This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
15 fights (including three title fights!) means a lot of potential betting spots for UFC 259. I cover four plays I love here, including a decision prop on two big light heavyweights, and one last tire-kick on an oft-injured mainstay of the sport. As always, I have limited my looks to lines below (-200), as I feel that anything more expensive is supposed to come in, and doesn't really require a writeup. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article. Without any further ado, let's get to it.
Amanda Lemos (8-1-1) vs. Livinha Souza (14-2-0) Weight class: Strawweight
I've said previously that it doesn't make sense to bet a fighter straight up if they generally win in a particular fashion. The same rule can be applied to the way their opponents typically lose: if a fighter has a decently long sample size of not being finished, we can reasonably assume they will see the final bell.
Such is the case with Souza, who has never been stopped in 17 professional fights heading into her bout at UFC 259. It may be the case that Lemos has finished all but one of her eight wins, but that exception came in her last bout against Ashley Yoder, which may indicate that she will not be much of a finisher against stiffer competition.
Lemos remains the clear pick because of her physicality and power advantage, but Souza's jiu-jitsu accolades make me comfortable that she can defend herself on the ground, and the fact that she was able to handle the power of someone like Sarah Frota makes me think she won't be easy to stop with strikes.
The play: Amanda Lemos wins via decision: -110
Amanda Nunes (20-4-0) vs. Megan Anderson (10-4-0) Weight class: Bantamweight
Want to know how to place a responsible wager on a (-1100) favorite? Play props! In this case, we will specifically be targeting the lack of ground skills possessed by Anderson and the fact that a substantial height and reach disadvantage will likely compel Nunes to take the fight to the mat.
The most glaring test case we have in this regard is Holly Holm's fight with Anderson. Not only did she complete takedowns by (essentially) just running in a straight line until Anderson lost her balance, but "The Preacher's Daughter" was able to effortlessly advance to positions and attempt submissions. We can also look to Anderson's bout with Felicia Spencer, a fight that was finished by rear-naked choke in the first round. Neither of these results should make anyone comfortable that Anderson can survive on the ground with Nunes, who is a black belt in jiu-jitsu.
Oftentimes, I like to take the KO/TKO insurance in spots like these. I opted not to do so in this instance because of what I see as too stark of a price difference (+100 vs. +150), as well as a feeling that this fight will end fairly quickly once it hits the ground, as Anderson barely survived on the mat against a fighter in Holm who has never had a submission victory in 14 professional wins.
The play: Amanda Nunes via submission: +150
Dominick Cruz (22-3-0) vs. Casey Kenney (16-2-1) Weight class: bantamweight
Dear reader, indulge me in a thought experiment: what would the line on this fight have been after the trilogy fight with Urijah Faber in 2016? Of course, the injuries that occurred over that space that robbed Cruz of literal years of fight time have to be considered. I'm just trying to illustrate how the skill difference would be perceived if both of these men were actively competing.
The good news for those that want to play Cruz here is he didn't really look all that different in his fight with Henry Cejudo than he did in that bout with Faber. Sure, an argument can be made that he's a step slower, but the general practice of being agile, awkward and hard to hit was maintained by the former champion throughout the course of the fight. It also strikes me that Kenney may be setting a pace he can't keep in these bouts, as he looked noticeably more tired than Nathaniel Wood in the latter rounds of their bout, and one thing that has never been questioned when it comes to Cruz is his gas tank.
One thing we can be sure of is that if Cruz comes out and works Kenney in the way I think he can, it will be a long time before we see a line anywhere close to this for a similar level of competition. I say we capitalize now, as even if Cruz has lost a step, it should still be enough to handle a fighter like Casey.
The play: Dominick Cruz: +115
Kennedy Nzechukwu (10-4-0) vs. Carlos Ulberg (3-0-0) Weight class: light heavyweight
There are a whole host of things that make this fight odd to me. The first is that – barring a publicity stunt fighter like CM Punk or James Toney – I can't remember when a fighter with as little as three professional bouts made their debut with the organization. Mainly, though, I'm surprised that this fight is slated to finish by knockout.
A quick look at the resumes of these two fighters (to the extent that Ulberg has one) doesn't exactly scream "someone is going to sleep," which makes me think this line relies mostly on the fact that we are in a heavier weight class. While this isn't entirely unfair, it's worth noting that Nzechukwu has been an extreme pressuring counter-fighter during his time in the Octagon, and Ulberg's Contender Series knockout came after spending most of the fight up to that point being backed against the fence.
Both men have undeniable power, so this play could be made to look fairly silly with one shot, but we have seen staring contests between big newcomers (and relative newcomers) in the past, and it seems we are headed for a low-volume grindfest here.
The play: Fight goes to decision: (+138)