My bets really sucked last weekend – hopefully Saturday night will be better! Usually big PPV cards aren’t my most profitable, but I do like some of the spots on this one. As always, here are my breakdowns of the fights where I have action.

Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Brad Tavares

Training out of the much maligned Glendale Fight Club, the young Edmen Shahbazyan looks like an exciting prospect. A well-rounded fighter, he wrestled throughout highschool specifically because he felt it would be beneficial to his MMA career!

It’s difficult to ascertain his skill level on the feet, primarily because most of his fights end so quickly. He swarms in with hooks and uppercuts, often blasting opponents out of there in the first few minutes of the fight. While he certainly packs a punch, I have questions about his striking defense.

I’m actually more impressed by his grappling, which he used to control Darren Stewart for the first two rounds of their encounter. The third round was much more sloppy and I suspect all the offensive wrestling drained Shahbazyan’s gas tank.

Returning after a long injury layoff, Brad Tavares has been one of the most reliable performers in the middleweight division. You know what you’re going to get with him every time: clean technical kickboxing and world class defensive grappling.

The only knock on Tavares is that he’s not much of a puncher, so usually has to rely on picking opponents apart over three rounds.

I could see a scenario where Shahbazyan comes out fast and scores an early knockout, I could also see a less likely scenario where he hurts Tavares in one round and racks up control time against the fence to win another round. I do not think it’s plausible Shahbazyan will consistently take and hold Tavares down.

Time and time again, we’ve seen Tavares be able to stuff takedowns and turn his fights into kickboxing matches at distance. Unless Shahbazyan has made significant improvements since his last camp (which is possible due to his age), Tavares should be the more technical striker.

I bet Brad Tavares at +150 and I still think the value is with him as long as he remains an underdog.

Gregor Gillespie vs. Kevin Lee

A four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Gregor Gillespie has looked unstoppable since entering the UFC. A cardio machine with endless output, Gillespie has an excellent variety of takedowns in his arsenal and will continue chaining attempts until he puts you on your back.

I’m not exactly sure how great his striking is, mainly because he’s received little resistance to his takedown attempts thus far. Judging from his fight with Jason Gonzalez, Gillespie lacks head movement and could’ve been in major trouble if he wasn’t able to get the fight to the mat.

Stylistically, Kevin Lee will be his hardest test to date – by a significant margin.

Lee is the less sophisticated wrestler, but he doesn’t have to beat Gillespie in a wrestling match – he just has to keep the fight upright.

If we look back to Lee’s contests with Magomed Mustafaev and Michel Prazeres, it’s clear he has good takedown defense and outstanding balance. Prazeres, who now fights at welterweight and is like a cement block from top position, had little luck in holding Lee down when he did secure takedowns.

Since moving to Las Vegas a few years ago, Lee has become a proficient kickboxer and was getting the better of Rafael Dos Anjos in the early stages of the fight (before he blew his gas tank on failed takedown attempts).

For this camp, Lee has been training at Tristar and will have Firas Zahabi in his corner. Tristar is renowned for its conservative ethos and is probably a good fit for a fighter that struggles to manage his energy properly.

One interesting factor in this contest is the size discrepancy. Gillespie is undersized at lightweight, whereas Lee is very physically strong and huge for the division. Lee will also possess a 6-inch reach advantage and is presumably the superior striker at range.

While I think Gillespie will struggle to take and hold down Lee early in the contest, it may not matter if he keeps throwing output and eventually wears Lee down. However, I could also see a scenario where Lee defends takedowns, has better cardio due to not wrestling offensively and simply puts on a kickboxing clinic against a less experienced striker.

I won’t be shocked at all if Gillespie wins, but I think he’s received favorable match-ups in the UFC to this point. Kevin Lee has all the tools to emerge victorious, and I think the value is with him as the underdog.

Stephen Thompson vs. Vicente Luque

Vicente Luque has been on a roll lately, although I do believe he was on the right side of a bad decision in his last fight against Mike Perry.

The Brazilian-American has an excellent ground game, but has fallen in love with his striking in recent years. It seems to be working out for him, since he’s been racking up knockout victories under the tutelage of Henri Hooft.

While he hits like a truck, there is nothing extraordinary about the striking skills of Luque. He’s a good technical striker, but prefers when opponents engage him in the mid-range. One thing I know for sure is that Stephen Thompson will not stand directly in front of him.

Coming back after a devastating knockout loss to Anthony Pettis at 36-years-of-age, I have questions whether the elusive “Wonderboy” could be on a decline. Still, Thompson absorbed hardly any strikes (besides leg kicks) in that contest until he was dropped by a magnificent superman punch.

Thompson is notoriously difficult to hit. His movement and diverse attacks at range make him a nightmare for conventional strikers like Luque. He can circle, fire the lead leg side kick and jab you all night. Because of his wide stance he is susceptible to low kicks, but it’s hard to win rounds with just low kicks.

Because he keeps his hands low, Thompson is there to be hit clean if you can crash the distance – but that’s easier said than done.

Even though he might get caught and finished at some stage, I think you have to side with Stephen Thompson in a stylistically favorable match-up. I bet “Wonderboy” at -110 which seemed like a great price.

Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz

This has the potential to be one of the best fights of the year, but I’m mainly interested in cold hard cash – not entertainment.

Nate Diaz is a zombie boxer with an iron chin, endless cardio and a slick submission game. If you empty the gas tank trying to finish him then you’re in trouble, as he’s known to rally from behind and take out opponents (as seen in the first Conor Mcgregor fight).

Because it’s nearly impossible to put him away, he’s able to execute a relentless attack – which is particularly effective in a five round fight.

I believe Jorge Masvidal is the more technical striker. He has faster hands, more intelligent shot selection and superior kicks. I anticipate he’ll try to work his low kicks early and often, since Diaz leans heavy on his lead leg and is very boxing-centric in his approach.

While Diaz has the advantage in terms of pure jiu-jitsu, Masvidal is a damn good MMA grappler himself. Demian Maia even remarked that Masvidal had some of the best jiu-jitsu out of anyone he’s ever faced!

I’m siding with Jorge Masvidal outright, but I don’t think this is a great fight to bet on.

My Main Plays

  • 2 units on Shane Burgos at -175
  • 2.5 units on Brad Tavares at +150
  • 1 unit on Kevin Lee at +140
  • 1.5 units on Stephen Thompson at -110
  • 4 units on Magomed Ankalaev at -222 (next weekend)

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