This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
The UFC has a very intriguing heavyweight bout headline UFC Vegas 19 on Saturday, February 20 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
In this series of articles, I'll share my favorite play, an underdog pick, a prop and a two-fighter parlay I like. All lines are taken from William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article.
Drako Rodriguez (7-1) vs. Aiemann Zahabi (7-2)
Weight class: Bantamweight
I don't understand the odds for this fight, which makes it one of my favorite plays.
When fights get announced I line the fight myself, and I actually lined Drako Rodriguez around -250 to -275, which means I like him to win this fight roughly seven out of 10 times. Although William Hill has this line at -200, other books are offering it at -175, -180 range, so shop around if you can.
Zahabi is someone who had a lot of hype entering his UFC debut due to his last name. He is the brother of the famed MMA coach, Firas Zahabi. However, he has let to live up to the hype in the UFC as he is 1-2 and last time out, suffered a very disappointing loss to Vince Morales in a fight he should've won. The Canadian also fought low-level competition to get to the UFC.
On the regional scene, Zahabi was scoring first-round KO's and when he gets out of the first round, he slows down. Rodriguez, meanwhile, went five rounds on the regional scenes as he fought for the KOTC bantamweight title. I expect him to just outwork Zahabi on the feet and mix in his grappling to either get a late stoppage win or a clear-cut decision. To me, the Canadian has one path to victory and that is first-round KO, but Rodriguez has shown off a solid chin.
The play: Drako Rodriguez (-200)
Eddie Wineland (24-14-1) vs. John Castanada (17-5)
Weight class: Bantamweight
Eddie Wineland has turned back the clock before and I expect him to do the same here.
Although Wineland is coming off a brutal first-round KO loss to Sean O'Malley, John Castanada is far from what O'Malley is. To me, Castenada and Grigorii Popov are very similar, and in that fight, Wineland was able to pick apart the young, up-and-coming fighter and eventually scored a second-round TKO win.
Castaneda entered the UFC going 1-2 in his last three although one of those losses he should've gotten the judges' decision. In his debut, he was outworked by Nathaniel Wood which is not a bad loss at all. Yet, his entire game plan is to out-grapple his opponents and try to submit them. Wineland, meanwhile, has not been submitted since 2009.
Ultimately, I like Wineland to land the harder shots and win the striking battles to win a decision. This is a close fight, but to get plus-money on Wineland, I have to take the shot.
The play: Eddie Wineland (+100)
Julian Erosa (24-8) vs. Nate Landwehr (14-3)
Weight class: Featherweight
Note: William Hill did not have a line available for this prop at the time of publication, so the number below was taken from the FanDuel Sportsbook.
Julian Erosa and Nate Landwehr is currently a pick'em fight and I lean Landwehr in the fight, however, there is a prop that jumps out to me. Although you could do the under 2.5 rounds at -115, I like Landwehr by KO/TKO at +380.
Why I like Landwehr by KO/TKO is simple. Although the former M-1 Challenge champion hasn't gotten a finish in the UFC, his win was against Darren Elkins who might be one of the most durable featherweights on the roster. Erosa, on the other hand, is far from that.
Out of his eight losses, four have come by KO/TKO while he was also knocked out in a minute by Artem Lobov on The Ultimate Fighter which doesn't count to his record. Landwehr, meanwhile, has eight of his 14 wins by KO/TKO. I don't trust the chin of Erosa and at 3-1 odds on some sportsbooks, it is a shot worth taking.
The play: Nate Landwehr by KO/TKO (+380)
Ketlen Vieira (11-1) vs. Yana Kunitskaya (13-5) &
Sergey Spivak (11-2) vs. Jared Vanderaa (11-4)
Weight class: Women's Bantamweight & Heavyweight
Vieira is currently a -278 favorite and I understand the odds as she has a clear path to victory. First off, she should be able to outmuscle Kunitskaya and make this a boring fight by clinching the Russian against the cage and landing more strikes. Her grappling should also be a difference-maker. Kunitskaya is probably better on the feet but doesn't have that KO power that will stop the Brazilian from closing the distance.
Sergey Spivak, meanwhile, is a -250 favorite, and I believe he could be a bigger favorite. Although Vanderaa won on DWCS, he left a lot to be desired as his striking defense was not good, as he got hit a lot and has a very questionable gas tank. Spivak, meanwhile, has proven he can go three hard rounds, even while mixing in his wrestling, which I expect him to do here. Vanderaa has been submitted before and struggles on the ground, so I wouldn't be surprised if Spivak finished him on the ground.
The parlay comes out to -111 which is not a bad price to pay.
The play: Vieira-Spivak parlay (-111)