This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
Editor's Note: A.J. submits bets far in advance in an effort to get the best line, so some of the numbers below may not be currently available at your sportsbook of choice. Still, the analysis holds up. For all his latest picks, give him a follow on Twitter at @AJ_Schullo.
Jamie Mullarkey (12-4-0) vs. Khama Worthy (16-7-0)
Weight Class: Lightweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -150/60% Mullarkey to win. Let's discuss!
It's a clear striker (Worthy) versus grappler (Mullarkey) matchup. Let's discuss why I like the grappler to win!
I favor Worthy here. He's a more dangerous and superior counter striker. Mullarkey has better footwork (i.e., Worthy often leaves his feet entirely planted) and is more durable, in my opinion, so I can see these exchanges being close. Additionally, Mullarkey's striking looked better against Ziam relative to the fight against Riddell (i.e., showed solid combinations and counters with better variety w/kicks).
They both feint a ton and have both been hurt in the past many times (i.e., Worthy has been finished via strikes six times, and Mullarkey has been twice, plus took a beating to Riddell).
Favor Mullarkey here significantly. The grappling dynamic is the genesis of this bet. Khama will fish for the guillotine, and he has a firm squeeze (i.e., fight against Pena), but his defensively grappling overall is flawed. He was taken down quickly by a double leg from Luis Pena, then Pena immediately passed to side control, quickly took the mount, and threatened with an arm-triangle choke. Pena proceeded to have back mount for about two and a half minutes before getting reversed. Pena then quickly took down Khama with a single leg and ended up in side control again. After, Pena took back mount and threatened with the rear-naked choke also.
Worthy's defensive grappling looked vulnerable on the regional scene as well. He had his opponent's back, and then 20 seconds later, he had his back taken.
Mullarkey has a good reactive takedown (i.e., took down Riddell after he threw a low kick), the ability to chain wrestle, scrambling proficiency, trip takedown ability against the fence (i.e., is strong in the clinch), double leg takedown ability, sets up his takedowns (i.e., will fake going high and duck under for the level change), and looks to advance position while in the top position.
I trust Mullarkey likely gets this fight to the ground and dominates with control while landing some ground & pound.
TLDR: I bet Mularkey because I trust he can control where this fight takes place and be competitive in the striking exchanges.
Stipe Miocic (20-3-0) vs. Francis Ngannou (15-3-0)
Weight Class: Heavyweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -150/60% Stipe Miocic to win.
After losing my bet on Jair Rozenstruik against Francis Ngannou, I was unsure if I'd bet against "The Predator" again. However, after watching the tape on this rematch against Stipe, I have decided to back the current champion. Like the other bets I've been posting, I bet on opportunities that I believe hold long term value. In other words, I am not getting married to one outcome. If my bet loses, fine. If it wins, fine. I will not bet these fighters looking at their downside exclusively in the matchup but rather looking at the matchup in its entirety, then I decide on the play.
This bet could lose, but there are also many ways to win, some of which by a potential apparent margin. Let's discuss!
Striking Exchanges In Open Space:
Ngannou is more durable, faster, more athletic, the superior counter striker, and hits harder while fresh. However, Stipe is the more technical boxer with better combination striking (i.e., Golden Gloves Boxing Champion) and fights at a much higher pace (i.e., outstruck Ngannou at a distance 37 to 19 in the first fight, landed 115 significant strikes in 5 rounds against Daniel Cormier in the trilogy per ufcstats.com).
When Ngannou wants to be the aggressor, he can be wild (i.e., was overextending on his punches in the first matchup with Stipe, left his chin very high against Rozenstruik in the finishing sequence), but he likely plays the counter striker role here as that's where he is at his best. Stipe has shown to be hittable in his recent matchups with Cormier and has been hurt in several past fights (i.e., Overeem, Struve, Cormier, Ngannou in round 3, Dos Santos in the first fight), so even though Ngannou didn't get the knockout in the first meeting he very legitimately can in the rematch as Stipe's margin for error is very small while these two are in open space.
That said, I trust Stipe's defense and fight I.Q. enough to allow me to believe that, more than likely, he avoids a finishing strike from Ngannou.
Stipe can work the body with his boxing and front kicks, which can tax the cardio of Ngannou, or he can land kicks to Ngannou's lead leg as Ngannou stands heavy on it.
I think it's fair to favor Ngannou striking while he's fresh, but as the fight progresses, there's a high likelihood that Stipe has exponentially more success on the feet if Ngannou fatigues. More on this under 'Cardio.'
Favor Stipe here. Stipe had success controlling Ngannou in the clinch multiple times in the first matchup and even did it against Cormier. It's smart for Stipe to do because it not only taxes Ngannou's cardio so Stipe can be the fresher fighter down the stretch but neutralizes Ngannou's threats in open space.
Favor Stipe here significantly. Stipe showcased great grappling instincts in the first matchup, and he certainly can again here. Ngannou's takedown defense, while fresh, is good partly due to his strength and athleticism, but as he fatigues, he's shown to be taken down and controlled. Stipe can utilize single-leg and double-leg takedowns in open space or against the fence (i.e., NCAA Division I Wrestling) to get Ngannou down again to neutralize his power threat tax his cardio. Stipe has great timing on his takedowns, so if Ngannou is aggressive, Stipe can counter wrestle by ducking under and putting Ngannou flat on his back to earn significant-top control time.
Once on the mat, Ngannou relies on his athleticism to work back to his feet. Still, as he fatigues, it becomes exponentially more difficult for him to work his way back up (i.e., Stipe utilized a "wrestling ride" against the fence in the first matchup when Ngannou did try to work back up).
Favor Stipe here significantly. Stipe's shown to fight at a solid pace for multiple rounds in a fight. Whereas Francis historically tires due to his explosive and powerful style (i.e., he was exhausted after 4 minutes in the first fight with Stipe, and Stipe was able to take him down several times, the most significant strikes Francis has landed in a fight is 36 per ufcstats.com).
In all likelihood, the longer the fight goes, the more Miocic's chances of winning increase.
TLDR: I am betting Stipe Miocic to win versus Francis Ngannou because he has more paths to victory, has significantly better cardio, is the superior technical fighter and fights at a much higher pace.
The Play: Bet 1.25 units Miocic @ + 140 and .75 units @ +130