Nik Lentz (+142) vs. Mike Grundy (-168)

Weight Class: Featherweight (145 lbs)

Nik Lentz is set to return to the Octagon for the first time in almost a year when he takes on England’s Mike Grundy at UFC Fight Island 7. The card will mark the promotion’s first of the new year and yet another trip to Abu Dhabi. Fight Island was a huge success in 2020, having generated loads of outside interest in MMA. The UFC will be looking to keep the train rolling in 2021 with three Fight Island cards over the span of seven days, of course capped off by a Conor McGregor pay-per-view on January 23.

But as for UFC Fight Island 7, this bout between Nik Lentz and Mike Grundy is certainly a sleeper fight. For Nik “The Carnie” Lentz, 2020 was an even tougher year than most of us have had. The veteran recently spoke to James Lynch of MMA News about a debilitating eye injury that left him sidelined for much of 2020.

Lentz told Lynch that he had “triple vision” during the third round of his January, 2020 bout with Arnold Allen and that he was “basically fighting three guys” during the last five minutes of the fight. Following the bout with Allen — a unanimous decision loss — Lentz said that he had double vision. His eye had healed properly, but his vision was still messed up. Following multiple consolations with doctors, Lentz opted to undergo a risky procedure that could have caused him to lose his eye if unsuccessful. Thankfully, the surgery went well and Nik Lentz — a veteran of 24 UFC contests — is back in business.

Though currently riding a two fight losing streak, both losses have come against very game opponents. Lentz last came up short in a hard fought decision against Arnold Allen last January. He did plenty of things well in the fight and his striking looked as good as it’s ever looked, but ultimately, Allen was world class on the feet. His counters were relentless, but Lentz continued to walk forward. Prior to the clash with Allen, Lentz came up short in what was his third bout with Charles Oliveira, who has since positioned himself within the top five contenders at lightweight. The first bout between the two was ruled a no contest thanks to an illegal knee, then Oliveira was able to secure the next two via stoppage.

All told, Lentz has fought against the best in the world and has held his own. “Good losses” are absolutely a thing in MMA, especially when breaking down a fight. The experience gap between Lentz and Grundy is mighty, with Lentz having secured wins over Scott Holtzman and Gray Maynard among many others. On the losing side, he’s squared up against Islam Makachev, Chad Mendes and Evan Dunham in addition to the three tilts with Oliveira. These are all elite fighters and Arnold Allen certainly has potential to get there as well.

For Grundy, the Darren Till teammate is 1-1 in the UFC and 12-2 overall. He last came up on the losing end of a rather decisive decision against the highly touted Movsar Evloev back in June. After finding early success with takedowns in round one, Grundy eventually started forcing his attempts and gassed out as a result. He did have a very, very tight D’Arce choke in round one, but Evloev was able to scramble out of it. From there, the Russian was able to get in a great striking rhythm. He had distance mastered and was routinely snapping Grundy’s head back with a crisp and accurate jab. Grundy landed no more than five significant strikes in any round and was unable to have any success with takedowns after round one. He largely started to panic wrestle and lunge for takedowns.

His UFC debut back in March of 2019 went much better. Matched up against his countryman Nad Narimani in London, Grundy stuck to his striking and didn’t need to implement his wrestling base. In that bout, it was Grundy who had distance mastered for much of the first round. Narimani couldn’t find his range while Grundy wobbled him with some concise right hands. There wasn’t much volume from Grundy, but when he landed, his shots were well hidden and landed hard.

In round 2, Grundy continued to land good shots with the right, but Narimani started to get in a groove. He started landing heavy combinations and had Grundy backing up. Narimani pushed the action too much however, and ended up getting clipped. A counter left floored Narimani while Grundy laid down ground-and-pound. Narimani eventually got back to his feet but never regained composure. After a few more seconds of wobbling and follow up shots from Grundy, the fight was called.

Stylistically, both of these fighters are known for their ground game. Grundy is an excellent wrestler and has dangerous submission skills. He has a very tight squeeze and sets up his take downs flawlessly. He will usually look to change levels when the opponent commits to a head combo and routinely sets up takedowns with his overhand right.

The problem for Grundy on the ground is that he hasn’t been able to hold his opponents down for long. He may be a better wrestler than Lentz, but Lentz has better scrambles. I just can’t see Grundy being able to hold Nik Lentz down, but his best chance for victory is probably via submission.

On the feet, neither fighter is a world beater but I certainly give the edge to Lentz. “The Carnie” doesn’t have relentless volume by any stretch, but he comes forward and lands a-lot more than Grundy has shown an ability to do. Lentz doesn’t close distance very well, which is how Narimani got clipped. However, Lentz has shown he has a chin and was able to walk through fire against Allen until the horn sounded.

Grundy’s counter right may be dangerous, but so far, that’s all he seems to throw at the UFC level. He normally bounces back and forth and only throws the right, maybe an occasional combination. Lentz isn’t a great boxer by any stretch, but if the fight stays on the feet, I edge Lentz.

The biggest detractor for Lentz has to be all the damage taken over the course of his career. Obviously the eye injury is concerning, and we hope to god he doesn’t re-injure it. With over 40 professional fights in the bag, Nik Lentz has a-lot of wear and tear. Sometimes fighters with this type of resume fall off a cliff on a dime, but I think the time off (assuming the eye stays healthy) will benefit his chin.

This is a tight match-up, but ultimately a dog or bust play. Given the edges Lentz has in experience and stand-up, it’s hard not to take a chance on Nik Lentz here for my first underdog play of 2021. I like this play a-lot the more I digest it and there’s a clear hedge opportunity with Mike Grundy by submission for those interested.

Lentz by decision is probably going to be a worthwhile prop, but for now, I’m going to throw .5U on Lentz at (+142). I’m also including Nik Lentz moneyline in a two-leg parlay with a Conor McGregor first round knockout at (+200). This yields odds of (+626) and I’m throwing 20 bills on it.

Prediction and play: Nik Lentz moneyline (+142)

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