This article is part of our Handicapping the Octagon series.
It's Pay-Per-View time again, which means we are back with bet recommendations for UFC 256. We have scaled back to four plays on what is now a 10-fight card, but those plays include three dogs, including a spicy (+440) shot. 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.
Kevin Holland (20-5-0) vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (26-8-0) Weight Class: Middleweight
This play is a slight departure from my Fanduel MMA preview, in which I picked this fight to go to a decision. While that may be a likely outcome, I just can't pass on a recommendation for the finish at this price. I mentioned the enormous reach disparity (nine inches) in that article, but there's something specific about a recent fight of Jacare's that may just highlight a vulnerability that Holland can pounce on.
Much of the fight between "Jacare" and Jack Hermansson took place with "The Joker" in top position, but I want to hone in on a particular moment in the first round. In the exchange, "Jacare" is pressuring against the fence, tries to move into range, and gets blasted by a three-punch combination from Hermansson, sending him to the canvas. He was able to survive, but the fact that he was hurt so badly in that moment may not bode well for Souza when we consider the dynamics of this fight. Specifically, the fact that "Jacare" will need to attempt to get on the inside in order to strike. This should allow Holland to have several chances to swarm his opponent from range, as he did against a much more athletic shorter fighter in Joaquin Buckley. Of course, "Jacare" will look to take the fight to the ground, but the facts are that he hasn't scored a takedown since the Kelvin Gastelum fight in 2018, and hasn't notched a submission since his fight with Tim Boetsch in 2017. It also must be pointed out that Kevin Holland is a BJJ black belt under Travis Lutter. All of this should give bettors confidence that he can survive a grappling exchange or two.
We have seen "Jacare" in wars before, so even if he doesn't win, he could certainly hold on to hear the final bell. The reality, though, is "Jacare" is a 42-year-old man going up against a consistent finisher who has length, height, and athleticism on his side. If that isn't worth a stab at these long odds, I don't know what is.
The play: Kevin Holland by KO/TKO/DQ +450
Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-0) vs. Brandon Moreno (18-5-1) Weight class: Flyweight
We were in this very spot last month when I argued that Figueiredo's lack of speed and takedown defense (among other things) would lead to a loss against challenger Alex Perez. That pick didn't pan out, but I am more than prepared to eat crow a second time, as Moreno has something that Perez very clearly didn't: strong submission defense.
In fact, Moreno has been on the ground with two very strong guard grapplers during his second UFC run in Askar Askarov and Brandon Royval, which should work to allay any fears that he will fall prey to the same choke that ended the fight with Perez. To be sure, Moreno's boxing is not as sharp as I would like it to be, but one thing I do like is his willingness to stand in the pocket with his opponents, which should mean he won't simply allow Figueiredo to bear down on him with forward pressure. He also has shown precise counter shots and a nice jab in recent fights, which should also work towards that purpose.
The bottom line is that if I thought Figueiredo was vulnerable last week, nothing has happened since then which would make me question that view. Particularly in a fight like this, where the champion shouldn't be able to simply rely on someone getting careless in his guard.
The play: Brandon Moreno +260
Junior dos Santos (21-6-0) vs. Cyril Gane (6-0-0) Weight class: Heavyweight
One of the great things about props is they allow us to take an enormous favorite and bet them at a reasonable price. We were successful with our KO/TKO play against "Cigano" for his fight with Jair Rozenstruik in August, and I am even more confident in recommending the play in the matchup against Cyril Gane.
Gane got a quick (and unexpected) submission win against Raphael Pessoa in his debut, but we got to see a lot more striking from him in subsequent fights against Don'Tale Mayes and Tanner Boser. What we saw in those fights was a pressuring kickboxer who will throw in combination and keep range, but what's most striking about Gane is the speed and agility he brings to the cage as a heavyweight. This is something not shared by Dos Santos, who can be a sharp technical boxer but tends to stand flat-footed. We saw in both the Rozenstruik fight and the bout with Curtis Blaydes the penalty he pays for not retracting shots quickly enough and getting forced up against the fence. The fan in me fears he will pay this penalty again, but the guy looking for value is eager to make a recommendation.
The Play: Ciryl Gane by KO/TKO/DQ -125
Cub Swanson (26-11-0) vs. Daniel Pineda (27-13-0) Weight Class: Featherweight
Daniel Pineda stormed back into the UFC after six years away from the organization with a fantastic win over relative newcomer Herbert Burns, setting up a fight between these two veterans. While this could be a back-and-forth affair at times, I remain confident that Cub's sharpness on the feet will win the day.
It may be surprising for some to hear that Swanson is a solid defensive fighter by the numbers (61 percent strike defense rate), due to all the shots he absorbed in fights with people like Kron Gracie and Doo Ho Choi, but what we see from the tape is Cub being very active with movement and angles in the cage, which ensures that he very rarely gets hit clean. He is also a counter striker, which will come in handy when Pineda throws the naked kicks that resulted in him eating big shots from Herbert. The big question, though, is whether Swanson will be able to handle the wrestling and BJJ of Pineda. One only needs to look at the second Frankie Edgar fight (where Frankie went 0-for-8 on his takedown attempts) to see improvement from Cub in this area. While he has been subbed before, Cub still owns a BJJ black belt, and only seems to get tapped under specific circumstances (being tired, hurt, etc). While that could happen here, I like Cub to keep this fight on the feet and pick Pineda apart at range.
The play: Cub Swanson +135