UFC 252: Merab Dvalishvili vs. John Dodson, full breakdown + gambling analysis

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Merab Dvalishvili (-215) vs. John Dodson (+180)

Weight Class: Bantamweight (135lbs)

Initially slated as a featured prelim, Merab Dvalishvili vs. John Dodson will now be on the main card after Frankie Edgar vs. Pedro Munoz was moved back a week. Featured prelims are arguably a bigger slot than the middle of a main card. It will be the last fight of the night airing on national television and the UFC generally books a great scrap in this slot. There’s a reason why Merab vs. Dodson was initially slated there, as Dodson will be looking to derail yet another hype train in Merab Dvalishvili.

Dvalishvili — a member of Team Serra/Longo and native of the Republic of Georgia — set a record for take downs at 135lbs his last go around. The Georgian landed 13 take downs in a unanimous decision win over Gustavo Lopez, who stepped in on short notice. Merab brought constant pressure the entire fight and kept an almost inhuman pace, controlling the fight from start to finish.

What was particuarly impressive about this record setting performance was the fact that Merab was breaking a record he had just set back in February. In a unanimous decision win over Casey Kenney, Dvalishvili landed 12 take downs. Kenney was ranked at the time and is still a highly regarded upcoming Bantamweight, securing a submission against Louis Smolka his last go around.

The fights with Lopez, Kenney, and basically all of Merabs appearences have followed similar scripts. Merab Dvalishvili simply “Khabib’s” people but in a more fast paced manner. Where Khabib looks to grind on his opponents, Dvalishvili continuously throws (albeit light) strikes from start to finish. He never runs out of gas and hasn’t come across an opponent who has been able to stop his sheer wrestling power.

Merab’s lone UFC loss was a guillotine submission to Ricky Simon right at the buzzer. Dodson is a striker and has never secured a submission in the UFC, so it’s hard to see him being the one to negate Merab’s wrestling.

With that said, Dodson is certainly live in this fight. The Magician is coming off of an underdog win over Nathaniel Wood last February and will be looking to derail another hype train on Saturday.

Wood closed as a 2-to-1 favorite over Dodson and was winning boxing exchanges before getting overeager and ultimately, knocked out. Wood had no answers for Dodson’s lightening fast counters and was unable to take the now 35 year-old Dodson down. It only took a couple counter combinations for Wood to lose his balance, something he wasn’t going to survive against a seasoned veteran in Dodson.

Against Merab Dvalishvili, Dodson will be looking to do more of the same. Merab tends to come forward wildly, so the chance for a brilliant counter strike is certainly there. If anybody is up to this task, it is certainly somebody with the hand speed of John Dodson. They don’t call him “The Magician” for nothing.

The path is certainly there, but it’s hard for me not to like Merab’s chances for another decision. While Dodson’s wrestling and takedown defense are elite, he is also much smaller for the weight class compared to Dvalishvili. I certainly think that Merab will have a tough time rag dolling Dodson like he did to Lopez and Kenney; but it’s hard to see a guy landing 12 and 13 take downs in consecutive fights getting stuffed by a smaller fighter. Dodson is as scrappy as they come and I have no doubt that he’ll be able to hold his own for a time, likely landing good counters, but Merab is simply too much.

Expect Merab to, at the very least, control the Octagon for the entire fight. He will almost certainly get the fight to the ground by the end of the first and will keep Dodson down via brute strength. Though Dodson has a plethora of wrestling credentials, everything else is stacked against him on the ground for this fight.

For these reasons, I’m going with Merab Dvalishvili by decision. FanDuel currently has this prop valued at (-140) and climbing. Though (-140) could be better for a method of victory prop, points will almost certainly be Merab’s path to victory. He has won every UFC appearence by decision thus far and Dodson has never been knocked out. As good as Merab is, he hasn’t shown much finishing ability yet and it’s tough to see that changing against a guy who has never been stopped. Merab by points is a solid bet and a hedge with Dodson KO (+500) is always an option.

Prediction and play: Merab Dvalishvili by points (-140)

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