With Saturday’s MMA card set to take place in Southern California, here are my top underdog picks for UFC 241:
Manny Bermudez ($8400) vs. Casey Kenney ($7800)
Bermudez is an excellent grappler with 11 total submissions, with three of those coming in the UFC. He has shown a really good chin so far, but he tests it unnecessarily because his defense is terribly porous. And because his defense is so bad, and he takes all that punishment making his gas tank very questionable. At some point, his chin is bound to fail, and Kenny is the guy to possibly put the crack in that foundation.
Kenny is a pressure fighter and is just so, so good in the phone booth where he can tune Bermudez up with those short hooks, elbows and hard jabs. He also has solid takedown defense. You have to really work for the takedown on him as Ray Borg found out, and when you go in for a single or double, he is so good at timing that heavy knee he was throwing at Borg. His striking is diverse, and he mixes in elbows and knees seamlessly with his punches. He’s also a very good grappler with a slick submission game. He’s super aggressive on the ground, and while I doubt he subs Bermudez, it is not out of the realm of possibility. My bold pick, though, is the TKO.
Casey Kenny via (T)KO
Yoel Romero ($8600) vs. Paulo Costa ($7600)
Yoel Romero is a phenomenal athlete, made even more astonishing that he’s 41 years old. He’s got amazing speed and power, good reflexes and cardio and his wrestling is outstanding. His ability to take a beating and keep going is also to be commended. The weight cut to 185 has been an increasingly arduous one, though, and as mentioned, he is 41 years old. At some point, he’s going to just fall off the cliff of the ultra-elite, and who knows, maybe Costo is the guy to push him.
Paulo Costa is a big, powerful guy himself, and he’s not afraid to get in there and put that power to good use with steady, forward pressure. We don’t really know a whole lot about his cardio because of one number: 7:38. That’s the length of his longest fight, last year against Uriah Hall. What we do know is he packs one helluva wallop, and Yoel Romero is not hard to hit. Paulo also has a keen finishing instinct, and when he gets you hurt, he swarms immediately, looking to get the finish as soon as he can. This is a very bold pick, but Paulo Costa might just have what it takes to get the W here.
Paulo Costa via (T)KO
Anthony Pettis ($8300) vs. Nate Diaz ($7900)
We all pretty much know both of these guys pretty well, but for the ones that might need a refresher, let’s look at some of the most important factors. Diaz is a volume range striker with a propensity for headhunting. He does pepper in some body shots, but he finds the bullseye up top more often than not. And while he throws a fair amount of power shots, he doesn’t possess much power. The accumulation is what gets you, as Donald Cerrone found out in 2011.
Pettis will definitely have the power edge, and while he does very well in the clinch, Diaz is even better there, smothering with volume to both the head and body. You literally cannot catch a breath in the phonebooth with Diaz. Now, Diaz does have a button on his chin, and he’s been dropped several times and been TKO’d once by Josh Thomson. He’s also susceptible to leg kicks, and Pettis is an excellent kicker, but in the Michael Johnson fight, Diaz nullified those very well.
On the ground, both men are skilled but obviously, the advantage goes to Diaz, as does the cardio, but this is only a 3-round fight, so we might see them on pretty even ground cardio-wise. The elephant in the room is the three-year layoff for Diaz, but that can be looked at as a boon to his physical condition. In those three years, Pettis has fought six or seven times and had a grappling match. That’s a lot of wear and tear that Nate hasn’t subjected himself to.
Diaz is not the kind of guy that turns into a walrus in between fights, either. He’s very active in his gym, grapples frequently and pretty much stays fit. I know recency bias makes people think that Pettis is going to present some unique set of skills that will somehow make him a better boxer than Diaz, a better grappler than Diaz, but I can’t look at a puffed-up lightweight and see him taking it from a guy that fits the division more naturally and has a better toolshed to work with.
Nate Diaz via Decision
Daniel Cormier ($8500) vs. Stipe Miocic ($7700)
Daniel Cormier is one of the greatest fighters to ever grace a cage, there are no two ways about that. His wrestling is outstanding, his cardio is outstanding (and that’s not just by heavyweight standards, either), his striking is excellent and his footwork is just so good. But, he’s 40 years old now. Are his reflexes a little slower? Is his chin losing a little of that Teflon coating? Up until the knockout, the first fight was fairly even, and Stipe managed to touch DC more than once.
Stipe has probably viewed that tape a hundred times since that fateful night, and most likely fixed the hole in his defense. He hits like a truck and even managed a takedown on DC. His wrestling is also good (though not on DC’s level) and perhaps this time around, he manages to take Daniel down and hold him there where he can land some ground-and-pound. It’s not completely impossible. At some point, Cormier will hit a point where things start coming apart, and Miocic has the skills to take advantage of that. And let’s not forget that it’s heavyweight, where things are always changing. Those titles are never in one place for very long. This is a very close call, but if anyone is going to dethrone DC at heavyweight before he retires, it’s going to be Miocic.
Stipe Miocic via (T)KO
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