I’m on a patchy run of form at the moment. Taking early prices on Tonya Evinger (-170) and Alexander Gustafsson (-200) backfired dramatically last weekend, which is frustrating as I beat the closing line on both fighters by over 100 points. Oh well, I’m going to keep doing my research and pick my spots wisely. After all, sports betting is a marathon – not a sprint!

Here are my breakdowns of the fights on UFC 238 that I’m interested in from a betting perspective.

Grigory Popov vs. Eddie Wineland

Hailing from Yakutsk, Russia, and fighting out of Tiger Muay Thai, Grigory Popov gets his call to the big show at 35-years-of-age. While his 14-2 record looks impressive at first glance, his fight footage reveals a different story. I don’t want to call trained athletes bums (especially since I am the biggest bum in the world), but Popov’s past opponents have looked like punching bags.

An unpolished Muay Thai striker, Popov has dominated the lower level fighters he’s faced in Asia – but that doesn’t make me think he’s ready for the UFC. His kicks are okay, but he doesn’t have much in the way of boxing and his defense is lacking. He’s at a good camp and if he were younger, I would expect improvements – but how many fighters are still evolving in their mid thirties? This will be the Russian’s first fight in America.

Eddie Wineland is only a year younger than Popov, but he’s been competing at the highest level for most of his career. Predominantly a striker, Wineland stands tall, keeps his hands low and utilizes lots of feints, footwork and upper body movement. He fires clean punches and has beautiful pull-back counters.

While Wineland has taken significant damage in his career and undergone major surgeries, he looked pretty damn good against Alejandro Perez – with most people believing he did enough to win the contest.

At his current price, Wineland is available at -125 for an implied probability of 55.6%, which feels inaccurate to me. The American is the much more sophisticated striker with better footwork, and I think he has the perfect style to smash an unrefined brawler like Popov.

Give me Eddie Wineland at -125 all day.

Tai Tuivasa vs. Blagoy Ivanov

I’m not sure we’re going to see Tai Tuivasa in the title picture any time soon (or ever), but he’s an aggressive crowd-pleaser that will never have a problem getting booked for fights. An explosive superheavyweight that cuts to make the 266-pound limit, Tuivasa is anything but a point fighter.

The young Australian is not the most polished striker in open space, but fires devastating combinations in the pocket and unloads with knees and elbows in the clinch. Against lower level competition, Tuivasa overwhelmed opponents with raw physicality and ferociousness.

When he took a step up in class against Junior Dos Santos, his over-aggressiveness cost him as he was dropped and then finished on the mat by a more technical striker. Tuivasa’s ground game has never looked solid and things could get ugly if a sambo master like Ivanov ends up on top of him.

Hailing from Bulgaria, Ivanov’s fighting style is like his personality: rugged and unpretentious. Despite his high level grappling ability (go and watch his sambo footage), he typically likes to stand and box. He’s clearly doing the right things in the training room – his hands looked noticeably sharper against Ben Rothwell compared to his WSOF footage from a few years ago. I believe AKA is the perfect gym for his skill set and body type.

The Bulgarian survived being stabbed in the heart (yes, seriously) and still came back to fight in the biggest organization in the world – so you know he’s tough as nails. He’s always been able to take a punch, and that’s going to come in handy against a banger like Tuivasa.

I’d find it surprising if Tuivasa put Ivanov away, but he does have good calf kicks and could land enough volume in close quarters to win a decision. Still, Ivanov has the sharper boxing and I’d expect him to land the cleaner shots in open space. I also believe the Bulgarian has superior cardio and if the coaches at AKA have seen footage of Tuivasa’s ground game, I suspect they’ll encourage Ivanov to shoot takedowns.

I think there is plenty of value on his Blagoy Ivanov at +150 as I favor him to win outright.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz

This seems to be one of the most contentious match-ups on UFC 238 and I’m reading a lot of polarized opinions online.

Pedro Munhoz is a dark horse in the bantamweight division. Despite his short reach and lack of striking defense, Munhoz is excellent at applying pressure and forcing opponents to make stupid mistakes. He has chopping calf kicks, deadly pocket boxing and a world class guillotine.

The Brazilian usually starts off by eating punches like a zombie, but the more he pressures – the more he’s able to make it into his kind of fight. Munhoz is improving all the time over at American Top Team, but I think this will be a tough stylistic challenge for him.

Since getting finished by Marlon Moraes, Aljamain Sterling seems rejuvenated. Once known as an athletic grappler with suspicious striking, “Funk Master” now looks like a top contender in the bantamweight division.

A staple of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, Sterling always had a decent outside kicking game – but his hands have sharpened considerably in recent fights. Munhoz had great success landing calf kicks against a boxing stylist in Cody Garbrandt, but trading at kicking range with Aljamain Sterling is going to be much less favorable for the Brazilian.

Munhoz is a savage in the pocket, but he’s at a 6-inch reach disadvantage and is fighting an opponent with an excellent understanding of distance. Against Jimmie Rivera, Sterling was all the way out at kickboxing range, or tied up landing knees in the clinch (where he has leverage as the taller fighter). Sterling did not engage in the pocket whatsoever in that fight, and I don’t think he will here.

Unlike in his fight against Rivera (who is a great wrestler), shooting takedowns and running down the clock with positional control could be an option for Sterling. Both men have excellent jiu-jitsu, but I believe Sterling is the more complete MMA grappler. Of course, the Serra-Longo fighter needs to be careful when shooting takedowns, since he can’t leave his neck vulnerable for a split second.

Munhoz is a dangerous combatant, but I think “Funk Master” has all the tools to neutralize his best weapons. I feel good about my action on Aljamain Sterling at -125.

Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone

Since returning to lightweight, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone has looked excellent. On a mission for UFC gold, Cerrone shut down a hungry young prospect in Alex Hernandez and then battered Al Iaquinta over five rounds in a kickboxing match.

Is Cerrone hitting his stride at 36-years-of-age or were his last two match-ups stylistically favorable? I’m not entirely sure.

Cerrone is a technical Muay Thai striker with brilliant (yet somewhat underutilized) grappling, yet he has weaknesses too. Throughout his career he’s been a slow starter and hasn’t dealt with pressure well. In his losses to Rafael Dos Anjos and Darren Till, Cerrone was overwhelmed early and never managed to establish an offensive rhythm. Given Ferguson’s relentless pressure, it’s conceivable we see something similar here.

It’s true Cerrone performed excellently in his last contest against Iaquinta, and I won money betting on him live – but I’m not going to pretend I’m a genius! I think Iaquinta underperformed and could have pressured more effectively instead of getting picked apart at kicking range.

Cerrone’s upper body movement is still rigid and I could see Ferguson (who has a 3-inch reach advantage) walking through fire and unloading on him on the inside – where Iaquinta wasn’t able to.

Ferguson is one of the best pressure fighters in the UFC – his style worked wonders against kick-heavy strikers like Edson Barboza and Anthony Pettis (who need space to operate). With lots of feints, footwork, cutting off the octagon and an unorthodox array of strikes (many of which come at weird angles), “El Cucuy” is a nightmare to deal with.

Although he has excellent recoverability, Ferguson’s striking defense is his main flaw. When he gets into an offensive groove, he often leaves his chin sky high which inevitably results in him getting rocked and dropped. Cerrone is the more technical striker and it wouldn’t be overly surprising if he scored another devastating head kick knockout.

In terms of grappling, Ferguson is as elite as they come. If this does hit the mat, the fans will be treated to some mesmerizing scrambles – but I suspect that we’re in for a predominantly striking affair.

I’m inclined to believe Ferguson will apply pressure effectively and do the business in boxing range, but the way he leaves his chin exposed is a major concern. I’m passing on Tony Ferguson at the current price of -165, but I’ll definitely reconsider at a better price.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye

By all accounts, Jessica Eye is a good fighter. She’s tough, gritty, has solid boxing and an underrated wrestling game that’s likely to be improving at Xtreme Couture. I remember cashing on Eye as a sizeable underdog in her last fight against Katlyn Chookagian – but this is an entirely different match-up.

In my opinion, Valentina Shevchenko is the best female fighter on the planet. Barely cutting weight, Shevchenko got the better of current bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, over five rounds and was robbed on the scorecards. Now at her natural weight class of 125-pounds, it’s hard to envision anyone dethroning her.

A southpaw with precision counters, Shevchenko should have no problem landing on the chin of Jessica Eye. Despite her Muay Thai accolades, Shevchenko is also a legitimate grappler with excellent takedowns from the clinch. Joanna Jędrzejczyk has outstanding takedown defense, yet was grounded multiple times by Shevchenko in their most recent clash.

I’m struggling to envision a path to victory for Eye. I can’t see her having much success on the feet against, yet a wrestling-heavy attack doesn’t seem viable either (Shevchenko has been out-muscled before, but only at bantamweight where he she was undersized).

I think Shevchenko cruises to victory, but I’m not going to play her at -1300. Despite the gulf in technical ability, a mismatch doesn’t always result in a finish. Shevchenko isn’t a hard puncher and if she does score takedowns, I think Eye is savvy enough to survive.

Fight goes to decision at +140 seems like the most appealing line for this fight.

Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes

After TJ Dillashaw had his bantamweight title stripped for being a naughty boy, Marlon Moraes and Henry Cejudo will battle for dominance over the division. You could look at this match-up as an elite wrestler versus an elite striker, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.

Henry Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling and leaned on this experience in order to take down and control former flyweight kingpin, Demetrious Johnson. In his most recent contest, he blasted an extremely depleted TJ Dillashaw in the early stages of the fight – so I don’t think we can take a lot from that (other than observing he’s extremely fast).

One thing’s for sure is that Cejudo’s striking has improved exponentially in recent years. Once a plodding boxer, Cejudo now often fights out of a wide stance and throws blistering combinations. Of course, he’ll be at a height and reach disadvantage against Moraes (who is a natural bantamweight), but mixing his striking and wrestling seems like the path to victory for Cejudo.

On the feet, Marlon Moraes is world class and I expect him to try and keep the contest standing. It would be wise for the Brazilian to take away Cejudo’s mobility by attacking with low kicks. When his opponent becomes more stationary, Moraes will be able to unload with punches and devastating high kicks.

While not as accomplished in the wrestling department, Moraes is a jiu-jitsu black belt and should be able to force scrambles if he’s taken down. Theoretically, Cejudo could win rounds with takedowns and top control, but it’s hard to know if he’ll have the same success up a weight class against a strong, athletic bantamweight that can also grapple.

I think the size and striking acumen of Marlon Moraes will win the day, but I’m not enthusiastic about betting him at -130.

My Main Plays

  • 1.5 units on Blagoy Ivanov at +150
  • 2 units on Eddie Wineland at -125
  • 4 units on Aljamain Sterling at -125
  • 1 unit on Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Eye goes to decision at +140
  • 2.5 units on Bevon Lewis at -163 (placed on Friday after favorable line movement)

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