The first event of 2017 is almost upon us, as UFC Fight Night: Phoenix goes down this Sunday night. It is the 103rd Fight Night offering from the promotion and can only be viewed on Fight Pass (which happens to be free this weekend).

UFC Phoenix is a bit of a unique card in that it features the long awaited return of the “Prodigy” BJ Penn as he tries to begin a run at yet another title, this time at 145 pounds. White hot prospect Yair Rodriguez is the hurdle in his way, though, and it’s a task that will take plenty of mental and physical fortitude to accomplish.

The rest of the card features plenty of recognizable faces, and looks like it will provide all the action a diehard fight fan could ever want. Ben Saunders vs Court McGee, Joe Lauzon vs Marcin Held, and Nina Ansaroff vs Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger are just a handful of the other intriguing matchups on the bout sheet. There really is something for every MMA appetite on this menu.

Now, it’s time to get to my job: picking the upsets. This is an incredibly well-matched card, but there are a few athletes that are looking to spoil the nights of the favorites. I will provide a brief breakdown of the four underdogs I see scooping up a win on Sunday. Let’s get started.

Aleksei Oleinik $8,600 / Viktor Pesta $7,600

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These are two heavyweights that haven’t provided the kind of heavyweight action that fans crave, but there’s plenty of time to turn that around on Sunday night. Oleinik is 39 years old and a submission artist. The man has 50 wins and 40 are by submission (specifically by choke). That’s an incredible stat to boast. He’s dangerous in close quarters, as any “Boa Constrictor” would be, and packs power in his punches, despite awkward movement with very little footwork.

Pesta is a capable wrestler that is best served in top position, as he has a very potent ground and pound. He’s quicker and more graceful on his feet, and most importantly, he’s shown improvement. He has the edge in youth and is quite a bit less shopworn than Oleinik, which is why I’ve chosen him for the upset.

Viktor Pesta via DEC


Frankie Saenz $8,300 / Augusto Mendes $7,800

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Saenz is an excellent ground fighter that has fallen in love with his hands. He has capable standup, but his bread and butter is his wrestling. Unfortunately, he’s decided to not stick with the girl that brought him to the dance. He has a tendency to throw wildly and the jab is not a recognizable weapon during his contests. His last fight resulted in a massive knockout at the hands of Eddie Wineland, and that could be a big factor in this fight.

Mendes is a savvy jiu-jitsu ace with great leg kicks and plenty of power in his crispy, crunchy punches. He’s deadly on the ground, but most importantly, he’s a natural athlete with great movement and speed. His defensive game is a bit porous, but against Saenz, it likely won’t be a huge issue. The fight probably won’t be a huge blowout, but I have it in comfortable range for Mendes.

Augusto Mendes via TKO


Ben Saunders $8,400 / Court McGee $7,800

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Ben Saunders is a super flashy striker with deadly knees in the clinch and big kicks from the outside. His grappling is also incredibly dangerous, and if the fight goes to the ground, we could see some insanely difficult to achieve submission happen, as he has been apt to do in the past. While his knees and grappling are the poisonous viper bite that supply his victories, powerful punching is not. He also has a tendency to stand tall, which will provide plenty of target area for McGee to get in and capitalize on.

Court McGee is the MMA version of the immovable mountain. He’s a super sturdy fighter that wears you out at the end of very effective striking. He’s got excellent takedown defense and is near impossible to finish (only been done once). His fights tend to be a bit grindy, but he gets the job done. He does pack some power, but Court’s style relies on slowly, methodically picking his opponents apart, and while to me, this fight is tough to call, I’m willing to say that Court grinds out the decision here.

Court McGee via DEC


Joe Lauzon $8,500 / Marcin Held $7,700

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The veteran, Joe Lauzon, has long been a staple in the UFC and is the owner of 13,894 performance bonuses. If you get but one thing from a Joe Lauzon fight, it’s ACTION. He’s a very skilled grappler with decent standup that serves him well in his battles. He’s not overly powerful, but has a good grasp on the fundamentals. The problem with Joe is the wear and tear from several wars is really starting to show. He also has a tendency to abandon defense when the fists start flying.

Marcin Held, eight years younger than Lauzon, has nearly as much experience, with 27 fights under his belt at just 24 years of age. He’s a grappling dynamo with the best leg locks since Dean Lister (if you don’t know who Dean Lister is, look him up). He’s not particularly powerful, but he’s got capable enough standup to keep Lauzon at bay. When this bout hits the floor—which it undoubtedly will—that’s when the fireworks will start. These two match up very well, but I feel we may see a changing of the guard on Sunday.

Marcin Held via DEC

 


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is crooklyn949) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.