This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
An absolutely stacked 15-fight pay-per-view card leaves us with plenty of options to choose from if we want to get in on the action. We'll look at four plays on the final PPV of 2021, including one natural underdog, and three favorites turned into plus-money plays through the magic of prop bets.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Ryan Hall (8-2-0) vs. Darrick Minner (26-12-0) Weight Class: Featherweight
One might be surprised that a submission prop for Ryan Hall would return significant plus money, but "The Wizard" actually has more decision wins (three) in the UFC, owing largely to the fact that most of his opponents choose not to engage him on the ground. This is almost certainly frustrating for a BJJ prodigy like Hall, so he should be overjoyed to see a fighter like Minner cross his path.
Minner is an absolute whirlwind inside the cage, constantly throwing himself into grappling exchanges with the confidence that he will be able to out-scramble his opponent. There is ample evidence that this isn't the case, however, as Minner has registered eight career losses by submission, and got so tired chasing the finish in his last fight that he allowed Darren Elkins to TKO him on the ground.
Hall may not have much on the feet aside from a collection of high kicks, but Minner will undoubtedly throw himself into the fray at some point, allowing the 36-year-old to bounce back from his second career loss.
The Play: Ryan Hall via Submission (+150)
Bruno Silva (21-6-0) vs. Jordan Wright (12-1-0) Weight Class: Middleweight
Silva and Wright are such prolific finishers that prospective bettors will need to lay an incredible amount of chalk (-425) to see it through. Rather than turning our knuckles white for fifteen minutes, however, we can shift our focus to when the action begins: Round 1.
While Silva's 18 KO/TKO victories vary by time and frame, Wright has begun his MMA career by notching all 12 of his finishes in Round 1. The reason for this is fairly simple, as Wright hits incredibly hard, and keeps his hands low in a traditional karate stance, inviting action. Silva isn't the most defensively responsible fighter on the roster, which should lead to powerful exchanges from the opening horn.
Wright is certainly live to get the better of Silva, but I will take my chances with the fighter who will be the aggressor against someone who is comfortable giving ground. The fact that Silva has never been knocked out in 27 professional fights swings my confidence in a particular direction.
The Play: Bruno Silva wins in Round 1: (+175)
Charles Oliveira (31-6-0) vs. Dustin Poirier (28-6-0) Weight class: Lightweight
The retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov left a void at the top of the lightweight division for months, but now the two best in the division will square off to determine the new king. Some are branding this fight too close to call, saying there just isn't enough room between the two fighters to make a confident prediction. It seems to me, however, that the champion will come in with at least one huge advantage, while the challenger will present a rather large weakness to be exploited.
We can get the pieces of conventional wisdom out of the way early: Poirier will be the more powerful combination boxer here, while Oliveira should have a sizeable advantage on the ground. While "Do Bronx" was hard-pressed to shake the "quitter" moniker for most of his career, we saw a notable shift following his loss to Paul Felder, which culminated in his survival after getting knocked down by Michael Chandler in the first round of their championship fight. Meanwhile, Poirier is not only susceptible to being taken down but can't help but stick himself against the fence looking to counter punch. This should allow Oliveira to get his game going early while giving us less cause for concern when he inevitably eats a big shot.
I certainly wouldn't suggest that Poirier can't finish Oliveira, but we've seen too many examples of "The Diamond" being caught against the side of the Octagon for me to call this one the other way. The fact that we get plus money on the champion can be seen as an added bonus.
The play: Charles Oliveira (+135)
Amanda Nunes (21-4-0) vs. Julianna Pena (10-4-0) Weight class: Women's Bantamweight
What's the best way to play a fighter who clocks in as a (-900) favorite? Turn them into a (+450) underdog, of course! Nunes has been bulldozing her way past every challenge, as she is currently a two-division champion on a 12-fight win streak. The same cannot be said for Pena, a fighter who has traded wins and losses in her last four bouts.
With a line as wide as this, prospective owners shouldn't need a comprehensive breakdown of skills to know which competitor is the superior fighter. The only question that remains, then, is why are we zeroing in on a submission finish? Pena is a heavy top-control grappler, but her two most recent losses (both by submission) came against noted strikers in Germaine de Randamie and Valentina Shevchenko. This tells me that she often isn't careful, and chases positions with little regard for her own safety. We also can't discount the wrestler's instinct, which is the tendency to try to grab an opponent when they get hit hard. Pena's flat-footed plodding into the pocket should leave her open to get stung more than a few times, making this a distinct possibility.
The truth of the matter is that the UFC has long since run out of intriguing opponents to take on "The Lioness." As long as she is interested in grabbing checks and cementing her legacy, we may as well try to make a dollar or two from the proceedings.
The play: Amanda Nunes wins via submission (+450)