Will Dean was in profit for April and now looks to kick off May with more winners as he previews UFC Fight Night.
3pts Merab Dvalishvili to win by decision at 8/11 (General)
2pts Giga Chikadze and Sean Strickland to win at 6/5 (bet365, Unibet)
1pt TJ Brown to win by (T)KO or submission at 100/30 (BetVictor)
Fresh off the back of one of their most successful and memorable events of all time at UFC 261, the promotion returns to their Apex facility away from the roaring crowds. The chaos is sure to continue though, as this Saturday’s event is headlined by a clash at the top of the Light Heavyweight division, with Dominick Reyes taking on Jiri Prochazka.
The main event will surely be explosive and unpredictable for as long as it lasts, but there is too much volatility involved with these heavy hitters to even begin to suggest a value bet for the main event. However, the rest of the main card action is filled with reliable favourites for a double, as well as an opportunity for an explosive finish in the preliminaries.
Merab Dvalishvili is leading the way for a whole host of Georgian fighters that are waiting to announce themselves in the UFC. Combatants such as Ilia Topuria and Guram Kutateladze have been turning heads in the preliminaries in recent months, but it was Dvalishvili who was the first Georgian to conquer the UFC’s top 15 rankings.
Widely regarded as one of the best wrestlers in the UFC today, The Machine is aptly named due to his seemingly never ending endurance and pressure grappling style. With 54 takedowns landed in just seven UFC bouts, Dvalishvili looks destined to break the current record for most takedowns landed by a single fighter (currently held by Georges St Pierre with 90).
Dvalishvili faces Cody Stamann on Saturday night, the man currently occupying the 13th spot in the rankings. A well rounded athlete with both competent striking and grappling abilities, Stamann has proved himself to be a determined and durable fighter. Despite this, the American has often failed when taking a step up to the highest level competition, and I expect him to fall short once again here.
Dvalishvili’s grappling heavy approach is so suffocating and dominant that the possibility of seeing him lose a decision seems incomprehensible. Considering the nature of his style, it seems like the scorecards are already written in his favour, and the only way to defeat the Georgian would be via knockout or submission.
While Stamann certainly holds the striking advantage in this fight, he seems to lack the finishing accumun required. Having never won via stoppage in the UFC and seeing seven of his eight bouts go to the distance, I struggle to see how he can win this fight against a relentless takedown artist that will control the dominant position for 15 minutes without breaking a sweat.
Although Dvalishvili has been dominant throughout his ongoing five fight winning streak, his opponents have never been in any real danger due to the grappling heavy approach. The Georgian throws strikes purely to remain active on top and give his opponents something to think about, not with serious intentions of ending the fight. The same can be said for his submissions, having attempted just two in almost two hours of fight time. Given these tendencies, it is not surprising to see that The Machine has won nine of his 12 victories on points.
The stage therefore seems set for DVALISHVILI TO WIN BY DECISION for the sixth fight in a row, and the 8/11 price seems more than generous for a fighter who is 2/5 to win outright.
Another Georgian fighter that recently entered the Featherweight top 15 rankings is GIGA CHIKADZE, a highly decorated kickboxer that transitioned his career towards MMA just six years ago. Ninja will be looking for his sixth consecutive UFC victory and the first notable name on his record with a victory over Cub Swanson.
At 37 years of age, Swanson finds himself at a complicated time in his career. It has become evident to the veteran that he can no longer compete with the highest calibre of the division, but the California born fighter is still more than capable of halting the progress of aspiring contenders looking to make a name for themselves.
Unfortunately for Swanson, Chikadze presents a stylistic puzzle that the American has historically struggled with throughout his career; taller and longer fighters who can consistently land strikes from range. Swanson comes from a boxing background, and does his best work when he is able to fight in the pocket and turn fights into brawls. Against disciplined fighters with a longer reach, like Max Holloway and Renato Moicano, Swanson continuously ate straight punches as he made his way inside and was unable to really cover the ground to land offense of his own.
If Chikadze has shown us anything in the UFC so far, it is that he is more than happy to stay patient and throw strikes from kickboxing range. With a threatening body kick and a powerful straight right hand, the Georgian boasts a four inch advantage in both height and reach. If he can gain Swanson’s respect and use good footwork to keep the fight at the range he wants, the victory is easily achievable.
As Ninja has spent more time competing in MMA, his confidence in his striking has really improved and flourished. The Georgian has landed a knockdown in each of his three most recent appearances and even won by knockout in his last outing. Swanson has been notoriously durable in his career, but I have a feeling we have not seen the full potential from Chikadze just yet. A decision victory seems most likely, the development of his striking has me questioning if he can hand Swanson his second knockout loss.
Without a strong opinion on Chikadze’s method of victory, it seems logical to instead combine him in a double with another in-form fighter that has a stylistic advantage. SEAN STRICKLAND, who also fights on the main card, fits the bill perfectly.
Strickland has looked sensational since his return to competition late last year, putting on a striking clinic against both Jack Marshman and Brendan Allen, even winning the latter fight by knockout. Once a young up and comer with potential in abundance, Tarzan was involved in an unfortunate motorcycle accident that kept him on the sidelines for two years. He has clearly honed his skills during the layoff, returning with some crisp boxing to compliment his already impressive defensive grappling capabilities.
Both attributes will be key in Saturday night’s bout against Krzysztof Jotko, as the Polish fighter relies heavily on his clinch grappling and takedowns to win fights. Jotko is a master of stalling fights against the cage, but the high volume of strikes from Strickland should allow him to keep the distance he needs to land effective shots and win the fight.
Jotko is currently riding a three fight winning streak but the calibre of opposition he has faced is significantly lower than that of Strickland. In fact, prior to these wins, the Polish fighter suffered back-to-back knockout losses, with many questioning his durability and the longevity of his career at this level. Considering Strickland has won 10 of his 22 career victories via knockout, I think it is plausible we see Jotko suffer yet another loss to strikes.
Overall, I struggle to see how Jotko convincingly wins this fight against Strickland, as the American has him outgunned on the feet and is a very difficult fighter to control with grappling. Much like Chikadze, Strickland could win by knockout or decision, but should ultimately justify the betting odds however he chooses to win.
TJ BROWN’s preliminary showdown with Kai Kamaka III is a compelling fight, as both fighter’s biggest weaknesses are their opponent’s greatest strengths.
On the feet, the advantage is clearly on the side of Kamaka, who has very impressive boxing; throwing an equally aggressive array of strikes to both the body and head. Despite the fluency with his hands, the striker has somehow never won a fight by knockout. This is a key advantage for Brown, whose durability is by far his biggest detriment. Having been stopped by strikes on three occasions and rocked numerous other times, Downtown can take comfort in knowing that he faces an opponent that has historically failed to end fights with his hands.
Brown is no slouch on the feet himself, but his best work is done in the grappling department. With smothering top control, nasty ground striking and opportunistic submissions, The Arkansas born fighter is very dangerous on the mat. Of course it is fitting that Kamaka’s last fight, a second round (T)KO loss, came as a result of grappling dominance and ferocious top control. Kamaka seemed incapable of stopping takedowns from the start of the second round, and was defensively lapse on the ground, both in his strike absorption and positional awareness. If Brown can have similar success with his grappling on Saturday night, then I think another stoppage win for Downtown is more than likely.
I think Brown is the much more likely fighter to find a finish here, but I am wary of his striking defence and have opted for a smaller stake on this occasion. With that being said, Brown has won by stoppage in 13 of his 14 professional wins and I do not think he should be an underdog, so the 10/3 price for BROWN TO WIN BY (T)KO OR SUBMISSION looks like a great value bet.
Posted at 1220 BST on 30/04/21
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