It’s been a long break but I’m back with some UFC picks. Here are my full card betting predictions for UFC 249, which will take place in an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Sam Alvey vs. Ryan Spann
Sam Alvey was extremely limited as a middleweight and I don’t see his fortunes improving now that he’s fighting bigger and stronger opponents in the light heavyweight division.
Alvey has effective counters and stellar takedown defense, but he’s easy to frustrate if you fight him tactically.
Ryan Spann is a full-sized light heavyweight and possesses a 6-inch reach advantage over Alvey. If Spann opts to fight long and avoids trading on the inside, I think he will dominate.
Training at Fortis MMA, I’m sure Spann will be well prepared with an intelligent game plan.
Given the lack of depth in the light heavyweight division, I think the UFC are using this fight to build Spann up as a future contender.
This opening bout on the card looks like a bit of a mismatch. Ryan Spann is sitting at -400 and I think the price will look justified.
Charles Rosa vs. Bryce Mitchell
At 25-years-of-age, Bryce Mitchell is still a work in progress. An awkward and scrappy southpaw, Mitchell has a sharp left hand but is not the most fluid striker.
His ground game is where he shines and we saw him score an outrageous twister submission over Matt Sayles back in December. His takedowns are decent and it sounds like he’s working extensively on his wrestling with an NCAA Divison 1 team in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Although Charles Rosa is 33-years-of-age, he only has 3 more fights than Mitchell in his professional career.
Rosa trains at American Top Team and he’s been able to use the facilities with a small number of training partners during the pandemic.
I consider Rosa to be the more technical kickboxer in this contest. He moves well, has a good understanding of distance and fires kicks effectively from both stances.
With all the naked kicks he throws, he’s susceptible to getting one caught and conceding a takedown – this happened in his last fight against Manny Bermudez. This isn’t a big deal for Rosa, since he’s comfortable fighting off his back, but Mitchell will be the best grappler he’s faced in his career thus far.
Because most of Rosa’s opponents have tried to stand with him, we don’t have a clear picture of his takedown defense – which will surely be tested in this fight.
While Rosa is a jiu-jitsu black belt and Mitchell is only a brown belt, I suspect Mitchell might be the superior positional grappler. I also think Mitchell can score takedowns as well as get the fight to the mat by catching kicks.
I’m leaning with Bryce Mitchell in this one, but he’s currently sitting at -160. I’d need pick ’em odds to feel I was getting a good deal on him.
Vicente Luque vs. Niko Price
I don’t think much has changed since the first time Vicente Luque and Niko Price locked horns, and that contest was a one-sided beatdown.
Luque showcased his technical superiority on the feet, eventually battering and choking out Price in round two. Price left himself open defensively and was especially susceptible to low kicks and counters.
Unless Price has made dramatic improvements (which is unlikely training at his own gym), I think Luque will exploit the same weaknesses in this rematch.
Of course, fights aren’t won on paper and Price has been able to overcome technical disadvantages in the past. “The Hybrid” is one of the heaviest punchers in the welterweight division and only needs to connect with one clean right hand to end the fight.
Price has a puncher’s chance as always, but Luque should comprehensively out-class him.
Uriah Hall vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Once known as a flashy and opportunistic striker, Uriah Hall is fighting much more methodically under the tutelage of Sayif Saud at Fortis MMA. Often regarded as a fighter with untapped potential, Hall may be finally reaching his peak at 35-years-of-age.
In this match-up, Hall will look to fight behind his jab and maximize his 7-inch reach advantage. It’s imperative that he holds his ground and doesn’t get backed up against the fence, so he’ll need to threaten with the right cross as well (something he failed to do against Paolo Costa).
While his submission defense is pretty good, his takedown defense is mediocre. He’ll fight the hands and dig for underhooks, but he can be taken down by skilled grapplers.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza doesn’t have the best takedowns in open space, but he’s a skilled cage wrestler with a black belt in judo. He’ll look to cut the octagon off, close distance and then shoot as soon as Hall is trapped with his back against the fence.
The Brazilian is one of the best jiu-jitsu players to compete in MMA. If he scores a takedown, there is a good chance that the round is a wrap.
While he’s not absent of skill on the feet, Souza does his best work at mid-range and will be in severe danger at distance.
Even as a gifted athlete, no one defies Father Time. Souza is 40-years-of-age and has not looked good in his past few fights.
Knowing that he’s nowhere near a title shot even with a win, the Brazilian is at a weird point in his career. Worse still, it seems he’s done his fight camp in a garage and his main training partner is Alan Patrick – a lightweight grappler that cannot imitate Uriah Hall.
I could see this fight going either way, but considering the intangibles and trajectories of both athletes, I like Uriah Hall as the underdog in this one.
Michelle Waterson vs. Carla Esparza
Coming from a traditional martial arts background, Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson has an impressive array of kicks in her arsenal as well as good lateral movement – although she does become more stationary as the fight goes on.
Waterson is also a competent grappler and likes to use judo techniques to get the fight to the ground – including the diabolical head and arm throw.
We don’t have a clear picture on Waterson’s defensive wrestling, mainly because she hasn’t faced any wrestlers in the UFC. She showed good clinch takedown defense against Felice Herrig, but that doesn’t mean much in relation to this match-up.
Carla Esparza has good entries into her takedowns in open space and is capable of catching kicks and taking fights to the mat (we saw this in her fight against Virna Jandiroba). Waterson throws a lot of naked kicks, so this is something she’ll have to be aware of.
Esparza lands an average of 3.53 takedowns per fifteen minutes and I’m inclined to believe she can drag Waterson to the mat.
Waterson will fire elbows from her back and threaten with submissions, but I don’t think that will be enough to sway rounds in her favor. Both women are capable of sweeping each another, but the fight is likely to hit the mat with Esparza on top.
Also, don’t sleep on Esparza’s boxing, especially once Waterson gets a bit tired. “Cookie Monster” was a sitting duck on the feet when she first entered the UFC, but she’s made significant improvements to her striking since then.
My money is on Carla Esparza to keep the striking close and rack up control time on the mat.
Alexey Oleinik vs. Fabricio Werdum
While he might not be the most complete mixed martial artist, Alexey Oleinik is tough as nails and has an unorthodox arsenal of submissions. It’s rare you see fighters pull off scarf-hold headlocks and Ezekial chokes at the UFC level – albeit he’s mainly submitted lower tier grapplers.
The Russian has underrated power in his hands, but his striking is far from fluid. He marches forward like a zombie throwing haymakers in order to enter the clinch, where he executes his takedowns.
It will be interesting to see what approach he takes in this fight, because he won’t have the advantage on the mat for once.
Fabricio Werdum is one of the most decorated heavyweight grapplers of all time. He’s positionally sound, is dangerous from guard and usually looks several steps ahead of opponents in transitions.
Under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro, Werdum has become a competent Muay Thai striker over the years. From a technical perspective, Werdum is the far superior kickboxer in this match-up.
While both men are 42-years-of-age, it should be mentioned that Werdum is coming off a drug suspension and hasn’t fought since 2018. While he’s a life-long martial artist and appears to be in good shape, it’s not ideal to have such a long layoff at his age.
Unless he gets caught by a lucky punch or he has completely deteriorated due to age, Fabrio Werdum should dominate this fight. The Brazilian has every single advantage including cardio and athleticism.
Anthony Pettis vs. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
The original 2013 contest between Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone was one-sided.
Pettis landed clean punches on Cerrone before finishing him with body kicks from the southpaw stance. Cerrone has been weak to the body throughout his career, so I would imagine Pettis will aim to exploit this again.
While Pettis hasn’t looked great recently, he’s lost to three pressure fighters in Nate Diaz, Diego Ferreira and Tony Ferguson (the Stephen Thompson fight holds little relevance).
Pettis fails to deal with pressure, not because his boxing sucks but because he has no power in his hands. He needs space to execute his kicks (which are his best weapons), so looks underwhelming whenever opponents crowd him out.
While Cerrone is a solid Muay Thai striker, he’s not a pressure fighter and will be happy to duke it out in open space. Stylistically speaking, Cerrone could be the perfect opponent for Pettis to showcase his true striking potential.
It’s possible the wear and tear has added up and we’ll never see the legendary “Showtime” version of Pettis again, but Cerrone has seen better days himself.
While both men are jiu-jitsu black belts, Cerrone is the superior wrestler – which suggests the fight will only hit the mat on his terms.
Cerrone won’t come into the fight with a game plan to back Pettis up and wrestle him against the fence (like Diego Ferreira did), but I could see a scenario where he scores a reactive takedown in open space and racks up control time on the mat.
This is a difficult fight to cap, especially considering we don’t really know how shot both fighters are. I can see Anthony Pettis is currently the -130 favorite and that feels about right to me.
Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro
A goliath heavyweight with explosive power, Greg Hardy has accumulated many first round knockouts in his short career. While it’s all well and good starching opponents early, we’ve seen Hardy perform more patiently in his last two bouts.
You can’t rely solely on power and athleticism at this level, and I think the former NFL superstar has realized this. We saw him throw hard against Allen Crowder early on, then slow down significantly when the finish didn’t emerge.
Hardy will have a 5-inch height and 6-inch reach advantage over his opponent, so fighting long would be his best bet. Although he’s still somewhat raw, he throws clean straight punches and moves well (when he’s fresh, at least).
Standing 6’ tall as a heavyweight, Yorgan De Castro is primarily an inside fighter and is used to facing bigger adversaries. While he’s at a physical disadvantage in this match-up, there are a few things he can do to even things up.
Firstly, De Castro has some devastating low kicks – which could be used to negate the size and reach difference. Reading an online interview with Cageside Press, it sounds like De Castro is planning to go after Hardy’s lead leg.
Also, De Castro is an effective counter puncher – as we saw in his last fight against Justin Tafa. If Hardy overextends on his shots or throws too many punches in a combination while searching for the knockout, De Castro could catch him clean and shut his lights off.
While I have to side with Greg Hardy outright, there might be a bit of value on Yorgan De Castro at +160.
Calvin Kattar vs. Jeremy Stephens
I feel Calvin Kattar has some of the crispest boxing in the UFC. He throws clean 1-2 and 3-2 combinations, manages distance well and is difficult to take down.
As the away fighter in Russia, Kattar gave Zabit Magomedsharipov a good run for his money and clearly took the third round. At 31-years-of-age, “The Boston Finisher” is in his athletic prime and I could see him fight for the title in the next few years.
In terms of pure boxing ability, Jeremy Stephens does not have as much finesse as Kattar – but he’s still an effective striker. Stephens tends to throw shots from wider angles and load up more, which isn’t always a bad thing because he packs serious power.
We’ve seen Stephens utilize low kicks before (most notably in his fight against Gilbert Melendez). Kattar stands heavy on his lead leg and this was thoroughly exploited by Renato Moicano.
That said, the Moicano fight may have been a learning experience for Kattar. Against Ricardo Lamas, we saw Kattar slide out of the way of low kicks and also check kicks (which he didn’t do in the past).
I’m siding with Calvin Kattar in this one, but I suspect the fight will be more competitive than his -240 moneyline indicates.
Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Francis Ngannou might be the scariest dude in the UFC. The hulking Cameroonian has the touch of death in his hands and when his punches connect, people go to sleep.
While his record is full of terrifying knockouts, I noticed a couple of interesting things while researching him.
Firstly, a lot of his big knockout blows have been counters. Alistair Overeem, Andrei Arlovski and Junior Dos Santos all threw ridiculous looping shots which got them countered and flatlined.
Against Derrick Lewis, it looked like both men wanted to counter each other and the result was a timid staring match for fifteen minutes with Ngannou losing the decision.
This intrigues me because Jairzinho Rozenstruik has an extensive kickboxing background and is capable of keeping his offense tight and technical – which would limit Ngannou’s countering opportunities.
Rozenstruik doesn’t utilize much head movement at range, which could be disastrous against a huge puncher with a 5-inch reach advantage. That said, Rozenstruik does have an excellent chin and might be one of the few fighters in the division that can get bombed on by Ngannou and still survive.
It’s worth noting that Ngannou leans heavy on his lead leg. We saw Junior Dos Santos land some hard low kicks on him and this is something Rozenstruik could do to negate the reach difference.
While an early knockout for Francis Ngannou is the most probable outcome, I could also see this develop into an awkward, low volume kickboxing match. In the latter scenario, Jairzinho Rozenstruik is a live underdog and I think he’s being disrespected at +243.
Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz
The big talking point for this title fight is the long, injury-riddled layoff that Cruz has suffered.
His last fight was in 2016 and I encourage you to watch this video chronicling the many injuries he’s endured throughout his career.
Speaking to Brendan Schaub, Cruz mentioned that he fought Cody Garbrandt with Botox injections in his feet and probably wouldn’t have taken the fight if it wasn’t for the championship payday. Knowing that he’s prepared to fight in a weakened state if the price is right – could he be doing so again?
I’m sure he’s properly compensated for his commentating job, but he must know that his chances to make fat piles of cash as an athlete are numbered at 35-years-of-age.
Given that Cruz is so reliant on his footwork, you’d assume his body would be diminished after going through numerous ACL surgeries – but we don’t know definitively.
It’s possible Cruz gets blown out of the water, but if he rolls back the years shows up in peak condition, then I believe he poses stylistic problems for Cejudo.
“Triple C” is a world class wrestler, but his takedowns are better than his top control. Cruz has good takedown defense and should be able to scramble his way out of danger if he does get grounded.
I’m inclined to believe this fight will be a striking affair.
Cruz has a brilliant understanding of distance and possesses a 4-inch height and 5-inch reach advantage over Cejudo. Furthermore, Cejudo comes straight forward when attacking and Cruz is an elusive phantom.
In Cejudo’s last fight, he absorbed many leg kicks and looked out-classed in round one. However, he switched things up and applied heavy pressure – beating Marlon Moraes up in the pocket and the clinch.
Moraes dealt with pressure like a traditional Muay Thai fighter. He planted his feet and threw as hard as he could, which didn’t work out too well.
That’s not what Cruz will do.
Whenever Cejudo enters boxing range, look for Cruz to slip and pivot out of the way. When Cruz throws his own combinations, he often slips afterwards if he’s in range to be countered.
Technically speaking, Cruz has the skills to handle a much shorter fighter whose primary weapons are his hands. However, Cejudo delivers punches at blistering speed – which could be the difference if Cruz has slowed down with age/injuries.
In terms of betting, I feel that a wager on Cejudo at -240 is out of the question. You’d have to definitively know Cruz is shot for there to be value at that price (he may well be, but we just don’t know).
As far as betting Cruz at +190, there could be massive value or absolutely none at all.
With the information available, I’m not too sure what to make of this fight. I may sit back and watch for a few minutes in order to determine if Domnick Cruz is worth betting live.
Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje
The UFC 249 main event between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje is intriguing from a stylistic perspective – particularly because both men are pressure fighters.
We’ve seen opponents try to maintain distance against Gaethje in the past, yet they typically get walked down and clobbered. Gaethje is excellent at cutting off the octagon and working his way into the pocket, where he delivers his most powerful shots – often hooks and uppercuts.
Gaethje is devastating on the inside, but he’s far more limited at range – primarily relying on low kicks. He rips the outside and inside of the lead leg with equal ferocity, which is relevant because Ferguson likes to switch stances (so he’ll still be vulnerable when he goes southpaw).
While the low kicks from Gaethje are a threat, Ferguson is the far superior out-fighter and will likely find success with his jab (he possesses a 6-inch reach advantage). Ferguson’s teep and front kicks will also be useful, since Gaethje’s high guard leaves him vulnerable to body shots.
Unlike Gaethje, Ferguson is comfortable at all ranges and will attack with eight limbs. As Gaethje enters the pocket, he’s in range to get sliced up with elbows – which are Ferguson’s most dangerous weapons.
As well-rounded as Ferguson is, his most glaring deficiency is his striking defense. He leaves his chin high at inopportune times, resulting in him getting rocked and dropped on many occasions.
Ferguson’s recoverability is legendary, but Gaethje is the last opponent you’d want to gamble your durability against.
With long limbs and a jiu-jitsu black belt under Eddie Bravo, Ferguson is a serious submission threat. Perhaps the fight will stay upright due to Gaethje’s great takedown defense, but I could see a scenario where Ferguson latches onto a front choke from a standing position when Gaethje is tired and bloody in the later rounds.
Even though Gaethje had a full camp to prepare this time around, Ferguson’s cardio is elite and you’d have to favor him if the fight gets dragged into deep waters.
I like Tony Ferguson as an outright pick, but his striking defense is a major concern against such a heavy-handed opponent. If Ferguson gets beaten up in round one but survives, there could be a great live betting opportunity.
My Main Plays
- 1.25 units on Uriah Hall at +125
- 2 units on Carla Esparza at -130 (second unit was added on Friday afternoon)
- 0.5 units on Jairzinho Rozenstruik at +243
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