This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
UFC 259 hits hard with 15 fights, including three five-round title bouts! That's a lot of ground and strategy to cover, but we touch every base in this installment of the MMA Mashup, with plays for DraftKings, FanDuel, Monkey Knife Fight and SuperDraft, as well as a couple of bets to round things out. (One final note before we begin: all betting lines were taken from the various sportsbooks offered on the RotoWire Sports Betting section).
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Plays to consider on DraftKings
Amanda Nunes ($9,600)
The last time we saw Nunes have to negotiate a reach disadvantage, she landed eight takedowns and compiled 19:30 of control time against Germaine de Randamie. In the matchup against Megan Anderson, "The Lioness" will need to solve a four-inch deficit in both height and reach. This should result in a grapple-heavy game plan, particularly as we've already seen a far less skilled jiu-jitsu player in Holly Holm dominate Anderson on the ground.
Islam Makhachev ($9,400)
If there has been one group of fighters that benefited the most from the updated scoring on DraftKings, it's likely low-volume, physically strong wrestlers who can eat up time on the clock by acting like a blanket. Makhachev fits this description to a tee, having logged more than a full round of control time in four of his last six fights. Drew Dober's slick striking has seen him amass a three-fight win streak, but his last loss came against Beneil Dariush, who logged two takedowns and 5:17 of control time before finding a submission in Round 2. I see no reason why Makhachev can't follow the same blueprint, as he has shown himself to be tough enough to withstand any shaky moments that may arise on the feet.
Amanda Lemos ($8,700)
An inch of height and two inches of reach may be all that separate Lemos from Livinha Souza by the tape, but I expect the 33-year-old to be the far stronger fighter in grappling exchanges, leading to a lot of clinch control and takedowns. We've already seen Ashley Yoder be the more physically imposing fighter against Souza in a loss, and "The Spider Monkey" doesn't have anywhere near the power of Lemos.
Kyler Phillips ($7,400)
Yadong Song has never lost inside the Octagon but did manage a highly controversial draw against Cody Stamann in which he was brought to the mat five times. Phillips' agility and slick boxing make it difficult for opponents to know when a takedown might be coming, which should allow the 25-year-old to fluster Song and keep him off-balanced enough to hand him his first proper loss in the organization.
Aljamain Sterling ($7,800)
It's tough to pick against a fighter in Petr Yan who has logged seven consecutive wins since his debut in 2018, but "No Mercy's" style of sitting in the pocket to land shots leads to him getting hit more often than one might expect (3.25 strikes absorbed per minute), and Sterling will come into this bout with a four-inch reach advantage. We have seen this length help Sterling control fighters in the past, and I think he will be able to ground and hold Yan on the floor in a way no opponent has been able to yet.
Plays to Consider on FanDuel
Joseph Benavidez ($15)
Askar Askarov has averaged 11 takedown attempts per fight in his three trips to the Octagon thus far. While he has been able to take over fights in which he has gotten his wrestling and grappling going, we have also seen just how wooden he can look when he is forced to stand for prolonged periods of time. Benavidez enters this fight sporting a solid 65 percent takedown defense rate and should be able to use his agility and speed to pick the Dagestani fighter off on the way in, while also racking up the points for takedowns defended -- a category unique to FanDuel.
Jordan Espinosa ($16)
It may be the case that anyone facing Tim Elliott is worth at least a passing glance on the platform, as he is an astonishing 8-for-34-on takedown attempts in his last three fights. Not only should Espinosa see a lot of points from defending unrelenting (and sloppy) shots, he will have a truly blinding speed advantage in this one, which will give him a lot of room to maneuver against a slow, janky fighter who tends to stand right in front of his opponents.
Plays to Consider on SuperDraft
Thiago Santos – 2.2X multiplier
It was difficult to know what to expect from Santos in his fight with Glover Teixeira after a year and a half of rehabbing several leg injuries, but "Marreta" looked as fast and dangerous as ever, knocking down his opponent in Round 1 and almost finishing the fight on another occasion. That being the case, it seems almost silly not to take his multiplier against Aleksandar Rakic, who can wrestle a bit and has a nice kicking game, but was continually backed up in a fight he seemed to be in complete control of against Anthony Smith, which makes me wonder how he will fare with a far more lethal striker bearing down on him.
Dominick Cruz – 2.2X multiplier
Injuries have essentially derailed Cruz's career for the better part of five years, but before he ate a knee in the closing seconds of Round 2, it looked like the former bantamweight champion was finding his range against Henry Cejudo. This will be a much more forgiving fight for "The Dominator" as Casey Kenney looks to walk his opponents down in straight lines and fire big shots. We haven't yet met the fighter who can break Cruz with pace, and I think his movement and awkwardness will play well against Kenney, who hasn't shown himself to be much of a kicker thus far.
Rogerio Bontorin – 2.2X multiplier
Bontorin's aggression and well-rounded game should make him a popular play at this multiplier, but it's hard to recommend anything else against Kai Kara-France, who really had issues dealing with the pace and pressure of Brandon Royval. Bontorin is another fighter who doesn't put as much energy as he should into defense, but Kara-France hasn't shown himself to be much of a finisher at the highest level, as all four of his UFC wins have gone to decision.
Uros Medic – 1.95X Multiplier
It seems a bit odd to get an undefeated fighter who has finished all six of his wins at a decent multiplier, but we will take it against Aalon Cruz, who tends to back himself against the fence in fights. This should allow Medic to unleash his kicking game, as well as work in the clinch, but there is a question of what happens the first time our fighter makes it out of the first round.
Plays to Consider on Monkey Knife Fight
Israel Adesanya UNDER 73.5 significant strikes and Jan Blachowicz UNDER 4.15 significant strikes
The assumption here is quite simply that Blachowicz will not want to strike with such a fast, powerful kickboxer as Adesanya. While he has gotten better at fighting behind his jab, the Polish fighter still has a nasty habit of rushing into the pocket with his chin up, which got him TKO'd against Santos. Given this, Blachowicz will likely attempt to use his strength advantage to ground "The Last Style Bender," which should keep the significant strikes to a minimum.
Mario Bautista OVER 46.5 significant strikes and Trevin Jones OVER 42.5 significant strikes
This fight is lined with the expectation that a lot of grappling will take place, but I don't necessarily see why this should be the case. It is true that both are adept wrestler/grapplers, but we have seen Bautista have no issues standing and striking for the better part of 15 minutes, and I suspect the MMA Lab product's tricky jiujitsu game may give Jones pause about taking this fight to the mat, which should give us a striking-heavy bout.
Bets to Consider
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Carlos Ulberg goes to decision (+146)
The fact that we are getting such a good price here is a bit puzzling to me. The first thing to note is that the respective records of these men don't even tell the story of knockout artists, with Nzechukwu finishing four of his seven wins and Ulberg taking one of his three fights to a decision. Beyond that, though, we see from the tape that both of these men are counter fighters who wait for their opponent to open up in order to land a big shot. While that shot can certainly land on either side, this price is simply too good to pass for two fighters who won't look to push the action.
Sean Brady wins by decision (+145)
Brady has shown off a diverse skill set in his UFC career. It's that skill set that should help us here, as Brady will always look to work in his ground game, even when he seems to have a sizeable advantage on the feet. Jake Matthews has been incredibly tough in his career, having only been finished three times in 21 career fights. While Brady may take the win with some style points, I expect Matthews to be able to tough it out until the final bell.