The Ultimate Fighting Championship has stacked the deck for UFC 241. 12 interesting and significant fights make up the card, giving us plenty of potential betting action to be had. Below are our top plays in the UFC 241 edition of Prime Picks.
Anthony Pettis (-125)
Somewhat like last week, the volatility of the fight game makes us want to avoid the main event, but for a different reason. At UFC Uruguay, the odds were so stacked in favor of the champion that putting money down was too risky, even though Valentina Shevchenko came out unscathed. In this main event, a heavyweight rematch between Daniel Cormier (-135) and Stipe Miocic (+115), the power these two men possess make this a fight too tough to advise anyone to put money on. In fact, the safest play for this main event may be the prop bet of "Fight doesn't go to decision," which currently stands at -365. Instead, we will take a closer look at the co-headlining attraction.
Pettis has alternated wins and losses dating back to 2016, over a span of eight fights. In that stretch, he has been knocked out by Max Holloway, tapped to a body triangle from Dustin Poirier, and had his corner throw in the towel after breaking his hand against Tony Ferguson. On the upside, in his most recent performance, Pettis became the first man to stop Stephen Thompson, and did so as a sizeable +345 underdog. Leading up to the superman punch that punctuated the fight, Pettis was largely getting worked and on his way to losing the first two rounds, as "Wonderboy" kept his distance and peppered Pettis with kicks and long punches.
Pettis' opponent Nate Diaz will hold a reach advantage of nearly four inches in their showdown. With a strong jiu-jitsu game to fall back on —11 of his 19 victories have come by tapout — as well as a battle-tested chin, Diaz can be comfortable utilizing a simple yet effective boxing style, with a pawing jab followed by a stream of one-two combinations. As a note, the Diaz brothers may be the only fighters to effectively utilize a slap and have it count as a significant strike. With seemingly never-ending cardio and the ability to push the pace on almost any fighter, Diaz could follow in the footsteps of recent fighters with similar aggressive styles like Ferguson and Holloway to pick up a win over "Showtime."
It is well-known that Diaz is coming back from a nearly three-year layoff. Will "ring rust" play a factor in his return? Some fighters believe that it is purely psychological, while other admit there is a physical aspect of getting a feel for the cage and having an opponent coming at you as hard as they can. No matter how you feel about "ring rust" — perhaps when involving fights in a cage it could be called "cage corrosion" — Diaz has been on the shelf for almost three years. As Diaz tends to start slow and give up the first round, this could seriously work against him in a three-round fight against a dynamic striker like Pettis. Look for Pettis to unleash a full arsenal of kicks to keep Diaz at bay, all while working the lead leg of the Stockton native. While still a winnable fight for Diaz at welterweight, unless he fights a nearly-perfect fight or lures Pettis into some careless exchanges, this could play out like Diaz' skirmish against Josh Thomson.
Yoel Romero (-140)
What happens when a seemingly unstoppable force (Paulo Henrique Costa) meets a nearly immovable object (Romero)? All twelve of Costa's victories have come by stoppage, never going beyond eight minutes. Meanwhile, his opponent, Romero, has finished his opponent in 11 of his 13 wins, and has reached the scorecards four times in 16 fights. Before the cage door closes behind them, they have an interesting battle to get down to 185 pounds, as they each cut an enormous amount of weight. As the California State Athletic Commission implements same-day weigh-ins, it will be interesting to see how heavy each combatant is on fight day, as each will likely be well north of 200 pounds.
"The Eraser" punished Uriah Hall in his last time out, but not before scoring several fouls that fired up Hall. "Primetime" saw some success with his quick jab that landed almost every time, and he even stunned Costa momentarily before Costa poured it on to secure the stoppage. Able to throw strong kicks with both legs, Costa has seen his best work when he bullies his opponent around the cage. As Costa's last two bouts have shown, Costa can be surprised when his adversary can take his most powerful shots, as Johny Hendricks and Hall had their moments firing back after Costa unleashed a vicious combination. Romero has almost otherworldly chin that can eat flush head kicks from Robert Whittaker without budging, so Costa could find a similar sense of shock when learning Romero can take everything he dishes out.
Romero's power is incredibly deceptive, because he can tend to move very tentatively until exploding violently, akin to a coiled spring. Since joining the UFC, the only man to beat the "Soldier of God" was Whittaker, who did so two times over five rounds each, albeit in closely contested battles. In both of his meetings with Whittaker, Romero had Whittaker badly hurt and but for Whittaker's incredible recoverability, Romero would be vying for a title instead of facing Costa. Despite his massive weight cut, Romero can go five hard rounds, so 15 minutes against a hard-charging Brazilian slugger should be no problem. Expect Romero to weather an early storm and take some damage in the first round, only to gain the advantage and hand Costa his first career defeat. Can Costa get it done? Yes, as Romero is 42 and eventually his age has to play a factor in his fighting ability, but we do not seeing that happening quite yet.
Ian Heinisch (-145)
One of several Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight champs to make their way to the Las Vegas-based promotion, Heinisch has worked his way up the division rather quickly. Scoring a first-round knockout in Dana White's Contender Series in 2018 to earn himself a contract, Heinisch made his short-notice debut where he took a unanimous judges' verdict over Cezar Ferreira in hostile territory. A well-rounded fighter, "The Hurricane" can hurt you on the feet, as he dropped Ferreira in their bout, and has solid wrestling fundamentals as well as excellent submission defense. Notably, his ability to stay in a fight while his adversary fades has proved a useful tool in his first two UFC outings.
His opponent Brunson started in Strikeforce with a smothering ground game that eventually morphed into a reliance on huge power shots. Even though he won in his last UFC appearance in a strange one against Elias Theodorou, Brunson has not looked particular great in the cage in a few years since putting away Lyoto Machida. Brunson was unable to get comfortable against Ronaldo Souza or Israel Adesanya, with the latter using Brunson's overwhelming aggression against him. Heinisch tends to start a little slower, so if Brunson blitzes Heinisch and cracks him right out of the gate, he could come out on top.
Brunson has the kind of power where he could stop Heinisch with one punch, but as long as Heinisch does not get reckless this should be his fight to lose. Heinisch should have a sizable cardio advantage, so when we start to get into the second round and beyond, Brunson may tire while Heinisch presses forward until the final bell. If you are a savvy bettor, coupling this with "Fight goes to a decision" could prove fruitful, with that result currently sitting at +105.
Sabina Mazo (-105)
Our lone underdog pick for this piece comes in the flyweight opener between Mazo and Shana Dobson. The line for this fight has fluctuated significantly, with Mazo opening as a -190 favorite before money kept coming in on Dobson. As such, this can be considered a pick-em fight, with Dobson the slightest of favorites at -115. While some other underdogs on the card might be appealing to some, like Casey Kenney upsetting Manny Bermudez or Raphael Assuncao overtaking Cory Sandhagen, this is a more reasonable pick to consider plunking down your hard-earned dollars.
Mazo made her Octagon debut with a loss, as she dropped a decision to Maryna Moroz. Moroz kept the pressure in Mazo, threatening the takedown and capturing the first two rounds. This was the proper way to nullify a kickboxer, as Mazo, one of the winningest female fighters in LFA history, prefers to get things done with her legs. Dobson generally prefers to keep things standing, relying on her boxing while not afraid to throw kicks as well. Since Dobson last stepped foot in the cage in April 2018, Mazo has competed three times. As long as Mazo keeps this contest in kicking range, she should come out the victor.
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