UFC 219 - CYBORG VS. HOLM
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Holly Holm $6,900 vs. Cristiane Cyborg $9,300
Before we break down this fight in a perspective of actual skill set, I would like to bring you into the mind of Mental Warfare when it comes to fighting: how it can help, hinder and completely affect the outcome of a fight. In combat sports, there are many fighters who held the gift of gab when it came to talking themselves into a threat, such as Conor Mcgregor and Chael Sonnen. However, there is a difference between having a gift to gab and having an aura of almost being unhuman-like. Very, very few fighters had this aura in our lifetimes and beyond. These fighters did not try, nor did they speak of this aura. It was bestowed upon them through the eyes of others. The thought, presence and overall reputations of these fighters would carry a stigma without choice.
Some of these fighters off the top of my head were the likes of Sonny Liston, Big George Foreman, Mike Tyson and Sammy Langford. This may be before your time so allow me to explain what they all had in common. All these men had the ability to win the fight before the fight even took place. The thought of stepping between the ropes with these men made many fighters feel like they were handed a helpless and hopeless task before the bell of war sounded.
Langford was a KO machine with 128 knockouts in 180 fights. The reason you really never heard of this man is that he was put in a box for many years and highly avoided by the mainstream greats. As years went by, it was then admitted by the great Jack Johnson that he, in fact, avoided fighting Langford. Jack Dempsey is also quoted by saying, “Sammy Langford was the greatest fighter of our time” and openly said he avoided him.
Sonny Liston was feared as a killer due to his outside the ring antics, ties with prison stints and violence. He was best known for his iron chin and his crippling power in both hands. George Foreman was probably the most devastating puncher that boxing has ever seen during his era. He was looked upon as this impossible mountain who won his first 40 fights with 37 of them by way of KO. Then there was Mike Tyson who came around in my era and we all know why he was so feared.
Now we have a different gender in a different arena making her stake in combat sports, joining the likes of these so-called “killers.” Christina Cyborg is not much of a talker and has been highly avoided for much of her career. Her pace, pressure, power and violent aggression is something that is hard to turn a blind eye. She seems to be a few large steps ahead of everyone in many departments and her body seems to have been assembled for war. Now what I am about to say here may shock you, but I speak facts and not opinion, whether you want to believe this or not. So here we go…
If there was one thing I have always had a great bead on, it was reading the future of a fighter's career. Mike Tyson was a guy I never looked at nor thought was a great fighter. Allow me to explain before you say “GTFOOH” or “You’re Crazy.” I was one of the only people who looked at his resume as extremely padded with bums. Although it was no fault of his own, it still doesn’t take away that his record and overall mystique was extremely inflated with the help of Don King and the media. I used to always say to anyone who would listen, one day he will have no choice and he will have to fight a pure boxer who won’t fear him. When that day comes, you will, in fact, see the real Mike Tyson. Don King avoided certain fighters at all costs to keep the Tyson Money Train afloat for as long as he could. He knew that Tyson was a product of a starving heavyweight division at the time, and the timing for him was nothing short of perfect. He was fighting guys like Tony Tubbs, Carl Williams, Frank Bruno and other straight up bums. Yet, there were guys like Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe, Bert Cooper and Ray Mercer waiting for a crack at Tyson and quietly raising their own havoc in the heavyweight division.
Ray Mercer back in that time was a carbon copy of Tyson, in a sense. Ray Mercer was still undefeated two more years after Tyson took his first “L.” He had hell-on-earth power and a proven chin of granite. Don King wanted nothing to do with Mercer. He knew that fight was extremely dangerous for Mike so it just never happened. Later down the road, Tyson ran out of road, and on Feb. 11th, 1990, he was beaten by a guy that wasn’t a great boxer. On that night, he came in with nothing to lose and no fear in his eyes of Tyson's mystique. He brilliantly boxed the bully to one of the most shocking upsets in boxing history.
After the crushing defeat to Tyson’s reputation, Don King knew he had to save face. The only way to do that is to start fighting the guys he has avoided for so long. So he lined up fights with guys like Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, who completely destroyed and dismantled him. Mike Tyson was feared no more. The blueprint was out on Mike and he wasn’t the bad machine everyone thought he was. He was a product of avoidance in numbers, and he began taking losses to no-name fighters until he would finally face his truth and retire. Sound Familiar? Dana White (Don King) and Ronda Rousey (Mike Tyson).
The reason I am telling you all this is because I want you to align the path of Rousey, Cyborg and Tyson here. Even though Cyborg doesn’t have a Don King in her corner to inflate who she is, she has the mystique behind her, the look, and the highlight reels to mentally collapse her opposition before they even step into the cage. When a fighter goes in with the mindset, “the odds are stacked against me, but I am going to do the best I can,” you are done before they announce your name. You are then fighting on your heels, pulling your punches back in caution, adrenaline dump sets in, leaving you extremely vulnerable in the moment and eventually exposed.
If you look at Cyborg’s resume, who has she really fought? There is no one on her resume who will wow you in any way, shape or form. She has never been brought into a fight; she has never been brought to deep water; she has never been put into a situation that she had to really bite down and fight her way out of a bad spot. Holly Holm hasn’t had the greatest luck as of late, but she is a pure striker and will not be bullied on her feet by anyone. Many don’t know this, but Holly is in the discussion for possibly top-3 female boxers of all time. She is an 18-time World Boxing Champion. She holds three titles in three different weight classes and defended them 16 times. She was Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year two years in a row. She had the upset of the year against the feared Christy Martin in 2005, New Mexico’s Fighter of the Year an astonishing six years in a row and was Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Holly has been there and done that.
We will now see a fighter who won’t be afraid. You will not intimidate a fighter with those credentials when it comes to trading leather. Holly has seen all styles in the stand-up arena, and Cyborg won’t bring something so drastically new that will make Holly fight with one foot in and one foot out of the cage. I want you to keep all this in mind as we now break down the stylistic matchup here. We will revisit it one final time in the end.
What We Know and Don’t Know About Cyborg
Cyborg has the ability to be the bully in any situation during her fights. No one will ever come in confidently with a bullish mentality against her. From a physical standpoint, she is far beyond anything we have seen when it comes to raw power in the female MMA arena. However, it does not take away the fact she is human and does have flaws in her game that I have noticed in much of the film I have ripped. However, finding the right person to expose them is a different animal altogether.
The key to beating Cyborg is being able to weather her straight line charge attack. She drives forward with a relentless volume of punches that all have bad intentions behind them. She has had so much success in doing so that she throws caution to the wind and leaves her chin hanging, which can be had if you are a true patient and technical matador. Her success doesn’t lie within the technique of this approach. It lies within the mental breakdown in the opposition saying, “Oh Shit, here she comes,” putting you on your heels while whimpering away and abandoning your defense in the hopes to scamper out of trouble.
In turn, the panic mode will set in and you most likely will be caught by something fight changing. Once your back is against the cage and Cyborg decides to open up, it is very hard to catch back up to pace and gather your thoughts. You are merely fighting to survive at this point; once you get lost in her onslaught, it is like a spider web you just can’t escape, until you just give in to your demise or she decides to back up and reset again because of something she sees. Even though Cyborg is a black belt in BJJ, she has really never had to use it, making quick work out of anyone that stood toe-to-toe with her. So like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
What we do know is Cyborg has brutally overwhelming power and has had nothing but success, torching her foes into retreat with her pressure. Cyborg's cardio really shouldn’t be too much in question either, being pushed multiple times to 190 BPM and then being clocked at 140 just 30 seconds later during resting phase. That is honestly terminator-like number drops. What we have yet to see with Cyborg is her ability to take any sort of punishment in the MMA arena, how she handles herself if put into an isolated position of frustration, and most importantly, her chin with 4 oz. gloves. No one has really stood in the pocket with her long enough to catch her crisp and clean with any significant power, nor have they really put her in a situation where plan “A” hasn’t worked.
Cyborg has not fought a southpaw fighter since 2009. All seven of her last opponents were orthodox fighters. In her last fight against Tonya Evinger, she seemed to keep her foot off the gas, being much more calculated and patient, throwing much less volume than normal. In a fight halfway into the 1st round, where she would finish an opponent, Cyborg will clear cleanly over 40 significant strikes in minutes. Halfway through the second round in a finish, she will clear over 80 significant strikes cleanly. In her last fight, where she seemed much more patient, she just overlapped 70 significant strikes halfway into the 3rd Round before her finish. So as you can see, there is a clear dial back on her game plan. If she dialed it back with Tonya Evinger, then I can only imagine she may dial it back a little more for the extremely high pedigree striking of Holly Holm. Something to keep in the back of your mind.
What We Know and Don’t Know About Holly Holm
There isn’t much we don’t know about Holly that we didn’t cover. She is a brilliant counter fighter with an uncanny ability to cut off the cage, take away angles, and use crafty footwork to unhinge pressure. Her cage IQ is extremely high; she understands when and where she can pick & choose her spots from an attacking standpoint to a counter fighting standpoint. She ties her punches and kicks together very well and will make you so aware of her striking that somewhere in the thick of it, you may forget she has one of the most brutal and accurate head kicks showcased in the MMA arena. She is extremely durable, only being KO’d three times in 38 professional boxing engagements, once in 11 kickboxing engagements, and never on the MMA platform. What startled me after her losing the belt to Miesha Tate is she seemed to break down mentally a bit, showing a little too much raw emotion. She was winning that fight clearly and just got caught in a submission late.
There seemed to be a slight carryover effect, where her confidence seemed to be rattled. She came back against Valentina and really looked flat in the fight, pulling her punches and seemed to really put a block in her throttle, worrying far too much about making a mistake. It was clear as day that Holly was a shell of herself in that fight, and it would ultimately be the reason she lost a clear-cut decision. She then came back to fight Germaine and opened up a bit more against another extremely highly decorated and polished striker. In my eyes, Holly won that fight but was slighted by the judges. She broke down once again and I really thought Holly was on her way out of the UFC for the mere fact she didn’t seem like she had the mental ability to bounce back after being dethroned. In her last fight against Bethe, Holly looked like the Holly of old, landing the same atomic leg kick to the head on Bethe that she landed on Rousey, driving her to instant stardom. The one thing I loved to see is, when she KO’d Bethe, she showed zero emotion. She quickly cranked her fist and punched the air as if to say, “the monkey is off my back.” The big question here is what Holly will we see in this monster clash of high-level war.
Holly Holm has the largest portion of distance striking in Women's Bantamweight history at 89%, has a more than serviceable takedown defense of 78%, and is a southpaw. A style Cyborg is not very seasoned in facing.
How Cyborg Wins
Cyborg will need to understand a reckless attack will not work against Holm. Those long looping punches need to be tightened up and thrown more down the centerline. Fighting a southpaw, you need to clear more distance than usual; taking away the center strike zone offensively and defensively will be absolutely key to her success. She also needs to understand that, although she is the more powerful puncher, she is NOT the better striker and needs to open up Holly’s thought process to having to worry about the takedown early. Although Holly has a stifling takedown defense, a few shots out of the gate can open up many advantages for Cyborg early and often. Making Holly go on the defense in two places opposed to one can make the difference in this fight.
She will also need to clear range of Holly by avoiding Holly’s side kicks to the knee and body, which she uses to reset range and keep the opposition honest. Patience will be a very big factor for Cyborg here, and if she understands that sprinters don’t always win the race, she can strategically wait for the right time to exploit an opening, instead of trying to create one like she does have a tendency of doing far too often.
In Holly’s section below, I talk about Cyborg's predictable pattern that I have noticed in many of her films. In many of her fights, she tends to take her head way too far out of the centerline. This is not instinctive of her to avoid a strike. Even though this seems like it is a slip and follow up movement, it is not. This is built by design in her tool bag. In many cases, like the diagram below, it will seem as if it was perfectly executed defensively and offensively, but Leslie Smith throwing that punch had nothing to do with her slip off centerline. This is a pattern with her. If she does this against Holm and Holm is set, then she will find herself on the wrong end of one of Holly’s monster head kicks and you can bank on it. See below.
Notice the way Cyborg faints with the left by pawing at Leslie. She then loads up, steps off to the left, distributing her force off her back foot and onto a front load, where her head drives far off centerline. If Holly times this properly with a head kick, then this can be lights out for Cyborg.
How Holly Wins
Holly needs to believe that she is far and beyond the better, more polished “technical” striker in this fight. She needs to trust her boxing and trust her years of boxing. If it is going to pay off anywhere in her career, it will, in fact, pay off here. She needs to be patient and play Matador with Cyborg. Let her charge. Let her attack and study her pattern. There is a pattern with Cyborgs striking. It will become a predictable one as well if she waits. Holly will need a calm and clear mind to really nail this down. Her side and front kicks to the body will most likely be her greatest asset in the early going, putting a roadblock up on Cyborg and not allowing her into space she wants to maintain. Keep her honest, and when she feels the energy getting ready to shift, send a message with kicks or a few stiff jabs right down the barrel. This can quickly keep her in check, needing and wanting to reset.
Holly needs to bait her the entire fight. Bait her into those exchanges and play helpless at points while playing matador. Read the pattern and digest the timing. After a round or two, start sending strikes down the middle while protecting herself with tight elbows minimizing her target area. Holly wants to fight cautious, but at the same time, not cautious to a fault. She needs to be fluent and loose. Let her hands go when it’s there and get out of dodge when it seems like the walls are getting ready to close in. Keep this fight in the center of the cage and cut off all angles in both directions, never allowing Cyborg into a confident and comfortable rhythm.
Make her stalk you, but never allow yourself to be put in a corner. Develop a warning track around the cages perimeter, and once you step on or beyond that warning track, circle away and get back towards the middle of the ocean's floor. Use your faints making Cyborg think you are on the attack, egging her to actually attack. Once she does, then you tie a combo together, pop out and reset. Easier said than done, but if anyone can do it, it’s Holly. Bringing you back to Cyborgs diagram, when I discussed her habitual pattern of head exposure, this will show you in a little better detail from the offensive vantage point. See below.
I used this diagram because the majority of you are surely familiar with this fight, but probably never quite looked at it this way, and I am almost certain no one probably showed you this. When Holly initially knocked down Rousey, you will see her in the first frame grab her. Her main goal in the second frame was to toss her off the centerline to her left to set this kick up. In the third frame, when Rousey is clearly there, she pivots off, measures, and the 4th frame is obviously history. Cyborg will give this to Holly on her own a few times in this fight, without her trying to set it up. It will be up to her if she can time it right and get Cyborg to bite multiple times until she dials-in that pattern.
Despite what anyone says to you, I am here to tell you that this is a GREAT fight. Don’t get caught up in the media web of Cyborg being this force that can’t be beaten. So many analysts out there pull you into believing what they foolishly believe. I see it over and over again. It shows that they aren’t using an experienced trained eye to truly study these fights. Styles make fights and this is a stylistic matchup problem for both combatives.
If I knew for a pure fact that this fight was staying on its feet, then I have to be quite honest with you that I would probably lean towards Holly here on points. Although Cyborg holds the clear power advantage, Holly is by far the more sound and technical striker. She understands footwork, angles and range to a science; her durability and will to survive are extremely underrated. She has never been KO’d in MMA play, and when she was choked out by Tate, she never tapped. She literally went out cold and her hands were still punching the dead air, trying to fight as she went to sleep. Now, I am not sure how many of you have ever been put out, but I have been plenty and you know you are going out. You start to fade and feel it coming quick. For her not to tap, knowing she was going to sleep, is pretty damn savage in my book. So her durability and toughness should never be questioned.
The problem for me picking her here is a statement that Cyborg has kept coming back to in her interviews. She keeps telling people that she is more than just a KO artist and that she wants to show the world her world champion pedigree ground game. Some may call that a decoy call, but what if her “A” plan is to really make a statement with her BJJ black belt. Yes, Holm has pretty solid takedown defense, but if Cyborg becomes JetSet on grappling, then Holly Holm can be in for a very tough night. When Holly fought Miesha Tate, she was winning 80% of the exchanges through the fight's entirety. However, the second Tate decided to take this into her world, Holm had no answer and was choked out cold.
Now I am not saying that Cyborg is going to go for the shot right out of the gate, but Holly Holm is going to make her second guess standing with her because I truly believe Holly is going to frustrate her a bit on the feet. After a round or two, Cyborg may pull out her other ace and go ground. Cyborg’s training camp is truly at an elite level right now. She is training her stand up with Jason Perillo, who is arguably one of the best in the world. Her main grappling dance partner is Gabby Garcia, who is not only much bigger than Cyborg but possibly one of the top female BJJ practitioners in the world. Cyborg is still hungry and seems to have a much bigger and ultimate goal. Maybe it is all the time she lost being dusted under the rug, which is making her embrace this time for dear life, but who am I to say.
However, the desire she has to fight shows not in her fighting, but the many times she needed to defy odds and make some of the most brutal weight cuts I have ever seen. That tells a story about who she is and her constitution as a fighter. I just feel that this may be her time right now, and to be quite honest, it is a time that she truly deserves. With that said, there is not a bone in my body that would be shocked if Holly wins this fight. The longer this fight goes and the longer Holly can keep this standing is going to tell the tale of who will reign victorious. No matter if Holly wins or loses this fight, I can assure you one thing. Holly will expose to the world that Cyborg is beatable, and at the very least, a small blueprint will be drawn up on Cyborg's mystique. At the end of the day, I fought back and forth with this one, but I have to lean Cyborg here. I think the X-Factor will be her ground game that I feel she really wants to showcase at some point. Holly will not go quietly into the night and she will also not quit, but at some point, the ref may have to step in. However, but don’t be shocked if Holly shocks the world… Again.
Cristiane Cyborg by way of Referee Stoppage
Khabib Nurmagomedov $9,100 vs. Edson Barboza $7,100
This is a pure matchup of Grappler vs. Striker. Both men are magicians when it comes to their craft. Watching Barboza tie his punches and kicks together is like watching a perfect puzzle being assembled right before your eyes. He has the bodies after strike weight distribution completely dialed in and has the crazy ability to play with it like a game of pinball. He is the only fighter in UFC history to finish two opponents with leg kicks, just to give you a gauge on how crippling his kicks can be in bunches. He will need that tremendous asset when he faces probably the most feared ground fighter in the game today.
Khabib is a master of Sambo and takes great pride in locking horns with the notion of taking you for a little ride to his underworld. Once he has you in his foxhole, he will surgically dissect you until he finds a limb or any sort of an opening to latch onto for the taking. His relentless thirst to take you down coupled with his ability to play chess while most of his opponents are playing checkers is second to none. Whether it’s the heavy smothering top game or his unforgiving ground and pound, on the ground is not where you want to be with Khabib. Weight cutting issues, along with injuries, has plagued this ground warrior quite a few times in his career, but he is back to claim what he feels is rightfully his. As of now, Barboza is in his path. Let us now look at what we know and what we don’t know about both combatives.
What We Know and Don’t Know About Edson Barboza
Barboza’s success starts and ends with his ability to land his kicks, especially against grapplers. The reason why it is more successful with grapplers is due to the fact he utilizes kicks to keep range and send a message with a piping hot power to keep his opponent honest and thinking twice about taking a shot on his hips; something Khabib will be looking to do all night. Edson becomes very active and hot once he feels he is in danger of being taken down. He begins to throw violent exchanges in close quarters just to break free and find space. Strikers, for the most part, like space to work. Barboza has much better success against fighters stepping backward, where he can close distance when he chooses to find the space he needs in order to get full torque and extension on his punches and kicks.
One of the most important aspects of a pure striker's game is timing and rhythm. Allowing a striker to find both on his own merit is much easier then it would be against a fighter who is trying to clear that space himself. What we don’t know is how he will respond to the relentless pressure of Khabib to take the fight to the floor with his forward pressure. However, most importantly, how he will fair once it gets there. A brown belt in BJJ that he rarely showcases may very well need to come in handy to literally survive on the ground. Using it as a defensive tool to stay safe and get to his feet should be the ultimate goal. On the ground with Khabib is not a world you want to visit too long.
What Barboza Needs to Abandon
Barboza tends to throw a lot of spinning back kicks and spinning heel kicks to the head. The spinning back kicks are more to keep a fighter honest when he searches for range and space, while the spinning heel kicks are self-explanatory. He is looking to send your head into the front row. This is something that he really needs to abandon in this fight, believe it or not. Against someone like Khabib that closes the distance quickly, exposing any part of your back for any small period of time can be the difference in winning or losing. Being a split second off or telegraphed in any way, Khabib will be in on his hips faster than a mongoose. See the diagram below for a much better visual.
Despite his undeniable power, Barboza has only escaped going to the cards twice in his last seven victories. He has also been submitted twice in his last three losses, facing in my estimation a lower class of grappler then Khabib. With that said, he does hold over 80% takedown defense and has a 5-inch reach advantage.
What We Know and Don’t Know About Khabib
Khabib is a highly decorated Sambo practitioner, holding three Gold Medals in two different weight classes. His striking is quite awkward and unstable, which is really quite common for such a high-level grappler. He tends to jump into his punches and even throws very odd reverse-style hammer fist uppercuts using the Abductor Pollicis Brevis side of the hand, which is the inside fist where the thumb lies. Although Khabib has an equal balance of KOs to submissions, he really tries to utilize his punches to set up a clear look at your hips in order to get body-to-body with you. Once he’s there, he can use his Sambo/Judo pedigree to either traditionally take you down or use your own weight distribution against you to get you there. He uses a lot of belly-to-belly, Koshi Guruma’s (hip wheels), trips, and his rinse & repeat takedowns are second to none. He can literally steal your desire to fight if he captures you in a systematic progression of takedowns.
Khabib looks to bottle you up on the ground against the cage, making you want to utilize human instinct to go fetal in the process. His top game is extremely heavy, and once he is there, it will take a mixture of sheer will and a sprinkle of luck to get out from under him. How he does this is quite simply stated, but not easily done. He drives his head to the mat, anchoring himself there and giving him a solid frame of balance, but also mounting his head in a spot posted for perfect vision. Once he is there, he will watch and wait like an “eagle” for you to twist or turn the wrong way. One mistake and he will be there to further his already dominant position. Against Michael Johnson, he literally paralyzed him by completely taking away his legs, using a top position Leg Triangle to stop any chances of Michael Johnson to escape. At this point, his lower extremity is now useless and he is in panic mode. This is hard to visualize so below is a perfect diagram for you to follow what I mean by anchoring the head and the leg triangle he used.
Notice to the left how Khabib plants his head to the mat, giving him an extra heavy and balanced top game while he searches to trap one of the arms of Johnson here. Now, look how he traps that arm in between his legs, developing a side control Crucifix and leaving Johnson helpless at this point. Continue below…
Notice, once he has Johnson set up, he keeps his head driving forward while keeping his frame heavy and protecting his neck from any type of choke. He then slides his left leg behind both of Johnson’s legs. In the second frame, he completes the scoop and develops somewhat of a leg triangle, leaving Johnson completely helpless with no ability to use his lower extremities and putting him in a very bad situation. This is just a small dose of his ground brilliance, awareness and ground IQ.
What we don’t know about Khabib is how he will fair if Barboza’s over 80% takedown defense stifles him, making this a war on the feet. Will he be able to handle the power of Barboza in a three-round affair if by some chance he can’t get it to the mat, or will he stick to the task at hand and relentlessly keep pursuing? All valid concerns.
What Khabib Needs to Abandon
The image above shows Khabib has a very bad habit of dropping his left hand down way too far, exposing his head, and also keeping his right-hand way to high, exposing his body. Someone like Barboza will eat that up and spit it out. Khabib needs to be very aware of this and try to be a little more conservative with his striking. He needs to watch the looping punches, leaping forward, and not get caught up in a machine gun exchange with Barboza.
Khabib averages six takedowns per affair. However, keep in mind this is a cushioned stat from one fight, where he scored 21 takedowns against Abel Trujillo. However, it does show just how jet set he is on getting this to the streets.
The outcome of this fight is really going to be determined by a few things, but nothing more important than where it ends up (Standing or On the Ground). If Barboza can truly stay out of Khabibs danger zone and keep this upright, then I assure you Khabib's body and chin will be tested. I do have my concerns that Khabib's chin will be seriously tested. On the flip side of the coin, Barboza will have to do this by constantly retreating away from the takedown threat of Khabib, which may make him a little gun shy in the opening minutes. If Barboza does get taken down, he does have the explosive ability to get back up rather quickly before Khabib starts to settle in position. With that said, Khabib tends to do his best work when you are trying to get up, which most likely can cause a rinse and repeat process. Eventually, if you give Khabib enough chances, he will settle on you like lacker. Barboza’s best chance in this fight is to either stay upright and outclass Khabib on the feet, outpointing him, or working heavy leg kicks early and often to soften up Khabibs frame, taking the initial explosion away from the shot.
If he does end up catching Khabib with something big, then you can bet that Khabib will instinctively look to go ground instantly. How possible is this you ask? It is very possible. Khabib's hard weight cuts, layoffs and reckless stand up can very much be a nail in his undefeated record if he makes one mistake. With that said, I feel Khabib may have some trouble in the early going with timing his shots and maybe even keeping him down. But eventually, he will be able to get this to the ground securely and show Barboza that his ground game is very real. If Khabib truly did get his body right and he finally learns the dynamics of his weight cut, then I really won’t pick many people against him. From what I am hearing, he is very much on target to make weight and I can never pick against him confidently. It is going to take someone more like “Ferg” to question me picking Khabib. Khabib will send Barboza down the ranks, looking to climb back up the ladder, while Khabib still has his eyes set on the strap.
Khabib Nurmagomedov by way of Submission
Dan Hooker $7,500 vs. Marc Diakiese $8,700
There are pros and cons to Diakiese losing to Drakkar Klose in his last fight. The con is that he lost but the pro is that he got his first “L” out of the way, which sometimes is a good thing. I will humble you and show you that you can’t take anyone lightly in this sport. I think Diakiese took that fight a little lightly and was taught a very valuable lesson. We shall now see what he learned from it if he learned anything at all. You can’t deny his athletic ability and the potential to cause havoc in any minute of any fight, but he does tend to get a little excited and reckless. Dan Hooker is one of those guys that is a good fighter but anytime he fights someone of any value he seems to lose. Maybe not get starched but does lose. He is a tough fighter that plays to the defensive drum quite well and Mark may feel less productive in the early going, but eventually, the athletic ability of Diakiese will shine through here. Coming off his first loss and obviously something to prove, I am sure he really want to get back into the win column. I think he does so on Saturday night he def should try to do so with caution.
Marc Diakiese by way of KO
Cynthia Calvillo $9,200 vs. Carla Esparza $7,000
I think Esparza is being a little disrespected with the pricing here. I mean the girl took Thug Rose down 5 times and beat her up to a decision. She has fought JJ in which she lost, Tecia Torres in which she won, Juliana Lima in which she won, and others. The Cookie Monster is no pushover by any stretch of the imagination. The problem she may run into is that Cynthia Calvillo just continues to impress me on the ground. Her creativity to get out of bad positions and making them a positive is honestly amazing to watch. Her transitions, her strings of submissions, and her quick fluent hips when she is on her back. Carla Esparza can and will take her down, but it will be up to Carla to really be aware of her limbs at all times. She will have to really use her wrestling pedigree to center her weight and make sure it is all distributed properly. If there is one mistake or opening when she is down there in top control Cynthia will find it and capitalize. Cynthia has emerged as one of the top break out fighters this year. However, She is going to need her toolbox when she faces the All-American wrestling pedigree of Carla Esparza. This is a much harder fight to pick then the pricing seems to make it. Cynthia is not worth $9,200 if Esparza understands that her wrestling got her here. If she has that Khabib mentality of constantly looking for a takedown then this will be a very dangerous fight for Cynthia, especially on the cards if she can secure a few takedowns in a close fight. 9200 is a little too pricey for my liking. Esparza is a much better fighter than 7k. I am going to take a flier here and take the Wrestler that has seen much better opposition. This is more of a fade on Calvillo than it is a play on Esparza, but I will still take a shot on the dog.
Carla Esparza by way of Decision
Carlos Condit $8,500 vs. Neil Magny $7,700
Carlos Condit at one time was an absolute savage. Anyone who has never watched him fight, I urge you to do so. This guy has fought the most brutal fighters in history and went to war with all of them. The Nickname “Natural Born Killer” is highly earned by his performance in the cage. Look at the guys he has went toe to toe with on his resume and you will see exactly what I am talking about. Nick Diaz, GSP, Hendricks, Woodley, Lawler, Rory Macdonald, Demian Maia, Dan Hardy and a slew of others in their primes. The problem with Conditt is that he is an aging fighter and he isn’t what he once was. I know what you are saying. “He is only 33.” Well, there is a big difference in actually being 33 and being a war-torn 33. This guy has been in some BRUTAL wars. I mean BRUTAL. Enough so that he retired for a while after his loss to Demian Maia. With that said, Neil Magny is none of those fighters that he fought by a country mile. The issue here is why is he coming back? He says he has been training and he feels he started evolving again. If that is the truth then I am interested. However, if it is money and needing to pay the bills then it is understandable but something I will be able to see in the early going of the fight. I know Carlos Condit and I WILL know if he is there to scrap or get a payday. Condit has been busy in his 1-year hiatus with other ventures such as a coffee company and a Lunch Spot that he is partners in, but who knows if they are succeeding or not. He openly said if he wins in spectacular fashion, collects the bonus and it helps fund his coffee business then who knows maybe it will be it. But he said it really is a hard thing to answer until after he is back in the cage. So the unknown here is scary because sometimes fighters tend to feel cornered to fight, even if it has the expense of their health. They know nothing else, and at 33 years-of-age, he has a long life ahead of him where he needs to produce. With that said if you take the best Neil Magny and 70 percent of Conditt to a fight, Conditt wins all day. I am going to be very curious to see if Magny brings that same pressure against a guy like Carlos. I do not agree with this price because I think they are pricing this from the Conditt that they remember. I think it is closer than the price shows. With that said, Get ready Ladies and Gentleman… If Carlos is back for all the for the right reasons then welcome back THE NATURAL BORN KILLER.
Carlos Condit by way of Decision
Khalil Rountree $9,400 vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk $6,800
Roundtree is one of those guys that you hate to love in the MMA arena. The guy throws with snap and some extremely heavy power, but whenever he fights someone that has any sort of a wrestling game you need to really second guess picking him. The fortunate thing for Roundtree in this fight is that he is fighting another stand-up fighter that very rarely likes to take things to the ground. Michal is a very bizarre fighter to watch. I can’t tell if he’s crafty with power on his feet or his opposition just really sucks. However, one thing that I have noticed in his film is that this guy can be hit by birdshit from a mile away. His defense is completely flawed and I am not sure it is something that can be fixed quick enough for the toughest fight of his career. The odd thing about his fights is that it seems that he is losing the majority of them and then he just connects with something and the fight is over. With that said the difference between getting starched and coming back on the regional circuit and doing it on the UFC platform is a large gap. Roundtree still has some holes in his striking even tho it is his bread and butter but that can also be because his takedown defense is so weak that he is focusing on it so much during his fights taking away from what he can do purely on his feet. He will need to still be careful because the kid does have something in his fists that are putting people to sleep but I think Roundtree welcomes this kid into a debuting nightmare and doesn’t allow him to recover once he clips him. This can be target practice for Roundtree here and a great way to showcase his heavy hands. I never like the fear of the unknown when it comes to debuting fighters but this is Rountree’s fight to win and the UFC knows it.
Khalil Rountree by way of KO
Myles Jury $8,800 vs. Rick Glenn $7,400
Myles Jury seemed like one of those kids coming out that was going to be special. A little too cocky for my liking but he surely seemed talented. Supporting a undefeated record coming into the UFC due to a fight that wasn’t recorded that he lost against Al Iaquinta. Jury stormed into the UFC stringing together six straight wins and then ran into a man by the name of Donald Cowboy Cerrone that handed him his first official lose by a lopsided decision. 1 year later he returned in what we all thought would be a grapplers special against the highly decorated BJJ practitioner Charles Oliveira and was caught in a choke halfway through the first round. The spotlight began to fade on Jury a bit and he went on a 1.5 year hiatus. On his return against Mike De La Torre, he showed that he was still a threat with a TKO finish in the very first round. As much as I see the talent in him, it seems as if he hasn’t been able to open up the floodgates and Rick Glenn is the type of fighter that will demand Myles to open them up if they are going to ever open. Rick Glenn is like a Frankenstein. The guy doesn’t look like much but he can really take a beating and just keep moving forward. My biggest gripe with him is that he really is what he is if that makes any sense. Easier stated, he will not have any rabbits in his hat. He will either take punishment and move forward until you break or he just outworks you on the feet or he doesn’t. The X-factor in this fight to me is the Athletic ability of Glenn just not being there and not a very good wrestler at all and Myles is a pretty crafty grappler on the ground, holding a black belt in BJJ. The problem on Jury’s side is you wonder what Jury we will get. The way I see this playing out is Glenn pushing the pace and pressure on the feet until Jury decides to slow him down on the ground. If Myles does get his control on the ground then he may steal the round he does so. Glenn will continue to push forward on the feet and it will be Jury’s job to stay nimble and clear of his path while staying out of the clinch. The blueprint is quite easy with Glenn, but for some reason he tends to draw people into his fight. If Jury keeps moving and doesn’t let Glenn find a Rhythm for too long then this should be his fight to win or lose. If he wins this fight then I will keep one eye on Jury again, and if he doesn’t maybe the well just ran dry before it ever flowed to its maximum potential. However, Rick Glenn is not a man to be taken lightly.
Myles Jury by way of Decision
Marvin Vettori $8,600 vs. Omari Akhmedov $7,600
Marvin Vettori is someone that I have had an eye for a while. I am not certain what my full thoughts on him just yet but this fight may help me see a little more clear. “The Italian Dream”
Has quietly made a small stake in the UFC with his 2-1 run in the UFC only to be beaten by Antonio Carlos Junior and to his credit he was not submitted by him either, which is an accomplishment in itself for some. In his three total losses in his MMA career, he has never been finished by KO or submission so he made it clear that you will need to really work if you want to stop him inside the horn. Akhmedov is a big Welterweight and Vettori is a true Middleweight, so I am expecting Omari to be the faster and more explosive fighter early. However, Vettori has quite the defensive game in which he showed impressively against Antonio Carlos Junior. He was able to hold great balance as Antonio was on the attack and was even able to reverse position on the ground wizard quite a few times. Before his jump to the UFC Omari was cleaning house with majority of his fights ending in the 1st round and a few in the 2nd. Once taking the plunge his luck rotated back to earth. After his humbling loss to Gunnar Nelson in the 1st round, he won four of his next six. However, three of the four have come by way of decision. I am expecting him to come out guns blazing in round one and as the fight goes farther I think The Italian prospect starts to take over the fight with his size, ability to stuff a shot, and cardio. Possibly even getting a late finish. He will need to weather the early storm to do so tho. I think he does. The UFC needs a face for every country. It does nothing but benefit them, and I really think they want this kid to win this fight so Italy can adopt a possible contender, but Omari is a very dangerous opponent for him.
Marvin Vettori by way of Decision
Louis Smolka $7,300 vs. Matheus Nicolau $8,900
This is a fight that can be on your possible radar and here is why. Smolka seems to rack up most of his DK points when someone pulls the grappling card heavy and hard on him. Winning or losing his transitions that he is involved in will always keep the fight active and flowing. He will not wow you with volume striking but if this goes to the ground and he is pushed hard enough, Smolka can start hitting reverses and advances to force Nicolau to play the same game. Nicolau is a Black Belt in BJJ and is no stranger to a good Ole’ fashion ground scrap. After a potential fight with wirey scrambler Ulka Sasaki was derailed by USADA issues, he is now in line to take on another scrambler in Smolka. Sometimes when you take two very good grapplers and throw them into a cage, you will see a sluggish stand up fight. However, all it takes is one of the two to truly have a bolster of confidence that their ground game is that much better and the button will be pushed on the opposing fighter. Smolka has fell on to some hard times as of late losing his last three appearances in the cage. To his defense, the opposition had no mercy in the talent department fighting the likes of Brandon Moreno, Ray Borg and Tim Elliott. If this ends up being a game of top this on the ground then we could be in for a hell of a grappling exchange, but the thing that does concern me is if Matheus fights like he fought against the high level wrestler in John Moraga. The fight was extremely sluggish and they both just chose to pop shot here and there on the feet. So it is more concerning for Nicolau at that price of 8900. He will need to be extremely active to cover that price and with a guy like Smolka who may not be a killer, He has never been KO’d and he has only been submitted once. On the flip side, the 24-year-old has only been KO’d once and has never been submitted. Louis Smolka holds clearly the more value and opportunity to hit value at $7,300 and I actually think he has a pretty good shot in winning this fight. Although I like this kids talent, I am going to take the Dog here.
Louis Smolka by way of Decision
Tim Elliott $9,000 vs. Mark De La Rosa $7,200
Mark De La Rosa’s film really impressed me. He has extremely high level boxing and he works so well behind his jab while moving away. He circles away extremely well and will throw 2-3 jabs in your face on the way out. He does things that true high pedigree boxers only can do. Outside of his boxing he is pretty well rounded. He has decent wrestling and a serviceable submission game to his credit as well. The key to this fight is truly going to boil down to 2 things. 1) will he be able to stuff Elliots takedowns and 2) how will he be down the stretch on last minutes notice in a debuting fight here. Tim Elliot really doesn’t impress me all that much to be honest. I know in a draftkings setting you can’t not consider giving him a nod because of his ability to rack up takedowns, but overall he made his name on a loss against DJ. If De La Rosa can keep this standing, then Elliot can and will possibly get outclassed for 3 rounds, but De La Rosa’s takedown defense is still not out of the Jury’s panel just yet. Although I will not be shocked at all if De La Rosa wins this fight, I am going with Elliot pushing a pace hard enough where he eventually gets a few takedowns stealing him enough rounds to win the decision.
Tim Elliott by way of Decision
- Cristiane Cyborg $9,300 - She will be very popular in this fight, and to be honest, this isn’t the walk in the park that people think. I will have some exposure to her because of her volume, but Holly Holm has never been KO’d and is an extremely dangerous counter striker. She may be in for a serious fight. This is her toughest test, by far.
- Holly Holm $6,900 - She has her hands full here for sure. But one of the most decorated female boxers in history won’t be rattled. She has seen everything that you can throw at her and will not back down if it comes to a firefight. She will be in this fight… She is in this fight, and at $6,900, I will have a few punts on her just in case she still has a little magic left over in her pocket from when she shocked the world against Ronda Rousey.
- Khabib Nurmagomedov $9,100 - He will be one of the chalkiest on the card for good reason. When he is healthy, he does seem unstoppable. The takedowns, the grappling and the pressure; it is all there. I will have my shares on him for sure, but I will also have some shares off him to try and avoid some of the field in GPPs.
- Edson Barboza $7,100 - Barboza will really need to keep his hips in space and hope to catch Khabib with something big. He has the power and the striking to do so, but I am not sure how long he will be able to keep Khabib at bay. With that said, all it takes is one shot from him to change the balance of a fight.
- Dan Hooker $7,500 - I am really not too interested here, outside of his most likely super low ownership.
- Marc Diakiese $8,700 - Coming off his first loss, and with his athletic ability and style, it can make up for a great night. However, the thing with Diakiese is you will either strike gold with him or have a stinker. I do like him here, but with a very high ceiling, he does come with a pretty low floor as well. With so many big names up at the top, he can make for a sneaky GPP play though, if he goes towards the direction of his ceiling.
- Cynthia Calvillo $9,200 - Seriously, what is not to like about this girl… Well her price… Not sure what warranted a $9,200 price tag against a high pedigree wrestler in Esparza. Calvillo does have the uncanny ability to score points due to her reverses and transitions on the ground, and she may very well hit value, but I struggle to understand this price tag.
- Carla Esparza $7,000 - She will not take you down and rack up a ton of points off active strikes, but she will take you down, and as long as she doesn’t get caught in something, you can bet she will have a few. At $7k, she is a worth a look in a few lineups for sure.
- Carlos Condit $8,500 It is the Natural Born Killer; of course, I have to have a small dose of him. With that said, the main reason for a few small stabs is more for the fact I do think Magny will be highly owned. So a stab or two going the other way is not a bad idea in GPPs.
- Neil Magny $7,700 - He is a live dog for sure and will probably be decently owned. $7,700 for a very live dog is always nice to see. We have no idea what Conditt will look like or what Conditt we will get. So both plays are shots in the dark. With that said, Neil is in play if you don’t fear the unknown.
- Khalil Rountree $9,400 - My only struggle here is his price. At $9,400, unless you are super active, you would ultimately need a first-round finish with some activity. There is no denying that Roundtree can do that and I will have a few plays on him, but I will also tread lightly in case Michal decides to stick around for a while.
- Michal Oleksiejczuk $6,800 - After watching the film on him, I really don’t see it. With that said, a punch is a punch is a punch, and this is a fight. But he is most likely going to have to catch Roundtree early to get this done before Roundtree touches that chin. I just don’t see it happening.
- Myles Jury $8,800 - Although I am not sure I agree with this price, his potential is there. Jury is a very talented and crafty fighter on the ground with better speed and athletic ability over his foe. I am thinking he will go underlooked because Glenn will be highly owned for his price tag and his ability to take punishment. If Jury gets this to the ground and stays there, this can be a decent spot for him and you. However, you just don’t know what Myles you will get. I will have a few stabs on him cause of his low ownership, but the “Jury” is still out on who shows up.
- Rick Glenn $7,400 - Glenn is tough as nails and keeps moving forward. This dude will eat five to land one and brings constant pressure. He will be at a speed, athletic and ground chops disadvantage, but it really never stopped him before. He is a dog with a strong pounding heartbeat, but prepare to be joined by a decent amount of people.
- Marvin Vettori $8,600 - I like this kid. Now at his age is when he should learn the most in the quickest time frame. This is a tough test, but I think he can outwork Omari with his impressive takedown defense and overall ability. I am just wondering if he will hit value.
- Omari Akhmedov $7,600 - At $7,600, his takedown style game plan is nice for DK. He pushes a hard pace, he is aggressive, but he does tend to fade later in the fight. He is not out of the question and does hold some good upside if he wins, but there are other baskets I trust a little bit more.
- Louis Smolka $7,300 - At $7,300, you play Smolka hoping for grappling exchanges. His ability to reverse and advance position is very good and he is fairly active in scrambles. I like his price tag here and I like his chances.
- Matheus Nicolau $8,900 - I know this kid is good, but he really doesn’t do all that much for me. His pace, his style, and his price tag are all something I probably won’t pay too much attention to come Saturday night.
- Tim Elliott $9,000 - $9k is a little pricey, but the guy can have another one of those double-digit takedown nights if he is on. You just need to pick him on the right night. Elliott has had the tendency to either send you in the green or torch you. The upside is there.
- Mark De La Rosa $7,200 - There is only one reason why I will have a flier on him. His boxing is very, very good. He moves well and he really knows how to work behind that jab. If he can stay on his feet and allude Elliott's takedowns, his boxing could be on full showcase. But temper your expectations.
Bets to Consider
- Holly Holm/Cyborg Over 1.5 -260
- Roundtree by KO/TKO -210
Dog Bet to Consider
- Smolka +185
- Esparza +210
To the Elite Mafia Faithful, I would like to thank every single one of you for riding with me through this past year. It has been truly an honor to get to know all of you in the chat and watching you win/learn more about MMA. I wish you and your loved ones nothing but the greatest New Year to come: Health, Success and Happiness.
I appreciate every single one of you.