UFC on Fox 8: Predictions You Can Take to the Bank
The last time the UFC hit Seattle, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson watched the action from a prime seat in the crowd. That must have been a disappointment for Johnson; despite being born in Kentucky, Johnson has spent much of his adult life just up the road in Kirkland. It's where he lives and trains, where his wife gave birth to the couple's first child last week.
Fighters always want to fight in their hometown. It gives them the opportunity to show off in front of friends and family. After all, it's one thing to watch a loved one on television; it's another deal entirely to watch them walk to the cage to defend their championship belt in front of 12,000 or more screaming fans.
Johnson is getting his wish: He's defending the UFC flyweight title in front of the people who know him best, and he's doing it on network television.
Today, I'll give you my predictions for each of the four televised main-card bouts. I'll give you the most current odds I have available, and I'll also toss in some data points from Reed Kuhn, the premier data analyst in mixed martial arts. And while the idea here is for me to give you rock-solid predictions and projections, well, you're still acting alone if you take these to the betting window in Las Vegas.
Let's get started.
Liz Carmouche vs. Jessica Andrade
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Liz Carmouche -600
Jessica Andrade +450
The spot across the cage from Carmouche was originally scheduled to be filled by Miesha Tate. You know how that story went. Tate was pulled from the fight when Ronda Rousey needed a new (and marketable) opponent to assume the coaching duties that were abandoned when Cat Zingano blew out her knee.
And so Carmouche—who escalated her appeal, name value and star power even while losing to Rousey at UFC 157—will instead face Jessica Andrade. And I find myself asking "who?" I'll be honest and tell you that I've never seen Andrade fight. Not even once. In fact, there's a pretty good chance that I'd never heard of her until she was tapped to face Carmouche.
She doesn't have a Wikipedia page. A cursory review of her fight record on Sherdog reveals that she's never fought outside of her native Brazil, and she's never fought a single name that would be considered top competition. Which means that I don't have enough information to make a truly informed pick.
My advice for this fight: Pay attention to the line. Carmouche opened at -750 and is now down to -600, which means that lots of folks are taking a chance on a sizable underdog that may or may not be good enough to compete with Carmouche. Andrade has never competed on the big stage in her career, but that doesn't mean she'll flake and fold under pressure. She may come out, guns a' blazing, and quickly wreck Carmouche.
I'm going to refrain from making a prediction on this one. Instead, I'll tell you that Andrade is one underdog that might be worthy of a small play simply because of this: She's virtually unknown, and the line reflects that. What it might not reflect, however, is her fighting skill.
Take a chance.
Robbie Lawler vs. Bobby Voelker
Robbie Lawler -280
Bobby Voelker +240
Here's a little factoid that not many people are aware of: At one point early in his career, Robbie Lawler was Dana White's favorite fighter. White even gave Lawler the honor of being in the first-ever MMA fight on national cable television (Lawler's knockout of Steve Berger was aired on Fox's The Best Damn Sports Show Period).
Somewhere between that history-making moment in 2002 and last year, Lawler lost his way. He came back to the UFC after the purchase of Strikeforce with an awful 4-5 record since 2009. Paired with Josh Koscheck, Lawler would get wrestled to death and sent packing.
Only that didn't happen. Instead, Lawler knocked him out in the first round, sending White into raptures Octagon-side.
Lawler was originally scheduled to face Tarec Saffiedine. Saffiedine was injured and replaced by Siyar Bahazurdada. Bahazurdada was injured and replaced by Voelker. Three different opponents have been slated to stand across the cage from Lawler, yet Lawler remains.
There are three key stats I'd like to point out for this one:
Lawler's "Distance Knockdown per Landed Power Strike" is 9 percent. That's a good number, and it far outpaces Voelker's 3 percent. Couple that with Voelker's "Distance Head Strike Defense" of just 60 percent and you've got a recipe for, or at least the potential for, a Lawler knockout blow.
But Voelker isn't just going to fold like a house of cards when Lawler punches him in the face; his "Distance Knockdown Defense" (which Kuhn also simply calls "Chin") is 0 percent. Put simply, Voelker can take a punch.
Lawler may not finish the ultra-durable Voelker here, but he should at the very least do enough to score a decision win. Lawler benefits from not having to face Saffiedine or Bahazurdada; either of those fighters likely would have been too much for the veteran to handle. As it stands, Lawler wins his second UFC fight in a row and continues his unlikely career revival.
PREDICTION: Robbie Lawler
Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger
Rory MacDonald -245
Jake Ellenberger +185
The numbers don't lie: Rory MacDonald should be a bigger favorite than he is against Jake Ellenberger.
We know Ellenberger is a very hard puncher. And we know that MacDonald has quickly become one of the creepiest and most terrifying characters in the entire sport.
We also know that MacDonald has never faced a top-10 opponent, which might lead some to speculate that we don't know how good he truly is or how great he might become. My esteemed colleague Jonathan Snowden falls in that camp.
Me? I've seen enough of MacDonald to know that the only thing preventing him from ascending to the welterweight throne within the next 12 months is his friendship with Georges St-Pierre, and there may come a point where MacDonald refuses to let that stand in his way.
One of MacDonald's key weapons is his jab. We've seen him develop this jab over the past few years, and he lands it at a 48 percent clip. That's a very good number; it's the highest on the entire Fox card. Ellenberger has very good head-strike defense and has come a long way since entering the sport as a mere wrestler.
MacDonald and Ellenberger have excellent takedown defenses, which leads me to believe that this will be a fight mostly contested on the feet. It's there that MacDonald finds his largest advantage. It's true that Ellenberger is a monster power puncher, but MacDonald has an extraordinary chin (0 percent, the best number one can attain), better footwork and counterpunching accuracy.
And if MacDonald does elect to take the fight to the ground, he will likely find himself in an advantageous position; he has scored eight dominant positions in 11 ground advancements. On the other side of the coin, Ellenberger has just one dominant position in five advancements. In other words, MacDonald is constantly pressuring and looking to improve his position (this is a trait of all fighters trained by Firas Zahabi), while Ellenberger is fine just posturing up and looking for his chance to land power ground and pound.
MacDonald is currently approaching 2.5-to-1 status as the favorite. I think he should be an even bigger favorite, and I think he makes this one look a lot easier than people believe he will. MacDonald will open eyes with this performance.
PREDICTION: Rory MacDonald
Demetrious Johnson vs. John Moraga (Flyweight Championship)
Demetrious Johnson: -470
John Moraga: +375
Flyweight champion Johnson has finally reached the point where he's receiving a little respect from the betting public and the oddsmakers.
It's either that or the fact that Moraga might be the most unknown title challenger in UFC history.
This is not to say that Moraga is not deserving of the opportunity. In a shallow flyweight division, even one violent win can be enough to earn you a shot at the gold. Moraga has two. The problem? Both of those wins took place on Facebook streams, which means that very few UFC fans who will tune in on Saturday night have actually seen Moraga in the cage. In fact, just picking Moraga out of a lineup might be a strenuous task.
Fox's Road to the Octagon special did a fantastic job of introducing UFC fans to Moraga. But how many people actually watched? It's fair to say that there will be plenty of puzzled looks on the faces of UFC fans once the main event rolls around Saturday night.
But Moraga is game. He has nasty knockout power for a flyweight. What he does not have, however, is a jab. Moraga lands his jab at a rate of just 3 percent, which might be the lowest number I've ever seen. He's much more accurate than Johnson in the power head accuracy department (43 percent to 23 percent), but if we know one thing about Johnson, it's this: He's brilliantly effective at using his speed, his jab and his wrestling to fluster his opponents.
In 177.5 analyzed minutes, Johnson has attempted 77 takedowns. He's only been accurate on 49 percent of them, but Johnson often uses the takedown as a sort of decoy; he'll shoot in on you and grab a leg, only to let go and punch you 12 times in the face before you can figure out what he's up to.
I like Moraga a lot. I think he's a very good flyweight, and he's exciting. But he's out of his depth here, and Johnson will use his speed to frustrate Moraga and ultimately score the decision win.
PREDICTION: Demetrious Johnson