This article is part of our Handicapping the Octagon series.
What the UFC 250 fight card lacks in star power, it makes up for in intriguing matchups for us to sink our teeth into. I have listed three plus-money plays this week, one of which turned a sizeable favorite into a sizeable dog play through the magic of props. As always, I have limited my looks to lines below (-200), as I feel that anything more expensive is supposed to come in, and doesn't really require a writeup. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article. One final note that the original version of this article had a fourth play of Ian Heinisch (-125) over Gerald Meerschaert, but that fight was pulled from the card just before publishing. Without any further ado, let's get to it.Ian Heinisch (13-3-0) vs.
Ian Heinisch (13-3-0) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (31-12-0) Weight Class: Middleweight
Heinisch is 2-2 in his UFC career. His two wins have come against slick submission grapplers (Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Junior) while he has fallen to wrestlers he could not out-muscle (Derek Brunson and Omari Akhmedov). It's fairly clear which of these two categories Gerald Meerschaert occupies, as he has notched 23 of his 31 professional wins by submission
It's not that Meerschaert won't try to take the fight to the floor, but the Roofus Sport product tends to throw himself into bad positions and trust that he will be able to work his way out of them, which seems unlikely to fly against a grappler as physically strong as Heinisch. If this prevents "GM3" from winning the exchanges on the ground, I find it hard to believe he can win the fight in general, as Heinisch's pressure striking game seems miles ahead of his opponent's janky, upright style. Meerschaert is known for making fights sloppy, which could conceivably drain "The Hurricane's" gas tank, but I expect that he will be dictating this fight wherever it goes, which should allow him to keep his cardio while sapping the stamina of Meerschaert.
This play is not without some risk tolerance, as I expect that Heinisch will get taken down at certain points in the fight, but we have already seen Meershaert struggle with physically strong grapplers like Jack Hermansson in the past, and I expect this fight to follow a similar trajectory.
The Pick: Ian Heinisch -125
Chase Hooper (9-0-1) vs. Alex Caceres (15-12-0) Weight Class: Featherweight
It's difficult to watch Hooper's UFC debut against Daniel Teymur and not become a bit nervous at the prospect of placing a wager, as he was stung multiple times before getting the fight to the floor and ultimately getting the win. While it's true that Hooper gets hit way too much for his own good, I don't really see him having much to fear in terms of fight-altering shots from Caceres, who has just three stoppage wins by strikes in his 27-fight career (one of which came via doctor stoppage).
What does this mean for our wager? There is no doubt that Caceres will be the more proficient technical striker here, but I find it hard to believe that he will be able to keep Hooper off of him long enough to get any real work done. It must be noted that we have already seen Caceres lose to a fighter whose only path to victory was to get the fight to the floor, and while Hooper certainly isn't Kron Gracie in terms of BJJ acumen, he has showcased a slick transition and submission game that looks to be miles ahead of "Bruce Leeroy," who has lost seven of his 12 bouts by tap out.
Predicting a fighter to win via a certain method always carries certain risks. In Hooper's last fight, for example, he looked to be seconds away from a choke before getting on top and hammering his opponent to get a TKO victory. But we get to turn a sizable favorite into a sizable underdog to win by his most likely method of victory, which seems like a fairly easy decision if we want to bet that the Ben Askren lookalike gets it done.
The Pick: Chase Hooper via submission: +150.
Cody Stamann (18-2-1) vs. Brian Kelleher (21-10-0) Weight class: featherweight
As someone who picked Cody Stamann to triumph over a fighter who was (at the time) considered a can't-miss prospect in Tom Duquesnoy, you don't have to sell me on the things he does well. The 30-year-old combines powerful pressure striking with an educated wrestling game that can make him tough to deal with for anyone in the division. Enter Brian Kelleher, who brings a hefty 84 percent takedown defense rate into the contest over eight UFC fights. To be clear, I don't consider it likely that Kelleher stays on his feet for the duration of the fight, but I do think that "Boom's" ability to scramble and hunt opportunistic submissions will pay dividends when the fight does hit the mat, allowing him to effectively take away the best tool Stamann has at his disposal.
So, what happens if this fight has to take place primarily on the feet? We've seen Kelleher's quick-pressure striking grind down opponents in the past, but I think the one thing that really gets overlooked is the power he possesses at this weight class. It was a mere three weeks ago that Kelleher executed what was essentially a one-shot KO against a previously undefeated fighter in Hunter Azure, and we have already seen Stamann have some difficulty against an advancing Yadong Song for long stretches of that fight.
To be frank, I'm not quite sure why Kelleher is such a massive underdog here. What we can say is sprinkled among some of his best performances are quick and surprising submission losses to Marlon Vera and Montel Jackson, which may give one the impression that Kelleher is susceptible to being tapped on the ground. Even if this was a concern, Stamann has a grand total of two submissions among his 18 career wins, which should assuage fears that any kind of quick finish will materialize for him on the ground. At the end of the day, this pick depends on how well Kelleher can stop takedowns, but I think we have ample evidence to suggest that this can be done, which makes him a nice play at this price.
The Pick: Brian Kelleher +220
Anthony Rocco Martin (17-5-0) vs. Neil Magny (22-7-0) Weight Class: Welterweight
For all the talk from analysts (myself included) about how good Magny looked in his return fight against Li Jingliang, it must be remembered that he was stung early on in that fight, which makes one wonder if the success sustained by Magny would have been quite as stark if his opponent hadn't consistently initiated grappling exchanges. Martin is exactly the right opponent to test how good Magny's range striking has gotten.
A long fighter himself, Martin's striking game consists of a nice, stinging jab, a sneakily powerful overhand right, and a devastating low-calf kick. Taken together, I think all of these tools can be used to frustrate and hurt Magny, who has shown himself to be susceptible to leg kicks, in particular. Also, Martin's frame is such that it seems unlikely that Magny will be able to hang on him in the clinch and wear him out.
Ultimately, I just don't think Magny will be able to sustain an attack against a rangy boxer without having his defense break down. As good as Jingliang is as a pressure striker, his game is very one-note, which makes me wonder how Magny will be able to deal with a more varied attack from someone like Martin. It seems to me that if Magny hadn't just looked fantastic against a very different kind of opponent, then Martin would likely be the favorite here. We should look to take advantage of that opportunity.
The Pick: Anthony Rocco Martin: +125