The first FightPass card of 2017 is here, and I can hardly wait for it to kick off. Besides the fact that this particular event is in the afternoon (free Saturday night!!), it will also have that wonderful pacing that makes these online cards a treat to watch. Bonus points for being in London where the fans provide a positively electric atmosphere.

On paper, this may appear to be one of the more modest offerings for a UFC Fight Night, but if you look a little closer, there are several quality bouts that could shake up the contender picture for a couple divisions. There are also some underdogs that are poised to upset the favorites, so it’s time to get down to the business of examining the skill sets of said underdogs.

Jimi Manuwa $8,400 / Corey Anderson $7,800

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Jimi Manuwa is a fantastically gifted athlete with tremendous speed and ridiculous knockout power, evidenced in brutal detail last year when he obliterated the consciousness of OSP. However, he has a couple weak spots, one of which plays heavily into Corey Anderson’s impressive skill set: his takedown defense, or lack thereof. Manuwa is quite susceptible to takedowns, having felt the canvas beneath him on multiple occasions. He’s also 10 years older than his opponent, with Father Time measuring him at 37 years-of-age.

Anderson’s wrestle-heavy game isn’t the kind of oppressive, smothering lead blanket that most wrestlers employ and often find success with. Anderson is fluid, with lots of chain wrestling and movement. The artist known as “Beastin’ 25/8” works well from virtually anywhere, but especially in close quarters. He’s not especially powerful, but he mixes in hard body shots and cracking head shot stingers very well. He’s also a volume striker with decent cardio and has shown marked improvement over the last couple fights, so the I think he has a favorable matchup here.

Corey Anderson via DEC


Brad Pickett $8,200 / Marlon Vera $8,000

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Brad Pickett has had a pretty rough go of it these last few years and has decided to retire after this fight. Traditionally, he’s been a speedy puncher with a great jab, power and foot movement. He has a very underrated ground game, likely because he’s shown a preference to keep things standing. Pickett has a penchant for standing toe-to-toe exchanging big blows, but his chin isn’t what it once was, and the wear-and-tear is more evident in each fight.

“Chito” Vera is just 24 years old but has 11 pro fights under his belt and the reality experience of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, Season 1 behind him. Vera isn’t a power striker, but he has decent striking and a good high kick. On the ground, he’s aggressive and active.

Once upon a time, I would’ve looked at this fight and said, “Pickett, no-brainer.” Now, I can’t help but think that this young underdog will put a dreary stamp on Brad’s swan song.

Marlon Vera via (T)KO


Gunnar Nelson $9,200 / Alan Jouban $7,000

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“Gunni” is an Icelandic jiu-jitsu god with excellent movement and a serviceable stand-up game that’s been evolving steadily. He works angles well and has weird yet effective rhythm, but he’s not particularly active and needs work on his defense. The ground is where he shines, as evidenced by his 11 submission wins.

Jouban is a flashy Southpaw striker with real power and excellent timing. He’s got fantastic high kicks and a knack for figuring out his opponent quickly, making subtle, effective adjustments as the fight progresses. He’s got a sturdy chin, making his tendencies towards trading big shots in the pocket pay dividends. He’s got a great gas tank and still manages as fresh a work rate in the last round as he did in the first.

Jouban’s more evolved striking and pace is already a dealbreaker for me, and when you add in his knockout power, no one can defend.

Alan Jouban via (T)KO


Makwan Amirkhani $8,300 / Arnold Allen $7,900

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Amirkhani and Allen are “must see” TV. Anytime you have good prospects facing off, it is cause for celebration, and this fight is no exception. Amirkhani’s wrestling is top notch and the shining star of his skillset. His blast double is incredible and he has very capable ground-and-pound. The problem is that he’s a wild card, and willing to take big risks. Against a talented opponent like Allen, that could get him in some serious trouble.

Allen is a good grappler and a very underrated striker. He works best in a phone booth, throwing plenty of knees and hard shots from the clinch. He’s very good at controlling the distance and walks his opponents down, often pinning them to the fence where he can pick them apart. He also has a solid ground-and-pound game, perhaps even better than Amirkhani’s.

This one is a coin toss for me, but I’m really feeling that Allen is going to dial it up to 11 and let this be his big, breakout fight.

Arnold Allen 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.