UFC on ESPN 31 looks like a solid fight card and I think there are a few good betting spots. Here are my main card picks from a betting perspective.
Chris Curtis vs. Brendan Allen
Coming off an impressive knockout victory last month, it was presumed Chris Curtis would drop down to welterweight for his next outing. The appropriately named “Action Man” must always be in shape, because he is taking another middleweight challenge without a full camp.
Fighting from the southpaw stance, Curtis likes to shoulder roll and pick his shots like a professional boxer. His hands are clean and accurate, but he’s a bit one dimensional and his output could be higher.
While he is difficult to take and hold down, he can be pushed back and held against the fence (check out his fight against Kyle Stewart for reference). Against a much bigger opponent in Brendan Allen who is likely to force grappling exchanges, I think he has his work cut out for him.
Since moving to Sanford MMA, Allen’s striking has improved. He showed better technique against Punahele Soriano and was particularly effective with body kicks against his southpaw opponent.
Of course, Curtis is a far more nuanced boxer than Soriano and will do a better job of setting up his power shots.
While I expect Allen to stand and trade initially, it’s only a matter of time before he starts grinding Curtis against the fence and working for takedowns.
I’m not sure if Allen can establish a dominant position on the mat or find the submission, but I think he can do enough to keep Curtis’ boxing offense neutralized for the majority of the fight.
Brendan Allen is the pick, although there is no value at -350.
Jimmy Crute vs. Jamahal Hill
Both Jimmy Crute and Jamahal Hill showcased horrific fight IQ in their last performances.
Crute waited until his lead leg was compromised before he started wrestling an opponent with no takedown defense in Anthony Smith, whereas Hill managed to get tangled in the guard of Paul Craig – which gave the Scotsman his only chance of victory.
This is a classic striker versus grappler match-up and it’s obvious what each combatant’s path to victory is.
Crute is a serviceable wrestler and has well-timed shots in open space as well as trip takedowns from the clinch. He immediately looks to pass his opponent’s guard and maneuver his way to a position where he can snatch up a neck or an arm.
Against Michal Oleksiejczuk, the Australian was absolutely dogged in getting the fight to the mat and stayed on his opponent like a bad rash until he found the submission.
Hill was taken down numerous times by Darko Stosic, but was able to keep scrambling to his feet. You’d figure he has been working on his takedown defense relentlessly since then, but it’s not a good idea to make bets based on assumptions.
On the feet, Hill should have a massive advantage. A long and rangy southpaw, Hill fires his straight left like a piston and is great at ripping the body before setting up head shots.
I don’t have a great read on this fight, but I’m inclined to believe the value is with Jamahal Hill at +145.
Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos
If Leonardo Santos wasn’t so long in the tooth, he’d be a legitimate contender at lightweight. The Brazilian is a prototypical Thai-Jitsu fighter and his lanky physique is advantageous for both snatching up submissions as well as kickboxing in open space.
I’d consider betting him if his cardio was a bit better, because I feel he has the advantage in every facet of the game besides pure wrestling.
Clay Guida showed improvements with his boxing in his last few fights, but he is not a natural striker. Against Mark Madsen, he looked vulnerable to knees in the clinch – which are some of Santos’ best weapons.
To his credit, Guida still has fantastic cardio at 39-years-of-age. He is outclassed on the mat and in open space, but could have a path to victory by pinning the Brazilian against the fence and staying clear of any front chokes.
He has won this way in the past, so I wouldn’t count him out here.
I don’t want anything to do with this fight as far as betting goes, but Leonardo Santos is the pick.
Brad Riddell vs. Rafael Fiziev
Both Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev used to train together at Tiger Muay Thai, which adds an interesting dynamic to this encounter.
Fiziev has excellent low kicks and some of the best lead leg body kicks I’ve seen in the UFC.
He moves light on his feet and utilizes plenty of upper body movement, so if you swing on him and miss – then you’ll be open for a brutal haymaker to the chin.
When he’s fresh, Fiziev maintains a high output – although he has been known to fade late in fights.
Riddell is quite the opposite and tends to grow stronger as the fight progresses. The New Zealander is a good kicker, but his sharp and compact punches are the best tools in his arsenal.
He is a born fighter and will slip and counter in the pocket to great effect.
Riddell has fully embraced the wrestling aspect of mixed martial arts, as we’ve seen this in some of his fights. Fiziev has strong hips and good takedown defense, but I think he’ll be more vulnerable to wrestling later in the fight.
It’s worth noting that Riddell trains with the likes of Dan Hooker and Israel Adesanya. He is used to checking and countering low kicks.
I think there is value on Brad Riddell as the underdog, although it might be better to wait for a live betting opportunity.
Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo
Rob Font has some of the best boxing in the bantamweight division and has looked thoroughly impressive on his recent winning streak.
Against a less sophisticated striker in Cody Garbrandt, Font was able to back him up with feints, pop him with the double jab and right cross combination and punish him with counters whenever Garbrandt swung wildly to try and gain his respect.
I assume he will try a similar strategy here and try to wear down Jose Aldo, who has a lot of mileage on his body and tends to fend late in fights.
Aldo has a stiff jab, excellent body shots and legendary low kicks – which disappeared from his game for a while, but resurfaced against Pedro Munhoz in his last bout.
I just don’t think Aldo is going to be an easy guy to bully. While he might be at a cardio disadvantage, I think he can mitigate this by ripping the body and potentially compromising Font’s lead leg.
Aldo trains his boxing with the Brazilian Navy and I don’t think Font brings anything to the table that he will be unprepared for.
Perhaps the cardio discrepancy will be the story of the night, but I think this is a good match for Jose Aldo on paper and I’m picking him to come through as the plus money underdog.