I’m coming off a crappy weekend where I lost 3 units. Oh well, it happens.
Fortunately July is packed with betting opportunities, starting with UFC 251. Here are my full card UFC picks from a betting perspective.
Martin Day vs. Davey Grant
A smooth and flashy kickboxer, Martin Day is a life-long martial artist with a background in Taekwondo. The Hawaiian is light on his feet and loves to blend spinning kicks into his offensive repertoire.
Day has been dealing with a knee injury, hence why we haven’t seen him in the octagon since his controversial decision loss to Pingyuan Liu in 2018. If that fight took place anywhere but China, he surely would have got the victory.
I’m impressed by his striking acumen, although he seems inexperienced on the mat. It sounds as if he’s been working on his grappling during his time off, so perhaps he’s improved in this area?
I’m sure his game plan will be to keep the fight standing against British veteran, Davey Grant.
Unlike his opponent, Grant doesn’t shine in one particular area, but he’s competent everywhere.
Grant has good lateral movement as well as lead leg side kicks and low kicks, but I suspect he’ll come off second best in a kickboxing match at range.
While he doesn’t seem like much of a wrestler, Grant has a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and should have the advantage on the ground. Whether he’ll be able to land takedowns consistently or not, I don’t have a clear answer.
I’ll side with the more technical striker in Martin Day, but I don’t think there is much value at -180.
Vanessa Melo vs. Karol Rosa
Vanessa Melo hasn’t looked great in the UFC, but she’s faced difficult match-ups in Tracy Cortez and Irene Aldana.
Against Aldana, she was picked apart by the taller, longer, more sophisticated striker with superior footwork, but she did show some competency with her hands whenever she was able to get inside. Melo has serviceable boxing and is an effective counter-puncher, although she’s undersized at bantamweight and slow-footed.
Unlike in her fight against Aldana, she won’t have to go searching for Karol Rosa inside the octagon.
As you’d expect from someone who trains with Jessica Andrade, Rosa prioritizes offense over defense. She has chopping low kicks and decent hands, but leaves her chin sky high.
I expect both women to stand right in front of one another, which should give Melo plenty of opportunities to land punches to the head. Whether that will be enough to out-weight the more dynamic attacks of Rosa, I’m not sure.
In a fight that’s likely to be a sloppy brawl, I think Vanessa Melo is being a bit disrespected at +170.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Raulian Paiva
Kazakh fighters are renowned for their toughness, and Zhalgas Zhumagulov is no exception.
Zhumagulov has been thoroughly tested on the Russian circuit, having fought the likes of Ali Bagautinov, Tyson Nam as well as UFC newcomer, Tagir Ulanbekov.
While he’s on a four-fight winning streak, I thought he should have lost to both Ulanbekov and Bagautinov.
Primarily a striker, Zhumagulov is light on his feet and has good upper body movement. He maintains a high pace in every fight and likes to slip and rip with punches to the body and head.
I don’t think he’ll be a future contender in the UFC, but he won’t be a pushover for anyone.
The Kazakh will be giving up some height, reach and power against the impressive Brazilian prospect, Raulian Paiva.
I wasn’t expecting too much out of Paiva when he first entered the UFC, but he gave Kai Kara France a serious run for his money and arguably should have won on the scorecards. He also starched the tough and durable Mark De La Rosa in his most recent fight.
The Brazilian can get caught with his chin high, but he has fast, accurate hands and seems competent in the clinch as well.
I don’t know anything about Paiva’s jiu-jitsu credentials, but he has a serviceable ground game. It will be interesting to see if he opts to grapple, because Zhumagulov’s takedown defense doesn’t look good (although he’s hard to hold down).
I think this is going to be a competitive fight, but I see Raulian Paiva landing the more impactful strikes over fifteen minutes.
Maxim Grishin vs. Marcin Tybura
If you’re a PFL fan, you’ll be familiar with Maxim Grishin. The Russian will be taking this fight on short notice and moving up to the heavyweight division – although it sounds like he’s in shape and he certainly wasn’t on the small side as a light heavyweight.
He throws some kicks here and there, but Grishin is primarily a boxer with thunder in his right hand. He doesn’t throw at a high clip, but he picks his shots intelligently and I definitely favor him if the fight stays in open space.
Grishin’s takedown defense is solid, but not flawless. It’s difficult to establish a dominant position on him when he does get taken down and he’s usually able to pop back to his feet relatively quickly.
I can’t speculate whether his get up game will be as effective against a larger heavyweight opponent.
Marcin Tybura has serviceable striking, but his durability is on the decline at this stage in his career. He’s suffered some bad knockout losses in recent years and does not want to get cracked by the right hand of Grishin.
The Polish athlete has a black belt in jiu-jitsu and we’ve seen him win numerous fights with takedowns and positional control. I expect him to shoot early and often in this contest.
It’s not ideal that Maxim Grishin is taking this fight on short notice and up a weight class, but I think he can keep the fight standing and box his way to victory.
Roman Bogatov vs. Leonardo Santos
Former M-1 Global champion, Roman Bogatov, finally makes his debut in the UFC. He reminds me a lot of Bartosz Fabinski, both physically and stylistically.
His striking in open space is ugly and labored. His main objective is to close the distance as fast as possible and get his grappling going.
The Russian does not have good entries into his takedowns. You can see him chasing opponents around the ring like a wild dog and diving on single legs.
Bogatov is happy to grind on opponents from top position, but he also has a good arm-triangle choke from side control. Against a 4th degree jiu-jitsu black belt like Leonardo Santos, I doubt he will be much of a submission threat.
In addition to his world class ground game, Santos is a solid Muay Thai striker. He throws crisp straight punches and thudding low kicks
In his last fight, Santos finished Stevie Ray with a beautiful pull counter.
The Brazilian is an excellent mixed martial artist, but his career has been plagued by inactivity and he’s now 40-years-of-age. Will he be able to keep performing at the elite level, or will he drop off a cliff sooner rather than later?
Ultimately, I feel that Bogatov can dictate where the fight takes place, but he’ll have to pick his poison. Santos is the superior striker and ground fighter.
His age is a concern, but I feel like this is a great stylistic match-up for Leonardo Santos.
Danny Henry vs. Makwan Amirkhani
I still don’t have a full read on Danny Henry’s skill set. His last two UFC fights have ended quickly and his regional footage is hard to come by.
The Scotsman seems like a hard-nosed kickboxer with porous defense. I don’t think he’s much of a grappler, but can sink in a front choke if you leave your neck in the wrong place.
He does have a good gas tank, as we saw in his victory over Daniel Teymur where he was battered and beaten in the first round. This might be his most useful attribute against Makwan Amirkhani – who is renowned as a front runner.
Coming from a Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling background, Amirkhai should have a significant grappling advantage. The Finnish fighter has a comprehensive array of takedowns in his arsenal and is most effective with the body lock.
We saw Amirkhani blow his gas tank trying to wrestle Shane Burgos in his last fight, but I suspect there won’t be much resistance to the takedown attempts in this one.
I don’t rate Amirkhani’s top control, but he’s a smooth scrambler and dangerous submission threat.
On the feet, “Mr. Finland” is a serviceable striker with a handful of amateur boxing bouts under his belt. He’s somewhat low volume and lackadaisical, but he does have a good lead right hook.
I feel this is a favorable stylistic match-up for Makwan Amirkhani, although I have concerns about his cardio if the fight goes into the later rounds.
Elizeu Zaleski vs. Muslim Salikhov
Coming from a capoeira background, Elizeu Zaleski is one of the most exciting fighters in the welterweight division. He throws a high volume of strikes and mixes in plenty of spinning techniques as well as flying knees.
The Brazilian is a skilled kickboxer, although his boxing defense is not the best. If you can crowd him out and get past his kicks, he’s vulnerable to head strikes.
Zaleski also has a black belt in jiu-jitsu and mixes in takedowns throughout his fights. Grappling may represent the path of least resistance against Muslim Salikhov, who looked underwhelming on the ground in his fight against Alex Garcia.
An accomplished sanda striker, Salikhov has a thunderous right hand that he throws with zero windup. His spinning back kicks are also nasty.
The Russian is low on output and will often feint in order to draw out strikes from his opponents so that he can go third with his own attacks.
Given the difference in volume, Salikhov may need to hurt Zaleski multiple times in order to win rounds. Salikhov’s most likely win condition is a knockout with the right hand.
I’m picking Elizeu Zaleski because he has more ways to win, but I’m not confident by any means. There may be some value in the under 2.5 rounds prop at +140.
Jiri Prochazka vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Known as one of the most exciting light heavyweight competitors outside of the UFC, it was only a matter of time before Jiri Prochazka made his debut inside the octagon.
Standing 6’4, the Czech fighter uses his height and length effectively to land on smaller, more compact opponents. Prochazka throws powerful combinations and has good footwork as well as upper body movement.
In his fights against Mo Lawal and C.B Dollaway, Prochazka showed a susceptibility to leg kicks. This is the most interesting factor in this match-up, since Volkan Oezdemir has some heavy low kicks – as displayed in his last fight against Alexander Rakic.
Oezdemir isn’t the best kickboxer at distance, but the low kicks will help him to negate the reach disadvantage and take away some of Prochazka’s movement.
The Swiss fighter does his best work in the pocket. If he can get his leg kicks going, this will help him to get on the inside consistently where he can sling those hammers and inflict damage.
I think this bout will be competitive, but I have to side with the proven UFC fighter and leg kick specialist in Volkan Oezdemir.
Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
At only 26-years-of-age, Amanda Ribas is tremendously well-rounded.
A black belt in both judo and jiu-jitsu, the Brazilian has a good body lock takedown and is a savant on the mat. She blends in her ground strikes with her grappling and seems to be comfortable off her back as well as in top position.
Training at American Top Team, Ribas is no slouch on the feet either. She’s a solid boxer with nice feints, footwork, combinations and counters.
Ribas looks to continue her ascension in the strawweight division as she faces a heavily out-matched opponent in Paige VanZant.
I don’t want to sound disrespectful, VanZant is as game as they come, but she’s at a major disadvantage in every facet of mixed martial arts.
There isn’t much structure to her striking, her takedown defense is sub-par and I cannot see her hitting an opportunistic triangle or armbar on a black belt like Ribas.
Does VanZant actually have a path to victory? I can’t see one.
This is a mismatch of the highest order, as indicated by the -900 moneyline for Amanda Ribas.
Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade
As we saw in the first contest between these ladies, Rose Namajunas presents major stylistic problems for Jessica Andrade on the feet.
With lateral movement, feints, straight punches and counters, Namajunas has all the tools to pick apart a one-dimensional swarmer that leaves her chin high when attacking.
While the first round was one-sided in favor of Namajunas, Andrade started working her way back into the fight in round two when she started applying pressure more consistently.
As the less technical, but more powerful fighter, Andrade needs to avoid a chess match at range and instead force a fire fight in the pocket.
The grappling dynamic of this fight is interesting.
Andrade is the better athlete and stronger wrestler, but we’ve seen her in some bad positions on the mat. She had her back taken by Sarah Moras and was submitted by both Marion Reneau and Raquelle Pennington.
Namajunas is a high level black belt and will attack with submissions off her back. She’ll also threaten the kimura in order to deter takedown attempts.
I’m siding with Rose Namajunas as an outright pick, although I don’t think there is any value at -185.
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
When fighters drop weight classes late in their careers, it usually doesn’t turn out well.
A career featherweight, many thought it was a terrible decision for Jose Aldo to take a fight at bantamweight at 33-years-of-age.
Some unhealthy photos of Aldo emerged during fight week, but he looked okay on the scales and performed admirably against one of the best bantamweights in the world in Marlon Moraes.
Aldo is a sharp boxer, but his world renowned leg kicks have disappeared from his performances in recent years. I wonder if he’s carrying some kind of lingering injury that makes him reluctant to throw them?
Petr Yan absorbed numerous leg kicks in his fight against Jimmie Rivera, so this would seem like the most obvious point of attack for the Brazilian.
A skilled boxer, Yan fights effectively in both stances, has excellent footwork and mixes up his shot selection beautifully. The Siberian has looked fantastic since entering the UFC, defeating all six opponents on his way to this title shot.
I can see the first few rounds being competitive, but I think Yan pulls away as the fight progresses. Aldo must have a brutal weight cut and Yan appears to be a cardio machine.
If Aldo decides to go heavy on leg kicks however, this could be an equalizer.
I’m siding with Petr Yan to become the bantamweight champion, but I think the value is negligible at -225. Over 2.5 rounds probably hits and -160 isn’t such a bad price.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
I remember when Alexander Volkanovski first came into the UFC as an athletic, yet unrefined wrestle-boxer in the lightweight division. He looked like an exciting combatant, but wasn’t someone I expected to see in the title picture.
Fast forward a couple of years and Volkanovski is the featherweight champion of the world.
His striking has improved by orders of magnitude thanks to the coaches at City Kickboxing and he was able to seize the belt last year from the dominant champion, Max Holloway.
Volkanovski’s game plan was masterful. By going after Holloway’s lead leg, this prevented him from entering an offensive groove with his boxing.
Seeing how the first contest played out, it’s easy to see why Volkanovski is favored to win again.
Here is the big question: can Holloway make adjustments?
With his high output, attritive style, the Hawaiian is famous for dragging opponents into deep waters and drowning them with volume. Against Volkanovski, Holloway was too content to hang at distance where he absorbed a barrage of kicks to his lead leg.
Holloway could plan to check kicks or counter them with straight punches down the pipe, but I don’t think that should be his top priority.
Towards the end of the first fight, Holloway found success when he started moving forward consistently. By staying on his opponent and throwing punches in bunches, this will prevent Vokanovski from simply stepping backwards and continuing to fire leg kicks.
Holloway must wade into the pocket, force Volkanovski to throw hands and counter him when he does.
By turning this into a fire fight at close range, the Hawaiian has a much higher chance of winning.
Alexander Volkanovski is the rightful favorite, but I believe this rematch will be much closer than the original contest.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
You’ve got to respect Jorge Masvidal for stepping up on short notice and saving this main event. It sounds like he was in the gym anyway, so I’m not expecting him to be in a sub-optimal state on Saturday.
That said, I think he’s in for a rough night against the dominant force that is Kamaru Usman.
Masvidal has sharp boxing and legitimate power, but I’m not sure how he’s going to keep the fight at distance. “Gamebred” might be able to hold his own trading elbows and knees in the clinch, but I struggle to envision him fending off takedown attempts against such a strong cage wrestler.
We’ve seen Usman make good grapplers look like amateurs, and there is nothing about Masvidal’s skill set that suggests he can do a better job at keeping the fight upright than the likes of Rafael Dos Anjos or Tyron Woodley.
There is a realistic knockout threat with Masvidal – it’s just hard to see where he’ll find the opportunities to land the kill shot (unless Usman is foolish enough to stand and trade with him for prolonged periods).
We saw Usman slug it out against another wrestler in Colby Covington, but he’d be insane not to resort to his original grapple-heavy style in this contest.
There might be a couple of sketchy moments, but I believe Kamaru Usman will add another decision victory to his brilliant record.
My Main Plays
Plays are available at MMA Oddsbreaker Premium and I’ve uploaded a special package just for Fight Island.