This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
UFC 274 will be capped off by an outstanding main event, but those looking to place a wager on one of the other 15 bouts on the slate have come to the right place. We begin with two plays that tip the scales as (+500) underdogs before closing with a couple of favorites to cleanse the palate.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Brandon Royval (15-6-0) vs. Matt Schnell (13-6-0) Weight class: Flyweight
Some may raise an eyebrow at the fact that I picked Royval in a DFS format and am recommending Schnell in a prop here, but the odds are so juicy I just couldn't help myself. While Schnell is the more comfortable standup fighter of the two, both are crafty on the ground, as they boast 16 submission wins between them. This makes it a safe assumption that the fight hits the ground at some point, which may alone be worth the price we are getting.
We know how opportunistic Schnell can be in scrambles and how quickly he can lock up submissions off of his back, as his resume is littered with triangle and guillotine choke finishes. Royval is a slick and active submission artist, but he has been known to rush positions, which led to "Raw Dog" having his back taken and being tapped by Alexandre Pantoja. Brandon Moreno was also a clear step ahead of Royval on the mat before that fight needed to be stopped due to the 29-year-old dislocating his shoulder.
The reason this bet makes so much sense to me is I don't put Royval's grappling at a level that is unreachable by Schnell. While there's certainly no shame in getting subbed by Pantoja, the way he ended up in that position speaks to a weakness I believe "Danger" can exploit.
The play: Matt Schnell wins by submission (+500)
Donald Cerrone (36-16-0 vs. Joe Lauzon (28-15-0) Weight class: Lightweight
I hate to reduce a fight between two legends of the sport to a question like "which guy is less broken?" but it's tough to watch the latter-day careers of Cerrone and Lauzon and not feel as though either is liable to be knocked out at any time. This is particularly true in the case of "Cowboy," who matched the total amount of KO/TKO losses he had registered in his entire career over a span of four bouts between 2019 and 2021.
Lauzon had his share of knockout losses over this span, but no matter how tough it got," J-Lau" never stopped looking like the fighter who would get in his opponent's face, throw big shots, and try to get the fight to the ground. This was never clearer than in his last bout with Jonathan Pearce, who got clipped by Lauzon early and taken to the ground before being painfully finished in a half-nelson with ground-and-pound. On the flipside, Cerrone looked unable to pull the trigger against another pressure fighter in Alex Morono and was simply overwhelmed with strikes until the referee stepped in.
Cerrone has shown some signs of life in the recent past, but without a steady stream of offense, there is little stopping the competition from finding his head on the centerline. While taking the straight play would be fine, I can't shake the feeling that the ever-aggressive Lauzon finds Donald's chin here, and the oddsmakers are making it very tempting for us to test that conviction.
The play: Joe Lauzon wins via KO/TKO/DQ: (+550)
Tracy Cortez (9-1-0) vs. Melissa Gatto (8-0-2) Weight class: Flyweight
A sharp BJJ player can be the bane of a committed wrestler's existence in MMA, as they aren't always aware of how quickly the submission grappler can attack from bottom position. This is especially true when facing someone like Gatto, who has an incredibly active guard. Cortez hasn't faced a strong jiu-jitsu fighter in her UFC career, but we can look to the Contender Series for some clue as to how she may try to neutralize the 26-year-old.
In order to punch her ticket to the UFC, Cortez needed to get past Mariya Agapova, who has finished half of her 10 career wins by submission. The 28-year-old was unphased by the long frame of her opponent and pushed forward en route to notching four takedowns in a dominant decision victory. She was able to remain calm in the face of danger as well, as Agopova went for a D'arce choke in the second round that was easily defended. She will have a tougher test against Gatto, but Cortez is mindful to keep her opponents pushed against the cage when they are on the ground, giving them less room to maneuver underneath her. Gatto yielded more than 6:00 of ground control time to Sijara Eubanks when the two fought in December, and the Brazilian fighter has shown that she is comfortable enough fighting off of her back to let rounds slip away. This should allow Cortez to get ahead on the scorecards.
I decided a long time ago that I would no longer pick fights on slim margins, and hoping for a submission from the bottom against an experienced wrestler would be exactly that. The possibility will always be there, but Cortez has passed this test before, having come a long way since tapping out in the first fight of her professional career.
The play: Tracy Cortez: (-140)
Francisco Trinaldo (27-8-0) vs. Danny Roberts (18-5-0) Weight class: Welterweight
Roberts and Trinaldo have resumes that speak for themselves when it comes to finishing ability, with "Hot Chocolate" having only seen the scorecards five times in his 23-fight career. Despite the power and submission acumen these two possess, however, there is something in the matchup dynamic that makes me think this one is going to the final bell.
We can start with the pace of Trinaldo, who looks to pressure his opponents but is often waiting for that perfect counter shot, as he has landed less than 40 significant strikes in four of his last five fights that went to decision. Roberts' athleticism and slick boxing may make him look like an active fighter against certain opponents, but all of that technique seems to break down in the pocket, which results in the 34-year-old winging big hooks.
It goes without saying that either man can finish the other, but as they settle into the fight I think we are in for a bit of a staring match. If we are correct in our assessment, this will be a rather boring contest punctuated with 50/50 grappling exchanges that result in jockeying for position against the cage.
The Play: Fight goes the distance: -155