This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
I tried my hardest, but for the UFC 263 edition of Best Bets, I was only able to produce three out of four dog plays. The straggler is a decent-sized favorite, but well worth the juice given her work rate and striking ability.
Pannie Kianzad (20-10-0) vs. Alexis Davis (14-5-0) Weight Class: Bantamweight
Kianzad may be a slick boxer with fast hands, but standing in the pocket with her head on the centerline has gotten her hit hard on multiple occasions. While she has had some impressive victories, a veteran like Davis should be able to exploit some of her tendencies in order to get the fight where she wants it.
It's no secret that Kianzad's game builds off of her jab. The 29-year-old has used the strike effectively in all of her fights thus far but has yet to meet an active kicker like Davis. We saw leg kicks really slow down the movement of Sabina Mazo when the two fought in February, and Kianzad is going to have to stand heavy on the front leg if she is going to pump the jab continuously. This should allow Davis to see a lot of success with leg kicks, even if she has to eat a few shots in the process. We must also be mindful of the constant pressure of Davis, as Julia Avila had an incredible amount of success blitzing forward with strikes against Kianzad.
Her takedown defense may be impressive (86 percent), but Kianzad has been controlled in the clinch for at least five minutes in three of her five fights in the organization, which means that Davis should have plenty of opportunities to wear on her opponent and take her to the ground. Davis gets hit a lot, but Kianzad has shown a remarkable lack of power in her career (3 KO/TKOs in 14 wins), so I'm not worried about our fighter taking a little damage.
The play: Alexis Davis +175
Joanne Calderwood (15-5-0) vs Lauren Murphy (14-4-0) Weight Class: flyweight
"Kickbox the boxer" may seem like just another pithy saying for the commentary booth, but I find it holds its weight more often than not when it comes to picking fights. The reason for this is fairly simple, as the kickboxer has more weapons at their disposal than someone who is primarily going to throw hands. In the case of Calderwood, we can add "clinch fighting" to the list of tactics.
That's not to say that Murphy's late-career resurgence hasn't been impressive, but she is far too hittable to stand in the pocket with someone as active and aggressive as "Jojo." Calderwood showed herself to be vulnerable to submission in her fight with Jennifer Maia, but Murphy's takedown accuracy stands at just 37 percent, which gives me confidence that Calderwood will be able to stay on her feet and take over the fight.
Calderwood's work rate is unmatched in this division, as she comes into the contest sporting a hefty 6.59 significant strikes landed per minute. Unless Murphy can find a way to ground and control her, it's hard to imagine that the 34-year-old does anything other than outwork her opponent here.
The play: Joanne Calderwood: -160
Eryk Anders (13-5-0) vs. Darren Stewart (12-6-0) Weight Class: Middleweight
Stewart closed as high as a (-190) favorite ahead of the pair's first meeting in March but finds himself a moderate underdog just three months later. We might call this obvious value if not for the way the first fight ended: Anders had Stewart badly hurt before landing an illegal knee that rendered the bout a no-contest. What makes me confident that Stewart is still the one likely to get his hand raised?
It should be noted that before Anders hurt Stewart, Stewart landed a nice combination of shots that bloodied his nose and forced him to engage in the clinch. The big shots that hurt Darren were landed when his back was up against the fence. Anders may be the more natural pressure fighter here, but he has historically had trouble with quick, agile opponents who can outwork him. This remains true irrespective of the fact that Stewart got caught with a shot that triggered an avalanche.
I'll close by pointing out something obvious: that fight wasn't over. Stewart was taking a tremendous amount of punishment but was cognizant enough to work his way back to his feet on more than one occasion to keep fighting. That kind of toughness ensures that Stewart isn't just going to go away when faced with adversity, and that's just what you want to see when betting an underdog.
The play: Darren Stewart: +125
Drew Dober (23-10-0) vs. Brad Riddell (9-1-0) Weight Class: Lightweight
Riddell may seem like an odd choice as an underdog play, as Dober has yet to be beaten by a striker in the UFC, but I believe the fighter from New Zealand has the right elements in his game to pull off the slight upset.
While he may not have wrestling as a base, Riddell has landed at least one takedown in all three of his UFC fights and can move seamlessly from striking to grappling exchanges. He also has the ability to throw in combination with power, which should be effective against a Thai-style striker like Dober, who tends to leave his head on the centerline. We can see this from the 3.87 significant strikes he absorbs per minute of fight time. For the sake of comparison, Riddell's figure comes in more than a full strike lower at 2.62.
Dober may have the experience edge but has rarely faced an opponent like Riddell that is competent in both striking and grappling. I expect the 32-year-old to have his moments, but Riddell should start to pull away as he gets his timing.
The play: Brad Riddell: + 125