This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
Rodolfo Vieira (7-0-0) vs. Anthony Hernandez (7-2-0) Weight class: Middleweight
Whenever a jiu-jitsu virtuoso crosses over into the world of MMA, the broader community holds its collective breath waiting to see who will be the one to expose their lack of overall skill. While Vieira's striking has a long way to go, I would (and will) wager that he is more than capable of making a fighter like Anthony Hernandez his third consecutive finish in the UFC.
In some ways, Hernandez will be Vieira's toughest test to date: he has good footwork, is agile in the cage, and throws with power and in combination. One of his big problems here, though, will be an unchecked forward pressure that makes clinch situations readily available for the opponent. We saw this happen multiple times in Hernandez's last fight with Jun Yong Park, and taking down Vieira will certainly not be an option for "Fluffy" here. It should also be noted that Vieira is not only relentless with his takedown attempts, he's actually quite good at executing double-legs and slamming his opponent into side control so as to avoid any danger from the guard position.
Taking a finish prop at these odds may make some queasy, but five of Vieira's seven professional fights have ended inside the 1.5-round mark, and both of Hernandez's losses occurred within our desired time frame. The odds here don't leave too many reasonable ways to play Vieira, but I consider anything under (-200) worth a shot.
The play: Rodolfo Vieira UNDER 1.5 rounds (-167)
Polyana Viana (11-4-0) vs. Mallory Martin (7-3-0) Weight class: Strawweight
It's not a regular practice of mine to play a prop on an underdog, but Viana has never won a fight by decision in her professional MMA career, and she draws an opponent in Mallory Martin who has shown herself to be vulnerable to submissions in the past.
Martin is a bit of an all-rounder in the cage, and while she has only been finished once in her career, it was at the hands of another high-level BJJ black belt in Virna Jandiroba. The issue here is that Martin's takedown defense generally consists of trying to force guillotine chokes. I am skeptical that this will work with someone as experienced as Viana, as she, like Vieira, often ensures that she ends up in side control when she completes her takedowns.
If there is a worry in this play, it may be that she doesn't go for takedowns often enough (1.22 average per 15 minutes), but we saw Martin dropped hard and nearly finished by Hannah Cifers in her last fight, which has me keen to take a bit of insurance on the "any finish" line. The more adventurous among you may opt for submission only (+350), which is fine. In mind, playing Viana straight up is the only wrong way to do it.
The play: Polyana Viana by KO/TKO/DQ or Submission: +260
Julian Marquez (7-2-0) vs. Maki Pitolo (13-7-0) Weight class: Middleweight
A view of Pitolo from 30,000 feet reveals a fighter who has good lateral movement, throws in combination, and mixes his targets. Still, the Hawaiian fighter displays too many defensive liabilities for me to believe he can survive in the cage with someone like Marquez, who has finished all seven of his victories. Add in the fact that five of Pitolo's seven losses have come by stoppage, and it becomes clear where we're headed with this one.
There may not be a ton of craft in the game of Marquez, but he will stalk his opponents, throw big shots, and mix in kicks until he stops the fight. This seems like a particularly bad matchup for Pitolo, who frequently backs himself into the fence and got hit by the same overhand right multiple times in his fight with Impa Kasanganay. It's also notable that Pitolo has been at a physical disadvantage with the majority of his opponents in the UFC thus far. This will almost certainly be the case with Marquez as well, which should allow him to dictate where the fight goes.
To be clear, Marquez will likely have to endure a few scary-looking exchanges from his opponent before taking this fight over, but I suspect the power difference here will be evident pretty quickly, meaning the momentum should flip once "The Cuban Missile Crisis" begins to turn it on.
The Play: Julian Marquez by KO/TKO/DQ or Submission: +125
Bobby Green (27-11-1) vs. Jim Miller (32-15-0) Weight class: Lightweight
The year is 2018. Miller eats a devastating step-in knee from Dan Hooker that knocks him out cold. Most in the MMA community think this is it. The legend will follow in the path of others before him and continue to lose badly until he finally retires. But it doesn't happen. In fact, Miller has not been knocked out since that fight. All credit to the man for his grit and toughness, but I would argue that he hasn't faced a puncher anywhere close to Green since then, either.
While it's true that Green doesn't have a knockout next to his name since James Krause in 2013, there's no denying how hard he hits. We can see this in his virtuoso performance against Lando Vannata during their rematch in August when Green hurt "Groovy" multiple times and nearly ended the fight with a knockdown. Green remains the only person to be credited with a knockdown against Vannata in his 10 UFC fights. MMA math adherents may want to point out that Miller finished Clay Guida, while Green could not. While this is true, I think that fight actually strengthens our case, as Guida nearly had Miller finished with a shot right before that, which led to him opening up to be countered. All this is to say that Miller simply hasn't fought the right person to stop him with strikes since 2018 and Green's volume and precision should be enough to do the trick. This is particularly true since he should be able to thwart the majority of Miller's takedown attempts.
I grant that there is a fair amount of speculation being done on my part, but Miller has looked more and more hittable as time has gone on, and I think the 37-year-old is finally facing a puncher who can bring that to bear.
The play: Bobby Green By KO/TKO/DQ: +500
Chris Gutierrez (15-3-2) vs. Andre Ewell (17-6)
Weight class: 140-pound Catchweight
Although Ewell will have a sizeable height and reach advantage which could pose some problems for Gutierrez, the wrestling will be the difference. In the UFC, although Gutierrez has just a 50 percent accuracy rate, Ewell has a 73 percent takedown defense and has been taken down eight times in five UFC fights. Ewell's two UFC losses are by submission and ground-and-pound TKO, where Gutierrez has proven on the regional scene that is how he finishes fights.
Another cause for concern is Ewell's cardio. In the past two fights, he won split decisions, and many thought he lost to Jonathan Martinez. Part of the reason why he is having these close fights is that he clearly wins the first round, but in the second half of the second round and in the third round, he gasses out. That will hurt him here against a cardio machine in Gutierrez, as in Gutierrez's last fight, he was 10-8'd in the first round and came back to dominate the next two rounds. The same thing could happen here.
The play: Chris Gutierrez (-150)
Maycee Barber (8-1) vs. Alexa Grasso (12-3)
Weight class: Women's Flyweight
Maycee Barber as a +110 underdog is very surprising to me.
In her last fight, Barber was nearly a -1000 favorite against Roxanne Modafferi, and although she lost, she did tear her ACL early in the fight and held on to see the judge's scorecards. Outside of that fight, "The Future" has looked impressive with stoppage wins over Gillian Robertson, JJ Aldrich, and Hannah Cifers. Grasso, meanwhile, is coming off a good decision win over Ji Yeon Kim in her flyweight debut.
Why I like Barber so much is the grappling and the lack of takedown defense on Grasso's side. Wrestling has been the Mexican's kryptonite, as she has a 63 percent takedown defense and in fights against grapplers (Carla Esparza, Tatiana Suarez and Randa Markos), she was taken down a combined 10 times. Even Felice Herrig landed two takedowns against Grasso.
I expect Barber to come out with a wrestling heavy game plan and just control the fight on the ground for a decision win or possibly a ground and pound TKO or submission.
The play: Maycee Barber (+110)
Julian Marquez (7-2) vs. Maki Pitolo (13-7)
Weight class: Middleweight
Both Julian Marquez and Maki Pitlo are finishers, and I'm surprised the number for "fight doesn't go the distance" is only -175.
In Pitolo's four UFC fights, he only hit the scorecards twice and both times were against grinders in Callan Potter and Impa Kasanganay, who are known for decision wins. Julian Marquez, meanwhile, has only ever been the distance twice, and one of those was his last fight in which he tore his shoulder early on in the bout.
On paper, this is a fight between two hard hitters who have a ton of KO power. Pitolo, especially, is a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword fighter. Marquez also has a ground game, where we have seen Pitolo struggle a ton, so it wouldn't even be surprising to see him get a submission win.
Regardless, I think this line should be close to -225, so -175 for the fight to end inside the distance is good value.
The play: Marquez-Pitolo doesn't go the distance (-175)
Bobby Green (27-11-1) vs. Jim Miller (32-15) &
Belal Muhammad (17-3) vs. Dhiego Lima (15-7)
Weight class: Lightweight & Welterweight
Bobby Green and Belal Muhammad are two of my more confident picks on the card, however, their odds are way too high. Currently, Green is -275 while Muhammad is -400, but parlaying them together gets you -142.
The way Jim Miller wins fights is by submitting people in the first round. Yet, Green hasn't been submitted since 2009 and has fought some high-level grapplers since then. Ultimately, I expect Green to lose the first round of the fight, but in the second and third round, as Miller starts to slow down, Green will start picking apart the legend of the game and win a decision.
As for Belal Muhammad, I just don't understand this matchmaking. Muhammad is a ranked welterweight and has proven to be someone to watch out for. Lima, meanwhile, has been very inconsistent in the UFC, and his chin is a major concern. Although I don't think Muhammad will be able to KO him, I expect him to just throw more volume and win a decision.
Kamaru Usman (17-1-0) vs. Gilbert Burns (19-3-0)
Weight class: Welterweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -400/80% Kamaru Usman to win.
I love both these fighters in general, but this is a very favorable stylistic matchup for Usman, as we'll discuss. He has many more clear paths to victory as well as many other factors going in his favor.
Favor Usman here. He holds a 5-inch reach advantage, is the superior technical striker, has the ability to switch stances, and has a much higher striking volume. Burns has fast, powerful hands, an excellent low kick, and proficient countering ability, so he can certainly have moments but favor Usman in the aggregate of the striking exchanges.
This has the potential to be very dominant in favor of Usman.
Clinch exchanges: Usman is a significantly better clinch fighter. Usman controlled Woodley in the clinch for several minutes and did not surrender a single second of clinch control. In contrast, Woodley was able to win some clinch exchanges against Burns and earn control time. Also, Burns has been repeatedly controlled in the clinch by fighters who are not nearly as physical as Usman (i.e., Gunnar Nelson). Lastly, Usman will likely tax Burns's cardio while earning points on the judges' scorecards from his control here and the damage he inflicts (i.e., punches to the body, shoulder strikes, and foot stomps).
Wrestling: Usman is the higher pedigree wrestler, the more physical fighter, able to land several takedowns over the course of 25 minutes (i.e., landed 12 against RDA), and has been able to significantly outwrestle good MMA wrestlers (i.e., Rafael Dos Anjos). Also, Usman has 100% TDD per ufcstats.com, whereas Burns has 50% while being taken down by fighters who are inferior relative to Usman in wrestling (i.e., Maia, Prazeres, and Saggo).
Burns's wrestling is still good overall (i.e., has a good level change, ability to chain wrestle, and trip takedown capability), but I favor Usman in the wrestling department overall. Usman may not wrestle persistently early, but as the fight progresses and as Burns gets tired, he can end up in top position. I trust Usman to stay out of danger from any guard subs as Usman is a BJJ Black Belt while being very strong in the top position.
Submission grappling: This is the clear advantage I see for Burns as he is a much more threatening submission grappler. If he takes Usman's back, he can maybe submit him, but it seems unlikely with him being at the wrestling disadvantage. He can maybe rock Usman with a punch and take his back, but that's not something I put a lot of stock into prefight, and Usman shows good overall durability.
Durability: Favor Usman here. He's never been knocked out nor knocked down in the UFC. Burns's durability is fine and seemingly better at 170lbs but favoring Usman because Burns has been knocked out once while also being knocked down 4 times in the UFC per ufcstats.com.
Cardio: Favor Usman here significantly. Usman has the best cardio in the weight class alongside Colby Covington, as they've each shown to fight at a very high pace via striking and wrestling over the course of a 5 round fight. Burns's cardio is not bad, but we've seen him slow down and fight at a slow pace in the past (i.e., against Nelson, Woodley, and Kunchenko).
Physicality: Favor Usman here. Usman is the most physical fighter in this weight class. He's also a couple of inches taller than Burns and has not fought at 155lbs in the past while in the UFC, whereas Burns used to fight at 155lbs.
Defense: Wrestling wise we discussed this under 'Wrestling,' but the striking defense also favors Usman. Burns is wild at times and is more susceptible to counters of the two.
Power: They both have big power in their hands. Burns has 4 knockdowns in the UFC. Usman has 5 knockdowns in the UFC. I don't see a compelling advantage either way.
Pace/volume: Favor Usman here. Statistically, he's much more active (i.e., lands 4.5 significant strikes per minute, lands 3.38 takedowns per 15 minutes, and attempts more strikes & takedowns over the course of 15 and 25 minutes). Eye test wise Usman is always pushing the pace in all of his fights, whereas Burns needs many pauses, even while striking, to manage his cardio down the stretch (i.e., Woodley's fight was low tempo while in open space).
The play: Max Bet Kamaru Usman -240
Gillian Robertson (9-5-0) vs. Miranda Maverick (8-2-0)
Weight class: Flyweight
The implied odds I made for this bout are -150/60% Gillian Robertson to win. Let's discuss!
Striking: Miranda is the superior striker (i.e., comes from a Muay Thai background), and her striking is impressive overall (i.e., is varied will kick low, high, and to the body with punches as well). Furthermore, Miranda has excellent combos and counters with solid footwork.
I trust Gillian to stay out of enough danger in the striking to get the fight to the ground. Gillian utilizes feints, good footwork (i.e., she'll cut different angles), and be either all the way in trying to take the opposition down or all the way and avoiding lengthy striking exchanges. Still, it's all just a "means to an end," basically as she'll very likely look to get the fight to the ground. Gillian's striking tendencies are also important because they generally make her less hittable before the closing distance, which probably prevents Miranda from getting into a striking rhythm, which is very important.
Grappling: Miranda likely has improved since her regional footage, but I lean that her grappling is not on Gillian's level right now. Miranda has shown to get taken down quickly (i.e., against Pearl Gonzalez by a single leg against the fence and trip) as she's shown to not dig for an underhook nor have a sprawl. Furthermore, Miranda's scrambling ability from the bottom position is a liability.
These are liabilities against Gillian, who's shown the ability to land single leg, double leg, body lock, and trip takedowns Also, she's shown the ability to chain wrestle while having intense top control pressure (i.e., utilizes "The Dagestani Handcuff", great guard passing ability, and excellent, composed elbows from top position while being conscious of not losing the dominant position).
Gillian likely is able to get this fight to the ground and maintain a dominant position to either win rounds or possibly get a finish.
TLDR: I am betting Gillian because she likely can control where this fight takes place and have a reasonably dominant grappling advantage.
The play: Gillian Roberts +125