Tomorrow, UFC fans will get another early afternoon card when the promotion’s 39th Vegas-themed event goes down at the APEX Center. The show has been shortened by a couple fights and now the bout sheet features just 10 contests as of this writing. There are still some great matchups on the card, with lots of action potential and a couple important bouts that will see contender movement up the ranks, specifically with the main event.
Of those high-profile contests, I’m particularly interested in the absolutely stellar pairing of Matheus Nicolau and Tim Elliott at the flyweight limit of 125 pounds. Will Elliott’s experience and strength of schedule be enough to overcome Nicolau’s raw athleticism and submission chops, and take the W away from the grizzled veteran? This is the best matched fight on the card, in my humble opinion.
Another great fight with “certified banger” written all over it is Randy Brown vs. Jared Gooden. One might look at this contest and wonder why it was made, considering Gooden just recently broke his UFC losing skid, but once you peel back the layers a little, you can see there’s a potential for upset with this firecracker.
Sitting atop this seemingly unassuming event is the jewel atop the scepter, a strawweight contender’s battle between Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez. Most are calling this a classic clash of styles, but I’m of the opinion that both women are standup artists, with Dern having the added dazzle of phenomenal grappling as the extra grenade in her arsenal. Will Rodriguez’ marvelous boxing be enough to overcome Dern’s heavy hands and lethal submissions? We’ll find out soon!
There are plenty of other fights that will no doubt appeal to all sorts of combat appetites, but we’re going to take a look at the four that we feel are the most optimal bets to make on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Sabina Mazo vs. Marya Agapova
Sabina Mazo To Win By Submission (+900)
Sabina Mazo is a well-rounded fighter with good striking, reasonable defense, good grappling and solid fight IQ. She’s not a big risk-taker and can sometimes settle into a slow pace, but her calmness under pressure has seen her through some very tough contests. She has a deep well of stamina and the savvy to lure Agapova into something dangerous on the ground.
Marya Agapova is a bundle of nerves, aggression and raw energy that hasn’t held up under the pressure of UFC-level competition. A true sign of this was being defeated by Shana Dobson after gassing early on, leading to her being finished by the most unlikely opponent in the second round. Her willingness to take absurd risks will be her undoing, if she doesn’t shore up that weakness post-haste. Her striking is good, but without the defensive capability to back it up, she’s a sitting duck for higher level competition. Look for Mazo to bide her time with a measured approach and then go for the submission kill after Agapova invariably tires.
Tim Elliott vs. Matheus Nicolau
Tim Elliott To Win By Decision (+275)
Tim Elliott has become a journeyman, there’s no denying it. His record, upon closer review, shows that his losses have stood the test of time, holding up well under scrutiny. For instance, his three-fight skid over the course of a nine-month stretch was against marvelous talent, one a former champion currently preparing to fight for the belt again, and the other two came against high-level contenders. Elliott has benefitted mightily from James Krause’s tutelage at Glory MMA in Kansas where his overall skillset has become more complete. Already a battle-tested veteran, with dangerous wrestling, he’s now on a two-fight win streak with his most recent win being an absolute routing of Jordin Espinosa.
Matheus Nicolau is on a terrific upward trajectory right now, even if he is coming off a hotly contested, split-decision win over Manel Kape. Regardless of the mumblings over that win, he looked great against the highly lauded striker known for sleeping his opponents. Matheus’ striking is also top notch, and he’s even got a bit of a slick grappling game of his own, so when this fight invariably hits the ground, he won’t be helpless against Elliott’s top-notch ground game. The matchmaking in this fight is probably the best on the whole card, but the pick is for Elliott to get the upset decision victory.
Randy Brown vs. Jared Gooden
Randy Brown To Win By KO/TKO/DQ (+200)
Randy Brown is on the cusp of being in the contender’s circle, so when this fight was made, many were left wondering why. Gooden was literally fighting for his job in his last outing, but fortune was on his side that night, seeing him get a first-round knockout over Germany’s Niklas Stolze. Brown is coming off a terrific submission win over Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira this past April, and while that win doesn’t entirely erase the memory of last year’s knockout defeat at the hands of Vicente Luque—no shame in that loss at all—it certainly goes a long way toward that goal. Brown’s striking is also quite lethal, seeing him to six knockouts, most recently over the ultra-tough Bryan Barberena. Blessed with great grappling as well, Brown also enjoys five submission victories, giving him an extra edge in this pairing.
Gooden has plenty of regional experience, but when faced with that ultimate step up, he’s not shown his best until he beat Stolze in July. If you really want an idea of what he’s made of, I’d suggest his bout with Alan Jouban for required viewing. Even though the fight was a gangbusters slobberknocker, Jouban outclassed him with better grappling and striking, then retired off that win. Gooden does have the hot hand, and if he would learn to rely on his jab more to set up a nice, clean power shot, he could score the upset, but I can’t bring myself to overlook Brown’s much more complete skillset that has seen him to victory over a better class of opponents than Gooden has ever faced. Look for Brown to score the knockout.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Rodriguez
Mackenzie Dern To Win By Submission (+100)
The winner of this fight could be in the title picture very soon, possibly even getting next dibs on the gold, so the importance of it is at a premium. Dern has come a long way since her days of just swangin’ and bangin’ with little form or thought toward much else than taking her opponent’s head off. And while her striking is still a work in progress that could benefit from a little more polish, she’s come a long, long way in that regard. Possessing legitimate power from Jump Street, she’s learned to use her jab more and now she uses her striking more effectively toward setting up her takedowns. She looked almost effortless in her win over hard-nosed Nina Nunes, boxing her up, then smartly going low with punishing leg kicks before snatching up a single and dumping her on the canvas. From there, it was just Dern mauling her from the top with punishing blows before setting up that beautiful armbar. Things to note from that contest, aside from her tremendous progress from one fight to the next, is her extremely durable chin and her excellent bodywork while she had Nunes trapped on the ground.
Marina Rodriguez is an outstanding striker with beautiful, technical boxing. Her crisp jab lands hard and often, and she uses real, multi-punch combinations, not just a 1-2 landed over and over. Her kicking game is also top notch, but her handwork is her bread and butter. Marina has seen flashes of power, but I would be willing to bet that Dern hits harder. What could help her here is volume and pace, but even there, I’m cautious with over-amplifying her chances. That’s not to say she doesn’t have any, but her grappling defense was exposed against Carla Esparza, even if that fight was super close. And those absolutely banking on a high-paced, high-volume game plan being the way to beat Dern, I’d beg that you reconsider, as Dern’s cardio and overall physical form has improved mightily since she came back from having her baby. She no longer has trouble on the scales, coming in lean and mean every time. It’s hard to look at Dern and not come to the ultimate realization that she will likely have an answer for whatever Rodriguez throws her way. Look for Dern to score the submission victory.
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