UFC 223 is an incredible card with an abundance of entertaining fights. More importantly, there are plenty of great betting opportunities for us to take advantage of. Here is a betting preview of the prelims and main card.
Evan Dunham vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier
This is a tough test for Canadian grappling standout, Olivier Aubin-Mercier.
Evan Dunham is a well-rounded veteran with great wrestling and solid boxing combinations. Theoretically, Dunham should be able to nullify Aubin-Mercier’s wrestling attack and use his superior boxing to win the fight on points.
However, Dunham has never been the fastest fighter and at age 36, that’s not going to change. Aubin-Mercier has speed and youth in his favour.
The big question is how much has Aubin-Mercier’s striking improved in recent years? It’s hard to know, and that’s why I recommend passing on this fight.
Joe Lauzon vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
If this match happened three years ago, I would have no hesitation in playing Lauzon as a moderate favourite. While Lauzon undoubtedly has the superior skill set, he’s taken an obscene amount of damage in his career and could be on the decline. Lauzon’s all-action style has been great for racking up post-fight bonuses, but it’s not a good style for longevity.
In his last two fights, we’ve seen Lauzon get flatlined by Clay Guida, who is not much of a puncher, and outpointed by Stevie Ray. Alarmingly, Lauzon’s cardio failed him badly against Ray, despite dominating the first round.
Gruetzemacher is no master technician, but he does have good cardio and punch resistance. He wouldn’t be the first fighter to build a career off those two attributes.
If Lauzon doesn’t secure a submission in the first round, he could face an onslaught by the relentless Gruetzemacher in rounds two and three. Fights aren’t won on paper. Despite being the less technical fighter, Chris Gruetzemacher is the pick here at 13/10.
Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno
Ray Borg was comprehensively outclassed by flyweight kingpin, Demetrious Johnson, but there’s no shame in that. Borg is still an excellent fighter, known for his relentless wrestling and suffocating top position control.
Brandon Moreno has a lethal array of opportunistic submissions in his arsenal. While a little unrefined on the feet, he has some explosive striking that Borg needs to watch out for.
While Moreno is the more potent finisher, he’s unquestionably the inferior wrestler. Conventional wisdom states that Borg rides out all three rounds in top position, so placing Ray Borg by points at 20/23 is not a bad bet.
However, given that the majority of this fight is likely to take place on the mat, Brandon Moreno by submission holds immense value at 21/2.
Anthony Pettis vs. Michael Chiesa
This is one of the most difficult fights on the card to predict. There are so many ways that the fight could conceivably end.
Pettis could land a highlight reel taekwondo kick to score a KO, either fighter could lock in a submission and either fighter could win on points
When given space to operate, Pettis is normally able to dominate striking exchanges. However, when you pressure, suffocate and take him down, he has been known to fold. You have to think Chiesa will aim to execute a grapple-heavy gameplan here.
Pettis has shown a weakness in his defencive wrestling, so it’s likely we see a lot of action on the mat where either fighter could latch onto an arm or neck.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Felice Herrig
After losing a decision to Paige VanZant in 2015, Felice Herrig looked like your typical run-of-the-mill strawweight. Not a bad fighter by any means, but probably not someone who would make any waves either.
Subsequently, it was revealed that Herrig had been battling chronic insomnia. Since making some lifestyle adjustments, Herrig has been on a tear, defeating her last four opponents. People started paying attention when she cashed as a 3/1 underdog against highly touted Mexican prospect, Alexa Grasso.
On the other hand, Karolina Kowalkiewicz has looked excellent since entering the UFC, relying on her crisp muay thai to rack up numerous decision victories. Her only losses came to an impossibly strong grappler, Claudia Gadelha, and the only fighter in the division with more striking finesse, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Can Herrig outstrike Kowalkiewicz or land takedowns and perhaps snatch a submission? It seems unlikely. Kowalkiewicz by points is the play at 23/20.
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder
When Al Iaquinta’s boxing and Paul Felder’s muay thai clash, fans are sure to be entertained. There is a great chance that this fight wins a FOTN bonus, but it’s hard to predict who will come out on top.
Felder is the fighter with all the momentum at the moment, racking up three consecutive KO victories since the beginning of 2017.
Al Iaquinta is also on a four-fight win streak (despite a questionable decision victory over Jorge Masvidal), but inactivity has plagued him. Iaquinta’s conflicts with UFC boss, Dana White, are well publicised and he seems to be focussed on his second career as a real estate agent. Despite his immense talent, it’s hard to know whether Iaquinta’s head is in the fight game at the moment.
Rightly so, the lines are close on this fight. However, if you like the world’s most violent estate agent to win, I recommend making a play on Iaquinta by points at 33/10. Felder is insanely durable – his only TKO loss was due to a nasty cut at the hands of Francisco Trinaldo. If Iaquinta wins the fight, it’s unlikely he puts Felder away.
Renato Moicano vs. Calvin Kattar
Irrespective of the outcome of this fight, Renato Moicano and Calvin Kattar both have a bright future in the UFC’s competitive featherweight division.
Despite looking unremarkable in his pre-UFC footage, Calvin Kattar has set the world ablaze since entering the world’s foremost MMA promotion, outstriking division mainstay, Andre Fili, and highly touted prospect, Shane Burgos. Kattar’s elite boxing-centric striking is the reason he’s a moderate favourite here.
Moicano is a well-rounded fighter with excellent fight IQ. Against Jeremy Stephens, he used his length and reach to frustrate the shorter fighter, and he understands when to land takedowns in order to steal rounds in the eyes of the judges. Moicano could definitely cause Kattar some problems if he’s able to stay at kicking range.
In a fight that’s likely to be a chess match rather than a brawl, bet on the fight going the distance at 5/9.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas
In one of the most shocking upsets in recent years, Rose Namajunas defeated the dominant strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, by first round knockout. There are a lot of unknown variables at play which makes this rematch tough to predict.
Jedrzejczyk had a terrible weight cut leading up to the fight. If this was an isolated incident, then Jedrzejczyk should look far better than she did in her last outing. However, if she’s consistently struggling with the weight cut – she could be in trouble here.
She initially dropped down to strawweight at the age of 26, presumably because the UFC had no flyweight division at the time. This worked out fantastically, but our bodies change as we get older. Now 30 years of age, the drop to 115 pounds might be more difficult these days.
To complicate matters, it’s tough to know exactly how much Namajunas has improved in recent years. Did she look excellent in her last fight, or did Jedrzejczyk simply have a bad night?
While Namajunas could certainly score another early finish, we never saw Jedrzejczyk get into her rhythm. Namajunas is an emotional fighter, and if she starts getting tagged repeatedly by the best jab in women’s mixed martial arts, we may see her lose composure.
In a fight that is difficult to predict, I think there is value on Joanna Jedrzejczyk by points at 43/20.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Max Holloway
Unfortunately, Tony Ferguson had to pull out of this exciting lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov due to a freak knee injury. Stepping in to replace him on less than a week’s notice is UFC featherweight champion, Max Holloway.
Nurmagomedov is perhaps the scariest wrestler to ever compete in MMA.
Elite strikers, Edson Barboza and Michael Johnson, both attempted to deploy a stick-and-move strategy against Nurmagomedov. Both were taken down repeatedly and demolished with ground strikes.
There’s a good chance that the same thing is about to happen to Holloway. However, Nurmagomedov’s 4/25 moneyline represents absolutely no value.
Nurmagomedov’s style is incredibly energy-taxing and we’ve never seen him in a five round fight. We did see him slow down in round three against Barboza.
Holloway is an excellent striker who can push a pace, although we could see his cardio impacted by a gigantic weight cut on short notice. No one knows exactly how good he is at defending takedowns or fighting off his back, but you have to figure he’s well prepared for a grappling onslaught having trained for a fight against Frankie Edgar.
If Holloway is to win, he’s going to have to withstand a barrage of ground strikes in the first few rounds before staging a comeback. This seems unlikely, but not as unlikely as Holloway’s 33/10 moneyline would suggest.
I much prefer a small gamble on Holloway than receiving minimal returns for a straight bet on Nurmagomedov. You could also play Khabib Nurmagomedov by points at 3/1 to ensure you make a profit with any outcome other than a Nurmagomedov finish.
Words by Jack Knopfler