Welcome back to the MMA DFS Playbook, fight fans. We’re back again for our 4th week in a row with a UFC event. UFC Fight Night 117 takes place in Japan, at the legendary Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Saitama. The event is headlined by a light heavyweight bout between Ovince Saint Preux, and the returning Yushin Okami. We got back to our successful ways last week, and I’d like to keep the ball rolling here. This is a tough card to break down, but I’m confident we can get a few fights to roll our way. Let’s get to the picks.
Main Card (FXX)
Ovince Saint Preux ($9,500) vs. Yushin Okami ($6,700)
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Ovince Saint Preux takes on the returning UFC veteran Yushin Okami, who will be fighting at 205 lbs. after competing as a welterweight (170 lbs.) most recently. Okami is a last-minute replacement, as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was forced to withdraw from the rematch with Saint Preux due to injury. Saint Preux will look to keep his momentum going, as he put a stop to his 3-fight losing streak in his last bout against Marcos Rogerio de Lima, winning by submission. Okami makes his return to the UFC riding a 4-fight win streak in smaller promotions. The Japanese native enjoyed a great deal of success in his first stint with the UFC, departing with a record of 13-5, and challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight title.
Though giving up a lot of size to Saint Preux, Okami will make up for the physical differential with his wealth of skill and knowledge gathered during his many years of elite level competition. While Okami isn’t especially explosive in his offensive skill set, he has a high fight IQ, and is incredible defensively. He defends significant strikes at a 62% clip, and is also borderline impossible to take down, owning an 84% takedown defense rate. “OSP” would be well advised to try to win this fight standing, or at least to set up his always improving submission game. He lands nearly 50% of his significant strikes, so I expect him to soften his smaller opponent up with strikes early, before attempting to grapple.
While I applaud Okami for stepping up, especially in his home country where he is revered, he’s in a truly tough spot in this bout. I think OSP is better than Okami is right now in every facet of the game, and that’s before we even factor in the size differential. Also going against him is not having a true camp, and attempting to prepare for a fight with OSP on days’ notice. Okami should put up a decent fight in the early-going, and you can’t count out a savvy veteran, but the cards are stacked against him heavily. I expect OSP to soften Okami up in the early rounds, before bullying him to the mat. While Okami excels in takedown defense, it will be incredibly difficult to stay vertical against a bigger fighter when your gas tank fades. I expect Okami to fade, as not having a proper camp means he won’t be in the best shape. Eventually in the middle rounds OSP will find a trip or a takedown, where he’ll find another submission. The pick is OSP by submission in the 3rd round.
Claudia Gadelha ($9,000) vs. Jessica Andrade ($7,200)
This is an exciting fight, as well as one with a lot on the line as former strawweight title challengers Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade both look to earn another shot at Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Andrade is fresh off her defeat against the champ, and was on a 3-fight win streak prior to the one-sided beat down. Gadelha has rebounded nicely since her second defeat to Jedrzejczyk, winning her last 2 bouts in impressive fashion. She strangled the #2 ranked strawweight Karolina Kowalkiewicz with a rear-naked-choke in June, and a win over Andrade would give her a significant claim to a 3rd match with the champ, despite the 2 losses.
I’m very interested to see how Andrade will fair against another elite fighter in the division, and whether she will bolt to the newly-created flyweight division with a loss to Gadelha. Andrade competed at bantamweight before the drop to 115 lbs. a year ago. Andrade throws heavy leather, and lands at a good rate at 50%. She’s excellent across the board, with a high percentage in striking defense, takedown average, and takedown defense rate. The same goes for Gadelha, as she has a high percentage rate in all the major statistical categories. This will be a very competitive fight, though I expect Gadelha to come away victorious. While both fighters are incredibly skilled, I just see Gadelha being better in every facet, even if only by a slim margin. Andrade will push her, especially on the feet, but I think Gadelha’s ground game will be the deciding factor. She was able to take Jedrzejczyk down multiple times, avoiding the devastating striking game from champion. I’m confident that if she can handle the champion’s striking game without being stopped, she will be able to defend whatever Andrade throws at her. I’m taking Gadelha to win by unanimous decision, winning the fight with her superior offensive grappling.
Dong Hyun Kim ($9,100) vs. Takanori Gomi ($7,100)
In a lightweight bout, Dong Hyun Kim takes on Japanese MMA pioneer and Pride FC legend Takanori Gomi, in the “Fireball Kid’s” backyard. Despite sporting an overall record of just 14-8-3, Kim is a huge favorite here. Kim finally put himself in the win column in December, defeating Brendan O’Reilly by unanimous decision. The win followed 2 devastating KO losses to open his UFC career. Gomi has also had a rough go of it as of late, dropping his last 4 bouts, and was finished in all 4. The Japanese legend never really found his footing in the UFC, after dominating Pride FC ranks for so many years. He joined the UFC nearly 12 years into his MMA career, leaving many fans and pundits to wonder what could have been, had he joined the ranks sooner. Gomi is always a fun watch, no matter the result, and I believe this bout will be an entertaining one throughout.
Kim is a very average fighter, with pedestrian numbers in all of the important statistical categories. It surprises me that he is such a heavy favorite for Draftkings. His path to victory seems to lie on his ability to get Gomi to the mat. I think despite Gomi’s recent struggles, he still owns a big advantage on the feet. If he can avoid being taken out early, I think he’ll win the striking exchanges by a wide margin. Picking Gomi is a great risk, but I think this is the fight to do it, especially with so many heavy favorites on the card. There is bound to be an upset, and I like the legend to do it on his home turf. I think Gomi shucks the takedown attempts from the Korean, and opens up on him in vintage fashion early in the fight. Play it at your own risk, but I see Gomi turning back the clock, at least for one night. I’m riding with the “Fireball Kid” by KO in the 1st round.
Gokhan Saki ($8,600) vs. Henrique da Silva ($7,600)
Kickboxer Gokhan Saki returns to MMA 13 years after his first and only bout, and he’ll take on Henrique da Silva in his UFC debut. Saki is an unknown commodity to a lot of fans, but he has enjoyed an extremely successful career as a kickboxer, and is one of the all-time greats. Sporting a gaudy 83-12 record, I’m thoroughly excited to see how he handles his first UFC bout. da Silva is in desperate need of a win here, as he’s dropped his last 3 bouts in a row, following 2 wins to open his UFC tenure. He was knocked out in brisk fashion in June, succumbing to punches from Ion Cutelaba in just 22 seconds.
Saki is getting a great match-up here to begin his UFC career. da Silva likes to stand and throw leather himself, so I’m willing to bet that Saki is licking his chops in anticipation for this one. There’s not much to dissect here, as it should be an extremely one-sided beating. Saki gets a brutal KO in round one, obliterating da Silva with a highlight reel finish.
Teruto Ishihara ($8,700) vs. Rolando Dy ($7,500)
Osaka native Teruto Ishihara takes on Filipino Rolando Dy in a featherweight bout with both men looking to take their young UFC careers to the next level. Ishihara looked like an exciting prospect with 2 dominant KO victories following a draw in his UFC debut. The high expectations have been tempered a bit following 2 straight losses to better competition in Artem Lobov and Gray Maynard. Ishihara is a flashy fighter, and he should be exciting to watch here against another young opponent in Rolando Dy. Dy experienced a setback in his UFC debut when he lost to Alex Caceres due to an eye injury.
This is a tough scenario for Dy following the disappointing debut back in June. Ishihara gets to fight in front of his home crowd, and is a bad matchup for Dy in my eyes. Though tough to debut against a fighter like Caceres, Dy showed a serious lack of refined striking skills, and was out struck by nearly 3-1 in that bout. Ishihara is also a gifted striker, and could certainly put Dy on the receiving end of a brutal knockout. Ishihara’s big show experience is also going to factor in here, as he should be comfortable in front of the big crowds now. He’s much too skilled for Dy at this point, and I think this one gets ugly for him quick. I’m taking Ishihara here, and I think he’ll find a KO victory in the 2nd round.
Preliminary Card (FXX)
Alex Morono ($8,500) vs. Keita Nakamura ($7,700)
In the featured preliminary match, Alex Morono looks to rebound following a no contest in his previous bout, and he’ll try to do so against Keita Nakamura. Morono opened his UFC tenure with 2 wins, including his debut over tough veteran, Kyle Noke. He was knocked out cold by Niko Price in February, but had the result reversed to a no contest following a drug test failure by Price. His opponent, Nakamura, has fought in every big Asian MMA promotion, and is 2-2 in his short UFC career. The Tokyo native is a submission artist, specializing in rear-naked-chokes, and has won via that technique in 15 of his 32 career wins.
This is a fight that is fairly easy to dissect, and can really only go 2 ways. If Nakamura decides to stand and play the striking game with Morono, it’ll be a quick night. Nakamura has a significant disadvantage on the feet in my eyes, and would do well to only use strikes to set up takedowns. He’ll have to be efficient in doing so, as Moron excels in takedown defense with a 75% defense rate. I think Nakamura is smart enough to not get caught, and should be able to get Morono down if he follows a strict game plan. I see Nakamura getting a takedown, where he’ll find Morono’s back before sinking in yet another rear-naked-choke. The pick is Nakamura by submission in the 2nd round.
Jussier Formiga ($9,200) vs. Ulka Sasaki ($7,000)
This is a fight that I am surprised is buried this far on the preliminary card. #4 ranked flyweight Jussier Formiga takes on 6-fight UFC veteran Ulka Sasaki in an important fight for the division. There was a lot of hype surrounding Formiga when he was signed by the UFC in 2012, as he was seen as one of the very best flyweights in the world, and someone who could wear UFC gold. He hasn’t enjoyed the same success that he had prior to joining the UFC, but he has also won his fair share of fights since his signing. He’s got quality wins over Dustin Ortiz, Wilson Reis, and Zach Makovsky, but has faltered in every fight against the elite of the division. Sasaki was also highly touted following an extremely successful career outside of the UFC, but has so far disappointed against UFC caliber opponents. He’s 3-3 in his 6 bouts, but looked like he may have turned a corner with a brilliant submission victory over Justin Scoggins.
While this looks like a competitive match on paper, I believe Draftkings has the pricing correct with Formiga being a huge favorite. I see Formiga having the advantage in every facet, but especially in the grappling department, where he should dominate this fight. Sasaki’s 40% takedown defense rate will show here, as Formiga will take him down at will, and punish him with ground and pound. It would not surprise me if Formiga stops him there, but I think a more likely scenario is a 3-round domination for the Brazilian culminating with a lopsided decision on the score cards. The pick is Formiga by unanimous decision.