The UFC heads to Beijing, China, for what looks like a diabolical card from a betting and fan’s perspective. Usually when a card is full of lesser known fighters, we get some good lines from the bookmakers – but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Nevertheless, I’m not the type to pass on an evening (or morning in this case) of degeneracy, so here are my breakdowns of the fights I’m considering betting.
Weili Zhang vs. Jessica Aguilar
Despite eating a few bombs from the evasive yet hard hitting Danielle Taylor, I saw evidence Weili Zhang can make waves in the UFC’s stacked strawweight division. Primarily a striker, Zhang fights like a savage barbarian and isn’t looking to win by decision.
While she leaves herself open defensively, she has a good vocabulary of strikes and unlike most female strawweights – has numerous KO/TKO victories on her record (albeit against underwhelming competition). Zhang enjoys standing exchanges but if she’s able to secure top position, she throws devastating elbows and has finished fights with ground strikes.
Zhang has immense potential and I believe the UFC are looking to build her up slowly. Standing in front of her will be Jessica Aguilar, a tough veteran that has fought for Bellator and WSOF.
Now 36-years-of-age, I wonder how much is left in the tank for the American Top Team fighter. Although she performed well against Jodie Esquibel in her last contest, Weili Zhang is an entirely different level of opponent.
Aguilar can box, although she lacks power. Still, trading on the feet seems like a bad proposition against an explosive striker like Zhang. Perhaps Aguilar’s best path to victory is with wrestling – Zhang is a powerful athlete but her takedown defense is unproven.
Ultimately, I think Aguilar will be forced to stand for long periods of this fight, but she won’t be able to compete in terms of power, physicality and athleticism. If you’re looking for a disgustingly juiced parlay piece, Weili Zhang seems like an acceptable choice at -450.
Hu Yaozong vs. Rashad Coulter
This is a preposterous fight and given the huge question marks on both athletes, it’s tough to break down from a technical perspective.
Rashad Coulter has not looked good in the UFC. The guy hits hard and can put combinations together, but has zero ground game and doesn’t manage his energy appropriately. Against Chris De La Rocha, Coulter emptied the tank trying to knock his opponent out in the first round – yet when the finish didn’t materialize he was inevitably grounded and wiped out on the mat.
In a recent interview, Coulter states he’s glad to be given the opportunity to fight at his “natural” weight class of 205 pounds – but shortly after mentions he started his training camp weighing 261 pounds. That sounds like a horrific cut for a fighter in his late thirties that already has suspect cardio. On top of that, he mentions sustaining numerous injuries in his heavyweight fights and will presumably be out of his element after a long journey to china.
Despite the abundance of red flags surrounding Coulter, it’s hard to trust his opponent, Hu Yaozong, either. The Chinese fighter did not look good against Cyril Asker, showing total incompetence on the mat and a lack of counter-wrestling ability. However, Coulter isn’t likely to grapple – which makes this fight intriguing.
Against Abror Yakhyaev and briefly against Asker, Yaozong showcased serviceable striking (offensively at least). Still in his early twenties and training at Tiger Muay Thai, there’s a good chance he’s improving and at least he’ll have the cardio advantage.
I don’t trust either fighter, but if Yaozong can avoid getting knocked out in the early stages of the fight – he should be able to take over. I really question my sanity for betting a fight like this, but I have a small wager on Hu Yaozong to win at +150.
Kenan Song vs. Alex Morono
I scouted Kenan Song extensively before his UFC debut against Bobby Nash. Convinced he would lose, I was surprised to see Song score an emphatic knockout within fifteen seconds.
In his second octagon appearance, Song ate plenty of shots from Mexican brawler, Hector Aldana. He was also taken down several times but managed to work his way back to his feet. Still, he stayed in the fight and managed to land the kill shot in the second round with a big right hand.
Song isn’t the most awe-inspiring striker – he primarily throws a jab, straight right and the occasional front kick. To his credit, his punches are energy efficient and when he connects flush, he can knock out anyone.
His opponent, Alex Morono, likes to strike as well but is much more diverse with his offense. Coming from a Taekwondo background, Morono has some nice kicks in his arsenal and may look to attack the lead leg of Song (the Chinese fighter does not seem to check low kicks).
In terms of boxing, Morono is more a brawler. The American throws big looping shots in the pocket and is looking to end the fight with one punch. Throwing heat comes at a cost and we’ve seen Morono slow down late in fights.
Interestingly, Morono is a jiu-jitsu black belt but doesn’t typically shoot takedowns. His takedown defense has not looked good in previous fights so I wouldn’t be surprised if Song is the one to shoot (as he did against a pure striker in Brad Riddell).
Morono’s jiu-jitsu appears solid when he’s in a dominant position, but was rendered ineffective when forced to fight off his back against Canadian veteran, Jordan Mein.
Ultimately, I feel Song is the more powerful and athletic fighter. I also prefer his clean straight punches to the wild strikes of Morono. At pick ‘em odds, I like Kenan Song to win.
Li Jingliang vs. David Zawada
No one enjoys a brutal war more than Li Jingliang. Renowned for his supremely aggressive style, Jingliang has never been involved in a boring fight. Predominantly a striker, his offense is a blend of power boxing and low kicks – which has been effective in his UFC career.
In the past, “The Leech” was happy to take shots in order to deliver his own, but this caught up to him against Australian prospect, Jake Matthews. Throwing caution to the wind and chasing the knockout, Lingliang got caught repeatedly and lost on the scorecards.
In his next bout, Jingliang fought more conservatively – obliterating the lead leg of Daiche Abe with low kicks and picking his shots carefully. If Jingliang continues to fight intelligently, he can go a long way in the welterweight division.
David Zawada can box too, although he gets tagged a lot. In his last bout before the UFC against Michał Michalski, Zawada ate a tonne of strikes and was controlled on the mat before staging a comeback victory in the third round. If he takes punishment like that against a power puncher in Jingliang, he’s going to get knocked out.
On the mat, Zawada is a legitimate submission threat although I don’t think he’s a fantastic positional grappler. Jingliang has shown solid counter-wrestling and has been able to work his way to the fence in order to get to his feet.
In all likelihood, this will be a fire fight. If Jingliang does get tagged, he recovers freakishly quickly whereas Zawada has been knocked out before. I had no problem playing Li Jingliang at -137 as I cap him closer to -200.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Francis Ngannou
What happened to the scariest knockout artist in the heavyweight division? Francis Ngannou looked terrifying dismantling all opponents en route to a title fight. However, when he finally met reigning champion, Stipe Miocic, he was dragged into deep water, outwrestled and dominated on the mat.
Coming back after this disappointing loss, he then dropped a decision to perennial overachiever, Derrick Lewis, in one of the worst fights of all time. Ngannou looked tentative and I suspect the championship loss severely impacted the French fighter’s confidence.
Ngannou defeated his opponent, Curtis Blaydes, in the 2016 – but both fighters seem to be moving in opposite trajectories.
An explosive wrestler with an iron chin, Blaydes is one of the few fighters to survive the striking onslaught of Ngannou. In fact, the fight was only stopped due to a horrific eye injury sustained by Blaydes.
Since then, Blaydes moved to a serious gym and has been making significant improvements to his game. Although his striking is still a work in progress, he landed a flury on Alistair Overeem in round three which set up the takedown and eventual finish. This leads me to believe Blaydes will be more effective on the feet this time around.
Ngannou is devastating in the pocket and can annihilate anyone with a perfectly timed uppercut or hook. However, if Blaydes fights intelligently, works in takedowns and drains the gas tank of Ngannou – he can score a decisive victory much like Miocic did.
I favor Blaydes to win but I’m not interested in playing him at -220. There might be a bit of value on Curtis Blaydes to win by decision at +325.
My Main Plays
- 0.5 units on Hu Yaozong at +150
- 3 units on Li Jingliang at -137
- 2 units on Kenan Song at -110
Also on Saturday evening is the third installment of Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz. You can read my betting breakdown here.