This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
Aljamain Sterling (19-3-0) vs. Petr Yan (15-1-0)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -150/60% Aljamain Sterling to win.
I understand Yan being the favorite. He is the champion, and we very often see the champion favored in title fights. Not only that, but Yan is an excellent fighter overall that is very well rounded. That said, I believe stylistically this is a favorable matchup for the challenger Aljamain Sterling.
They're both excellent grapplers overall with a tremendous ability to scramble, so I don't really see this facet of the fight as all too compelling. That said, I do favor Aljamain here. He is the far more dangerous submission grappler (i.e., excellent ability to take the back of the opposition, BJJ Black Belt under Matt Serra, has a threatening guard, and multiple wins via submission). I also see Aljamain as the stronger fighter in the clinch.
First, Yan is an excellent striker, but there are areas of his striking Aljamain can capitalize on. Aljamain moves much more on the feet, making him a less hittable target of the two. Yan is fairly stationary. As a result, we've seen fighters have moderate success landing on Yan (i.e., Rounds 2 and 3 against Aldo, was getting tagged repeatedly by Rivera, knocked down by Dodson). In contrast, Aljamain is very long for the weight class and has excellent distance management, making him a tough target to land on (i.e., he absorbs 1.94 significant strikes per minute per ufcstats.com).
While the two are at a distance, Aljamain can win very comfortably. Aljamain fights very well at range while utilizing various tools (i.e., front kick, low kick, body kick, head kick, and straight punches). Additionally, he will also hold a four-inch reach advantage here, so I trust him to land at the kicking range more frequently than Yan.
They both have shown a willingness to throw low kicks in the past, but Aljamain is more persistent with throwing them, and Yan has shown to be more susceptible to them of the two (i.e., was hurt by Aldo and Rivera).
Another thing is the pace they each push. The stats don't back this up so much, but the eye does when the two are in open space. Yan has shown the tendency to be passive for stretches in several previous fights, whereas Sterling will constantly throw volume with his varied tools. Lastly, each fought Jimmie Rivera, and the results were very different. Sterling very clearly won the fight (i.e., outstruck Rivera 101 to 24 in significant strikes and was in control the entirety of the fight). In contrast, Yan had a much more difficult time (i.e., was out-struck by Rivera 73 to 56).
All in all, it's generally tough to bet against Petr Yan, who is the current champion of this weight class and a tremendous, well-rounded fighter. However, Sterling is the toughest fight for him right now and likely wins this fight.
TLDR: I am betting Aljamain Sterling here because I favor his grappling advantage (secondary) and his striking advantage (primarily).
Yadong Song (16-4-0) vs. Kyler Phillips (8-1-0)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -122/55% Kyler Phillips to win.
When I first saw the matchup, I thought to myself, "Man, this a huge step up in competition for Kyler," but once I started to analyze the matchup, I concluded that Kyler is in a good spot. As I watch Kyler fight, I'm like, "does this guy ever get tired"? He truly has a tremendous motor, as we'll discuss under 'Cardio.' Kyler also is very well rounded and gets noticeably better with each appearance in the octagon.
Honestly, Kyler is one of the most improved fighters I've come across in research regarding a short time frame. He as looked SIGNIFICANTLY better in the UFC than his regional footage. He trains at the MMA lab with other very talented UFC fighters in the 135-pound weight class.
Lastly, there is the potential that I add more on betting Phillips straight in the future with regards to this matchup. Right now, there are lower max limits set for this fight than there will be closer to fight time. Should Phillips stay the underdog (i.e., +122/45% or better) once the max limits are raised, I will add more to this bet.
They're both good technical strikers. Yadong is very dangerous, especially early on (i.e., fast, powerful boxing with countering proficiency and good combinations), and he does possess more power in his hands of the two. However, I favor Phillips to win the aggregate of the striking exchanges. He fights better at kicking range (i.e., has a five-inch arm reach advantage and has more variety with his kicks) while pushing the higher tempo. Phillips can also have success with low kicks (i.e., Vera landed 22 of 26 on Yadong), which can score points on the judges' scorecards and hinder the mobility of Yadong. Also, Phillips's striking defense has shown to be solid (i.e., good head movement and keeps a high defensive guard). Therefore, though a big counter KO from Song can happen, it's not as likely here as say it would be against an opponent with susceptible striking defense.
Song has good first-layer takedown defense (i.e., good athletic sprawl and gave Stamann's wrestling a lot of early resistance). However, as the fight progresses, he can be taken down once fatigued (i.e., he was taken down by Vera's two trips in round 3 and was controlled on the ground for the vast majority of Round 3 against Stamann). Kyler has shown the ability to take fighters down in open space (i.e., single-leg TD and double leg TD). Also, he's shown to take fighters down against the fence (i.e., body lock and footsweep TD ability), he certainly can get this fight to the ground where he holds the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu advantage (i.e., BJJ Brown Belt and BJJ World Champion). Kyler has excellent ability to take the back of the opposition in transition, is a great guard passer, submission threat in various areas, very positionally aware, and aggressive while in top position with ground & pound. Yadong was mounted and nearly finished by Stamann in Round 3 (i.e., was controlled for the vast majority of the round). Yadong also had his back taken briefly by Vera in Round 3. If Phillips gets in these same dominant positions, I believe he will maintain top control for stretches of the fight and/or earn the finish.
There is a wide discrepancy here. Song's cardio is not bad, but we've seen him slow down in the UFC more than once (i.e., he was noticeably tired towards the end of Round 2 against Vera and was gassed in Round 3 & mounted, nearly finished against Stamann). In contrast, Kyler has excellent cardio as he can fight at a very high pace for 15 minutes and will pursue the finish on the ground or the feet.
All in all, Song is an exceptionally talented fighter overall. Still, the areas of his game where he's looked most susceptible (i.e., cardio and grappling), Kyler can exploit and have more success as the fight progresses with his style. Song Yadong can win this fight by early TKO/KO, but I trust Phillips to win this fight if that outcome does not happen.
TLDR: I am betting Phillips here at the underdog price. I believe he should be favored here due to his higher tempo, superior cardio, diversity & length as a kickboxer, and superior grappling.
The Play: 1.25 units @ +165 AND 1.25 units @ +145 Kyler Phillips to win versus Song Yadong