“In the future, watch out for that guy,” Saenz told MMAjunkie.
In a preliminary-card bout that aired on FS1 from Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., Saenz (11-5 MMA, 4-3 UFC) squeaked by promotional newcomer Dvalishvili (7-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) with a narrow split-decision victory.
According to MMADecisions.com, it was a difficult fight to score. Media members registered tallies that ranged from 30-27 for Saenz to 30-27 for Dvalishvili. Ultimately, though, Saenz got the win with official 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28 tallies.
Once a top bantamweight prospect, Saenz was stuck in a three-fight skid before his close win over Dvalishvili, a native of the country of Georgia who now trains with Team Serra Longo in New York. Saenz, a 37-year-old former KOTC champion, got his first victory since August 2015, and he endured three hard-fought rounds at UFC Fight Night 123 to get it.
Afterward, he raved about Dvalishvili, who entered the fight as nearly a 2-1 favorite and overcame a nasty and bloody head gash to keep the pressure on.
“Tough dude, man,” Saenz said. “He’s got a great career ahead of him, that’s for sure. … I hit him with a lot of shots, but in this game, everyone is tough.
“I hit him with a few, and he bounced back. He kept coming. He kept coming. That says a lot.”
Before the win over Dvalishvili, Saenz lost to Augusto Mendes via split decision but earned “Fight of the Night” honors. Before that, he tested himself against some elite 135-pounders – Urijah Faber and Eddie Wineland – and came up short. Now in his late 30s, he knows he has only so many years of fighting left ahead of him, but with a victory in the final fight of his current contract, he’s got some new life.
So, what’s next?
“Christmas with my family,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking about right now.”
But in a battle between one man who saw the clinch as an opportunity to strike and another who looked at it as an invitation to wrestle, Saenz (11-5 MMA, 4-3) did enough damage with his punches and knees to win a narrow split-decision victory over the debuting Dvalishvili (7-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC).
The bantamweight bout was part of the preliminary card of today’s UFC Fight Night 123 event at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. It aired on FS1 following additional prelims on UFC Fight Pass and ahead of a main card on FS1.
For Saenz, the challenge in this fight was finding and maintaining enough space to strike. That’s because Dvalishvili made it his mission to suffocate Saenz’s offense in close, using one body lock after another to attempt to drag Saenz to the mat and shut down his momentum.
The problem for Dvalishvili is that even when he finished those takedowns, they didn’t lead to much meaningful offense on the mat. And he found himself at a striking range with Saenz, he got battered by short punches and knees to the body in the clinch.
Early on it seemed like those blows might take a toll on Dvalishvili, as could the accidental clash of heads that opened his face up early in the fight.
But the UFC newcomer’s pace hardly waned over the course of three hard rounds, just as Saenz remained ever vigilant against the threat of the takedown while also managing to fire off some strikes in the small space he had to work with.
In the end, Saenz did enough to convince two of the three judges, winning the fight by the slimmest of margins with scores of 28-29, 29-28, and 29-28.
For Saenz, the win snaps a three-fight losing streak in the UFC, giving him his first victory in more than two years. Dvalishvili’s loss ends a six-fight winning streak outside the UFC.
Up-to-the-minute UFC Fight Night 123 results include:
Disclaimer: The following section is designed for entertainment purposes only. The unit sizes serve as a rough representation of the percentage of bankroll risked, as well as my confidence in said plays. If you intend on gambling, I suggest that you do so responsibly and legally, as it is at your own risk. All lines are drawn from 5Dimes.eu on the day this article was published (Dec. 8, 2017).
Playable parlay pieces (my most confident favorites):
Eryk Anders -310
Trevin Giles -270
Summary: My recommended parlay pieces are typically my most confident picks that could serve as potential legs for whatever play you’re trying to put together.
First up is Eryk Anders (9-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who is facing Markus Perez (9-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC). Essentially, we have a battle between a process-driven fighter and a flamboyant opportunist.
For reasons that I elaborate on in my in-depth breakdown, I believe that Anders should be the better fighter with a clear path to victory here.
Next, I elected to with Iuri Alcantara(35-8 MMA, 9-5 UFC), who comes in at a reasonable -210 should you still have faith in the veteran. Alcantara is facing Alejandro Perez (18-6-1 MMA, 4-1-1 UFC), a scrappy Mexican fighter who is coming off of two close and controversial fights.
Although Perez’s style of engagement can be frustrating for his opposition (and sometimes even his coaches), Alcantara is an experienced fighter who has shown he can work through much worse weather than what Perez will likely offer. Furthermore, Alcantara’s patented counter left-hand should serve him well considering the success we saw Andre Soukhamthath have against Perez in their last outing.
Lastly, I feel that Trevin Giles (10-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) could be worth a gander for your potential plays. Giles – an undefeated fighter with promise – reminds me of a young Rashad Evans given his skill-set. Giles appears to have some savvy in his striking, whether it be by the way that he moves his feet or throws his hands.
Carrying a natural feel for takedowns, Giles seems more than capable of taking a fight to the floor when he chooses to. And it is in grappling exchanges where Giles’ intelligence and potential shine through. From his positional choices, rides and overall awareness, there a lot there to tell me that he won’t be a fish out of the water if he finds himself swimming with Antonio Braga Neto (9-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC), a fighter who is coming off of a three-year layoff from competition).
Aljamain Sterling +115 (0.5 unit)
Merab Dvalishvili -160 (1 unit)
Summary: For straight plays, I typically look for fighters who I not only feel confident about (whether it be by their sample size or the matchup at hand), but also have a low asking price. And though it is admittedly hard to feel too confident on either side of Aljamain Sterling (14-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) vs. Marlon Moraes (19-5-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC), there could be value in playing the underdog in this spot.
As stated in my main-card breakdown, Moraes is making a quick four-week turnaround into what could be one of the tougher stylistic matchups for him in the division. And with Sterling being one of my few official underdog picks, I am willing to put my money (at least a small portion of it) where my mouth is to find out.
I also elected to take a shot on Merab Dvalishvili (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who has an asking price of -160 as of this writing. Although Dvalishvili is a debuting fighter (which can always be a potential flag for plays), there is a lot to like about the Georgian’s game.
Hailing from a region that is rich in Sambo, Dvalishvili carries some skills that will likely serve him well against Frankie Saenz (10-5 MMA, 3-3 UFC). Saenz, a former collegiate wrestler who found success in MMA, tends to do some of his best work (as well as takes needed/brief breaks) from the clinch. The problem, however, is that this is also where Dvalishvili – an accoladed sambo player and judo black belt – makes his money.
Coupled with the fact that Saenz is coming off a long layoff, and I could see a successful debut for the Georgian fighter who is over a decade younger than his counterpart.
Props worth looking at:
Iuri Alcantara/Alejandro Perez over 2.5: -120 (1 unit)
Eryk Anders “inside the distance”: -125 (1.5 units)
Summary: My first prop is a total, as I elected to go with the over 2.5 in the Alcantara-Perez matchup. With the pecking prodding nature of Perez’s game, he tends to find himself in close contests.
For that reason, it can be tricky in betting for or against Perez, as a play on the over could serve as a hedge for taking a side on the fight (e.g. Alcantara as my parlay piece).
My second prop is also chalk, as I have Anders inside the distance. Insanely heavy-hands aside, I believe that Anders – as stated in my breakdown – has a tangible path to put his opponent away both on the ground and in transition.
Fights to avoid (live dogs, high intangibles, etc.):
“Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” is back with its fourth episode of the second season, which now can be watched in its entirety.
White, who hosts the series with former UFC champion Matt Serra and MMA vet Din Thomas, uses the show to search for future UFC talent, though there are plenty of pitstops along the way.
In the fourth episode of Season 2, Gian Villante steps in for Thomas as the guys hit New York City. They celebrate Serra’s birthday while taking batting practice with the New York Mets (with special guests Chris Weidman and Kelvin Gastelum), do a ride-along with the New York Police Department, dance with the Rockettes and grab a New York slice.
The guys also visit nearby New Jersey, where they check out Serra protege and featherweight James Gonzalez at Ring of Combat 59. They also watch a fight between Roufusport fighter Raufeon Stots and Serra student Merab Dvalishvili, who got a quick win to earn himself a UFC contract.
The lineup for the UFC’s debut in Fresno, Calif., continues to grow with the addition of a bantamweight bout.
Frankie Saenz (11-5 MMA, 3-3 UFC) will take on promotional newcomer Merab Dvalishvili (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 123 in December. UFC officials recently announced the new booking following a report from MMA DNA.
UFC Fight Night 123 takes place Dec. 9 at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. The main card airs on FS1 following prelims on FS2 and UFC Fight Pass.
Saenz is badly in need of a win. After starting his UFC career with three straight decision wins over Nolan Ticman, Iuri Alcantara and Sirwan Kakai over a one-year stretch from 2014-15, the Arizonan is on a three-fight slide.
Dvalishvili is a member of the Matt Serra-Ray Longo fight team on Long Island in New York and gets his call from the UFC on the strength of a six-fight winning streak. In June, he landed a spinning back fist for a 15-second knockout of Raufeon Stots at Ring of Combat 59, giving him four straight wins for that promotion. Prior to that, he had a pair of wins for CES MMA in 2016 after a 1-2 start to his pro career.
With the addition, the UFC Fight Night 123 card now includes: