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Expert picks and analysis for this weekend's UFC on UFC on ESPN +17: Rodriguez vs. Stephens

Saturday September 21st 2019 at Mexico City Arena, Mexico City, Mexico,

Main Card: 8pm ET+ on ESPN+

Preliminary Card: 5pm ET on ESPN+

Last week we witnessed arguably the most entertaining main card of the year from the UFC. The prelim fights were nothing spectacular, although Skelly vs. Griffin was a fun back-and-forth grappling contest, and there was also two first round finishes from Smolka and his lookalike “big brother” Augusto Saki. The main card however saw six especially fun fights, which were only sullied by one of them getting ruled a no-contest following an accidental eye poke, and even then it was still an enthralling fight up until that moment. Honestly, if you haven’t seen them, go on UFC Fight Pass and watch them.

This week we now look ahead to the much less anticipated UFC: Mexico City. I’d be lying if I said this card was going to be good, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few fun fights to be watched, and some money to be made. Let’s jump into this week’s picks for UFC on ESPN +17: Rodriquez vs. Stephens!

Paul Craig vs. Vinicius Moreira

Preliminary: Light Heavyweight Bout – 205lbs

Paul “BearJew” Craig – Record: 11-4-0

Vinicius “Mamute” Moreira – Record: 9-3-0

One positive thing I’ll say about this card is that there’s a lot of “close fights” on it, especially when looking at the betting lines. Craig vs. Moreira is arguably the closest of all, or at least when hearing the divided opinions flying around about how it’s going to play out. That being said however, there’s a side I favor, and it’s on Scotland’s Paul Craig.

Craig has shown over his seven UFC contests that he’s a savvy light heavyweight, with unrelenting willpower that can carry him through adversity and towards wins. He may be 3-4 in the company, but he’s one of those guys that you’ll always be happy knowing that he’s going to “fight for your money” so to speak, and I believe he holds the key to victory in this particular matchup.

Both fighters are pretty well balanced when it comes to their Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, despite Moreira holding a black belt, and Craig being a brown belt. Each man has a plethora of submission wins, and we’ve seen Craig get ones over a black belt before (Luis Henrique), as well as an international Master of Sport in MMA & Sambo (Magomed Ankalaev). Stylistically in grappling, we know that Moreira prefers to work from top and Craig likes to search for triangles off his back, but providing he doesn’t go actively pull guard on the Brazilian, I expect him to keep the fight standing against Vinicius and work him over on the feet.

Neither fighter has notably good striking, in fact quite the opposite, but I will say that Craig’s is a clear level above Moreira’s. In “Mamute’s” fights he’s looked sluggish and has telegraphed his takedown attempts. Now Paul Craig might not be able to counteract this as well as some other UFC LHWs, but he’s quick enough and has the fight IQ to accumulatively make Moreira pay for his sloppy attempts.

Like many other fights on this card, fatigue with play a factor due to the event taking place at extremely high altitude in Mexico City. This’ll likely be accentuated in this bout more so than the others, as both guys haven’t shown great gas tanks in the past. I’ll give Moreira the slightest of edges in the cardio department, but I’m not sure we’re going to see a big enough difference for it to be a major factor.

All in all, I’m taking Paul Craig here at even money. He’s achieved wins in the UFC, unlike Moreira. He has the superior striking, he’s more drive, and has solid fight IQ with a killer instinct for when the going gets rough. We’ll be taking him on the moneyline for a couple units, as well as a play for him to get a rare KO/TKO victory. I know what many will be thinking as Craig’s only won one fight via knockout, but ultimately these guys are still light heavyweights and pack some decent power. Add in that Moreira’s lost three fights via KO, two of which have come back-to-back in his first two UFC bouts, and it looks to hold some value at +750.

Pick: Paul Craig - 2 Units @+100 (to Return 4 Units)

Prop Play: Paul Craig via KO/TKO – 0.5u @+750 (to Return 4.25 Units)

Polo Reyes vs. Kyle Nelson

Preliminary: Featherweight Bout – 145lbs

Polo “El Toro” Reyes – Record: 8-6-0

Kyle “The Monster” Nelson – Record: 12-3-0

In this lightweight prelim bout we see the Mexican fighter formerly known as “Marco Polo Reyes”, take on the Canadian Kyle Nelson. Both fighters have been slumping as of late, with Polo Reyes now 1-3 in his last four UFC bouts, and Nelson still winless after getting finished twice in his opening two fights under the promotion. Now although this doesn’t sound promising for Nelson, he is my pick here and for good reason.

Since joining the UFC he’s had two tough outs in Diego Ferreira and Matt Sayles, and now he’s fighting against a rapidly declining brawler who’s not anywhere near the level of those guys. Reyes has had only had two notable wins in his UFC career, one against Dong Hyun Ma in their UFC 199 Fight of the Night back in 2016, and the other when he finished Matt Frevola in round one, in early 2018. He’s now 34 years of age and has been finished via strikes five times, and subbed twice.

Nelson’s fairly heavy handed, and although he doesn’t have the toughest chin in the world, I rank it above Reyes’. They’ve both got pretty fast hands, but one solid shot from Nelson early and it could send Reyes to the mat, where Nelson could either go for the finish with strikes, or seek out a sub.

Another way I see this playing out is with Nelson going straight to his grappling. It’s nothing special, but it’s well rounded, and that’s more than I can say for Reyes’. I don’t mean to just go in on Reyes, as he’s a fun fighter, but I can’t look past the edges Nelson has in durability and grappling. The two things Polo will have going for him is the hometown crowd cheering on their fellow countryman, and that he’ll be more acclimatized. But even so, I think Nelson gets this done early, or at least takes the first two rounds to get the decision.

Nelson will be my second two unit play of the card, and I also will be taking his sub prop at +750 for half a unit. His main key to victory is the KO, but given his relatively slick ground transitions and Reyes’ lack of ground game, I see this holding some decent value, as a solid path for the Canadian to get the win.

Pick: Kyle Nelson 2 Units @-125 (to Return 3.6 Units)

Prop Play: Kyle Nelson via Submission 0.5 Units @+750 (to Return 4.25 Units)

Yair Rodriquez vs. Jeremy Stephens

Main Event: Featherweight Bout – 145lbs

Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez – Record: 11-2-0 / #7 Ranked

Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens – Record: 28-16-0 / #8 Ranked

Earlier I said that I’ll give this card credit for holding competitive fights if nothing else, but I’ll also give it credit for this outstanding matchup. I know it’s hard for either of these guys to be in a boring fight, but this one does sparks my interest. On one side you have the muay thai style fighter in Yair Rodriguez representing Mexico, and on the other there’s Jeremy Stephens, the American of Mexican descent, whose main focus is on his boxing and vicious leg kicks.

I expect Stephens to peruse Yair with pressure, but also caution in the early goings. It may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but we’ve seen that sort of “stop-start” style embraced by the guys in the lighter weight classes when looking to unnerve fighters who like to fight on the outside and at range. I see Stephens having some success with this as he seeks to back Rodriguez up and cause him to make a few missteps, allowing for Stephens to rip the body, go up top, or even try to land leg kicks.

I don’t see Stephens having the success he did against Melendez with the leg kicks, but they should still be there for him, even against someone as quick as Yair. There’s definitely some advantages for Rodriguez in the speed department, and with his more diversified muay thai striking arsenal, but it’s all going to come down to, whether he can get himself set, and maintain distance. We’ve seen it happen to Stephens before when he’s struggled to get inside of his opponents range, but ultimately I think that gives me more reason to believe he’ll be better prepared for that scenario this time round.

Stephens is the play here at just shy of even-money, and he’s going to be our third two unit play of the card. We could see Yair buckle under Stephen’s pressure and power resulting in a TKO stoppage, or we could also see the American put on a dominant enough performance to convince the local judges to give him the win against the local guy. It never feels great betting against the “hometown” fighters given that the judges can be easily swayed by the crowd, but Jeremy Stephens is more than capable of winning convincing enough rounds to give him the nod in a 25 minute fight. I’ll also be taking on a unit for the fight to go the distance at +160, as I think it yields decent value and a nice little hedge, as it’ll take another shocking finish from Yair to put Stephens out.

Pick: Jeremy Stephens 2 Units @-108 (to Return 3.86 Units)

Prop Play: Fight Goes the Distance 1 Unit @ +160 (to Return 2.6 Units)

Well that’s all for this week’s UFC Picks for UFC: Mexico! All the best of luck to those of you betting the fights, and come back next week to see my picks for UFC on ESPN+ 18: Hermansson vs. Cannonier!  

By Christian Broughton

Article Author


A former sportsbook trader with a passion for mixed martial arts. If there is value to be found then Christian is the man to find it.


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