This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
The UFC kicks off the second half of 2021 with a bang on July 10 for UFC 264 in front of a full capacity crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the main event, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor have their highly-anticipated trilogy bout.
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.
Stephen Thompson (16-4-1) vs. Gilbert Burns (19-4)
Weight Class: Welterweight
Thompson opened as a +135 underdog, which made absolutely no sense, as I personally lined him as a -175 favorite. Thompson is on a two-fight winning streak and has looked phenomenal against Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque. Burns, meanwhile, is coming off a TKO loss to Kamaru Usman back in February for the belt and has a tough matchup in Thompson.
On the feet, Thompson is the much better striker, and Burns needs to take this fight to the ground to have the best chance to win. Unfortunately, Burns only has a 35 percent takedown accuracy, while Thompson has a 78 percent takedown defense.
Striking-wise, Thompson lands 4.24 significant strikes per minute and absorbs 2.80 strikes per minute. Burns, meanwhile, lands 3.22 and absorbs 3.04. I expect Thompson to be able to piece up Burns on the feet and win a clear-cut decision.
The Play: Stephen Thompson (-160)
Jerome Rivera (10-5) vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov (13-5)
Weight Class: Flyweight
Jerome Rivera is a massive underdog, and I think the odds are too wide.
Rivera enters this fight being 0-3 in the UFC and has been finished in two fights, but he took both on short notice. He suffered a TKO loss to Tyson Nam in his debut at bantamweight, then dropped a decision to Francisco Figueiredo before being knocked out in 26 seconds just two weeks later. However, I like this matchup for him against Zhalgas Zhumagulov, who is 0-2 in the UFC.
Rivera will have a six-inch height advantage and a 6.5-inch reach advantage. Part of the reason why I like Rivera is due to the fact Zhumagulov gets hit a lot. He does land 4.17 significant strikes per minute but absorbs 4.00. Rivera knows this is do-or-die for his career, and I expect him to be able to keep Zhumagulov at bay and use his jab to win a decision.
The Play: Jerome Rivera (+260)
Conor McGregor (22-5) vs. Dustin Poirier (27-6)
Weight Class: Lightweight
In January, McGregor was above a -300 favorite and is now the underdog in the fight due to Poirier winning by TKO. However, in the first round, McGregor won it and landed some big shots, even though the calf kicks ended up being the difference.
In the trilogy, I like how McGregor left Ireland to do his own training camp in California and brought everyone in to get away from the distractions of being at home. I also think he overlooked Poirier, and I expect him to change his game plan. He'll not only win, but put away Poirier.
The Play: Conor McGregor by KO/TKO/DQ (+175)
Sean O'Malley (13-1) vs. Kris Moutinho (9-4) &
Max Griffin (17-8) vs. Carlos Condit (32-13)
Weight Class: Bantamweight & Welterweight
O'Malley is set to face short-notice replacement Kris Moutinho, and I don't expect this fight to be competitive. Moutinho is just 2-2 in his last four and has been finished in all four losses. O'Malley is such a great striker that I think he will catch Moutinho early and get a knockout win in the first round.
In the second leg of the parlay, I like Max Griffin to beat Carlos Condit. Although Condit has won his past two fights, they were against Matt Brown and Court McGee, who aren't as well-rounded as Griffin is.
Griffin has legit KO power, and although Condit is hard to finish, I do think "Pain" will use his wrestling in this fight. Condit has a major issue with his takedown defense, and Griffin should be able to use his wrestling and mix in the striking to win a decision.
The Play: O'Malley and Griffin parlay (-150)