This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
A 10-fight card makes it a bit tougher to find plays for UFC 260, but we were able to come up with four solid spots, including a 2-to-1 underdog going up against an opponent who has had less-than-stellar results of late. As always, I have limited my looks to lines below (-200), as I feel that anything more expensive is supposed to come in, and doesn't really require a writeup. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article. Without any further ado, let's get to it.
Jared Gooden (17-5-0) vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov (15-3-1) Weight Class: Lightweight
Nurmagomedov may have an ability to wrestle and control on the ground similar to his famous cousin, but recent results don't exactly scream "large favorite," as the Dagestani fighter has gone 1-2-1 in his last four contests dating back to 2018. Of course, styles make fights, but this rough patch may just give us an indication that there is something in Nurmagomedov's game for Gooden to exploit.
Gooden fell short in his UFC debut against Alan Jouban, but along the way showed unyielding cardio and a granite chin, which he used to continually march the 38-year-old down while landing big shots of his own. What I like most about Gooden in this matchup is his penchant for throwing in combination, as Nurmagomedov relies a bit too much on slipping shots in predictable patterns. It also can't be understated that Gordon is a real submission threat, having garnered six submission victories, including two in his last three wins. This is important to note, as Numagomedov was wrapped up like a present against David Zawada, and hasn't looked comfortable in juijitsu exchanges generally.
If I had one reservation here, it might be that Nurmagomedov has been especially good at hitting reactive takedowns, which could come into play as Gooden wades forward. Still, this line seemingly gets wider every time I check it, which leaves Abubakar bettors (essentially) paying for the "Nurmagomedov" name.
The play: Jared Gooden: +200
Vicente Luque (19-7-1) vs. Tyron Woodley (19-6-1) Weight Class: Welterweight
Luque has been such a dedicated finisher in his career that some may balk at the prospect of this fight going the full 15 minutes, but what we have in the matchup against Woodley are two extremely durable fighters who have only been finished four times in a combined 13 losses. Keep in mind, too, that Woodley's recent stoppage loss to Colby Covington was a bit of a fluke occurrence, as the former welterweight champion hurt himself while trying to scramble in bottom position.
The other central thing to note here is just how slow-paced and controlled Woodley's fights are, generally. One should expect a bit more acceleration than normal against a come-forward fighter like Luque, but the controlled pace that Woodley likes to dictate should still lessen the amount of danger either fighter will be in at any given time. Throw in the fact that both men only need to survive for 15 minutes (the first such fight for Woodley since 2015) and we seem to have enough elements to pull the trigger.
We can talk all day about pace and activity, but the bottom line here is that neither man has been knocked out in a proper fashion in nearly a decade, and Woodley has never suffered a loss via submission. That seems to cover our bases pretty thoroughly, making me feel comfortable about recommending the juice.
The play: Fight Goes to Decision: -150
Gillian Robertson (9-5-0) vs. Melinda Maverick (8-2-0) Weight Class: Flyweight
Fun fact: the KO/TKO Maverick notched in her UFC debut against Liana Jojua was her first career stoppage by strikes. This could signal that a young fighter is coming into their own, but the important thing to remember here is that fight ended by doctor stoppage, meaning it was more of a well-placed strike than a complete domination of the opponent that led to the result. So, the only remaining question we have to answer is can "The Maverick" submit Robertson?
You'll note that I focused the entire paragraph on Maverick getting the finish. This is because Maverick has never been stopped in 10 professional fights. That's not to say it couldn't happen, of course, but the 23-year-old is a slick enough grappler that I don't think we have to worry about her being submitted, and calling Robertson's striking a work in progress would be incredibly kind. So, can Robertson be submitted? Well, it's happened before at the hands of Mayra Bueno Silva, but that came in something of a scramble that I don't think can be easily replicated. It is more likely, I think, that these ladies have an exciting position battle on the ground for the better part of 15 minutes, the end of which comes when we hear the final horn.
If Robertson allows this to become a striking match, there's an excellent chance she gets overwhelmed by Maverick, who is a practicing Thai striker. That seems unlikely, however, as Robertson has shot early and often in all of her UFC bouts to date, which should force this fight to be contested in the space where both feel comfortable.
The play: Fight Goes to Decision: -150
Stipe Miocic (20-3-0) vs. Francis Ngannou (15-3-0) Weight class: Heavyweight
I expect the rematch of the 2018 encounter between these two to turn out much like the first bout. While this does mean I think Miocic will win, it almost certainly won't be without a few scares along the way. That may seem like an unappetizing proposition for such a small dog, but my position is that any line that has Stipe less than a small favorite is worth attacking.
The reasons for this are numerous and begin with all of the advantages Miocic brings to the cage. Among these are: better footwork, more technical striking, better cardio, and, of course, a wrestling pedigree. Beyond that, though, it must be said that Stipe handled Ngannou's power better than any opponent to date, as he got hit with several hard shots and only once looked as though he was significantly affected. I believe this came from the champion exploiting the wide-swinging Ngannou, which allowed him to slip shots, find counters, and execute takedowns for the better part of five rounds. It's this level of composure and awareness that I think will be Stipe's true ace in the hole, as it will allow him to navigate around the devastating power of his opponent.
As I intimated above, this fight will be a bit scary for Stipe when it is on the feet, but as long as he doesn't get careless, he should be able to do just enough striking to open up his wrestling game and drain the gas tank of Ngannou once again.
The Play: Stipe Miocic: +105