The UFC is in Beijing, China this weekend with a rare Saturday morning (3:15am EST lock) event. The card is headlined by the rematch between Heavyweight contenders Curtis Blaydes and Francis Ngannou and features several of the best local prospects. There are only 12 fights on the card, but it remains a strong target for both cash games and tournaments. As usual, I will highlight my favorite plays in each format to help narrow down your decisions.
* Current betting odds and finish props can be found at BestFightOdds.com
Curtis Blaydes ($8700)(-230) vs Francis Ngannou ($7500)(+210) – The main event is a rematch from a few years ago that Ngannou won via doctor’s stoppage at the end of the 2nd round. It was a close matchup with Ngannou getting the better of the exchanges on the feet and Blaydes holding up to the damage while struggling to control Ngannou on the ground. The big story in the rematch is that Ngannou’s stock has really fallen from title contender status after back-to-back disappointing losses, while Blaydes has been surging into title contention with his dominant wrestling game and powerful ground-and-pound.
Ngannou is an athletic freak with incredible one-punch KO power but the last two losses have exposed his flaws which are poor cardio and a low-output fighting style that makes it difficult for him to win rounds. Most people are down on him since his confidence seems to be shot but it’s hard to know where he’s at mentally so I’m not going to factor that into my breakdown of this fight. The matchup seems easy to dissect based on the style of each fighter; either Ngannou is going to be able to stop Blaydes in the first couple rounds or Blaydes will be able to wear on Ngannou with his wrestling and potentially earn a late stoppage. In either outcome, the winner of the fight should score well on DK and easily pay off their salary which makes it a very strong target for tournaments.
Blaydes will be the higher-owned fighter but he is my preferred play because of his path to victory. He has a ton of upside with a -130 finish prop and an excellent floor if it goes the full 5 rounds because of his wrestling-heavy style and high output. Blaydes would be my preferred play in cash games as well, but if you’re worried about the early KO, I don’t hate stacking him with Ngannou for safety.
Cash Game Plays
Song Yadong ($9100)(-500) – Yadong is one of the top young Chinese prospects in the UFC and he gets a favorable matchup at home against Vince Morales. He’s one of the largest favorites on the card and has the second-best finish prop at -167, making him one of the best point-per-dollar plays on the card. Morales is a one-dimensional boxer, while Yadong has a well-rounded game and is very athletic. Yadong throws the harder shots on the feet and has the better ground game so he can win the fight wherever it goes. I plan to play Yadong in cash games and smaller-field GPPs, but I expect Yadong to be one of the highest-owned fighters on the card at his price tag, so you should consider differentiating elsewhere if you plan to use him in large-field GPPs.
Syuri Kondo ($6800)(+350) and Jessica Aguilar ($6900)(+450) – Without being confident on any of the underdogs on this card, I think it makes sense to punt in cash games and pay up for the safer options at the top. I don’t expect either Kondo or Aguilar to have much chance of winning their matchups, but the fights are expected to take place on the feet and both are expected to go to decision, so they make for the best candidates in this role. Kondo would be my preferred option of the two given her matchup with Yan Xiaonan. The fight has the worst finish prop on the card at +250 and each fighter strikes at a very high rate (Xiaonan – 5.57 SLpM, Kondo – 8.81 SLpM) so I like Kondo’s floor the best in a loss.
Other Cash Options: Yan Xiaonan ($9400), Weili Zhang ($9300), Li Jingliang ($8500)
Rashad Coulter ($8400)(-110) vs Hu Yaozang ($7800)(+100) – This fight is tough to call because both fighters are so incredibly terrible, but that’s what makes it appealing for GPPs. Low-level fights often present the best chances for an early finish because the fighters often have massive holes defensively. Coulter throws heavy punches early in fights, but he’s very one-dimensional and has terrible cardio. In his last fight against Chris De La Rocha, the two had an intense back-and-forth slugfest in the first round, but both fighters gassed incredibly hard in hilarious fashion and Coulter pretty much fell over and let De La Rocha win. Yaozang also had an awful performance in his UFC debut, as he was taken down multiple times by Cyril Asker (one of the worst Heavyweights in the UFC) and eventually finished. Both fighters are moving down to 205 for this matchup and I’m not sure how it will impact their cardio, but I would likely give the edge in that department to the younger fighter, Yaozang.
With this fight being such a toss up, I recommend getting some exposure to both sides in tournaments. Coulter is the best bet to get the early KO, but if Yaozang can survive I can see him taking over and getting the finish when Coulter gasses. Of course, there is also a chance that both fighters gas and this ends up being a dud, so I wouldn’t recommend going all-in here.
Kevin Holland ($9500)(-560) – Holland is the most expensive fighter on the card, but he also has the most upside of anyone in the 9k+ range if you decide to pay up. He’s taking on a very one-dimensional fighter in John Phillips who likes to rush at his opponents early and try to get the KO. Phillips is a terrible defensive grappler and was submitted easily by Charles Byrd in his UFC debut. Holland is talented range striker who fights well at distance and will have a 6” reach advantage in this matchup. But his submission grappling skills are why we want to target him at this price tag. Holland is a brown belt in BJJ and has several submission wins on his resume. He can make quick work of Phillips if he decides to take this fight to the ground. The downside to Holland (and why I prefer him as a GPP play) is that he has the tendency to play with his food and try to put on a show in front of the crowd. If he does that in this spot, he will have a tough time reaching his scoring ceiling and it will put him at risk of getting KO’d.
Louis Smolka ($8800)(-175) vs Sumudaerji Sumudaerji ($7400)(+165) – Smolka’s fights are always strong targets in GPPs because of his grappling-heavy style and poor defensive game. Smolka is an excellent scrambler and submission grappler, but he has poor takedown defense and is very hittable. Sumudaerji is the younger and faster fighter, and while there’s not a lot of tape on him, he does appear to be the more dynamic striker as he throws a lot of spinning kicks and flying knees. The most glaring hole in Sumudaerji’s game is his submission defense which is why Smolka has such a strong finish prop at -130. Smolka makes for a very strong GPP target because his path to victory is through the grappling game. The only issue with that is that Smolka is not a great wrestler, so he will have a hard time getting the fight to the ground unless Sumudaerji makes a mistake. If Sumudaerji plays it smart and can keep the fight standing, I think he has a decent chance at pulling off the upset so he’s worth a look in large-field GPPs.
Other GPP Options: Li Jingliang ($8500), Song Kenan ($8300), David Zawada ($7700)
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