Nathaniel Wood (+154) vs. Casey Kenney (-192)

Weight Class: Bantamweight (135 lbs)

Fight fans are very excited for this highly anticipated bantamweight bout. A late addition to the UFC 254 card on Fight Island, Casey Kenney vs. Nathaniel Wood looks set to be one of the most exciting match-ups on the day. As such, the UFC has slated it for a featured early prelim shot, which should get underway around noon (U.S. Eastern Time).

The fight was put together on less than a month’s notice following a big win from Kenney on October 3rd. Kenney was able to repeatedly land heavy body kicks in addition to a steady diet of boxing combinations en-route to a unanimous decision over Heili Alateng. Aleteng’s torso was sporting a nasty bruise by the end of the second round but managed to fight his way to the score cards.

After getting his hand raised, a jubilant Kenney shouted “I wanna fight next weekend!”

Prior to the dominant win over Alateng, the Indiana born Kenney secured his first UFC submission over Louis Smolka. Kenney came in looking a lot bigger for the fight and his power edge was on display, just as it was in the Alateng bout. The win was a huge bounce-back performance for the hoosier, who lost in a tough outing against Merab Dvalishvili back in February.

Kenney was taken down 12 times in the bout with Merab. This sounds alarming, but considering the way Merab has been mauling everyone thrown his way lately, Kenney’s performance wasn’t that bad. He showed a lot more fight against Merab than others who have attempted it recently and seems to have bulked up following the loss.

This is great considering the ground game we’ve already seen from Kenney in the UFC. His first two UFC victories were heavy on grappling exchanges; the first being a split decision win over Ray Borg and the other coming in a catchweight bout with Manny Bermudez. Manny Bermudez came into the bout five pounds overweight, but Kenney was still able to flip him more than once on the ground. He also defended submissions very well and worked for his own top control in another gritty decision win.

Kenney has been having success in the striking department, but one has to assume that the improved strength and conditioning will only add to an already solid ground game.

As for Nathaniel Wood, “The Prospect” recently secured his own bounce-back win against UFC newcomer John Castaneda. Wood looked as good as he’s ever looked in the July bout, cashing our pick for a decision at (+220). His boxing combinations were accurate and measured, he wasn’t forcing the action. This was a great sign considering the outcome of his previous match-up with John Dodson, where Wood was KO’d despite having his moments in the fight.

The Dodson fight displayed that Wood has top 10 ceiling, as few finishing touches could have secured him a win there. As stated before, he got a bit overeager in that one. He obliged Dodson’s taunts and ended up on the receiving end of more than one of “The Magician” and his lightening fast combinations. Wood was also the victim of some suspect officiating in the Dodson bout, as the Londoner was deducted a point for an inadvertent low blow without a hard warning. He seemed eager to make up for the deduction and as a result, pressed the action a bit too much.

Though Castaneda was a step down from John Dodson in terms of competition, Wood did exactly what he needed to do and secured a dominant win. He displayed his wide range as a mixed martial artist, mixing in clinch work and grappling along with a steady barrage of strikes.

In the past, both in the UFC and with Cage Warriors, Wood has demonstrated his aggression on the ground. He relentlessly attacks for submissions on the ground, securing three in the UFC to this point. He took a more measured approach when on the ground with Castaneda, perhaps determined to be patient after the Dodson KO. With that said, Wood can definitely be classified as an aggressive submission artist.

These are two fighters with top 10 ceiling who are very evenly matched. Both men should be commended for taking such a high stakes fight on short notice, as the winner should see a huge boost in their career.

In terms of power, the edge has to go to Casey Kenney based on recent outings. He has been hitting like a truck lately, especially with the body kicks. It’s not that Nathaniel Wood lacks power, it’s just that Kenney appears to be built better for the weight class.

What Wood lacks in power he makes up for with speed, however. Wood is very shifty on the feet, constantly switching stances. His combinations are concise and accurate. The Englishman is a very dangerous striker when in a rhythm.

The ground is the wild card dynamic of this fight. So far, Kenney has looked very good on the ground and he’s done it against some solid competition. With that said, Nathaniel Wood will be the most aggressive submission specialist he’s faced and it will be interesting to see how he weathers the storm. Casey Kenney does have a five round, LFA main event victory over surging UFC flyweight Brandon Royval, who is very crafty with submissions.

This could go either way and it’s ultimately a “pick your style” type match-up. If you think that Casey Kenney is susceptible to being pieced up, go with Wood. He is more than capable of scoring points and can run away with rounds if he avoids big shots. If you think Casey Kenney’s power will be too much for Nathaniel Wood, go with him.

For me, I’m going to be going with the second option. I just think that Casey Kenney will be landing more pronounced shots that will add up on the score cards and prevent Wood from getting in a rhythm. I also can’t bet against Kenney having answers for Wood’s clinch and grappling attempts should he go that route. He has yet to be dominated on the ground yet and he has physical advantages over Wood in that department.

Ultimately I think that Kenney will tire Wood out and start to run away with the fight as it progresses. It should be close, but if Kenney’s power bar is where it’s been recently, it’s tough to pick against him.

From a betting perspective, the moneyline isn’t great but there is no certainty on a decision prop. Both fighters are capable of pulling off a submission and grappling exchanges are likely. Both fighters are also well rounded in the striking department and are capable of a knockout. Kenney by decision (+130) is probably the best play, but I’m personally not willing to take that risk. For this reason, I’m sticking with the moneyline and using this is a parlay piece.

If the line trends in Wood’s direction, I wouldn’t be alarmed. This is a close, high stakes match-up with paths to victory for both fighters. If the line gets to -170, I’m going to place a unit on Casey Kenney moneyline straight up.

Prediction and play: Casey Kenney moneyline (-192)

More UFC 254 Breakdowns:

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier

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