The opening bout of Saturday's UFC 143 pay-per-view sees The Ultimate Fighter 3 runner-up Ed Herman looking to continue his winning return from a knee injury as he takes on Arizona Combat Sports wrestler Clifford Starks. With a third straight win Herman can put himself on the cusp of the upper tier, while Starks can firmly establish himself in the UFC by defeating the seasoned veteran.
Herman hit a rough patch in his UFC career beginning with a submission loss to Demian Maia (remember him? He was a guy who used to do jiu jitsu!) and a decision to Alan Belcher. After bouncing back with a win over David Loiseau, any momentum left over from the defeat of "The Crow" was out the window when Herman blew out his knee against Aaron Simpson. After a layoff of nearly two years following the injury, many wondered what to expect of Herman in his return. Herman has looked great, however, scoring a quick KO of Tim Credeur, and following up with a brutal heel hook against Kyle Noke.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Herman is an interesting fighter in that the majority of his wins and the majority of his losses have both come by way of submissions. While at first blush that reeks of a risky ground fighter, equally adept at catching an opponent in a scramble as he is at getting caught, a closer look tells a more accurate story. All of Herman's submission losses have come to very strong submission grapplers. Herman is a dangerous fighter on the ground when not facing a top-level grappler, and with no submissions since his debut, Starks is unlikely to scare Herman from a submission perspective.
Herman is the more complete fighter in this bout and also the more likely fighter to get a finish against his opponent. While Starks' striking against Jacoby didn't show much that will have Herman shaking in his boots, the former Arizona State wrestler was able to score a takedown and control the fight on the mat in all three rounds, meaning Herman may need to fight off his back for a submission or sweep to take control. Take Herman with a round two submission victory. On the fantasy betting side of the game stay away from Herman. At -400 he is too pricey to pay off to any worthwhile degree, and is laying far too heavy of odds to be worth betting on in a fight where being out-wrestled for three rounds remains a real possibility.
Clifford Starks analysis after the jump.
The majority of Starks' pre-UFC career was spent fighting out west in and around Arizona, where he amassed a record of 7-0 in just twenty months of fighting. His place in the UFC was earned via the ever-popular late replacement route to gainful employment. When Brad Tavares had to pull out of a bout with Dustin Jacoby at UFC 137, Starks stepped in to throw down just two weeks after his last local-show fight. Starks made the most of his debut, pitching a shut out with all three judges seeing the fight 30-27 for the Arizona Combat Sports fighter.
Strengths and Weaknesses
As a former Division I wrestler, it's unsurprising that Starks is comfortable dragging opponents down to the mat and looking to work from on top. While he struck with Jacoby for much of the first round in his debut, when push came to shove, Starks shot in for the takedown to cement the close round and wasted less time trying out his striking in the remaining two frames. On the feet Starks may struggle if he decides not to work for frequent takedowns, or finds his shots being stuffed by Herman. As a more experience fighter, Herman has shown the ability to throw hands at the upper level of the sport with success, something Starks has not yet achieved.
Herman appears to have the more complete skill set both on the feet and in the world of submission grappling, rightly making Starks the underdog as his wrestling simply will allow him to dictate which area he is weaker-than-his-opponent-in he wants to play around with. With that said, a Starks upset would not mark the first time somebody was thought to only have the edge in wrestling but still managed to grind out a unanimous decision win with constant takedowns and crushing top control. For fantasy bettings Starks provides some of the best value on the card. If you are happy with another parlay but looking to have some high-reward solo options, +360 on the stronger wrestler is always appealing. If you have struggled in your fantasy betting to this point and are looking for a boom-or-bust parlay, pair Starks with any two fighters from the card's fourteen different bouts going off in the +/-100's for a payout of between 15 and 20 times your investment, or go really big by doubling both of the night's overpaying dogs by bundling Starks with Mike Pierce's +600 and one safer bet. You will be very unlikely to hit the latter, as both are rightful underdogs, but the two men average a payout of approximately 2-1/2 times what the Vegas books are offering, making them strong value plays and a way to potentially turn a seemingly dead midseason bankroll into a contender again before the home stretch.