UFC 219 is set to take place this Saturday night (Dec. 30) in Las Vegas, Nevada, and let’s just say that it doesn’t scream “quality” like previous end-of-year UFC cards.
Usually the UFC stacks its final card of the year from top to bottom. Instead, in 2017, we get a main event between Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm. While it has the potential to be a fantastic fight, it doesn’t necessarily scream “buy this pay-per-view!”
This is also an extremely hard card to wager on as there aren’t a lot of fights that you can get a strong read on. Many of the favorites, like Cyborg and Khabib Nurmagomedov, deserve to be overwhelming favorites, yet could also easily get merked by their opponents. Danger lurks.
That said, we need to make some plays. So let’s do the best we can to find a few golden underdogs, some worthy props, and a lucrative parlay. Also checking out my Best Bets for UFC Futures from last week, where I suggested a couple of ‘dogs (Carla Esparza and Neil Magny) who still hold some value.
Middleweight: Marvin Vettori (-222) vs. Omari Akhmedov (+187)
At first glance, this moneyline seems perfectly acceptable, but when you take a closer look at this preliminary matchup, you can find some solid reasons to take the dog in Omari “The Wolverine” Akhmedov (17-4).
Although Marvin Vettori (12-3) is a bigger fighter who loves to throw down, averaging 3.13 significant strikes landed per minute, he doesn’t possess enough power to take Akhmedov out via (T)KO, so this fight could end up being a grappling affair. While Akhmedov has shown in the past that he has some power in his hands (seven wins by knockout and two “Fight of the Night” bonuses in the UFC), where he really shines is in the wrestling department. The Dagestani grappler could easily wind up controlling the fight if the majority is spent in the clinch or on the mat.
The only kryptonite that I see for Akhmedov is his gas tank. Will he hit a cardio wall like he did in consecutive knockout losses to Sergio Moraes and Elizeu Zaleski? In both of those losses, Akhmedov started strong but faded badly in the later rounds.
He followed up those losses with two hard-working decision wins over Kyle Noke and Abdul Razak Alhassan, the latter an upset at UFC Fight Night 109. Right now I’m leaning towards “The Wolverine’s” hard hands and wrestling acumen for another potentially profitable upset.
My bet: $50 on Akhmedov (+187)
Potential payout: $93.50 profit
Lightweight: Louis Smolka (+255) vs. Matheus Nicolau (-325)
There is something about a fighter with his back against the wall, and that describes Louis Smolka (11-4) to a tee right now. He is currently riding a three-fight losing streak which has put him on the precipice of a UFC release. However, over the years, his biggest fight has been with his own personal demons.
“The Last Samurai” has recently cleaned up his act, though, and is ready to put his promising career back on track against Matheus Nicolau (12-1-1).
The 24-year-old Brazilian is a talented up-and-comer who is riding a five-fight winning streak. But he hasn’t fought in more than a year and failed a drug test prior to a planned bout with Yuta Sasaki.
Nicolau is skilled in all areas of the game and he’s young enough that he probably still hasn’t reached his full potential yet. But a focused and somewhat desperate Smolka is a scary possibility.
Unless Nicolau can find a way to box his way to a victory, I see a motived Smolka taking the young prospect to the ground and submitting him.
I guess I’m a sucker for a good redemption story and some good odds. Currently Smolka is sitting as a +255 underdog, and he’s around +200 on other books. I think it’s an underdog worth taking a chance on.
My bet: $50 on Smolka (+255)
Potential payout: $127.50 profit
Featherweight: Cris Cyborg (-380) vs. Holly Holm (+315)
Why would I bet against a huge favorite like Cris Cyborg (18-1) in what is sure to be a stand-up war? This is where the Brazilian shines and it seems ridiculous to put money on Holly Holm (11-3), but “The Preacher’s Daughter” has a boxing game that’s hard to ignore in this matchup.
Cyborg is a newly minted champion who has been talking a lot about potentially getting into the boxing game at some point. Well, now is her chance to show the world her pugilistic talents by beating a former boxing champ.
However, trying to box with Holm would be a huge mistake. Cyborg’s easiest path to victory is setting up the takedown, taking top control, and ground-and-pounding Holm into oblivion.
If the fight stays on the feet, Holm can win by relying on her experience and technical striking. If she can keep Cyborg at a distance by sticking and moving and finding a way to hit her with that dangerous counter straight left or her devastating head kick, we could possibly see another monumental upset from the hands of Holly Holm.
Do I think it will happen? Probably not, but I’m also aware that it’s hard not to put a few dollars down on Holm at +315. When I say “a few dollars,” I mean it. Don’t break the bank on this one.
My bet: $25 on Holm (+315)
Potential payout: $78.75 profit
Best Prop Bets for UFC 219
As mentioned, this entire card is hard to bet on. There are so many uncertainties. I urge you not to go overboard when wagering. As Kenny Rogers once said, “know when to fold them.”
Right now there isn’t much that stands out as far as prop bets are concerned, but I was able to find three reasonable wagers.
Cyborg finishes (KO/TKO/DQ) Holly Holm (-162)
There are some good lines on a possible Cyborg finish on this fight. I would jump all over this before the line continues to change. Right now, you can find a method of victory line with Cyborg winning via stoppage at -162. Not bad, there might be better lines out there, but I think it’s pretty likely Cyborg finishes Holm.
My bet: $50 on Cyborg finishing Holm via KO/TKO (-162)
Potential payout: $30.86 profit
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Claudio Esparza goes over 2.5 rounds (-205)
You should consider Esparza as a straight-up underdog at +210. But if you aren’t keen on that, then I recommend taking the over 2.5 rounds at -205, as this fight will be a ground war that will go to the judges.
My bet: $40 on the fight lasting over 2.5 rounds at (-205)
Potential payout: $19.51 profit
Nurmagomedov vs. Barboza under 2.5 rounds (+105)
Whether we get the Barboza knockout or the Khabib wrestle-fest, I have a hard time believing this fight goes the distance. Someone is going to get beat up. Take the under on 2.5 rounds at +105.
My bet: $50 on the fight ending in under 2.5 rounds
Potential payout: $52.50 profit.
The Parlay Plays
It’s hard to find good multiples on this card, but I’ve taken a few of the prop bets I mentioned above and cooked up a parlay with a decent potential return.
My bet: $25 on Cynthia Calvillo vs. Claudio Esparza Over 2.5 rounds (-210) + Nurmagomedov vs. Barboza under 2.5 rounds (-110)
Potential payout: $45.45
My bet: $25 on Cris Cyborg via KO/TKO (-162) + Louis Smolka beating Nicolau (+195)
Potential payout: $119.48