Adam Martin’s GPP Plays and Cash Game advice for UFC Vegas 26: Rodriguez vs. Waterson
The UFC is back at the APEX again for this weekend’s UFC Vegas 26 event. Last week was another solid week as far as my picks and bets go and I expect to have another good night again this week. We have 12 fights on tap for this weekend’s card, so let’s get right into them.
UFC Vegas 26 Card
Marina Rodriguez ($9200) vs. Michelle Waterson ($7000)
At women’s flyweight, Marina Rodriguez fights Michelle Waterson for five rounds. These two women typically compete at 115lbs but were shifted up a weight class due to the short-notice nature of this fight being booked. Starting with Rodriguez, she is coming off of her best win in the UFC yet, a second-round knockout over Amanda Ribas. It was an exceptional win and showed that she is among the best in the UFC’s women’s strawweight division right now. Although Rodriguez has just a 3-1-2 UFC record and is 34 years old, there is a lot to like about her. Overall she is an excellent striker with some grappling skills and can cause problems. In this matchup against Waterson, Rodriguez sports three-inch height and reach advantages.
Waterson is a pretty solid fighter in her own right and has proven herself to be a top-15 fighter in the UFC. But her 6-4 record isn’t great and she doesn’t really have the finishing ability to hurt her opponents. She basically has to win decisions over the course of 15 or 25 minutes, or possibly get the submission on the ground. Because even though her nickname is “The Karate Hottie,” Waterson’s doesn’t really pack much power. She can land volume but it hasn’t really helped her out all that often. In fact, it’s been her grappling that has probably helped her the most in the UFC. Even though she is undersized for 115lbs, Waterson is still pretty strong. At 125lbs, though, I feel like she is going to be at a big size disadvantage in this matchup.
I have to go with Rodriguez here just due to the finishing ability on the feet. It’s a five-round fight so she will have plenty of opportunities throughout to land big, heavy shots on her opponent. Although Waterson is super durable and might be able to survive to a decision, I still think Rodriguez wins this fight by knockout or on points. At $9200 she is one of the bigger favorites on this card but I feel like it’s justified given she has a big advantage in the power department. That being said, Waterson is extremely tough and has good cardio so she might be able to survive. As a cheap main event dog at $7000, maybe she can provide value in a loss.
Pick: Marina Rodriguez
Donald Cerrone ($8400) vs. Alex Morono ($7800)
At welterweight, Donald Cerrone takes on Alex Morono, who took the fight on short notice after Diego Sanchez was released from the UFC. Cerrone is riding into this fight on a five-fight winless skid and it’s been two years now since he’s won a fight in the Octagon. Although he is one of the greatest action fighters in UFC history, he is on a serious skid in his career and is just not the same guy he once was. At his best, Cerrone can be competitive with the top fighters in the world at 155lbs and 170lbs and finish them with his striking or submissions. But in the last couple of years, we have seen a huge decline in Cerrone’s overall game. He has been taking way too much damage in his fights and it’s adding up. He looks to me like he’s a shot fighter.
I know Morono is coming in here on short notice, but he has been training with Geoff Neal and Diego Ferreira at Fortis MMA and he says he’s in fight shape here. As long as he shows up with decent cardio I think Morono has a good chance to pull off the upset here. He has really good volume striking skills and if he can keep Cerrone on the feet with him I see Morono just teeing off on Cerrone’s head with his jab all night long. I don’t think Morono is an amazing fighter, but I do think he is good enough to beat the 2021 version of Cerrone, and given the underdog price tag, Morono is absolutely a live dog and someone I think has a chance to have a great showing.
Pick: Alex Morono
Geoff Neal ($9000) vs. Neil Magny ($7200)
Also at welterweight, we have Geoff Neal taking on Neil Magny. Both guys are top-15 ranked fighters at 170lbs so this should be one heck of a fight when they step into the cage. Starting with Neal, he has been a very solid fighter at welterweight for a few years now. He won the first five fights of his UFC career before taking a layoff due to health issues. When he returned, he lost to Stephen Thompson, and that wasn’t a good performance, but we can at least give Neal the benefit of a doubt due to the long layoff he had before that. When he’s on the top of his game, Neal is one of the best welterweights in the UFC and can knock out anyone in the division.
As for Magny, he has been one of the best welterweights for years in UFC and has pulled off a number of upsets over the years. He will be looking to pull off another one when he takes on Neal this weekend, but it’s an uphill climb. For Magny to win, he’s going to have to avoid all of Neal’s power shots and instead either use his reach to jab his way to a win or use his grappling to wrestle his way to victory, and I just don’t see either of those two things happening. This looks like a tough matchup for Magny and there is a good chance he gets knocked out here. Even though he has the height and reach advantage, Neal is the better fighter, and I think there is a good chance that at $9000 Neal is worth his price if he scores the knockout.
Pick: Geoff Neal
Marcos Rogerio de Lima ($9100) vs. Maurice Greene ($7100)
The heavyweights collide when Marcos Rogerio de Lima takes on Maurice Greene. I can tell you right now that his fight is not going the distance, so you will want to target this fight for DFS as the winner is likely to rack up a lot of points in a victory.
Starting with de Lima, he has about five minutes of cardio to get the job done and he often does. De Lima is a be-or-be-killed fighter and he has the ability to get the knockout or the submission early on. That being said, if he doesn’t win in the first round, he is at serious risk of gassing out and losing. He carries a lot of muscle in his arms and very often throughout his career we have seen him gas as the fight goes on and loses. He has the skills to finish Greene early, but if he can’t get his opponent out of there in the first round, this could be a fight where we see a big-ticket favorite go down.
Greene isn’t a great fighter, but he has several advantages in this fight including being six inches taller, having five more inches of reach, and being a year younger. Greene also comes from a striking background and when you are talking about MMA, he is a pretty well-rounded fighter as we have seen him collect several submission wins in the UFC. Of course, Greene doesn’t have a great chin and his submission defense isn’t good either, which makes him nothing more than a gatekeeper. But that still might be enough for him to get by de Lima, who I don’t rate at this great fighter by any means. I think if de Lima doesn’t end the fight in the first round it will be Greene’s to lose, and at a $7100 price tag, I will take a shot on Greene here.
Pick: Maurice Greene
Gregor Gillespie ($8900) vs. Diego Ferreira ($7300)
In the lightweight division, we have Gregor Gillespie finally returning to the Octagon against Diego Ferreira. Remember, Gillespie was supposed to fight Brad Riddell a few months ago but the fight was pulled due to COVID-19 protocols. Now, Gillespie finally returns to the UFC after an 18-month layoff following a KO loss to Kevin Lee at UFC 244. That was a tough loss for Gillespie as he suffered his first career defeat and in embarrassing fashion, too. That being said, before the loss to Lee, Gillespie was looking like a serious contender at 155lbs with his dominant wrestling game to go along with serious finishing skills on the floor. Gillespie is one of the best takedown artists at lightweight and that will be his path to defeating Ferreira in this one.
As for Ferreira, I really like him too and he has a chance to win this fight if it stays on the feet as he is the superior striker. I’m just not confident he can stop the takedowns from Gillespie. In his last fight, Ferreira saw his six-fight win streak snapped when Beneil Dariush took him down five times and controlled him en route to a split decision win. Dariush really had to work hard to get those takedowns, but once he got Ferreira on his back he had trouble getting back up. Gillespie is the master of getting his opponents to the mat, and I think he gets Ferreira down here. $8900 is not a cheap price to pay on Gillespie, but given how many points top-control grapplers score these days, he will be well worth his price if he can hold Ferreira down for the full 15 minutes
Pick: Gregor Gillespie
Amanda Ribas ($8800) vs. Angela Hill ($7400)
At women’s strawweight, Amanda Ribas meets Angela Hill in a grappler vs. striker matchup. Starting with Ribas, she was well on the way to becoming a star in the UFC before getting knocked out by Marina Rodriguez in her last fight. Before that, it looked like she was going to be a serious contender after the way we saw her handle Mackenzie Dern and Paige VanZant on the ground. Ribas is one of the best grapplers in the division owing to her judo background and if she can get the fight to the floor, she’s almost impossible to beat. But if her opponents can keep the fight standing, it’s possible they can catch her on the chin and finish her. Against Hill, Ribas enjoys the advantage of three inches in reach and being eight years younger.
As for Hill, we know what she’s all about at this point as she’s been in the UFC for years. Hill is a sprawl-and-brawler, meaning she is going to look to stuff takedowns and keep her fights on the feet. In the striking department, I would say Hill is one of the best in the UFC women’s strawweight division at the moment as she has volume for days and also some power at times. However, her grappling still bothers me. Even though she has improved her takedown defense over the years, I still think a strong grappler can get her to the floor.
Ribas is one of the best grapplers in the division and ultimately I do see her planting Hill on her back and grinding out a decision. From a fantasy perspective, Ribas would likely score a lot of points with that sort of game plan, while Hill could score an upset KO as an underdog, so this is a fight to target.
Pick: Amanda Ribas
Ben Rothwell ($8200) vs. Philipe Lins ($8000)
In the heavyweight division, we have Ben Rothwell taking on Philip Lins. This fight was supposed to happen a few months back and at the time I really liked Rothwell to win the fight, and I still do this time around. I just think he’s the far superior heavyweight in nearly every way. Rothwell is one of the most experienced big men in the UFC, having had more fights than most of the heavyweights on the roster. We have seen for years that he has huge knockout power and an iron chin which have allowed him to remain in the sport’s top league for over a decade. I think Rothwell is one of the most underrated heavyweights in the UFC and the fact he is this cheap against a guy like Lins who has shown absolutely nothing in the Octagon is shocking.
I don’t understand the love affair for Lins. He looked absolutely horrible in both of his previous UFC fights against Tanner Boser and Andrei Arlovski and there is no reason to think he will turn things around here. As good as he looked in the PFL when he won that promotion’s heavyweight tournament, he has looked terrible in the Octagon so far. The other thing about Lins is that he’s 35, so it’s not like he’s a prospect or anything. He’s a veteran at this point and not a great fighter, in my opinion. Give me Rothwell in this fight. I think he is, at worst, going to outpoint Lins and win a decision, but given we are back in the small cage, I think there is a good chance that Rothwell scores a knockout. At $8200 there is huge value on him at this price.
Pick: Ben Rothwell
Kyle Daukaus ($8300) vs. Phil Hawes ($7900)
Middleweights meet when Kyle Daukaus takes on Phil Hawes. Starting with Daukaus, he has performed well in the UFC so far with a decision win over Dustin Stoltzfus and a decision loss to top prospect Brendan Allen. Daukaus is an excellent grappler and considering he is a massive middleweight, he uses his long limbs to his advantage on the floor. He is also incredibly tough and hard to finish, plus he has good cardio. I like all the intangibles about Daukaus, but there are some concerns with him. For one, I think he gets hit way too much and I think he can be knocked out at some point. And for two, I think he can be taken down and held. Daukaus is a good fighter but I’m not convinced he’s a future title contender in the middleweight division.
As for Hawes, we have seen him a few times in the UFC now and he’s been fairly successful with a quick KO over Jacob Malkoun and a decision win over Nassourdine Imavov. Hawes is a great wrestler who also has knockout power and he’s training with a great camp at Sanford MMA. The biggest knock on Hawes is his cardio, as he tends to slow down during his fights. Against Imavov he did show a better gas tank which leads me to believe all the hard work at Sanford is really paying off now. Hawes is the shorter man in this fight and he is the older fighter, two things I generally go against, but overall I actually think he’s the more well-rounded MMA fighter. This is going to be a competitive fight, but I’m leaning towards Hawes at $7900.
Pick: Phil Hawes
Ludovit Klein ($9400) vs. Mike Trizano ($6800)
In featherweight action, we have Ludovit Klein taking on Mike Trizano. Klein made his UFC debut late last year and had a tremendous outing when he knocked out Shane Young with a head kick. In fact, his last three wins have come by head kick, so it’s his specialty. Watching Klein’s fights back from Europe, his striking attack is extremely dangerous. If he can keep his opponents on the feet, he can outstrike them with volume and knock them out. I did notice some holes in Klein’s ground game, but overall his takedown defense is pretty solid. Klein is the biggest favorite on the card and based on his flashy knockouts, it’s no surprise that’s the case.
As for Trizano, he’s a pretty solid fighter in his own right but there are a few things that bother me about him in this particular matchup. I don’t like the fact Trizano has been out for the past two years, and the last time we saw him he was dominated by Grant Dawson. Granted, that’s a tough matchup in itself and Dawson is a grappler, but he didn’t look good. It’s possible Trizano has been improving during his time off, but even if he has, I can’t see him being able to stand and trade with Klein on the feet. If Trizano is able to land takedowns, he can win this fight, and it’s worth noting that he is four inches taller than Klein so the high kick will be harder to land. But overall I just think Klein should roll here and I like him even at $9400.
Pick: Ludovit Klein
Ryan Benoit ($8700) vs. Zarrukh Adashev ($7500)
In the flyweight division, we have Ryan Benoit taking on Zarrukh Adashev. If I had to guess, the loser of this fight is going to be cut from the UFC as Benoit is just 3-5 with the organization and Adashev is 0-2. That being said, while they don’t have good UFC records, both guys are pretty decent fighters and this should be a good scrap. Starting with Benoit, he has been in the UFC since 2013 and has pulled off several upsets over the years including a brutal knockout win over Sergio Pettis. Benoit is a fairly well-rounded fighter who has decent grappling and serviceable striking. I consider him to be a gatekeeper in the UFC flyweight division, meaning that he will beat the lower-ranked guys, but he loses to the top fighters in the 125lbs weight class.
As for Adashev, he has been disappointing so far in the UFC with a knockout loss to Tyson Nam and a decision loss to Sumudaerji, but I do think he has more to give than what he’s shown us. Adashev comes from a striking background and although the results haven’t been there yet, I do think he is someone who can at least pick up one win in the UFC, and this would be the fight that he would win against a gatekeeper like Benoit. Having said that, until I see more from Adashev in the UFC I can’t confidently pick him. My prediction here is for Benoit to outpoint Adashev and win a decision but the price tag makes him someone to avoid this weekend.
Pick: Ryan Benoit** This fight was canceled after Benoit missed weight.
Tafon Nchukwi ($8500) vs. Junyong Park ($7700)
This middleweight bout between Tafon Nchukwi and Junyong Park is one of the best fights on the entire card, in my opinion, but it’s buried on the prelims, which is a shame. Starting with Nchukwi, he turned heads on Dana White’s Contender Series with a brutal head kick KO over Al Matavao, and then he defeated Jamie Pickett in his UFC debut in a wash. Nchukwi made middleweight successfully for the Pickett fight and although he didn’t get the finish, I like the fact he got three rounds of experience. He is a tremendous striker with huge knockout power and he also has good takedown defense, which will be key against Park. In this matchup, Nchukwi will have a two-inch height advantage, four-inch reach advantage, and he’s three years younger.
Park is a well-rounded fighter who has performed well in the UFC, especially in his last fight against John Phillips, a performance that changed how DraftKings scores total strikes and ground control. Park is primarily a grappler and if he can get his opponents to the ground he can be dominant. He also has good boxing on the feet, making him a dangerous fighter in multiple areas of the game. While I’m impressed with Park, I still think he’s beatable and someone like Nchukwi could prove to be a tough matchup.
If Park gets the takedowns, he will win this fight. But based on what I’ve seen from Nchukwi’s takedown defense, Park is going to have trouble getting him to the floor. I feel like Nchukwi keeps the fight standing and picks apart Park for either a decision or a knockout. Even at $8500, I think Nchukwi is the right pick in this one.
Pick: Tafon Nchukwi
Carlston Harris ($8600) vs. Christian Aguilera ($7600)
Kicking off the card is a welterweight bout between Carlston Harris and Christian Aguilera. I was really excited to break down this fight because Harris is the lone UFC newcomer on the card and I had never seen him fight before. Based on what I saw, I was very impressed with the Brazilian. Standing 6’ tall and having a 76” reach, Harris is a well-rounded fighter who excels in the grappling department. He shoots for takedowns and often gets them, and when on the ground he can submit his opponents. He also has dangerous knockout power on the feet.
Aguilera has fought twice in the UFC and the results have been mixed. Against Anthony Ivy in his promotional debut, he knocked out a weak-chinned opponent in one minute. In his next fight, he was taken down and mounted by Sean Brady and then submitted. There’s no shame in losing to Brady, but I still was bothered by how easily Aguilera was schooled on the floor. Looking back at his older fights, it’s been a problem throughout his career. Although he can be good in top position, when he gets on bottom he has nothing to offer. Aguilera has KO power and could catch Harris on the feet, but I’m not counting on it. I like Harris here to win by submission. The $8600 price tag is high but if he gets that submission it’ll be worth it.
Pick: Carlston Harris
MVPs: Ludovit Klein ($9400), Marina Rodriguez ($9200), Geoff Neal ($9000)
Live Dogs: Phil Hawes ($7900), Alex Morono ($7800), Maurice Greene ($7100)
Avoid: Ryan Benoit ($8700), Donald Cerrone ($8400), Philipe Lins ($8000)
Carlston Harris 1.55 to win 1
Tafon Nchukwi 1.4 to win 1
Maurice Greene 1 to win 1.65
Alex Morono 1 to win 1.65
Parlay: Marina Rodriguez/Ludovit Klein 1 to win 1.08
For more on UFC Vegas 26, check out Duke’s MMA Breakdown!