It’s rare that I get to do UFC picks for a card on Wednesday, because there is nothing better than going on a mid-week gambling rampage. Here are my plays for UFC Fight Night 173, which will take place in an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

Omar Morales vs. Gabriel Benitez

In this kickboxer versus kickboxer match-up, the most obvious talking point is the size difference. Gabriel Benitez is an average sized featherweight and will be moving up to take on a big lightweight in Omar Morales.

Even though Morales is only two inches taller, there is a distinct difference in frame, body mass and probably physical strength.

Fighting from the southpaw stance, Benitez has a sharp straight left as well as thudding kicks to the legs and body. He has a nice inside leg kick that he utilizes against orthodox opponents (which Morales is).

Benitez is susceptible to counters at times and we’ve seen him finished by strikes in a couple of his UFC fights.

It’s worth noting that all of the opponents Benitez has defeated in the UFC have subsequently been cut from the organization.

Morales is a life-long striker with athletic gifts. Even though he’s 34-years-of-age, he strikes with concussive power and seems to have good cardio too.

I do believe Morales is more comfortable fighting orthodox opponents, primarily because his outside leg kick is one of his best weapons (which won’t be there against Benitez). We saw him crush the lead leg of Harvey Park in the Contender Series last summer (if you’re on my mailing list then you probably cashed a nice underdog ticket on that one).

That said, Morales has plenty of southpaw training partners over at Hard Knocks 365 – including Michael Johnson, who is fighting on the same card. In his last fight against Dong Hyun Ma, Morales looked comfortable facing a southpaw and showed off good lead leg side kicks, right kicks to the body and spinning hook kicks.

Morales also throws powerful combinations with his hands and counters effectively. With a 3-inch reach advantage, I could see Morales punishing Benitez for over-extending.

Despite fighting out of a renowned wrestling gym, Benitez has always struggled to defend takedowns. If Morales is getting out-struck at distance, it’s possible he switches things up and gets his grappling going against the smaller man.

I think there is a solid edge on Omar Morales at -150, I would cap him around the -233 area.

Anthony Smith vs. Glover Teixeira

Since moving up from the middleweight division, Anthony Smith has hit his stride.

His striking looked smoother than ever in recent fights and he’s a true threat with all eight limbs. He made Mauricio “Shogun” Rua look like an amateur and also took the first two rounds off Alexander Gustafsson before choking him out in the fourth.

While Smith is a jiu-jitsu black belt and savvy grappler when he’s the one in a dominant position, his takedown defense absolutely sucked at middlweight. We don’t know if he’s made any improvements in the last few years, since he’s primarily fought strikers.

Volkan Oezdemir and Alex Gusafsson both scored takedowns on Smith, and Glover Teixeira can wrestle way better than those guys.

Teixeira has an excellent double leg in open space and chains attempts tenaciously against the fence. If he wants to get opponents down, he’s usually successful.

In addition to his wrestling prowess, Teixeira is a high level jiu-jitsu black belt. He’s very positionally sound and is particularly adept at maneuvering his way to back mount.

We’ve seen Teixeira lean heavily on his grappling in recent years, probably because his reaction times have slowed and his boxing just isn’t as sharp as it used to be. This has worked out well, since he’s won his last three fights with a grappling-heavy strategy at 40-years-of-age.

Anthony Smith is a savage and is the much younger man, but there is no way I would bet him at -180 considering the question marks with his defensive grappling.

My Main Plays

  • 1.25 units on Chase Sherman at +109 (I sent this out via email last week, the line is now destroyed)
  • 2 units on Omar morales at -150

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