Choi the right play at UFC 206

December 06, 2016 3:07 AM
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The UFC returns this week with UFC Fight Night 102 in Albany, New York on Friday, and then moves north of the border for UFC 206 on Saturday.

The Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario was set to showcase the rematch between current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier (18-1) and No. 11 contender Anthony Johnson (22-5). Unfortunately, an undisclosed injury suffered by Cormier just last week forced the cancellation of the title fight and a new main event had to be announced.

The UFC 206 main event will now feature Max Holloway (16-3) against Anthony Pettis (19-5), for the UFC Interim Featherweight strap. As we go to print, Holloway is currently listed as a -180 betting favorite with the take-back on Pettis +160. Though I am anxious to watch the fight as a fan, I have yet to determine whether or not there’s enough value to warrant a wager on either man.

Instead, I will go down a little further on the UFC 206 card to isolate a bout that merits a bet.

In the other featherweight bout, the No. 5 ranked Cub Swanson (23-7) takes on 14th ranked Dooho Choi (15-1) in what’s sure to be an action packed fight. Both are “fan friendly” mixed martial artists who are trying to make their way up to No. 1 contender status, and ultimately get a shot at UFC gold. In fact, it was Choi who very politely called out Swanson back in July after his win against Thiago Tavares.

Swanson immediately agreed to the challenge and comes into this bout off two straight wins after suffering back to back losses prior. He had won six fights in a row against some very good opposition, which included Dustin Poirier, Ross Pearson, and Jeremy Stephens. The two losses came against Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar, who are at the very top of the 145 lb division.

Cub signed with the UFC over 6 years ago after competing in the WEC, and at 33 yrs of age he continues to improve by becoming more well rounded. Swanson is not a very accurate striker, but he’s got excellent defense, avoiding 64% of opponents strikes. He averages 1.26 take-downs per 15 minutes but has primarily tried to keep his fights standing of late. Cub has a wealth of experience, having been inside the Octagon against so many different styles.

For Choi, this fight offers the opportunity to keep the momentum gained thus far in the UFC and more importantly, beat a “big name” and “Top 5” featherweight.

He’s been perfect under the UFC banner to date, with three straight first round knock-outs and two“Performance of the Night” bonuses. In total, Choi has only needed a little more than 4 minutes inside the Octagon to get to 3-0.

The 25 year old is on a 12 fight win streak, with 11 of those victories coming by way of knock-out and the other via submission. Simply put, at first glance Dooho may appear unassuming, but rest assured he has devastating power, excellent speed, and a very efficient technique.

He’s also a brutal striker with pin point accuracy, successfully landing 66% of strikes and more than 7 per minute. Defensively, Choi has been able to avoid 64% of opponents’ strikes and has only been taken down in one of his three UFC fights.

Though we haven’t seen it yet inside the Octagon, Choi has trained Jiu Jitsu since 2008 and says the triangle is his favorite grappling technique. “Korean Superboy” as he is known, still resides and trains in his home country with “Team Mad” under head coach Sunghoon Yang. Although he’s already had 16 professional fights, Choi is still developing into a complete mixed martial artist and is at the stage where we should expect to see continued improvement each time out.

Oddsmakers opened the bout with Choi as a -230 favorite and so far there hasn’t been much movement to the betting line. I do expect to see this price drop some as the fight approaches and money begins to get bet on Swanson, who undoubtedly is much more recognized by casual fans. But even if the odds don’t change at all, the current line offers up more than enough value for me to place a bet.

Bottom line, I personally made my “true line” Choi -300… and even then I believe I was being a bit generous to Swanson based on how the two match-up. I believe Choi will prove to be the much better striker and eventually force Swanson to try and turn it into a grappling match.

But that is easier said than done against such a devastating striker like Choi, who will surely be prepared to avoid being taken down. I also expect Choi, who will have a height advantage to also be stronger which will make it difficult for Swanson to dictate where the bout takes place.

Finally, the goal of all professional bettors is to “get the best of it” and to also try and get out ahead of the betting market. In the case of Swanson vs Choi, I believe being able to bet Choi at any price less than -300 accomplishes both.

Fortunately, I don’t think that today’s betting market has priced Choi correctly as the majority just don’t know how good this young man is yet. This affords me the opportunity to get my money down at a price which is truly a lot lower than it should be if it was a reflection of the “true odds” of a Choi victory.

PICK: DOOHO CHOI

Gastelum vs. Kennedy

After being disciplined for missing weight and having to cancel his last scheduled fight, Gastelum now moves up to middleweight from welterweight.

Kennedy returns to the Octagon after his last bout was also scratched back in November when Rashad Evans wasn’t able to get medical clearance to fight. Currently, Kennedy is listed as a -150 betting favorite against Gastelum and I feel this line is also too low. Gastelum may have been big for a welterweight but that will not be the case against a legit middleweight who has faced many of the division’s best, including Luke Rockhold, Micheal Bisping, and Yoel Romero.

Bottom line, I believe Gastelum should have put all his focus and training into being able to make the 170 lb division rather than going up to 185 lbs simply to not be forced to “make weight.” I do not expect his greatest strengths will be the type of assets they were against much smaller opponents. Look for the taller, longer reach, and bigger frame of Kennedy to overwhelm and systematically break down the smaller Gastelum.

PICK: TIM KENNEDY

Twitter: @Greek_Gambler