It’s the biggest card of the year as the UFC heads to Las Vegas for an epic lightweight title fight. In addition to the carnival that is Nurmagomedov vs. Mcgregor, the other fights on UFC 229 are exceptional too. Here are my breakdowns of every fight on the card, including the ones I’m planning on betting.
Tony Martin vs. Ryan Laflare
American Top Team product, Tony Martin, looks to have a bright future at welterweight. Given his height and frame, it’s amazing to think he was able to make the lightweight limit.
In his last bout against crafty Japanese veteran, Keita Nakamura, Martin showcased greatly improved striking.
The Japanese fighter thrives in chaotic brawls, yet Martin was able to keep the fight tight and technical in order to secure a dominant decision victory.
On the feet, Martin doesn’t do anything remarkable – but he does the basics very well. His jab, straight right and low kicks are all thrown with expert precision.
A jiu-jitsu black belt and solid wrestler, it’s good to see Martin round out the rest of his skills to become a legitimate contender in the welterweight division.
Against an accomplished collegiate wrestler that is known for grinding out rounds in top position, Martin needs to be prepared to stuff takedowns. Unlike in his fight with Nakamura, Martin should probably avoid latching onto guillotines to try and catch Laflare as he shoots – or he might end up giving away rounds on bottom.
Laflare is athletic and well-rounded, but has never become a household name in the UFC due to his lack of finishing instincts. Turning 35-years-of-age a few days before this fight, you’d think he needs to start putting opponents a way if he wants to make a run for the belt.
Laflare is a technical southpaw kickboxer, but his pitter patter style of striking is more suited to scoring points than doing damage. While Laflare may have more diverse offense, I think Martin is cleaner with his technique and also has a power advantage. Martin is certainly the more potent finisher if the fight hits the mat.
It’s worth noting that Martin is training with Dustin Poirier and Colby Covington, two southpaw sparring partners that will be extremely useful in preparing for Laflare.
I’d expect to see pick ‘em odds for this fight, so I have no problem playing Tony Martin at +175 because I favor him to win outright.
Gray Maynard vs. Nik Lentz
Once renowned as a fearsome wrestle-boxer, Gray Maynard is now pushing 40 and is on the downswing of his career. In addition to his declining chin, Maynard’s reaction times also look shot.
In one of the most hilariously bad fights in UFC history, Maynard took on lightweight non-contender, Fernando Bruno, in a fight that looked like it should have been contested in a mud pit. In his prime, Maynard would have dismantled Bruno, yet the fight was worryingly competitive.
Maynard’s only other win in recent years was against Teruto Ishihara, a pure striker that now fights at bantamweight. Maynard was able to manhandle the smaller Ishihara and take him down at will – but I doubt he’ll be able to execute a similar game plan against Nik Lentz, who was an accomplished Division 1 wrestler.
While Lentz isn’t the youngest fighter either at 34-years-of-age, I believe he still has more in the tank than Maynard. His only recent losses have been against high level opponents like David Teymur and Islam Makhachev.
Lentz has a submission victory over Will Brooks, which is better than anything Maynard has accomplished in recent years.
Stylistically, this feels like a good fight for Lentz. At this point in time, Lentz is the superior striker and it’s hard to envision Maynard being able to grind out an opponent who is a virtuoso of grinding himself.
I like Nik Lentz to win but I’m not interested in betting him at -230. I recommend passing on this fight, but Lentz by decision at -107 would probably be my pick.
Alan Patrick vs. Scott Holtzman
Watching Alan Patrick fight is a horrifying experience, unless you’ve got money on him – in which case it’s pretty enjoyable.
The man with two first names is a human blanket. When you attack him with punches and kicks, he returns with cuddles and hugs. Perhaps this is a metaphor for how all of us should lead our daily lives?
Very physically strong for the lightweight division, Patrick is usually able to muscle opponents to the ground and hold them there. Danish striker, Damir Hadzovic, did not fight intelligently against Patrick – initiating grappling exchanges and getting taken down from knees in the clinch.
Although MMA Lab fighter, Scott Holtzman, has been taken down at times in his career, I think he can do a better job of staying vertical than some of Patrick’s previous opponents. After all, he has some excellent grapplers to train with.
On the feet, Holtzman is the more fundamentally sound striker. Patrick’s awkward movement and kicks from the outside can be troublesome, but his strikes are mainly thrown with the intention of setting up his takedowns.
Ultimately, I think Holtzman is probably going to get hugged to death by the bigger, stronger fighter – but I have no intention of betting Patrick straight at -250. Patrick by decision at -165 could be playable.
Lina Lansberg vs. Yana Kunitskaya
Swedish muay thai stylist, Lina Lansberg, fights like a brute. She doesn’t mind throwing caution to the wind defensively in order to drag her opponents into a brawl.
Lansberg’s physical strength is an asset, as she’s often able to trap opponents against the fence where she does her best work in the clinch.
Surging prospect, Aspen Ladd, had to struggle through adversity against the fence before finding a way to take Lansberg to the mat. Gina Mazany, a fighter that I thought would be able to take Lansberg down repeatedly, was also dominated against the fence and outpointed.
Lansberg is not great off her back, but that doesn’t appear to be a factor in this bout. Yana Kunitskaya is also a striker and will welcome a standing war with the Swede.
Training at the world famous Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas, Kunitskaya comes from a traditional martial arts background. Her combat sports journey started with Taekwondo at an early age, in her native Russia.
At range I feel Kunitskaya is the more technical striker. She looked vastly improved in her bout with Raquel Pa’aluhi, who looked lost on the feet against the physically imposing Russian.
I’d have no hesitation playing Kunitskaya at pick ‘em odds, but I think I’ll pass at -170. Lansberg is ridiculously hittable, but she’s a savage and could realistically trap Kunitskaya against the fence as she’s done before.
Kunitskaya by decision at -105 could be worth a bet.
Aspen Ladd vs. Tonya Evinger
A tough, gritty wrestler, Tonya Evinger has enjoyed a long MMA career using her grappling base to win fights.
To Evinger’s credit, she’s not looking to take opponents down and lie on top of them – she’s always hunting for a finish, ether with strikes or submissions. She has stoppage victories over two legitimate UFC contenders in Yana Kunitskaya and Irena Aldana.
While those are two great scalps to have, both women are strikers not grapplers.
On the feet, Evinger has always been unpolished and I doubt that’s going to change at 37-years-of-age. It’s interesting to see whether she’s able to land takedowns as usual, or if she’s going to be forced to strike with the young prospect, Aspen Ladd.
Known predominantly as a grappler, Ladd can strike too. Against jiu-jitsu specialist, Sijara Eubanks, Ladd opted to wrestle defensively and box her way to victory. Her hands looked pretty decent then and I’m sure they’ll look better now.
Although Eubanks did enjoy some top control time over Ladd, I saw enough evidence that Ladd is competent at defending takedowns.
On the feet, I believe Ladd has a distinct advantage. Ladd is good from top position, as we saw in her fight against Lina Lansberg, although I’m not sure if it would be wise to tie up with a tenacious wrestler like Evinger.
So long as Ladd can avoid spending too much time on her back, she has a great chance to win this. I like a play on Aspen Ladd at -120.
Sergio Pettis vs. Jussier Formiga
This striker versus grappler match-up will be pivotal for the UFC’s stacked flyweight division, but who will be able to execute their game plan?
A smooth kickboxer, Sergio Pettis has refined his striking style over the years. In his last bout against acclaimed Team Alpha Male wrestler, Joseph Benavidez, we saw Pettis predominantly box (perhaps not wanting to get taken down from an careless kick).
Pettis has a beautiful jab and is excellent at keeping opponents on the end of his strikes. This will be crucial against Jussier Formiga who will look to close the distance and drag him to the mat.
Like his brother Anthony, Sergio Pettis’ counter-wrestling has always been a big question mark (although it looked better in his last bout). Unlike his brother, Sergio doesn’t possess much of a guard game and is unlikely to threaten with submissions off his back. He’s certainly outclassed if he goes to the ground with a jiu-jitsu ace like Formiga.
Although Pettis was taken down and controlled by Henry Cejudo, an Olympic freestyle wrestler, Formiga is more of a crafty jiu-jitsu grappler rather than explosive wrestler.
When he’s able to get it there, Formiga is excellent on the mat. He advances positions quickly and is always searching for the submission. His club and sub finish over Ben Nguyen was extremely impressive.
In this bout, prolonged standing exchanges favor Pettis, while prolonged ground exchanges favor Formiga. I have absolutely no idea who comes out victorious, but I do think fight goes to decision cashes at -300.
Vicente Luque vs. Jalin Turner
This is some peculiar matchmaking.
Most recently seen in Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Jalin Turner looks to have a bright future. Standing 6’3, the rangy Turner fights at lightweight (this is a welterweight bout due to short notice) where he will have a reach advantage over most of his opponents.
Primarily a striker, Turner throws good combinations and is a deadly finisher. However, he doesn’t always use his reach to his advantage and in his last performance, ate a tonne of shots from a much smaller opponent.
Turner shouldn’t be too nervous about debuting on the big show, as he has two Bellator wins under his belt. However, they’re giving him a horrendous match-up for his first UFC fight.
At one point in time, Vicente Luque was primarily known as a grappler, but his striking has improved leaps and bounds over the past few years. Not only is Luque extremely technical, he also hits like a truck.
Given that Luque has KO victories over legitimate UFC-level fighters like Chad Laprise and Belal Muhammad, I think he’s going to dismantle Turner – who still looks very green to me and has a few TKO losses on his record.
I’m not interested in playing Luque at -550, but I’m confident he gets the job done.
Sean O’Malley vs. Jose Quinonez
Despite his disgustingly flamboyant personality and irritating fashion choices, Sean O’Malley is a solid fighter. Still young, he looks to have improved exponentially since his performance on the Contender Series last year.
Training at one of the best gyms in the world for lighter weight glasses, The MMA Lab, O’Malley certainly has the training partners and coaching he needs to develop into a world class fighter.
In his last performance against Andre Soukhamthath, O’Malley showcased a diverse shot selection from both the orthodox and southpaw stance. O’Malley’s use of feints and distance management caused huge problems for his opponent.
He also showed immense grit in surviving the third round with a destroyed leg.
Like most of O’Malley’s opponents, gritty Mexican warrior, Jose Quinonez, will be at a height and reach advantage. It will be down to the Quinonez to push the pace, cut off the octagon and get in O’Malley’s face.
Before watching footage, I thought Quinonez might be a live underdog – now I don’t think so. Quinonez marches forward throwing hands and low kicks, but he lacks finesse. I think this kind of offense will be too predictable for a striker of O’Malley’s caliber.
The Mexican fighter would be wise to try and ground O’Malley, but I’m not convinced he’s a great wrestler. In the glimpses we’ve seen, O’Malley looks competent on the mat and he obviously has the training partners to help prepare him for a grappling attack.
I don’t mind O’Malley as a parlay leg at -300.
Michelle Waterson vs. Felice Herrig
This looks to be one of the most competitive fights on the card.
When Felice Herrig entered the UFC, she looked like another run-of-the-mill strawweight. Not a jobber by any means, but you never got the sense she’d be able to challenge the higher tier women.
As it turns out, Herrig was battling insomnia and her performances were severely affected. Since her loss to Paige VanZant, she’s looked vastly improved – winning all of her fights except for her last against an excellent striker in Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Well-rounded and physically strong, Herrig might be in her prime at 33-years-of-age. Her hands looked good against Justine Kish and she also dominated the wrestling exchanges. She did get reversed a few times on the mat, which could be worrying against Michelle Waterson – who is a legitimate grappler.
Training out of the renowned Jackson’s MMA, Michelle Waterson is one of the most popular fighters with the fans. Dynamic on the feet and dangerous with submissions, Waterson’s main problem is that she’s undersized for the division. In Invicta FC, she fought at atomweight and could probably make 105 pounds again with no problem.
We’ve seen Waterson get outmuscled at times in the UFC, and that could happen again here.
Ultimately, I feel Waterson has the speed advantage, is more diverse with her striking and is more technical on the mat, but Herrig has the strength, boxing and wrestling advantage.
I’m probably passing on this fight, but if you’re eager for action I’d play Felice Herrig at -125.
Derrick Lewis vs. Alexander Volkov
Despite his win over scary power puncher, Francis Ngannou, I’m not overly high on Derrick Lewis in terms of skills.
“The Black Beast” is a serious knockout threat, but he’s anything but a technical striker. He throws crazy haymakers and switch kicks, but relies on power more than technique. This kind of style is only viable at heavyweight.
To his credit, Lewis has some good wins under his belt, trouncing the likes of Marcin Tybura and Travis Browne – while struggling through adversity in both fights.
Travis Browne used his reach excellently against Lewis, kicking him from the outside while remaining elusive at distance. Unfortunately for Browne, he has a reputation for collapsing when he doesn’t win in round one, and this fight was no different.
Unlike Browne, Volkov is skilled at fighting long and can do it for three rounds. I anticipate the Russian to deploy a stick and move game plan, much like he did against the plodding Roy Nelson.
So long as Volkov can avoid a eating a bomb or getting taken down, I think he wins this easily. Volkov’s defensive wrestling has looked better since joining the UFC and Lewis has never had great takedowns.
As a side note, Lewis is still experiencing a lingering back injury – which makes him hard to trust.
I think -170 is a generous price for Alexander Volkov.
Ovince St. Preux vs. Dominick Reyes
Now 35-years-of-age, former college football standout, Ovince St. Preux, has always looked a bit green – and I doubt that’s going to change at this stage in the game.
Relying on his freakish power and athleticism, St. Preux is a deadly finisher – but he also leaves openings to get finished himself.
Having been knocked out and submitted on numerous occasions, I wonder if St. Preux may be on the downswing of his career. He got clubbed and subbed by Ilir Latifi and was dead on his feet against Tyson Pedro before the Australian fighter bizarrely chose to grapple with him.
Also a former football player, Dominick Reyes looks like a bright prospect in the UFC’s notoriously thin light heavyweight division. An explosive kickboxer, Reyes got the better of the standing exchanges against boxing stylist, Jared Cannonier, where most people perceived he would be at a disadvantage.
Reyes is also a competent grappler and has two submission victories on his record.
Entering his prime at 28-years-of-age, Reyes may be catching St. Preux at the right time. I’m probably passing on this fight from a betting perspective as I was hoping to get Reyes inside the distance at a better price (it’s currently -165).
Tony Ferguson vs. Anthony Pettis
Known for his unorthodox striking style and lethal submission game, Tony Ferguson is one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC.
On the feet, Ferguson’s broken rhythm and unpredictable use of angles make him a fearsome competitor. Defensively, he leaves his chin high at times and does get tagged a lot.
I anticipate Ferguson will approach this fight like he did against Edson Barboza – another kicking-based striker. Ferguson got in Barboza’s face, forced him to fight on the back foot and never gave him room to breathe. Although the fight was competitive in the early stages, Barboza eventually wilted and gave up a submission.
In the first round against Lando Vannata, Ferguson took a beating but was able to rally in the second when Vannata slowed down.
While Ferguson has the superior boxing, standing with Anthony Pettis is no joke and I expect him to shoot for takedowns early and often.
Former lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis, is a great fighter when he’s on his game – but he’s also had some underwhelming performances. When he loses, he typically gets pressured, taken down and grinded on.
When Pettis is given space to operate, he’s a superb striker, but he’s a sneaky submission threat too. His main deficiency has always been his wrestling.
Given Ferguson’s high pressure style, it’s easy to see why he’s the favorite but I think the lines are wide here. In a five round fight, I’d have no hesitation playing Ferguson due to his incredible cardio, but I think a three round fight is more competitive than the lines suggest.
I don’t mind a small underdog play on Anthony Pettis at +250.
Conor Mcgregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov
I wrote a full breakdown of this fight for Winners & Whiners. I’ll provide a quick summary.
This is a wrestler vs. striker match-up at the highest level. A deadly southpaw with a reach advantage over most of the lightweight division, Conor Mcgregor has annihilated countless opponents with his laser-accurate left hand.
Knowing that his wrestling-heavy opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov, will try to tie up with him, Conor will be looking to time that left hand. Conor counters well while moving backwards, unlike some of Khabib’s previous opponents.
Worryingly for Conor, he has a reputation for punching himself out in predominantly striking matches. If Khabib grabs hold of him and forces him to defend takedowns or fight off his back, Conor’s gas tank could deplete quickly.
An incredible chain wrestler, no one has been able to stop the grappling onslaught of Khabib. Smothering his opponents and forcing them to carry his weight, the Dagestani fighter drains the willpower out of his enemies.
In the past, Khabib has come charging in with his chin high, which could be a death sentence against Conor. It remains to be seen how Khabib closes the distance, but he needs to do so intelligently.
I believe Khabib can take a few shots to get into the clinch, at which point Conor is going for a ride on Dagestan Airlines. If the Irishman is to win, he needs to do it by knockout in the first two rounds or he’s going to take a beating.
I favor Khabib outright but I have no action on this fight currently. I suspect late money will come in on Conor, and if it does then I’ll gladly wager on Khabib at pick ‘em or underdog odds.
If you’re from Canada or Scandinavia and want some interesting prop bets, Ohmbet has Conor by knockout at +700 (as opposed to technical knockout) and Khabib to land a takedown within the first minute of the fight at +500.
My Main Plays
- 1 unit on Tony Martin at +175
- 1 unit on Aspen Ladd at -120
- 4 units on Alexander Volkov at -170
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