had a tough decision loss to Alexandre Pantoja in his UFC debut. To be fair to Kape, he was out for over a year heading into that fight, and he looked much more aggressive in the third round once he knocked the rust off. Overall, I like what I saw from Kape. He’s a southpaw, and he lands massive power. I wish he threw more volume, but he makes up for it with his impactful shots. He also has a two-inch reach advantage here.
As for Nicolau, this is his second stint in the UFC. He was up-and-down the first time around, getting cut following a head kick KO loss to Dustin Ortiz, and since then, Nicolau has won two straight fights on the regional scene. I watched both the fights, and one of them saw him get a submission finish, but the other fight wasn’t too impressive as he just edged out a decision win. If that’s the way he fights these days, I don’t think that’s going to work here for Nicolau. The fact Nicolau hasn’t fought in two years is also a big negative heading into this fight. I also don’t really trust his chin and think he could be at risk of a finish here if Kape can land a big bomb.
I like Kape here. The long layoff hurt him in the Pantoja fight, and now that he’s got that UFC debut out of the way, I expect him to have a good performance here against Nicolau. Other than his win over Smolka, I’ve never been impressed with Nicolau in the UFC. I like this matchup for Kape a lot. This is going to stay on the feet, and on the feet, I give Kape the advantage in the technique and power. I believe Nicolau is going to suffer from the same ring rust that Kape just dealt with. Look for Kape to have a good showing here and get the win, but I’m not sure if he gets the finish. At $8700, you want him to get the finish for your DFS team.
Darren Stewart ($8900) vs. Eryk Anders ($7300)
A pair of strong middleweights meet when Darren Stewart takes on Eryk Anders. Starting with Stewart, I’ve been impressed with the improvements he’s made in his game. When he first came to the UFC, he was a pure striker who could be finished on the ground. These days, Stewart is just incredibly well-rounded. He’s big, strong, good at wrestling, good at striking, and he’s improving on the ground, as we saw in his last fight when he submitted Maki Pitolo. It’s worth noting that he did have a Cage Warriors fight against Bartosz Fabinski in 2020 that saw him get outwrestled by a smaller man, but overall, Stewart has looked really good as of late. He’s just a solid, well-rounded middleweight who seems to still be getting better at his craft.
Getting to Anders, he’s been in the UFC for a while now and has been very inconsistent. At times we’ve seen Anders show massive power and good wrestling skills, but at other times we’ve seen him get hurt badly or outmuscled against the fence. He’s just a very tricky fighter to get a read on. For this camp, Anders went to Fight Ready with Henry Cejudo and Eric Albarracin, so maybe he’ll finally unlock his potential in this fight. Anders will enjoy a one-inch reach advantage in this fight, he’s one inch taller, and he’s a southpaw, all helpful things. But if this fight takes place against the cage, those factors won’t really come into play.
I’m expecting this fight goes the distance, although a finish is certainly possible given they are middleweights. For my pick, I have to go with Stewart because I believe he’s the more well-rounded mixed martial artist right now. But honestly, this is a close fight and not one that I really want to have action on. I could see it going the distance and being a split decision. So while my pick is Stewart, he looks way overvalued here at $8900. I don’t love Anders in this matchup, but the $7300 price tag isn’t bad for someone to fill out the bottom of your roster.
Angela Hill ($9400) vs. Ashley Yoder ($6800)
This women’s strawweight bout between Angela Hill and Ashley Yoder was previously booked to take place a few weeks ago but was pushed back due to COVID-19 protocol after one of Yoder’s cornermen tested positive.
My breakdown for this fight doesn’t change. I still lean towards Hill to win this fight, but this $9400 price tag is quite hefty, considering it’s a fight that is likely going to go the distance. It’s worth mentioning these two fought back in 2017, with Hill winning a unanimous decision. Most women’s strawweight fights go the full three rounds, so you would be paying a premium price for what would likely be a decision win for Hill. The good thing about Hill is that she is a high-output fighter and quite durable, so she can rack up some strikes along the way. But considering this price tag and the fact she isn’t much of a finisher, Hill just isn’t someone who I’m very interested in playing this weekend at this massive price tag.
As for Yoder, she does actually have a few things going for her in this fight. She’s a bit bigger at 5’7” compared to just 5’3” for Hill, and Yoder also has a five-inch reach advantage in this spot. She is also a southpaw. I would also say that Yoder has the pure wrestling advantage in this fight. If Yoder can close the distance and tie Hill up, she could make it a grinding affair, which is her path to victory, in my opinion. Hill has been submitted by Randa Markos and Rose Namajunas, so there could be a weakness there for Yoder to exploit. At $6800, Yoder could be worth a punt as someone to put as your sixth fighter on your roster if you have no salary left.
I have to go with Hill to win this fight, but it’s just not a fight I’m super interested in from both a DFS and betting perspective. I expect Hill gets the nod via decision, but the money line on her is way too high given Yoder’s physical advantages in this fight. And from a DFS perspective, this one doesn’t seem like a fight that is going to score too many points. I would try to avoid this one.
Charles Jourdain ($9100) vs. Marcelo Rojo ($7100)
We have the featherweights going at it when Charles Jourdain takes on Marcelo Rojo. Jourdain is a really exciting fighter with a great striking attack to go along with some slick submissions on the ground. He packs a ton of power in his strikes and can finish his opponents standing or on the feet. He’s also super aggressive and has good cardio. What I don’t like about him is his takedown defense and his striking defense. He’s too willing to get hit and leaves his hands down and chin up far too often. He’s also fairly easy to get taken down. Overall, Jourdain is a fun action fighter, and at age 25, he still has plenty of time to make improvements in his game.
Jourdain’s opponent for his fight is Rojo, who took the fight on short notice and is moving up from his usual 135lbs weight class. Rojo is 32 years old and a Combate Americas veteran who is finally making his UFC debut. He hasn’t fought since September 2019, so it’s been a long layoff for him coming into this fight, which is a knock on him. As for his fighting style, Rojo is a pretty aggressive fighter who can hurt his opponents on the feet or the ground. One weakness is his submission defense, as he’s been tapped out a few times in Mexico. Overall, Rojo looked pretty good on tape, but there are a lot of things going against him in this spot.
This is another tricky one. Yes, Jourdain should win, but there are a lot of reasons to be cautious about him. He’s not very defensively sound, and if Rojo can land a bomb in an exchange, it’s possible he could hurt Jourdain. Overall, though, Rojo’s defense is even worse, and I expect he’s probably the one who gets finished in this fight. My prediction is Jourdain keeps the fight on the feet and can eventually finish Rojo by TKO. But at $9100, you’re taking a risk here that he doesn’t get caught with an upset loss to Rojo, who is just $7100. You probably will have to play both sides of this fight in GPPs just because a finish is likely here.
Rani Yahya ($9200) vs. Ray Rodriguez ($7000)
Up next are the bantamweights as Rani Yahya takes on Ray Rodriguez. Starting with Yahya, you’re talking about one of the sport’s top submission artists. He’s absolutely phenomenal on the ground when he’s able to get it there, which he’s able to do in nearly all of his fights. As soon as the bell rings, Yahya is moving forward, trying to get the takedown. He’s usually successful. Yahya has been in the UFC for a decade now and has fought/defeated many of the bantamweight division’s top fighters. He’s done so by being relentless with the takedown and going for the submissions right away. It’s worked for most of his career, but as we saw in his last fight against Enrique Barzola, a draw, Yahya is slowing down a bit. He might win this fight against Rodriguez, but this could be someone to consider fading going forward in his career.
As for Rodriguez, he’s only had one fight in the UFC and lost by submission to Brian Kelleher on very short notice. In his Contender Series fight, he lost via TKO to Tony Graveley. Neither of those performances was impressive, but watching some of his older fights, there are some things to like about him. Rodriguez is really aggressive on the feet and the ground, he’s very nasty with his submissions, too. The problem is, what Rodriguez does well is his ground game, and Yahya is the best in the world at submissions. Both men will likely initiate the grappling sequence in this fight, which could spell doom for Rodriguez. But if he can keep the fight standing, it’s possible the 33-year-old American could pick up an upset victory.
This is a weird one for me. There’s doubt in my mind Yahya is the better fighter, but at age 36, I’m honestly not sure how much gas he has left in the tank. I do think Rodriguez is a live dog here. There’s definitely a chance he can knock Yahya out in this one if he keeps it standing. So, at $7000, he could be a punt for GPPs. But overall, I expect a lot of people to put Yahya on their teams at $9200 just because the majority of people will expect him to win by early submission.
JJ Aldrich ($8500) vs. Cortney Casey ($7700)
Women’s flyweights meet when JJ Aldrich takes on Cortney Casey. Starting with Aldrich, I liked what I saw from her. She fights from the southpaw stance and is actually a really good striker from range and from in the clinch. Her record in the UFC is only 4-3, but most of her losses were quite competitive, and she’s fought decent competition, as well. As for her grappling, Aldrich is decent when she gets top position, and she does have a body lock takedown that she uses to get the fight to the ground. She got finished by Maycee Barber, but overall, Aldrich is a durable fighter who can do enough with her striking to win decisions over fighters in a similar standing.
Casey is also very durable and has been in the Octagon with many of the best fighters in the world at 115lbs and 125lbs. Casey isn’t great on the feet, but she’s passable. On the ground, she can be taken down easily by anyone with decent wrestling. Her willingness to lay on her back has cost her many fights, though she does have a slick submission game off of her back that can see her get some submission once in a while. Generally, though, Casey is someone who goes the distance. More often than not, she’s been on the losing end in the UFC as she’s just 5-7 in the Octagon overall. At age 33, it’s hard to really see her improving anymore.
I like Aldrich in this matchup. Her striking is a lot better, in my opinion, and Casey doesn’t have the wrestling skills to get this fight to the mat. I expect Aldrich to land more punches and kicks from distance and eventually win a decision at the end of 15 minutes. That being said, she’s not a great fantasy play at $8500, as a finish is unlikely in this fight, and it could also be a low-volume fight. Of all the fights on the card, this seems like one to consider fading for DFS.
Gloria de Paula ($8800) vs. Jinh Yu Frey ($7400)
We’re back in the women’s strawweight division as Gloria de Paula takes on Jinh Yu Frey. Starting with de Paula, I really liked what I saw from her. She’s only 25 years old and comes from the Chute Boxe camp in Brazil, where she trains alongside her partner Mayra Bueno Silva, another UFC fighter. Just like Silva, de Paula has nasty Muay Thai, as we saw on the Contender Series. She is extremely strong in the clinch and can blast fight-ending knees from that position. She’s very aggressive, moves forward, and lands with power. In addition to her striking, de Paula also has submission skills. One area of her game that she can improve on is her takedown defense. That’s the biggest hole in her game, but if she can shore that up, watch out.
Getting to Frey, she does have a few advantages in this spot, including having more experience as a former champion in Invicta FC. But honestly, she hasn’t been impressive at all in the UFC, and at age 35, I feel like she’s past her prime. She lost a striking battle to Loma Lookboonme and then got submitted by Kay Hansen, a 21-year-old fighter in her last outing. That’s a bad loss, in my opinion, and it just shows me that Frey isn’t big enough to compete with the bigger 115lbers, which de Paula is. If Frey can make this a pure wrestling match and exploit de Paula’s takedown defense, then she can win this fight. But if it stays standing, and I think it does, this could be a tough night for Frey against someone in de Paula, who to me, looks like a future star.
I like de Paula here quite a bit. She’s the younger fighter, she’s the taller fighter, and she has the reach advantage. I passed on a similar fighter in Amanda Lemos last week because of her high price tag, and she went out there and knocked out Livinha Souza quickly. If you’re going to play de Paula at this $8800 price tag, you’re hoping for the same thing to happen. For me, it’s either you take de Paula here, or you pass, as I have no interest in playing Frey. I’m definitely going to have some action on de Paula because I think she has a good chance to finish this fight.
Pick: de Paula
Matthew Semelsberger ($8400) vs. Jason Witt ($7800)
In the welterweight division, we have Matthew Semelsberger vs. Jason Witt. This one’s tricky because we haven’t seen much of Semelsberger at the UFC level. That being said, I did like what I have seen from him on the regional scene. He’s very tough, aggressive, and game. Although his UFC debut against Carlton Minus went to a decision, the majority of his fights have ended inside the distance. In the Minus fight, we saw him score a knockdown and land over 100 significant strikes. Although he couldn’t finish Minus, he does have some power on the feet.
In my research, I found that Semelsberger is working with a smaller camp in Maryland, but he said he’s been bringing in specialists to help him out. Generally, I prefer when fighters train at big camps, but that’s not a guaranteed rule. Whatever Semelsberger has been doing has worked as it got him signed to the UFC despite minimal pro experience. Overall, I like Semelsberger, and I see a lot of upside. He’s a big welterweight at 6’1”, and he’s blessed with a long reach of 75”. I really like his striking attack, and from what I’ve seen, his wrestling is solid. Against Witt, he will need to stop the takedown. If he does, he has a good chance to win.
Now, let’s get to Witt. He’s a veteran of the sport, and in this fight, he is 34 years old compared to just 28 for Semelsberger. All the extra experience is nice, but it’s come at a cost, as Witt isn’t the most durable fighter, and he’s been knocked out several times throughout his MMA career. In the UFC, it’s been a tale of two fighters for Witt. In his UFC debut on short notice against Takashi Sato, we saw his chin crumble with a quick KO loss. But against Cole Williams, we saw his incredible ground game as he was able to outwrestle Williams and eventually submit him. Training with James Krause at Glory MMA and Fitness is also a plus when it comes to Witt.
This is a striker vs. grappler fight, and I favor the striker here. I think Semelsberger has been making a lot of improvements to his game, and I’m excited to see him go to work here. Witt will go for his double leg right away, and if he gets it, he can win this fight on the ground. But if Semelsbeger stuffs the takedown, I expect Witt to get knocked out. At $8400, Semelsberger is a guy you have to look at for a quick finish. That being said, this is definitely not an easy fight, and if Witt won, it wouldn’t surprise me, either. You might have to play both sides in DFS here.
Nasrat Haqparast ($9400) vs. Rafa Garcia ($6800)
A short-notice fight added to this card sees Nasrat Haqparast take on Rafa Garcia, who is taking the bout on just three days’ notice, filling in for the injured Don Madge. Starting with Haqparast, he’s been in the UFC for a while now and has overall performed really well. He’s a big lightweight and has power in his strikes. He also moves really well, and his wrestling has improved over the years. He did get caught and knocked out by Drew Dober a few fights back, but he bounced back with a decision win over Alex Munhoz in his last outing. In this particular matchup with Garcia, Haqparast will be three inches taller, two inches longer, a southpaw, and he’s only 25. There’s a lot to like about Haqparast, and I expect a good showing from him here.
As for Garcia, he’s coming from Combate Americas, and watching him on tape, there’s a lot to like here. Garcia is an aggressive fighter with some power on his feet, and he has some submission skills on the ground, as well. He’s actually fought some decent competition in Mexico, former UFC fighters like Humberto Bandenay and Estevan Payan, and overall, I liked what I saw. But his one fight with Erick Gonzalez concerned me as he took a ton of damage in that fight, which makes me wonder what happens when he fights in the UFC.
This is a big step up against Haqparast, however. Garcia has a puncher’s chance in this fight, but overall, I think this is a tough matchup for him. Garcia is a good prospect and will pick up some wins in the Octagon, but given the short-notice circumstances of this fight, this is a tough spot for him.
I like Haqparast here. I think he’ll prove to be the more well-rounded fighter and the better striker, and I see him being able to hurt Garcia on the feet. Given the short-notice nature of this fight, there is definitely a chance Garcia simply won’t have the cardio to go 15 minutes. Haqparast seems like a strong play in this fight, given that he has a good chance to get a finish.
Pick: Nasrat Haqparast
Building Blocks: Nasrat Haqparast ($9400), Jonathan Martinez ($9300), Leon Edwards ($9000)
Live Dogs: Ryan Spann ($7900), Eryk Anders ($7300), Marcelo Rojo ($7100)
Fades: Angela Hill ($9400), Darren Stewart ($8900), JJ Aldrich ($8500)
Manel Kape 1.2 to win 1
Matthew Semelsberger 1.2 to win 1
Cirkunov/Spann UNDER 1.5 rounds 1.45 to win 1
Semelsberger/Witt UNDER 2.5 rounds 1.05 to win 1
Jourdain/Rojo UNDER 2.5 rounds 1.2 to win 1
Parlay: Edwards/Martinez 1.14 to win 1
Parlay: de Paula/Haqparast 1.17 to win 1
Parlay: Cirkunov/Spann fight does not go distance AND Yahya/Rodriguez fight does not go distance parlay 1.11 to win 1
For more on UFC Vegas 21, check out Duke’s MMA Breakdown!