Last week’s Fox card from Chicago didn’t exactly go the way I saw it going. I was convinced that if the Elkins fight went to the judges then he would get his hand raised; he didn’t. Cerrone, I thought, would force his opponent to tap; instead another head kick scored a knockout. The last two almost went exactly to plan. Miocic was taken the distance, landing us a 6/4 winner in the process while Benson Henderson impressed nobody en route to a decision that he probably shouldn’t have gotten. He landed us an 11/10 winner but I would have had no arguments if it had lost.
Still, the aim of the game is profit and those last two winners kept the book green and us in a small profit. The entire event generated a 15% ROI as we ended up with a profit of £0.60p on the night and £8.95 on the year. That also cemented three profitable events from three so it’s safe to say that it’s been a good start to a year with more events than any other in history.
So, its Superbowl weekend, a flagship event, and we get the first numbered card of the year. Not only this but a double headliner. In an ultra-competitive card I need to find a way to avoid backing Overeem since I promised never to tip him again. Can we go four in a row? Who knows?
Varner v Trujillo:
Jamie Varner may be getting a bit of a name for himself as the go to guy when the UFC needs a late replacement for a fight. Stepping in on late notice he shocked the attending crowd by dismantling the Lightweight prospect Edson Barboza in the first round. He now steps in at late notice for Bobby Green.
As a former WEC champion it hasn’t been easy for Varner to get any form of run going. The Barboza defeat proved to be a false dawn as he was submitted by Joe Lauzon in the follow up. He then took a split decision over Melvin Guillard before losing by the same method to Gleison Tibau.
Abel Trujillo has had a stuttering start to his own UFC career. After stopping Marcus LeVesseur he was soundly beaten by Nurmagomedov before going into back to back fights with Roger Bowling. The first was a No Contest due to an illegal knee by Trujillo, one that he accused Bowling of making a little too much of. The second fight was not as controversial as Trujillo despatched his opponent early in the second round.
Recently Varner has been making a few noises about looking to retire from MMA at 32. As that is only three years away, and despite being a former WEC champion, with his career stalling the signs are there that he may be losing a big of interest. With that in mind I’ll be taking a little action on the underdog just to win the fight. Trujillo can be backed at 5/4 just to win and that’s enough for me. If Varner shows up with a full heart then the fight is his to take, if not then he could be picked apart.
Recommendation: To Win the Fight: Abel Trujillo – 5/4 (+125) @ Sportingbet
Lineker v Bagautinov:
This is a fight that I have pegged down as the dark horse for Fight of the Night. On paper it is arguably the most competitive fight on the card and one that can go either way. As we saw last week with Caceres and Pettis a fight outside of the main event, even when that main event goes five rounds in a split decision, can still catch the eye of the boss.
John Lineker has been very kind to me by winning me a few pounds in each of his fights. A fighter with a devastating right hand his finishes are pretty easy to predict. Sadly for Lineker he hasn’t been quite as kind to himself, missing weight on his last two fights and three in his five UFC appearances. Had he made weight then I believe he would have either fought for the title or be booked for a title fight right now.
Ali Bagautinov has been similarly impressive, albeit only over two fights. One of the many Russian imports into the UFC, as they plan an event there later this year, he has been picked by many as a potential headliner for that card. That is predicated with a win here, and that is far from a formality.
Due to previous weight issues it is believed that Lineker has brought in Mike Dolce to assist with the weight cut. While he may have no issues in cutting this time it could potentially leave him lethargic should this go into the later rounds. Lineker’s power punching has typically seen his fights end early so the cardio isn’t fully tested.
Bagautinov is an incredibly well rounded fighter with a background in Pankration, Sambo, Wrestling and Hand to Hand Combat. If deployed effectively then he should be able to overpower Lineker and take him into the later rounds where I would expect him to look for a submission, much in the same way that Louis Gaudinot did to such effect in Lineker’s debut.
Recommendation: Method of Victory: Ali Bagautinov by Submission – 7/2 (+350) @ Ladbrokes
Mir v Overeem:
Ever since this matchup was announced the critics and fans alike have labelled this as a ‘loser leaves town’ fight, which is understandable given the UFCs habit of pink slipping fighters who have dropped three in a row. If they have put on spectacular fights then they can be given a chance or two over the quota but that’s an area neither of these fighters has found themselves in lately.
Alistair Overeem enters the octagon looking to avoid the second three fight skid of his career, the first of which came at the end of his Pride run. Since then he has been largely dominant in K1, Dream and Strikeforce. Despatching Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut things have pretty much slipped downhill for the Dutchman. A nine-month ban for elevated testosterone cost him a title shot and showboating against Bigfoot on his return. He ran into an unstoppable Travis Browne in August despite being in a position where Browne was in trouble.
Frank Mir has already dropped three straight and surely must be drinking in the last chance saloon. A contentious stoppage last time out against Barnett aside, he was dominated by Cormier previously and couldn’t get close to dos Santos before that. At 34 he must be entering the twilight of a long career that has kept him almost exclusively in the UFC since his debut in 2001. Mir finds himself becoming increasingly irrelevant in a division that requires a more diverse skillset than he currently possesses.
I absolutely hate myself for this but I am being forced to opt for Overeem, despite wanting desperately to fade him. The truth of the matter is that while both fighters are beyond their prime it is Overeem for whom I can see a clear path to victory. Mir is great on the ground by the former K1 champion will prevent him from going there, just like he did with Lesnar. I really wanted the odds on Under 1.5 rounds to be attractive but they are not, as the bookies see this the same as me. It’s unlikely to go late but I am not convinced that the end of the first will be reached. Mir got stopped in the first by Barnett and an on-point Overeem is far deadlier than The Warmaster. IF Overeem has learned his lessons of the past then he’ll take no chances or liberties, he won’t showboat or strut, he’ll get in and out and keep his career intact.
Recommendation: Round Betting: Alistair Overeem in Round One – 5/6 (-120) @ Ladbrokes
Aldo v Lamas:
I am starting to suspect that there may be something in the water being served at the Nova Uniao gym. Not only do they house the current Bantamweight champion in Renan Barao but also the current Featherweight champion in Jose Aldo. With those two, similarly weighted, fighters sparring together you would have to ask whether either can ever be beaten. It’s accepted that at some stage both will move up a weight class but this will be contingent on it happening at the same time as Barao would immediately become the number one contender to Aldo’s belt.
At just 27 and the owner of a single defeat it is easy to forget just how good Jose Aldo actually is. Riding a 16 fight streak he has pretty much cleaned out not only his division in the UFC but also in the WEC where he went undefeated. He is currently the only Featherweight champion in UFC history.
Fresh from a comfortable win over an injured Korean Zombie returns to the octagon for only his sixth fight in 3 years. A motorcycle accident shelved him for over a year in 2012 after he managed to knock out Chad Mendes, only returning to a close five rounder with Frankie Edgar in 2013.
Getting a belated shot at the title is Ricardo Lamas, who is on a four fight streak of his own and beaten the likes of Hioki, Koch and Swanson to get to this position. Overlooked for a title shot last year in favour of Korean Zombie he has spent a year on the bench waiting for the coach to throw him in. On Saturday (or Sunday if the weather gets its way) he gets his chance.
Lamas will look to utilise his key strengths which is essentially his wrestling. A former NCAA amateur wrestling champion he will look to neutralise the kicking of Aldo by closing down the range and taking him to the floor. He will need to be mindful of this tactic as his wrestling his inferior to Chad Mendes and he found himself out cold in the first round.
Aldo, by contrast, will look to keep this standing and effectively nullify the takedowns of Lamas by kicking his lead leg to a useless stump as has been his way so many times before. If he manages to achieve this tactic and stay on his feet then the stoppage is the only way this goes and the only point of contention is when. I can’t back Aldo at 8/15 to win by KO/TKO so I’ll be taking a little value bet at Under 2.5 Rounds which offers a little more.
Recommendation: Round Betting: Under 2.5 Rounds – 4/5 (-125) @ bet365
Barao v Faber:
When you lose a fighter of Dominick Cruz’s calibre then you would expect any card to be weakened. In an act of addition by subtraction we get a more competitive fight as the very active Urijah Faber looks to take what may be his final chance to grab the gold.
Barao has been nothing short of impressive since entering the UFC in 2011. Unbeaten since his debut fight in 2005 he now enters his 9th unbeaten year and looks to extend his undefeated run to 32 fights. While many of those victories have come on the regional circuit do not forget that this is a man who has also fought in Shooto and the WEC before getting to the big time. Since being here he has submitted Brad Pickett and Michael McDonald (both in fights in England), taken decisions over Jorgensen, Escovedo and Faber while knocking out Eddie Wineland in his last defence as ‘Interim’ champion. Make no mistake; Renan Barao is a beast and the Bantamweight equivalent of Anderson Silva.
Urijah Faber didn’t need to be asked twice when taking this fight at short notice. Cruz’s withdrawal left Barao without an opponent and despite submitting Michael McDonald in mid-December the California Kid stepped up to the plate on what may be his final shot.
Faber has never been in need of friends or fans during his UFC career and doesn’t know how to put on bad fights. The Team Alpha Male standout has only lost to UFC champions since transitioning from the WEC, with his last defeat there coming against a current champion in Jose Aldo. The guy has pedigree and bags of talent. What he doesn’t have is time; at 34 the landscape is changing and the more opportunities will become fewer.
After an inactive 2012 where he lost by decision to Barao he has rebounded back with four straight wins in 2013, submitting Jorgensen, Menjivar and McDonald (the latter two earning him Submission of the Night honours) as well as dominating Alcantara in a decision win.
As much as I like Faber as a person (I got to ask him a couple of questions at a Q&A a few years back) and as a fighter, I cannot help but feel that he is coming up against the total package. Faber may nick a round, but he won’t beat Barao. It would take a punch, kick or submission of the Hail Mary variety to enforce the stoppage. The Barao of 2014 is more rounded and aggressive than the Barao of 2012 and the Nova Uniao will surely take this by another unanimous decision. Faber has never been submitted, and he hasn’t been knocked out in six years so a decision feels very comfortable.
Recommendation: Method of Victory: Renan Barao by Decision – 5/4 (+125) @ Skybet