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
The UFC has a heavyweight title fight rematch headline UFC 260 on Saturday, March 27 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.
Marc-Andre Barriault (11-4) vs. Abu Azaitar (14-2-1)
Weight Class: Middleweight
Although Marc-Andre Barriault hasn't been the most impressive in the UFC, just 0-3 with one no-contest (originally a TKO win for Barriault but overturned due to a USADA suspension), this is a good style matchup for him against Abu Azaitar.
The German-born Azaitar hasn't fought since July of 2018 when he beat Vitor Miranda by decision in his UFC debut. He did have success in World Series of Fighting (now PFL), but the layoff is one of many reasons why I like Barriault.
Barriault will have a sizeable four-inch height advantage, although the reach will be on Azaitar's side. But, in general size, Barriault will be much bigger and stronger. The German fought at 170lbs in WSOF, while Barriault was TKO's middleweight and light heavyweight champion.
Azaitar, meanwhile, has horrible takedown defense (just 25 percent), as Miranda – who is a Muay Thai fighter – got him down at will. I expect Barriault to have a wrestling-heavy game plan to either get a decision win or a TKO after Azaitar gasses out, as his cardio is a big concern.
The Play: Marc-Andre Barriault (-125)
Modestas Bukauskas (11-3) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (14-4)
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
Both men are coming off stoppage losses to Jimmy Crute, which proved neither are top-10 light heavyweights at this time. I do think Bukauskas has the better skill set, however.
The first round will be a sweat for this bet, as the Pole has legit one-punch KO power, but has proven in his UFC career he gasses after one round. If Bukauskas can survive the first round, I expect him to start taking over and land the heavier shots.
Bukauskas has a four-inch reach advantage, and although he hasn't shot for a takedown in his UFC career, he did wrestle in Cage Warriors and grappling is a clear way to beat Olekisejczuk. I just don't think the Pole can close the distance to catch him, and I like Bukauskas to get a second or third round stoppage win to cash as the underdog.
The Play: Modestas Bukauskas (+130)
Sean O'Malley (12-1) vs. Thomas Almeida (22-4)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Sean O'Malley is getting a favorable matchup to not only get back into the win column but get another knockout.
Almeida looked slow and off in his return fight against Jonathan Martinez on Fight Island. He also gets hit a lot and has a questionable chin, which is a problem against O'Malley. In his UFC career, the Brazilian absorbs 4.69 significant strikes per minute while O'Malley lands 6.35.
I expect O'Malley to land early and often against Almeida and eventually will find the home for a power shot that knocks Almeida out.
The Play: Sean O'Malley wins by KO/TKO (+140)
*Odds at FanDuel as WilliamHill doesn't have props available
Vicente Luque (19-7-1) vs. Tyron Woodley (19-6-1) &
Khama Worthy (16-7) vs. Jamie Mullarkey (12-4)
Weight Class: Welterweight & Lightweight
Although Woodley lost to the champion and the top two contenders, it's the way he fights which has me fading him. He has struggled to pull the trigger and is not the same aggressive self he once was. He lets his opponents just pick him apart and doesn't throw anything back. His corners have yelled at him about it, but he doesn't change.
Against Luque, that will be a problem. The Brazilian is a very aggressive fighter who likes to be in-your-face and land power shots. I expect Luque to just pick Woodley apart for three rounds and win a clear-cut decision.
For the other half of this parlay, I like Khama Worthy to get back into the win column. Worthy is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Ottman Azaitar in September but before that, he picked up stoppage wins over Luis Pena and Devonte Smith and showed he is well-rounded.
Jamie Mullarkey, meanwhile, is 0-2 in the UFC and after his war with Brad Riddell, was a bit tentative against Fares Ziam. He also gets hit a lot, as he absorbs 4.60 significant strikes per minute while only lands 1.87. Worthy, meanwhile, lands 4.12, and I expect one of those shots will eventually rock him and he'll finish him, or he will pick him apart for a clear-cut decision.
Editor's Note: A.J. submits bets far in advance in an effort to get the best line, so some of the numbers below may not be currently available at your sportsbook of choice. Still, the analysis holds up. For all his latest picks, give him a follow on Twitter at @AJ_Schullo.
Jamie Mullarkey (12-4-0) vs. Khama Worthy (16-7-0)
Weight Class: Lightweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -150/60% Mullarkey to win. Let's discuss!
It's a clear striker (Worthy) versus grappler (Mullarkey) matchup. Let's discuss why I like the grappler to win!
I favor Worthy here. He's a more dangerous and superior counter striker. Mullarkey has better footwork (i.e., Worthy often leaves his feet entirely planted) and is more durable, in my opinion, so I can see these exchanges being close. Additionally, Mullarkey's striking looked better against Ziam relative to the fight against Riddell (i.e., showed solid combinations and counters with better variety w/kicks).
They both feint a ton and have both been hurt in the past many times (i.e., Worthy has been finished via strikes six times, and Mullarkey has been twice, plus took a beating to Riddell).
Favor Mullarkey here significantly. The grappling dynamic is the genesis of this bet. Khama will fish for the guillotine, and he has a firm squeeze (i.e., fight against Pena), but his defensively grappling overall is flawed. He was taken down quickly by a double leg from Luis Pena, then Pena immediately passed to side control, quickly took the mount, and threatened with an arm-triangle choke. Pena proceeded to have back mount for about two and a half minutes before getting reversed. Pena then quickly took down Khama with a single leg and ended up in side control again. After, Pena took back mount and threatened with the rear-naked choke also.
Worthy's defensive grappling looked vulnerable on the regional scene as well. He had his opponent's back, and then 20 seconds later, he had his back taken.
Mullarkey has a good reactive takedown (i.e., took down Riddell after he threw a low kick), the ability to chain wrestle, scrambling proficiency, trip takedown ability against the fence (i.e., is strong in the clinch), double leg takedown ability, sets up his takedowns (i.e., will fake going high and duck under for the level change), and looks to advance position while in the top position.
I trust Mullarkey likely gets this fight to the ground and dominates with control while landing some ground & pound.
TLDR: I bet Mularkey because I trust he can control where this fight takes place and be competitive in the striking exchanges.
Stipe Miocic (20-3-0) vs. Francis Ngannou (15-3-0)
Weight Class: Heavyweight
The implied odds I made for this fight are -150/60% Stipe Miocic to win.
After losing my bet on Jair Rozenstruik against Francis Ngannou, I was unsure if I'd bet against "The Predator" again. However, after watching the tape on this rematch against Stipe, I have decided to back the current champion. Like the other bets I've been posting, I bet on opportunities that I believe hold long term value. In other words, I am not getting married to one outcome. If my bet loses, fine. If it wins, fine. I will not bet these fighters looking at their downside exclusively in the matchup but rather looking at the matchup in its entirety, then I decide on the play.
This bet could lose, but there are also many ways to win, some of which by a potential apparent margin. Let's discuss!
Striking Exchanges In Open Space:
Ngannou is more durable, faster, more athletic, the superior counter striker, and hits harder while fresh. However, Stipe is the more technical boxer with better combination striking (i.e., Golden Gloves Boxing Champion) and fights at a much higher pace (i.e., outstruck Ngannou at a distance 37 to 19 in the first fight, landed 115 significant strikes in 5 rounds against Daniel Cormier in the trilogy per ufcstats.com).
When Ngannou wants to be the aggressor, he can be wild (i.e., was overextending on his punches in the first matchup with Stipe, left his chin very high against Rozenstruik in the finishing sequence), but he likely plays the counter striker role here as that's where he is at his best. Stipe has shown to be hittable in his recent matchups with Cormier and has been hurt in several past fights (i.e., Overeem, Struve, Cormier, Ngannou in round 3, Dos Santos in the first fight), so even though Ngannou didn't get the knockout in the first meeting he very legitimately can in the rematch as Stipe's margin for error is very small while these two are in open space.
That said, I trust Stipe's defense and fight I.Q. enough to allow me to believe that, more than likely, he avoids a finishing strike from Ngannou.
Stipe can work the body with his boxing and front kicks, which can tax the cardio of Ngannou, or he can land kicks to Ngannou's lead leg as Ngannou stands heavy on it.
I think it's fair to favor Ngannou striking while he's fresh, but as the fight progresses, there's a high likelihood that Stipe has exponentially more success on the feet if Ngannou fatigues. More on this under 'Cardio.'
Favor Stipe here. Stipe had success controlling Ngannou in the clinch multiple times in the first matchup and even did it against Cormier. It's smart for Stipe to do because it not only taxes Ngannou's cardio so Stipe can be the fresher fighter down the stretch but neutralizes Ngannou's threats in open space.
Favor Stipe here significantly. Stipe showcased great grappling instincts in the first matchup, and he certainly can again here. Ngannou's takedown defense, while fresh, is good partly due to his strength and athleticism, but as he fatigues, he's shown to be taken down and controlled. Stipe can utilize single-leg and double-leg takedowns in open space or against the fence (i.e., NCAA Division I Wrestling) to get Ngannou down again to neutralize his power threat tax his cardio. Stipe has great timing on his takedowns, so if Ngannou is aggressive, Stipe can counter wrestle by ducking under and putting Ngannou flat on his back to earn significant-top control time.
Once on the mat, Ngannou relies on his athleticism to work back to his feet. Still, as he fatigues, it becomes exponentially more difficult for him to work his way back up (i.e., Stipe utilized a "wrestling ride" against the fence in the first matchup when Ngannou did try to work back up).
Favor Stipe here significantly. Stipe's shown to fight at a solid pace for multiple rounds in a fight. Whereas Francis historically tires due to his explosive and powerful style (i.e., he was exhausted after 4 minutes in the first fight with Stipe, and Stipe was able to take him down several times, the most significant strikes Francis has landed in a fight is 36 per ufcstats.com).
In all likelihood, the longer the fight goes, the more Miocic's chances of winning increase.
TLDR: I am betting Stipe Miocic to win versus Francis Ngannou because he has more paths to victory, has significantly better cardio, is the superior technical fighter and fights at a much higher pace.
The Play: Bet 1.25 units Miocic @ + 140 and .75 units @ +130