UFC 259 Best Bets: Picks & Predictions for Makhachev vs. Dober, Benavidez vs. Askarov & More (March 6)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: Joseph Benavidez.
- UFC 259 features three title fights on the main card, but our team of experts sees value throughout the evening.
- Check out our three best bets, with one on the early prelims, one on the prelims and one on the main card.
UFC 259 is set to overwhelm fight fans with a staggering number of fights, including a trio of title fights on the main card, which is headlined by light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz defending his title against middleweight king Israel Adesanya.
With 15 action-packed bouts on the slate, there is plenty of value to be found. So where should you be looking to place your bets? Our crew has pinpointed three fights and picks on Saturday’s massive card that present betting value.
You can find their analysis and picks on those matches below.
Erich Richter: Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober
Contributor at The Action Network
The lightweight GOAT Khabib Nurmagomedov’s training partner, Islam Makhachev, is a huge favorite on Saturday against Drew Dober. Both Khabib and Cormier have tabbed Makhachev as the future champion at 155 pounds.
With Makhachev getting a ton of fanfare, Dober has Justin Gaethje in his corner as a top training partner. Khabib submitted Gaethje via armbar in round 2 of their fight.
Makhachev is 18-1 with his lone loss coming via first-round KO. His striking is not quite up to speed but his grappling is top notch. Makhachev lands 3.4 takedowns per 15 minutes, according to UFCStats.
Makhachev’s striking has improved drastically at this point. Dober may have the edge on the feet, but his ground game needs serious work.
Dober defends takedowns at a 58% rate and was submitted via armbar by Beneil Dariush in 2019. Furthermore, Makhachev leads all lightweights in takedown accuracy at 68%.
Dariush is not the grappler that Makhachev has shown to be at this point. Watching his training partner Gaethje easily get submitted by Khabib for the belt tells me Makhachev will know exactly how to land that arm bar again on Saturday.
FanDuel has his submission prop at +420 (19.36% implied), which I would bet down to +386. Other books have it closer to +300 (25% implied), but that’s not enough, in my view.
The Pick: Makhachev via submission +420 (down to +386)
Sean Zerillo: Joseph Benavidez vs. Askar Askarov
Betting Analyst, The Action Network
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.
The Pick: Joseph Benavidez Wins by Decision +300
Billy Ward: Carlos Ulberg vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu
Contributor at The Action Network
Kennedy Nzechukwu makes his return to the Octagon after an 18-month layoff from a torn ACL against Dana White Contender Series winner, former kickboxer and part-time model (seriously) Carlos Ulberg.
Ulberg comes into his UFC debut with a lot of hype as a teammate of headliner Israel Adesanya at City Kickboxing in New Zealand and coming off an impressive knockout in his Contender Series bout. This is only his fourth pro MMA bout but like Adesanya, he also competed professionally as a boxer and kickboxer.
This is the third UFC fight for Nzechukwu, who lost his debut (also his only professional loss) to Paul Craig by triangle choke with 40 seconds left in a fight he mostly controlled. He then defeated Darko Stošić by decision back in August 2019.
Nzechukwu is one inch taller and has a six-inch reach advantage, and he also appears considerably larger than Ulberg, who weighed in well under the 206-pound limit for his Contender Series bout (203).
Nzechukwu boasts a size, reach and experience advantage over the favored Ulberg. While I understand the hype behind Ulberg, it’s hard to pick a part-time fighter/model over someone with Nzechulwu’s resume, especially with the odds we can get on Nzechukwu.
I’m expecting Nzechukwu to respect Ulberg’s power, but use his size and the smaller Octagon to keep Ulberg pressed against the fence and unable to unload. I also have my doubts about the Nigerian’s knockout power, and neither guy has shown the ability (or desire) to pull off submission’s, so betting on the fight to see the scorecards here has value too.
The Pick: Nzechukwu +198 | Fight to go the distance +160