This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
The UFC is set for a stacked UFC 259 pay-per-view card that sees three titles on the line on Saturday, March 6 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
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.
Askar Askarov (13-0-1) vs. Joseph Benavidez (28-7)
Weight class: Flyweight
Askar Askarov is the real deal and will get to prove it on the prelims of UFC 259.
Currently, Askarov is a -137 favorite, which I think is a very fair price. I personally set him at -175, which implies a 63 percent chance of winning.
Although Benavidez is the more proven flyweight, I do wonder if he is past his prime. He is coming off back-to-back brutal losses to Deiveson Figueiredo where he lost by KO and submission. In the fight he got submitted, he also was knocked down a couple of times in the fight, so I do worry about his chin.
Askarov, meanwhile, is a much-improved striker, as he nearly knocked out Tim Elliott at UFC 246 and beat Alexandra Pantoja earlier this year by picking him apart. Where the Russian will really have success is in the grappling. Benavidez uses his wrestling to win fights, but I actually believe Askarov is the better wrestler and he'll be able to keep it standing and win a decision or possibly get the finish.
The Play: Askar Askarov (-137)
Tim Elliott (16-11-1) vs. Jordan Espinosa (15-8)
Weight class: Flyweight
I don't understand these odds at all, as I believe the opener of Tim Elliott being a -125 is closer to how I lined it off -150 Elliott.
Although Elliott is only a +100 underdog, it still is even money on a fight I believe he should be favored. Although he is just 1-3 in his last four, his losses are to Brandon Royval, Askar Askarov, and Deiveson Figueiredo. He's also fought for the UFC title and has proven himself at flyweight more than Jordan Espinosa.
Why I like Tim Elliott is because of his pace and grappling. Throughout Espinosa's career, he has struggled against grapplers and was choked out by Alex Perez and Matt Schnell. In this fight, I expect Elliott to use his pace and striking to force a bad shot out of Espinosa and he will grab ahold of his neck and get the submission win.
A bonus nugget on this fight, is when I talked to Tim Elliott, this fight was supposed to happen a couple of years ago. However, this was when Elliott was training in Las Vegas and Espinosa was with James Krause, and Krause, a longtime friend of Elliott, told Espinosa he didn't like the matchup for him and told him not to take it. Now, years later, Elliott is now training under Krause and the fight has been made.
The play: Tim Elliott (+100)
Islam Makhachev (18-1) vs. Drew Dober (23-9)
Weight class: Lightweight
Note William Hill doesn't have props out yet, so this line is by DraftKings sportsbook.
Islam Makhachev is the protege of Khabib Nurmagomedov and to me, this is a setup fight for him to get a big win on a big pay-per-view card. Makhachev is currently a -345 favorite which is too high for me to play straight up, but the Russian by submission is at +350, which has a ton of value.
Throughout Dober's career, he has struggled against grapplers. The last three grapplers he fought in Beneil Dariush, Olivier Aubin-Mercie, and Efrain Escudero all took him down and submitted him. I fully expect Makhachev to get Dober down, and I do think if he finishes the fight it would be by submission and at +350 it is worth a shot.
The Play: Islam Makhachev by SUB (+350)
Sean Brady (13-0) vs. Jake Matthews (17-4) &
Carlos Ulberg (3-0) vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu (7-1)
Weight Class: Welterweight & Light Heavyweight
Brady is going to be a problem for the welterweight division, as his wrestling is next-level, and his striking is only getting better. Jake Matthews, meanwhile, has had trouble stuffing takedowns. In the UFC, he has a 70 percent takedown defense. I do think Brady will be able to control this fight with the grappling and possibly even get the finish.
The second leg of the parlay in Carlos Ulberg is the fight right after Brady, so you won't have to wait long to see if it cashes. They are also within the first five fights on the event.
Ulberg is the main training partner of Israel Adesanya and is a decorated kickboxer who has phenomenal standup. Kennedy Nzechukwu, meanwhile, is primarily a striker who gets hit a lot, as he has a striking defense of just 55 percent. I expect Ulberg to just pick him apart for however long the fight lasts. To get plus-money on this parlay is very good value in my opinion.
The Play: Brady & Ulberg parlay (+102)