For MMA fans, the UFC is a gift that just keeps on giving. UFC 259 goes down this Saturday night, live from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on ESPN+ PPV. A trio of title fights highlight this absolutely stacked card, the first of which is the featured bout on the main card as bantamweight champion Petr Yan makes his first title defense against Aljamain Sterling. Next up, two-division champion Amanda Nunes defends her featherweight title against Megan Anderson in the co-main event of the evening. And finally, we have middleweight champion Isreal Adesanya looking to become the UFC’s ever fifth "double champ" as he moves up in weight class to take on light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in the main event.
If those three title fights weren’t enough, well, still have the rest of UFC 259’s stacked undercard as well, so let’s take a look at those fights and, more importantly, find some betting angles to attack. We’ll start at the bottom of the card and work our way up from there as we approach another epic Saturday fight night.
Please Note: The bolded fighter names/odds listed below are the fighters I picked to win the fight. Any specific derivatives or prop bets etc. will also be listed at the end of the individual bout breakdown in bold and italic.
Mario Bautista (-240) v. Trevin Jones (+200)
This bantamweight fight is the curtain jerker for UFC 259. Trevin Jones had a spectacular knockout win this past summer, but it was overturned due to him testing positive for marijuana. Although he’s looking to make another statement this time around, I just don’t see it happening this Saturday. This fight lines actually lines up as a showcase fight more for Mario Bautista, who is the better fighter on his feet and has enough grappling defense to nullify Jones’ ground game. I believe Bautista wins and there’s a good chance of him doing it inside the distance, just as six of his eight wins have come by. No official bet for me here.
Uros Medic (-160) v. Aalon Cruz (+140)
Two of Dana White’s Contender Series alumni are looking to make a name for themselves in this lightweight bout. Uros Medic is the higher regarded prospect and more well-rounded fighter here, and the key will be his cardio, as his fights have only left the first round once. Aalon Cruz is a well-rounded striker himself, however, so this should be a pretty competitive fight, just as the -160/+140 odds indicate.
Livinha Souza (+195) v. Amanda Lemos (-235)
This fight takes place in the strawweight division, with Livinha Souza checking in as a big puncher - albeit a predictable one - as she mainly relies on her right hand to the head and the body. Amanda Lemos, on the other side, is the more varied striker on the feet and has more power. This fight should be primarily contested on the feet too, and whoever you take in this fight, I do believe that they’ll win by decision.
Sean Brady (-210) v. Jake Matthews (+175)
Both of these lightweight prospects are looking to extend their winning streaks and earn a big step up in competition for their next bout. Sean Brady has been on absolute tear to begin his MMA career, as he’s yet to taste defeat. His opponent, Jake Matthews, is on a three-fight winning streak of his own and has won six of his seven fights. Matthews likes to operate on the ground, but he’s also not afraid to brawl on the feet. Brady is a well-rounded fighter who can have success anywhere the fight goes. Brady is also the better striker and has good leg kicks, something that gave Matthews problems in his last loss. Matthews is more technical on the feet and more defensively sound. On the ground, Brady is more technical and checks in as the stronger grappler as well. Both of these guys are talented, sure, but one is way more talented than the other. I like Sean Brady here and I bet 2.25 units on him to win this fight outright.
Kennedy Nzechukwu (+210) v. Carlos Ulberg (-250)
This light heavyweight bout comes down to one question - is Carlos Ulberg the real deal? The uber talented and hyped striker who trains with Isreal Adesanya had a spectacular KO victory on Contender Series, but he’s also inexperienced. Ulberg's opponent , Kennedy Nzechukwu, is also relatively “green” at 7-1, but he’s still more experienced in MMA overall. Stylistically this fight lines up well for Ulberg, and I believe he likely finds his range and eventually knocks Nzechukwu out. Just a lean for me here though.
Tim Elliott (+105) v. Jordan Espinosa (-125)
These two fighters are desperately trying to gain traction in the competitive flyweight division as both are just 1-3 in their last four fights. Tim Elliott is the better grappler here, but he as a questionable gas tank, while Jordan Espinosa is the better striker with the better gas tank. Fun fact: Elliott has never won two fights in a row in the UFC, and he’s coming off of a win in his last fight. A sneaky prop play in this one is Elliott by submission (+410), as he's always threatening submissions, no matter the position in the fight.
Rogerio Bontorin (+115) v. Kai Kara-France (-135)
Both of these fighters are coming off of losses but looking to keep pace in the flyweight division with a victory here. Kai Kara-France is a very talented striker who simply has not been able to put it all together in the UFC. He shows flashes of brilliance but is inconsistent. Rogerio Bontorin, on the other hand, has big power on the feet and will also look to get this fight to the ground, where he is the superior submission grappler. Kara-France is a solid defensive grappler, so we’ll see if Bontorin can have success getting the fight to the ground. I’m going with Bontorin here though, as Kara-France has just been too inconsistent in his career. He has been rocked several times in his career, and I believe that Bontorin can land a big shot that knocks Kara-France out or at least forces the fight to the ground. Just a lean toward Bontorin here.
Joseph Benavidez (+100) v. Askar Askarov (-120)
Another very important fight for the flyweight division takes place Saturday night as Askar Askarov is coming off a big win over Alexandre Pantoja that solidified himself in the top three of the UFC flyweight division. Askarov's opponent, Joseph Benavidez, is coming off two straight devastating title fight losses, and the question you have to ask yourself is if Benavidez is done and way past his prime. If the answer is no, he wins this fight. If the answer is yes, he loses this fight. I tend to believe the answer is yes. Listen, this will be a close fight, but Askarov coming off that big win in his last fight knows that a win here will solidify himself as next in line to challenge for the title. I believe Askarov is max motivated here and has the skills on the feet and the ground to eke out a decision victory. Benavidez has been hittable late in his career while on his feet as well. While I'm betting on Askarov here, I also believe that the winner of this fight will win by decision, so that’s not a bad prop play either. I like Askarov here and I bet 1.25 units on him to win.
Song Yadong (-150) v. Kyler Phillips (+130)
This bantamweight division brawl has some serious potential to be the fight of the night. Both of these young prospects possess a pace and entertaining striking ability, and this was simply great matchmaking by the UFC. Song Yadong and Kyler Phillips are two promising prospects with something to prove. Yadong is a powerful and technical striker on the feet with solid defensive grappling, but he can also be taken down. Phillips? He pushes a crazy pace on the feet and does a good job of utilizing his range. On the ground Phillips, could have success, as Yadong has shown in his past two fights that when he hits the ground he tends to lose those exchanges. This is a tough one to call, but I’m going with Yadong here. I believe he’s fought the better competition and is a step up in class for Phillips, although I will say that Phillips is a live dog and I don’t fault anyone for playing him in what should be a closely contested bout.
Dominick Cruz (+110) v. Casey Kenney (-130)
This a very intriguing matchup in the bantamweight division, one that mirrors the recent bout between Benavidez and Askarov. You have the legend, but past-his-prime fighter against the young and hungry up-and-comer. These guys are evenly matched, and it will come down to whether Casey Kenney can time Dominick Cruz’s movements and land his leg kicks. Also, can Cruz utilize his movement to pick Kenney apart on the feet and set up takedowns? Either way, I do believe Cruz still has something in the tank.
Thiago Santos (+137) v. Aleksandar Rakic (-157)
This light heavyweight bout kicks off the UFC PPV portion of UFC 259 and boy, what a bout this is. We have two heavy, heavy strikers facing off in this one, both with legit knockout power in both their hands and their legs. Aleksandar Rakic is the more technical striker, sure, but the real difference here is the grappling. Rakic is also the stronger grappler and has shown in his most recent fight that he has no problem staying out of trouble on the feet and utilizing that grappling. Thiago Santos, on the other hand, showed in his last fight that his grappling just isn’t up to par. Also, will catastrophic knee injuries that kept him out for over a year have an effect on his explosiveness when it comes to defending takedowns or getting back up? Santos did not look as explosive as he did prior to the injury, and I believe that a lot of the betting line respect for Santos is based off of his close decision loss to Jon Jones. Rakic is on the way up, however, while Santos is on the way down. I like Rakic here and I bet 1.6 units on him to get the win.
Islam Makhachev (-360) v. Drew Dober (+300)
We finally get to see Islam Makhachev back in the octagon after a long hiatus as he takes on a surging Drew Dober in a lightweight bout. I’m going to keep this one short and sweet here - Dober is the better striker with big power, but none of that is going to matter against the man they call either “Khabib 2.0” or “Khabib Lite.” Dober struggles with takedown defense and struggles once he’s on the ground, and there are rumblings in the AKA gym that Makhachev is the better wrestler between him and Khabib - and we all know the accomplishments Khabib has achieved as a result of his wrestling. Khabib himself has said for years that Makhachev is the future champion of the lightweight division. Who am I to argue against that? I believe Makhachev does enough on the feet to avoid damage and eventually dominate Dober on the ground. The pick is Makhachev to win, and I will parlay him with a fighter we’ll speak about soon.
Petr Yan (-110) v. Aljamain Sterling (-110)
The bantamweight title will be up for grabs in what should be a closely contested matchup between two spectacular fighters. Sterling is a strong grappler who has really improved his striking over the years. He does a great job of using his kicks to set up his punches and vice versa, and he likes to pressure his opponents from the jump and threaten takedowns. Sterling is also a naturally a good defensive wrestler who is hard to takedown. Yan, on the other side, is highly skilled technical boxer who uses his pressure and lateral movements to keep opponents on their back feet. He does a good job of utilizing kicks and knees to the body, and he flawlessly switches stances at will and is proficient in either stance. Defensively, on the feet, Yan keeps a high guard and in the grappling department he’s hard to take down. Yan is also excellent at scrambling, as is his opponent here. This such a close fight as the line indicates, but I like Yan here, and I believe his constant forward pressure, mixed with his elite boxing skills, will be the ultimate difference.
I look for Yan to be able to work out of the relentless takedown attempts by Sterling and eventually wear Sterling out with his forward pressure and striking. That was the one thing that stood out to me when I watched the tape on these two, as Sterling is relentless early but tends to slow down late. He allows his opponents to control the center of the cage as he slows down too. The x-factor will be Yan’s terminator demeanor/fight style and his gas tank. As long as Yan doesn’t get his back taken in the first two rounds, then he’ll continue to get better as the fight goes on. Sterling is an unbelievable fighter in his own right, however, and I would not be surprised if he is able to manhandle Yan, take him to the ground, and eventually submit him. If you are taking Sterling, you might want to sprinkle on the submission prop (+335) as this is his clear path to victory. I will be going with Yan here though, and I bet 1.25 units on him to win.
Amanda Nunes (-1000) v. Megan Anderson (+650)
The second of three title fights goes down in the featherweight division, and this one is pretty straightforward. Megan Anderson’s only path to victory, and I mean, only path to victory, is to knock Nunes out on the feet. First off, Nunes has no problem standing and trading with Anderson in the pocket. Nunes is the far superior striker and has far superior power overall, so standing with Anderson isn’t going to be a problem, but why even give her that chance? Nunes is a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and just recently utilized those skills against a good striker in de Randamie. Nunes wins this fight handily, and it would simply be the biggest upset in UFC history if Anderson won. I believe Nunes takes Anderson down early and often and grinds out a win. Because of that strategy, I'm looking at Nunes by submission at +165. The official pick is obviously Nunes to win , but there is also value to sprinkle a bet on her to win by submission.
Jan Blachowicz (+195) v. Israel Adesanya (-235)
The third and final title fight is a champion versus champion bout as Isreal Adesanya is moving up in weight and looking to become the UFC’s newest double champion. He faces a stiff test in Jan Blachowicz who is a powerful striker and strong clinch fighter in his own right. This will be Adesanaya’s toughest test to date, as Blachowicz has legit knockout power on the feet, whether it's from is punches or his vicious leg kicks. Blachowicz is also strong in the clinch and can take opponents down, but he mostly likes to stand and trade on the feet while looking to finish his opponent. Adesanya, on the other hand, is an artist on the feet. He is simply the best striker in the UFC, and he uses his feints and fakes surgically to draw out his opponents' movements and counter them. Adesanya also has sneaky power in his hands, and as a former kickboxer, he has devastating leg kicks that were on full display in his last fight. Although Adesanya is a very good defensive wrestler and a good defensive striker, he can be hit has been hit. He has been durable and able to withstand those shots thus far, but keep in mind that he’s never felt the power of Blachowicz before. I believe we are witnessing greatness in front of our eyes, however - this is GSP, Spider Silva, Bones Jones-esc level type greatness we're seeing from Adesanya. I look for him to pick Blachowicz apart from the outside, utilizing leg kicks and feints to eventually draw Blachowicz into his vicious hooks and get the finish. Adesanya to win via TKO/KO (+165) is a decent prop bet here too, and I may sprinkle a little on that as well. The official pick is Adesanya, and I bet 2.5 units on him to get the win. I also paired Adesanya with the aforementioned Islam Makhachev in a parlay (-125) for 1.25 units on both to win outright.