UFC 259 Odds & Picks: 19 Ways To Bet Saturday’s Fights, Projections For Every Bout, More

UFC 259 Odds & Picks: 19 Ways To Bet Saturday’s Fights, Projections For Every Bout, More article feature image
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Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: Close up of the UFC middleweight championship.

  • Ready for UFC 259? Light heavyweights Israel Adesanya and Jan Blachowicz headline a 15-bout card featuring three title fights.
  • UFC betting analyst Sean Zerillo breaks down his projections for each matchup and details 18 (!) different picks he's making.

The UFC continues its run at the APEX in Las Vegas on Saturday, with an incredibly loaded PPV card for UFC 259, featuring three title fights and 15 bouts in total.

The preliminary card starts at 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+ before moving to ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.  The main card, which features five fights, starts at 10 p.m. ET on PPV.

The cage at APEX (25-foot diameter) is about 30% smaller in square footage than a regular UFC octagon (30-foot diameter). Consequently, the finish rate at APEX was roughly 10% higher in 2020 than at other venues.

Over the three UFC shows to start the year on Fight Island (30-foot cage), 21 of the 35 fights (60%) went the distance. Since returning to APEX, 17 of the 43 fights (56%) have gone the distance, but that includes an outlier week from last Saturday, where every fight went over the listed total, and eight of nine bouts reached a decision.

However, based upon the listed odds for UFC 259, nine of the 15 fights (60%) are expected to reach a decision, and you may continue to find value on distance or decision props and overs.

If you are new to this piece, or this sport, note that in addition to moneylines and over/unders, there are numerous ways to bet on an MMA fight, including exact winning methods, winning round props and whether the matchup will go to a decision or finish inside the distance.

As a result, after examining all of the betting options, your typical UFC card can offer a substantial amount of actionable value.

UFC 259 Moneyline Projections

Below, you can find my fair odds moneyline projection for each of Saturday’s 15 bouts. In the next section, you’ll discover forecasts for those fights to finish inside the distance or for each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission.

Odds as of Friday and via DraftKings.

UFC 259 Prop Projections and Picks

In addition to creating a crowdsourced projection for moneyline plays, I also collect data on each fighter to win by decision, knockout or submission, enabling us to determine fair odds for each fight to go the distance or for each fighter to win inside of the distance.

[Click to Skip to Main Card]

UFC 259 Odds & Picks

Early Preliminary Card

  • ESPN+
  • 6 p.m. ET

Bantamweight fight: Mario Bautista vs. Trevin Jones

Odds
Bautista odds -240
Jones odds +190
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -177 / +131

Crowdsourced Projection: (Bautista 79%)

It’s hard to fault Mario Bautista for his only professional loss — a submission on short notice to lurking bantamweight title challenger Cory Sandhagen — and he showed excellent striking skills in subsequent wins — while picking up two performance bonuses — to prove that he could eventually move up to face ranked competition.

Bautista’s actions appear to be very calculated. For example, he was trying to set up this flying knee against Miles John, repeatedly, before he connected.

Bautista is part of the bantamweights’ contingent from the MMA Lab in Phoenix that includes Casey Kenney and Kyler Phillips, all of whom are competing at UFC 259. Bautista had some terrific preparation against higher-caliber competition than his upcoming opponent in camp and should be finetuned for another big effort.

Trevin Jones won his own UFC debut on short notice, after getting dominated in the first round by Timur Valiev (lost 53-8 on significant strikes), but “5 Star” showed excellent durability and heart, rallying to knock out a tiring Valiev in Round 2.

Bautista isn’t overpowering, and the fact that Jones has recorded six split decisions in 18 fights is worrisome; he’s able to keep fights close and make them ugly.  But Bautista’s output is much more likely to win him minutes with the judges, so long as Jones doesn’t drag him to the mat.

I would play Bautista’s moneyline up to about -250 and/or bet his decision prop down to even money (+100) at relatively similar edges compared to my projections.

Bets: 

  • Mario Bautista (-230, 0.5 units)
  • Mario Bautista wins by Decision (+135, 0.5u)

Lightweight fight: Uros Medic vs. Aalon Cruz

Odds
Medic odds -177
Cruz odds +144
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -134 / +100

Crowdsourced Projection: (Medic 65%)

Both of these Contender Series products recently switched camps, and either or both (or potentially, neither) might have made substantial improvements since we last saw them in the octagon.

Both have big bodies for the 155-pound division but while Medic is one-inch taller, Cruz actually has a seven-inch reach advantage and has also faced a better slate of opponents to date.

I generally avoid betting Alaska FC products since they haven’t fared too well on MMA’s biggest stage after padding their records against low-level regional opponents, and Medic hasn’t been past the six-minute mark in any fight. Hence, his cardio in the latter part of any bout remains a mystery until we see it in action.

Medic should carry more power, and Cruz’s knockout loss to Spike Carylye wasn’t the best look. So based on prior optics, Medic wins in Round 1 (+225) will likely be a popular bet, but it’s not something that I’m willing to play.

It’s likely that if this bout does get extended, Cruz, as the more experienced and versatile fighter, could begin to win minutes off of a tiring opponent.

I show slight value on this fight to end inside the distance (projected -288, listed -210), but I don’t have enough information on either fighter to make that play with confidence.

With 15 fights on the card, you don’t need much justification to bypass a few of these bouts, and if both guys have made strides in their game, this relatively low-level contest could certainly go to the judges.

Bets: 

  • Pass

Women’s Strawweight fight: Livinha Souza vs. Amanda Lemos

Odds
Souza odds +190
Lemos odds -240
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -286 / +205

Crowdsourced Projection: (Lemos 63%)

The line movement on this bout is very curious; Lemos opened as a +165 underdog (implied 37.7%) and has been streamed all the way to -250 (implied 71.4%) at some books as of writing, a swing of more than 33% in terms of implied win probability.

At this point, I would have to think about taking a stab at Souza’s moneyline at +200 or better, relative to my projection of +170, or her decision prop at +325, relative to my projection of +211, but Lemos does appear to be the right side. She offers strong takedown defense, is extremely physical and throws at nearly triple the volume of her opponent on the feet with just as much power, if not more.

Souza needs to win this fight either by securing a submission or controlling her opponent for multiple rounds. That doesn’t seem particularly likely, resulting in my hesitancy to fire at her moneyline.

Combined, these two women have recorded 17 of their 26 career wins inside the distance but I don’t think a finish here is nearly as likely, and as a result, I think there’s substantial value on either the Over or on the Distance prop for this fight (projected -519, listed -240).

For now, I’m going to continue to wait to see where this moneyline goes before I make a final decision on playing this bout, but I’ll likely play the distance prop or pass entirely.

Bets: 

  • Pass

Welterweight fight: Sean Brady vs. Jake Matthews

Odds
Brady odds -215
Matthews odds +170
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -215 / +155

Crowdsourced Projection: (Brady 72%)

My colleague Erich Richter has a bet on Brady by submission (+525) for this fight and you should read his breakdown, which includes stats for both men.

We both like and see value in Brady but have a slight disagreement regarding the method of victory. I projected his submission line at +631 and his decision prop at -107, so I went with the latter at listed odds of +135.

I think Brady has Matthews covered pretty much everywhere, but particularly in terms of athleticism, and Matthews has struggled against similar opponents.

In addition to the decision prop (down to about +110), I would play Brady’s moneyline at -220 or better, at just more than a 3% edge relative to my projection.

Furthermore, there’s value on the fight to go the full 15 minutes up to -185, particularly at FanDuel, where you can snag that prop at -166, relative to my projection at -250; but that feels redundant alongside Brady’s decision prop.

Bets: 

  • Sean Brady (-210, 0.5u)
  • Sean Brady Wins by Decision (+135, 0.5u)

Light Heavyweight fight: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg

Odds
Nzechukwu odds +200
Ulberg odds -250
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -167 / +125

Crowdsourced Projection: (Ulberg 73%)

Ulberg has just three professional MMA bouts under his belt (don’t believe the 5-0 record that the UFC is trying to sell you). Still, he is a talented kickboxer out of the same camp as Israel Adesanya and is someone that the UFC is trying to build hype for immediately.

Before Ulberg emphatically earned his UFC contract, Adesanya mentioned that he typically wants no part of Ulberg in the training room.

Despite a six-inch reach discrepancy, I expect Ulberg to have his way with Kennedy Nzechukwu, who is returning from a 19-month layoff and hasn’t shown any offensive grappling to date.

Ulberg should get exactly the type of fight he wants, which is a range kickboxing match, and he should be both the faster and more technical man.

The line for this fight has almost been steamed too far after Ulberg opened around -170, but you can still find a -240 at FanDuel and I’m ok with playing Ulberg at a small edge up to -250 (projected -270).

His odds to win inside the distance (+115) also offer value relative to my projection (projected -158), but this could turn into a low-volume affair, and Nzechukwu has shown durability on the feet.

I won’t bet too heavily into a fighter with minimal MMA experience, but the UFC has handed him an idealistic first matchup to set him up for immediate success.

Bets: 

  • Carlos Ulberg (-230, 0.5u)

Flyweight fight: Tim Elliott vs. Jordan Espinosa

Odds
Elliott odds -110
Espinosa odds -110
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -200 / +150

Crowdsourced Projection: (Elliott 58%)

In a larger octagon, I probably would make Elliott a lesser favorite in this spot, but the small cage should help him close the distance on Espinosa, who is the much faster man and the far superior athlete.

In a pure striking matchup from a distance, it’s hard to imagine Elliott outpointing Espinosa (lands +1.49 additional strikes per minute, with a superior differential; +1.76 to +0.86), but Elliott’s wrestling (four takedowns per 15 minutes, 48% accuracy) and submission game (attempts 1.2 per minutes) could pose problems for “The Gamer,” who has been tapped out twice in the UFC and four times in his career.

Elliott moved his camp back to Kansas City under the tutelage of James Krause, and he has looked much sharper in his recent win over Ryan Benoit than he had in any of his prior bouts while training in Las Vegas. He looked composed in the early parts of the fight while maintaining his stamina into the later rounds.

If he’s able to put in work on Espinosa’s legs, as David Dvorak did in Espinosa’s recent loss, that could help to close the speed gap between these two men and serve to give Elliott the upper hand.

There’s certainly a possibility that Espinosa is simply too fast for Elliott and forces him to chase him around the octagon before gassing and either being outpointed or submitted. Still, I’ll always back a fighter at plus money who offers multiple paths to victory and will fight like absolute hell for my money.

Conversely, there’s also a path where Elliott takes Espinosa down immediately and goes to work, or one in which he catches Espinosa coming in for a takedown of his own and insta-subs him.

You can play Elliott on the moneyline down to -110, but I also show value on his decision prop (projected +192, listed +270) and submission prop (projected +342, listed +400) since I make him the slight favorite in this fight.

Krause is one of the best coaches and cornermen in the game right now, and I’m confident that he’ll have a solid game plan setup for his fighter.

Bets: 

  • Tim Elliott (+103, 1u)

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Preliminary Card

  • ESPN/ESPN+
  • 8 p.m. ET

Flyweight fight: Rogerio Bontorin vs. Kai Kara-France

Odds
Bontorin odds +110
Kara-France odds -136
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -215 / +155

Crowdsourced Projection: (Kara-France 59%)

Kara-France has disappointed multiple times as a favorite in the UFC, falling to Brandon Royval by submission as a -233 favorite in his last fight and dropping a decision to Brandon Moreno as a -185 favorite back in 2019.

He opened as a -205 favorite for this matchup with Rogerio Bontorin but has been bet down to -135 as of writing, a ten percent drop in implied win probability.

I wouldn’t consider the Kara-France side unless it moved to -125, at more than a 3% edge than my projection, but we are approaching that territory at some shops.

For now, I show value on Kara-France to win by decision at +140 (implied 41.7%) relative to my projection at +109, and I would play that down to about +125.

Kara-France’s takedown defense (90%) has proven sturdy through six UFC fights. While there’s a possibility that he could get caught in another flash submission as he did against Royval, that likelihood appears overrated relative to Bontorin’s listed odds. The Brazilian isn’t an outstanding wrestler, and Kara-France is an adept scrambler.

The Kiwi is much more likely to win minutes in this fight if he keeps the matchup on the feet. He has landed nearly three additional strikes per minute than Bontorin (5.2 to 2.3) and is far more responsible defensively (66% to 38% in striking defense).

Furthermore, Bontorin recently recovered from a broken ankle within the past year, and it’s difficult for a fighter to build or maintain their cardio when recovering from such an injury.

Bontorin offers a path to victory on the mat, either through his jiu-jitsu or minutes of top control, but Kara-France is extremely difficult to track down without getting countered big. I trust him to pick away at range for the majority of this fight, but not enough to make a substantial wager.

Bets: 

  • Kai Kara France Wins by Decision (+140, 0.5u)

Flyweight fight: Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov

Odds
Benavidez odds +110
Askarov odds -143
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -235 / +170

Crowdsourced Projection: (Benavidez 51%)

Askarov missed weight by one pound on Friday, and fighters who have missed weight since the start of the pandemic have gone 8-21 (27.6%) in their matchups at average odds right around even money. 

Even before the miss, I had locked in positions on Benavidez by decision (still +300 at FanDuel) and the fight to go the distance, both of which represent substantial edges relative to my projection.

It’s always nervy to take on Russian wrestlers. I haven’t been able to verify this exact stat, but I read this week that Khabib and his Dagestani countrymen are a combined 236-27 (89.7%) in the UFC. Even if that’s not true, it certainly feels like it is since the number didn’t really shock me.

But to side with Askarov, in my opinion, you need to land on the conclusion that Benavidez’s chin is shot at age 36, on the heels of consecutive stoppage losses to Deiveson Figuerido.

But Figuerido’s power at 125 is a complete outlier, and Benavidez has only lost to the best flyweights in history (Figuerido twice, Demetrious Johnson twice, Dominick Cruz twice and Sergio Pettis).

Not only is Askarov a significant step down in competition relative to those other men, but he also doesn’t possess anywhere near the same level of power or precision as either Figuerido or Johnson in his striking.

Askarov may get Benavidez (65% takedown defense) to the mat (2.00 takedowns per 15 minutes, 18% accuracy), but he isn’t submitting Joe-Jitsu or keeping him down for very long. Benavidez is one of the best scramblers that I have ever watched and even if he has lost a touch of speed at his relatively advanced age, it hasn’t been noticeable.

Askarov has largely won his fights with control time, particularly in the later rounds against tiring opponents like Alexandre Pantoja (5:11 of control) and Tim Elliott (4:05 of control), both of whom are known to gas. His style isn’t necessarily the type that should pose Benavidez with serious issues, and he’s also the lesser athlete in this affair.

It’s been a long time since Benavidez was out-grappled and even in his first affair with Figuerido, he was ahead on the scorecards until the two inadvertently butted heads.

I would bet Joe B’s moneyline down to +110, play his decision prop at +180 or better, and combine those with the distance prop, at -245 or better, in case Askarov does manage to secure enough control time to squeak out a close decision.

If this fight was scheduled before those two losses to Figuerido, Benavidez would be at least a -200 favorite in this spot. That’s too big of a line adjustment for possibly overblown durability concerns.

And if you’re only placing one bet on this card, the +300 decision line at FanDuel is an absolute steal. It’s lined in the +250 range at most other books.

Bets: 

  • Joseph Benavidez (+117, 0.5u)
  • Joseph Benavidez Wins by Decision (+300, 0.5u)
  • Askarov/Benavidez, Fight goes the Distance (-164, 0.5u)
  • Parlay: Joseph Benavidez / Dominick Cruz (+358, 0.2u)

Bantamweight fight: Yadong Song vs. Kyler Phillips

Odds
Song odds -152
Phillips odds +125
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -167 / +125

Crowdsourced Projection: (Song 56%)

I have gone back and forth regarding picking a side on this fight, but thankfully the projections have let me off the hook. Phillips opened as a +165 underdog but has come down roughly 5% as of writing and I wouldn’t consider a bet on the underdog unless his moneyline gets back to +145 or better.

Phillips represents a step down in competition for Song, who is coming off of a controversial win over Marlon Vera (65% of fans scored for Vera) and a controversial draw against Cody Stamann (53% of fans scored the bout for Stamann and 46% scored it a draw).

He is a sound technical boxer, which creates good optics for the judges, regardless of whether he is actually landing more strikes, and Phillips has shown some defensive lapses on the feet.

However, Phillips has the grappling upside in this fight and offers a path to victory through his wrestling (2.8 takedowns per 15 minutes, 66% accuracy) and top control.

Furthermore, while both men are good athletes, I’d give the cardio edge to Phillips and see him as the more likely man to win a third round, particularly due to his grinding style.

If he can keep the striking numbers and optics relatively close on the feet with his spinning attacks while mixing in a few takedowns, that could be enough to put Phillips over the top with the judges, despite their past deference to Song.

Either way, I don’t see a betting edge on either side of this fight. But while both men do have finishing upside, this is still a division that offers the lowest stoppage rate (41.3%) on the men’s side.

I projected this bout to go to the judges 62% of the time and would bet the distance prop up to -145, at just about a 3% edge.

Bets: 

  • Song/Phillips, Fight Goes the Distance (-130, 0.5u)

Bantamweight fight: Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenny

Odds
Cruz odds +110
Kenny odds -137
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -265 / +190

Crowdsourced Projection: (Cruz 53%)

This is similar to the Askarov-Benavidez fight in the sense that it represents a significant step down in competition for a future UFC Hall of Famer who is currently lined as an underdog in a spot where, just one year ago, they both would have been significant favorites.

It differs from the Benavidez fight for several reasons, however. Namely, Cruz hasn’t won a bout since June of 2016, which was against an aging Uriah Faber. Since that time, Kenney has fought nearly an entire career, going 10-2-1 while winning two belts in LFA and competing eight times under the UFC banner.

Ring rust, or cage rust, is real, and it’s difficult to judge Cruz’s current level on 10 minutes of action, coming off of a 3 1/2-year layoff against Henry Cejudo, the best bantamweight in the world.

MMA fans are still picking Cruz with confidence. I source multiple public data sets to create these projections, and the preponderance of the picks, by a fairly wide margin, are backing the former champion.

But the line on this fight, which opened closer to a pick’em and has moved about 6% toward Kenney, doesn’t reflect that same confidence. Either those fans who pick Cruz are in the same boat as me, expecting him to be the more likely winner with major hesitancy about betting him, or there is significantly more and much quieter money backing the Kenney side.

Vintage Cruz would run circles around a fighter of Kenney’s caliber. I would hope that Cruz leans on his grappling (3.05 takedowns per 15 minutes, 48% accuracy) since this is the weakest wrestler (56% takedown defense) that he has faced in some time.

Sitting cage-side, as a UFC analyst, I would also expect Cruz to have a pretty good idea about which fighters he thinks are a strong matchup for him at this point in his career.

And while Kenney looked sharp in his recent wins over Heili Alateng (won 109-46 on strikes) and Nathaniel Wood (landed 123 significant strikes and two takedowns), Cruz won’t simply stand in the pocket and give Kenney the kickboxing match that he wants.

The result here is really dependent upon Cruz’s current level. If he’s even 80% of what he used to be, this is still his fight to lose.

Unlike Benavidez, who seemingly has not slowed down, Cruz has appeared to lose a step. The elite lateral movement that has frustrated so many opponents can be cut off more quickly now with the advanced implementation of calf kicks.

As a result, while I could certainly see Cruz dancing around Kenney, landing, and then darting back out of range, I expect Kenney to land some clean shots of his own and appear to be the aggressor in the cage.

While I show value both on Cruz’s moneyline (to even money) and his decision prop (to about +125), I show a much more significant edge on betting this fight to go the distance (projected 85%), and I would play the distance prop up to about -315, at a 10% edge.

Bets: 

  • Cruz/Kenney, Fight Goes the Distance (-250, 0.5u)
  • Parlay: Joseph Benavidez / Dominick Cruz (+358, 0.2u)


Main Card

  • ESPN PPV
  • 10 p.m. ET

Light Heavyweight fight: Thiago Santos vs. Aleksandar Rakic

Odds
Santos odds +120
Rakic odds -157
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -152 / +115

Crowdsourced Projection: (Rakic 60%)

Santos had a career-best effort against Jon Jones in a split-decision loss back in July 2019, becoming the first fighter to ever win a judge’s scorecard against the best light heavyweight of all time. But he also sustained significant knee damage (torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus) and required extensive time off to rehab.

He returned last November against the ageless Glover Teixeira, who is serving as the emergency replacement for Saturday’s main event, and had big moments in the first and third rounds, nearly putting Teixeira out multiple times. But Santos’ grappling (64% takedown defense) proved to be his downfall, a theme throughout the career of the Muay-Thai specialist.

Santos later admitted to being less than 100% going into that fight. He seems to have a different attitude and much more confidence after some additional rehabilitation time.

Aleksandr Rakic isn’t the best wrestler (0.93 takedowns per 15 minutes, 28% accuracy). Still, he showed improvements to his all-around game and excellent top control in his August win over Anthony Smith, spending more than 12 minutes controlling his opponent.

Rakic has gotten tagged on the feet in the past and has some defensive flaws (53% striking defense), so he’ll really need to mind Santos’ power at range.

Santos has been such a brutal knockout artist since joining the promotion (11 of 13 wins via knockout). I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t choose the path of least resistance against him.

If Rakic decides to wrestle, he probably wins this fight with relative ease and coasts to a wide decision as he did in the Smith fight. But if he decides to stand and trade, his lights could go out at any movement.

I expect either to see a staring contest on the feet or for Rakic to initiate those grappling exchanges, and I like the Over 1.5 rounds (up to -150) here as a result.

Otherwise, in terms of projections, everything else looks on point to me.

Bets: 

  • Rakic/Santos, Over 1.5 Rounds (-135)

Lightweight fight: Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober

Odds
Makhachev odds -360
Dober odds +275
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -182 / +135

Crowdsourced Projection: (Makhachev 81%)

In retirement, Khabib hasn’t been shy about declaring that Makhachev is ready to assume his throne as the king of the 155-pound division.

The Dagestani is one of the most potent wrestlers in the UFC history, with better grappling metrics (3.4 takedowns per 15 minutes, 68% accuracy, 93% takedown defense) than Khabib (5.32/48%/84%) himself.

Of course, there’s a caveat: Khabib eventually faced better competition and through his first 10 UFC fights, he had a better strike margin (+221 to +101) and nearly 15 more minutes of control time relative to Makhachev.

Despite a single knockout loss (as a -150 favorite) against Adriano Martins in 2015, Makhachev is also one of the most defensively responsible strikers in the history of the promotion (72% striking defense):


The constant wrestling threat has turned Makhachev into an above-average striker, and I’m still waiting to see how he looks against a fighter with solid takedown defense, but Dober (career 58% takedown defense) isn’t necessarily that fighter.

What Dober does provide is a legitimate knockout. If he is willing to accept Makhachev’s takedowns while losing the fight on the bottom (58% takedown defense), he could have a few chances to crack that chin upon entry. Just accept that you’re getting taken down, even if you try to stop it, and let the hands go for the few moments of the fight that you’re actually standing.

It’s hard to find a path to victory for Dober beyond that, though — a puncher’s chance. While the Elevation Fight Team product has improved his game, this is still a terrible matchup, stylistically.

Ultimately, I think this boils down to whether Makhachev wins by decision or submission, and my projection (-115) suggests that the decision line is the better play, though both props are close to their listed odds.

I would prefer to find a plus-money price, but I still think Makhachev’s decision prop is playable to -110.

Bets: 

  • Islam Makhachev Wins by Decision (-110, 0.5u)

Bantamweight fight: Petr Yan (c) vs. Aljamain Sterling

Odds
Yan odds -125
Sterling odds +102
Over/Under 3.5 rounds -139 / +105

Crowdsourced Projection: (Sterling 54%)

In terms of style base, Sterling is a wrestler and Yan is a pressure boxer, but we know much more about the development of Sterling’s striking than we do Yan’s grappling. As a result, Sterling is the man with more upside in this fight, relative to what we have seen to date in the UFC.

Since his knockout loss to Marlon Moraes in 2017, Sterling has won all 12 rounds that he’s fought against extremely high-level competition, and he has arguably faced a better slate of opponents than Yan has lined up against to date.

“Aljo” outpaced both Pedro Munhoz (172-102) and Jimmie Rivera (77-17) from a distance by fairly wide margins, and my real concern on his side — beyond him getting knocked out again, of course — is his cardio, since this is his first five-round fight in the UFC.

Yan proved that he could manage his gas for five rounds against Jose Aldo, but he did sacrifice Round 2 of that fight (lost 24-16 on strikes and lost the round on all three scorecards) while eating a bunch of leg kicks to conserve his energy for later in the bout.

Sterling attempted an insane 349 significant strikes in that Munhoz fight while emptying the tank in Round 3 (137 attempts). If he’s able to manage that output for five rounds while mixing in his wrestling against Yan, he could be well on his way to securing bantamweight gold on the scorecards, at worst.

The smaller cage at APEX should help the champion, though. Sterling will have less room to constantly maneuver and chip away from the outside than he would inside a 30-foot-cage. His 4-inch reach advantage should still be useful, and his jab should help keep Yan away from constantly digging at his body.

Sterling does keep his lead leg extended, within range to get chewed up by calf and low kicks, but Yan has preferred to throw punch combinations to the head and body rather than firing those kicks in volume.

If you see Yan firing at that calf early and often and landing, you may want to consider jumping in on the champion live. Those attacks will cut off Sterling’s mobility pretty quickly and dramatically increase his chances of getting caught with some power shots in later exchanges.

But those kicks would represent a different game plan for Yan, who relies more on his boxing. Despite possessing the higher output on paper (+1.5 strikes landed per minute), I would give his opponent a better chance of winning the majority of minutes in this fight.

If Sterling can get Yan to the mat, his top control and body triangles are complicated to escape, and if Yan gives up his back, it could be game over. Sterling isn’t a lethal submission artist, but his ability to turn himself into a backpack on his opponents is uncanny.

The challenger initially opened as a +125 underdog (implied 44.4%), but he has been bet down to a -110 pick’em (implied 52.4%) as of writing, and I agree with the line movement.

I projected Sterling as a 54% favorite and am willing to bank upon his likely advantages in output and his potential to dominate some grappling exchanges.

Yan may have the bigger moments in this fight and is far more likely to finish this matchup on the feet (Sterling hasn’t recorded a knockdown in his UFC career), but this really looks like a tossup that may come down to the judges. Sterling’s volume, in addition to a couple of takedowns, could put him over the top.

I have this fight ending inside the distance 55% of the time (implied odds of -123), so there is no value on the total relative to listed odds.

And while I wouldn’t bet the moneyline where it currently sits, I’m still expecting to see a potential surge of Yan money come in closer to fight time, so if the Sterling side goes back to even money, I’ll take a shot on his moneyline.

For now, I prefer Sterling’s decision prop at +350 (implied 22.2%) at a 4.3% edge relative to my projection of +278 (implied 26.5%). You can bet down that down +326 at a 3% edge.

Bets: 

  • Aljamain Sterling (+100)
  • Aljamain Sterling Wins by Decision (+350, 0.5u)

Women’s Featherweight: Amanda Nunes (c) vs. Megan Anderson

Odds
Nunes odds -1000
Anderson odds +650
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -134 / +100

Crowdsourced Projection: (Nunes 88%)

It’s hard to imagine any fighter offering value at listed odds beyond -900 (90% implied). Given the average knockdown and knockout rates for all fights, pretty much anyone, or at least any fighter with enough power, has a puncher’s chance of at least 10%.

For a fighter like Megan Anderson, a true featherweight who holds a massive size advantage (four inches of height, three inches of reach) over Amanda Nunes, a true Bantamweight, and packs decent power, she gets a small extra bump.

But it’s hard to give Anderson credit for anything more than that, especially against the GOAT of women’s MMA. Despite the size discrepancy, this is a step down in competition for Nunes compared to recent opponents like Cris Cyborg, Germaine de Randamie and the notoriously tough Felicia Spencer.

Sherdog rates Anderson as the fifth-best featherweight in the world, behind Spencer and two women who compete in Bellator (Cyborg and Julia Budd), and the Aussie, who is only a purple belt, has shown major holes on the ground against far lesser grapplers (Holly Holm, Norma Dumont) that Nunes should be able to exploit.

The question for Nunes, in terms of how long this fight lasts, is her motivation. If she wants to, I’m of the mind that she ends this fight with one takedown and a quick submission, but she has toyed with her opponents in her two most recent bouts and put an absolute beating on them, leaving no doubt that there is still a substantial gap between the “Lioness” and any other woman who competes between 135-145 pounds.

If she decides to stand and bang, Nunes should easily pull away on volume (+2.62 strikes landed per minute; +1.97 to -1.12 in strike differential; +5% strike accuracy; +19% striking defense) but as I indicated, if she wants to avoid any damage, she should immediately look to grapple (2.53 takedowns per 15 minutes, 53% accuracy) and turn Anderson’s height into a weakness (53% takedown defense).

Those long limbs should be readily available to leverage into submission attempts for the champ, and Nunes in Round 1 (+150) or by Round 1 submission (+550) is an interesting way to play the fight.

But if Nunes is wary of the power coming back the other way, with her eating a big shot looking like the only way that she loses this title defense, and Anderson decides to use her length to play the range game, this fight could get extended a bit longer than you might expect.

I was able to pick off a solid -112 price on the Over 1.5 rounds (at FanDuel), a number that is still available but I wouldn’t play that total past -130. With most of the market sitting at -125 on that prop, I decided to play what looks like easily the best number available.

Otherwise, I don’t project any actionable betting value on this fight.

If you’re desperate to throw a longshot bet on Anderson, make sure to play her knockout prop at +1000 or better. There’s no sense in taking that moneyline if she’s not going to win minutes.

Bets: 

  • Anderson/Nunes, Over 1.5 Rounds (-112, 0.5u)

Light Heavyweight title fight: Jan Blachowicz (c) vs. Israel Adesanya (c)

Odds
Blachowicz odds +187
Adesanya odds -235
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -148 / +110

Crowdsourced Projection: (Adesanya 72%)

Israel Adesanya will attempt to become the fifth “Champ-Champ” in UFC history on Saturday and the first man to simultaneously hold the middleweight and light heavyweight belts against Jan Blachowicz, an unlikely champion who has been the underdog in nine of his last 10 fights.

The juxtaposition between Adesanya’s speed and precision and Blachowicz’s power should be stark in this matchup. But while this is “The Last Stylebender’s” first foray into the UFC’s light heavyweight division, he isn’t unfamiliar against larger foes, compiling a 75-5 record as a professional kickboxer, including multiple wins against cruiserweight and heavyweight competition.

On fight night, Blachowicz generally weighs about 235 pounds, rehydrating roughly 15% of his body weight after Friday’s weigh-ins conclude.

Adesanya, who doesn’t always hit the middleweight limit, came in at 200.5 pounds on Friday — 4.5 pounds below the championship limit — and it’s safe to assume he didn’t cut anything.

As a result, there should be a massive weight and strength differential between the two men in the Octagon, which is a clear edge for Blachowicz in any clinch or grappling exchanges. I don’t care how good of a fighter you are, when someone 35-pounds heavier than you gains top position, it will be tough to escape from underneath them.

Additionally, this fight will occur in the 25-foot cage at UFC APEX — Adesanya’s first time in the smaller octagon. He has less room to maneuver outside and use his length (plus-2 inches of reach) and speed to pick away at his opponent.

The speed differential in the middle of the cage should be massive, however, and relatively similar to what we saw in last week’s main event between Ciryl Gane and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Adesanya, who is perhaps the most technically sound striker in the UFC, should be able to touch Blachowicz up wherever he wants. The key is to avoid the big shots coming back the other way and to avoid getting taken down when he lets his front and roundhouse kicks fly.

Adesanya is far from a perfect fighter. In fact, he’s come close to losing multiple times on his championship run. He fought to a split decision against a strong grappler in Marvin Vettori on his way up, was clipped and hurt by Kelvin Gastelum, who is more of a true welterweight in size, and was tied 2-2 on rounds before pulling away in the late moments of their interim title fight, and he engaged in a staring contest with Yoel Romero in his first undisputed title defense, a fight in which the majority of fans scored the bout for the Cuban challenger.

Adesanya is an incredible counter-puncher whose movement patterns and unorthodox striking are nearly impossible to prepare for. And I don’t expect Blachowicz to give up his belt in a low-volume, range kickboxing affair. That’s not a game he wants to play for 25 minutes and is very unlikely to win against a much faster and more highly technical fighter.

Blachowicz has never landed more than 100 significant strikes in a UFC fight and figures to lose on volume if this bout goes all 25 minutes.

 

Blachowicz will inevitably come forward, apply pressure, and hope to either catch Adesanya with some big shots, slow him down with kicks to the body, or grind him out in close quarters using that strength advantage.

If he can slow down Adesanya with those body shots and the pace of the fight entirely with the threat of his power, Blachowicz could find a way to retain his belt and cash more underdog tickets for his loyal backers.

But Adesanya is the favorite here for a reason. If he can deny the takedowns (career 86% defense), that almost eliminates the BJJ game and forces him to knock out a man who has only been stopped once in nearly 100 professional fights.

After opening at odds of +210 (implied 32.2%), the betting market has sided with Blachowicz thus far, pushing him closer to +185 (implied 35%) at most books, as of publishing.

Adesanya joked earlier this week that he would weigh in closer to 195 pounds, which may have scared some potential backers off betting “The Last Stylebender” until seeing Friday’s weigh-ins.

Now that he cleared 200 pounds on the scale, I expect the steam to move Adesany’s line eventually. The betting market has aggressively steamed his side for each of his past three fights and moved against Blachowicz in five of his past six bouts.

I projected Adesanya to win this bout 72% of the time (implied odds of -257). Still, I wouldn’t be interested in betting Adesanya unless that number drops to -220, at just more than a 3% edge relative to my projection. At this point, it seems unlikely.

For now, I would prefer to bet the fight to end inside the distance, which I projected closer to 70%, at implied odds of -231. You could bet that prop up to -200, at a similar three-percent edge.

I think Blachowicz will be forced to rush forward multiple times, where he either catches Izzy big with that Polish power or gets intercepted by one of the best counter-strikers on the planet, in a similar fashion to his 2019 loss to Thiago Santos:

Blachowicz is incredibly durable, but it’s not impossible to put him away, though I do think it’s more likely to happen in the championship rounds than in the early stages of the fight.

Bets: 

  • Fight Ends Inside the Distance (-180, 0.5u)

Zerillo’s UFC 259 Bets

Distance or Decision Props and Overs

  • Mario Bautista Wins by Decision (+135, 0.5 units)
  • Sean Brady Wins by Decision (+135, 0.5u)
  • Kai Kara France Wins by Decision (+140, 0.5u)
  • Joseph Benavidez Wins by Decision (+300, 0.5u)
  • Askarov/Benavidez, Fight goes the Distance (-164, 0.5u)
  • Song/Phillips, Fight Goes the Distance (-130, 0.5u)
  • Cruz/Kenney, Fight Goes the Distance (-250, 0.5u)
  • Rakic/Santos, Over 1.5 Rounds (-135, 0.5u)
  • Islam Makhachev Wins by Decision (-110, 0.5u)
  • Aljamain Sterling Wins by Decision (+350, 0.5u)
  • Anderson/Nunes, Over 1.5 Rounds (-112, 0.5u)

Inside the Distance Props and Unders

  • Adesanya/Blachowicz, Fight ends Inside the Distance (-180, 0.5u)

Moneylines

  • Mario Bautista (-230, 0.5u)
  • Sean Brady (-210, 0.5u)
  • Carlos Ulberg (-230, 0.5u)
  • Tim Elliott (+103, 1u)
  • Joseph Benavidez (+117, 0.5u)
  • Aljamain Sterling (+100)

Parlays

  • Joseph Benavidez / Dominick Cruz (+358, 0.2u)

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