This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
This edition of Best Bets includes three underdog plays, including a prop that almost feels too good to be true. We were also able to get some skin in the main event by counting on a champion to do what he does best. 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 write-up. 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.
Brendan Allen (15-4-0) vs. Karl Roberson (9-3-0) Weight class: Middleweight
Whether we are playing DFS, betting, or just calling a fight for bragging rights among our friends, the first thing to do in terms of analysis is to determine how a fighter's strengths play against their opponent's weaknesses. In the case of Allen vs. Roberson, we seem to have a clear answer, as Allen has won the majority of his fights by submission, and Roberson's three losses (all in the UFC) have come via tapping out.
This being the case, it seems a bit odd that we would get heavy plus money on Allen by submission. I can only assume the generous line has to do with the fact that Allen has only one submission victory in his four UFC fights, but I would argue this is largely due to strength of schedule and circumstance. Kyle Daukaus and Sean Strickland are both very strong grapplers, for example, with neither man having been submitted in 36 combined fights.
Allen will likely take the punishment for as long as this fight stays standing, but the 25-year-old always looks to close distance quickly and is incredibly difficult to separate from once he is able to grab hold. He may have underperformed in recent outings, but I think this contest will allow Allen to show the full depth of his ground skills.
The Play: Brendan Allen wins by submission: +200
Kamaru Usman (18-1-0) vs. Jorge Masvidal (35-14-0) Weight class: Welterweight
It's hard to look at the first fight between these two and not consider it a blueprint for how their rematch will turn out. It's not that Masvidal isn't an impressive, powerful striker. It's just that his style of fighting seems particularly vulnerable to the kinds of things Usman likes to do inside the cage.
Specifically, this means pressuring, looking for takedowns, and doing work inside the clinch. Masvidal's willingness to let his opponent have the center of the cage has caused him trouble even in fights he has won and Usman is too strong of a grappler to not take advantage of those situations. Even if one wanted to believe a full camp will make a difference for Masvidal (I do not), we must also consider that Usman's striking is improving all the time, as we saw in his performance against Gilbert Burns.
Masvidal is otherworldly tough, having only been stopped three times in his 49-fight career. While he certainly has enough to survive, Usman likely won't want to play around too much on the feet with the superior striker, which means he will take the path of least resistance and ride out a win.
The play: Kamaru Usman wins by decision: -125
Valentina Shevchenko (20-3-0) vs. Jessica Andrade (21-8-0) Weight class: Flyweight
Shevchenko has been a wrecking ball since moving to flyweight, but it's clear that Andrade, who finished her first flyweight fight in October, will be the toughest competition she has ever faced at this weight class. So why is the line this wide?
It likely has to do with Shevchenko's domination of not just this weight class, but MMA in general. "Bullet's" only two losses in the UFC came at the hands of the unquestioned GOAT of women's MMA, Amanda Nunes. The only other blemish came a decade ago against Liz Carmouche. She avenged that loss with a victory over Carmouche in 2019. That's an incredibly impressive resume, but I still think Andrade can pull off a victory with her pressure and unyielding desire to look for takedowns. Valentina's Muay-Thai style should make her less evasive than fighters like Rose Namajunas or Joanna Jedrzejczyk, which will allow Andrade plenty of opportunities to initiate clinch situations. It should also be noted that Jennifer Maia logged a hefty 7:51 of control time despite landing just one takedown, which gives us at least some indication that Shevchenko is capable of being outmuscled.
Andrade will have to be careful about how she gets on the inside, and she will likely take some damage from the far superior striker, but we've seen enough evidence that her style can work against Shevchenko – especially at this price.
The play: Jessica Andrade +335
Na Liang (13-4-0) vs. Ariane Carnelossi (12-2-0) Weight class: Strawweight
I may not be entirely sold on the skill set of Liang, but I think this fight should be lined much closer to even, as Carnelosi's only exposure to the highest level was being outstruck and finished by Angela Hill in September of 2019. There is no shame in that loss, of course, I only bring it up to point out that neither woman has done much outside of their respective regional scenes.
A fair point can be made that Carnelosi has fought the higher quality competition, but she only graduated to facing fighters with winning records recently, which could indicate that there isn't very much daylight between the two in terms of experience. It should also be noted that Liang has a big frame for this division at 5'5" with a 67-inch reach, which should make it more difficult for Carnelosi to simply walk her down and land big strikes. Liang is also very comfortable creating havoc in the cage, while Carnelosi likes to fight at a more measured pace. I think this is a marked advantage for Liang, particularly if she is able to start fast.
I haven't quite seen enough of Liang to declare that she'll be a contender at strawweight, but I like enough about her to say that this line is giving far too much respect to a fighter who was taking on opponents with losing records in 2018.
The play: Na Liang +175