With three title fights this weekend at the blockbuster UFC 259, we have a diverse mix of championship betting scenarios. The women’s GOAT will be a runaway favorite. The middleweight champion will be a clear but reasonable betting favorite while moving up a division for a champ-vs.-champ cross-divisional mash-up. But first, there’s a coin-flip title fight in the competitive bantamweight division.
Co-main event spoiler: The numbers clearly favor Amanda Nunes in her featherweight title defense against Megan Anderson. That’s even though Nunes will be competing in her ninth straight title fight, amassing her impressive performance metrics (and plenty of bonuses) against the best that two divisions have to offer. So unless she shows up suddenly out of shape, she is likely to get past Anderson, who poses no superlative threat on the ground or on the feet. The real question for most bettors is how long the fight will last. Nunes by submission is actually plus money, making it an attractive prop.
In the main event, Israel Adesanya moves up a division to take on Jan Blachowicz. Although the numbers favor Adesanya’s long-range striking ability, the change in weight class makes this tricky. Adesanya has racked up knockdowns at middleweight, but when they don’t come, his style has led to some disappointingly slow-paced fights. And if Blachowicz stands in the pocket and lands anything cleanly, it could be the hardest Adesanya has ever been hit. Blachowicz’s striking stats might be inflated by cruising through some opponents past their prime, but his performance against Dominick Reyes shows what he can do against elite talent. The uncertainty of Adesanya’s move up in weight makes the confidence on the favorite here less bankable. If he looks great at the new weight, back him. But don’t be afraid to back off given the uncertainty and hype involved.
That leaves us with the first title fight on the card, and the one with the closest odds. It’s always fun to see a coin-flip title fight, and this pits two prime fighters who could be seeing each other again down the line in Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. Though both are on impressive streaks against many of the same opponents, their styles will create a chess match that has kept the betting lines tight.
The striking matchup isn’t clear-cut, especially since there is enough contrast that we might not see them stand in the pocket. Yan clearly has the power advantage, while Sterling has been vulnerable in shootouts. But Sterling also has a long-range striking style and excellent head-strike avoidance. That should help him against Yan’s power strikes. Sterling tends to use a much higher volume of strikes than opponents, and he mixes in a diverse attack of body and leg kicks. But he primarily uses the long-range pressure to close distance, where his roots as a wrestler take over.
In the clinch, Sterling has shown dominant control, whereas Yan has not. Sterling can use the clinch for takedowns, which have a higher success rate than when he shoots from a distance. And though his overall takedown success rate is low, he strings together multiple attempts to get the job done eventually.
Sterling’s positional pressure and expertise on the mat will be needed if he’s going to dethrone the champ. Yan has already demonstrated he can overwhelm anyone trading leather in a firefight. His last performance against a former champion and striking specialist in Jose Aldo exemplifies Yan at his best. If he can weather the early storm and create space, he has the tools to take over the fight. If he can’t, and if he ends up on the mat, his best weapons will be nullified, and he’ll be too busy defending against Sterling’s advanced submission game.
This fight will be decided by position, and Sterling gets a slight edge by the numbers to control more minutes of action.
The pick is Sterling. Look for plus money or settle for nearly even odds.