UFC 259 Preview and Picks: Will Israel Adesanya Become Double Champ?

UFC 259 is STACKED, not just from a fan’s perspective but a sports bettor’s too. Let’s take a glance at this card’s resume, shall we?

Three championship bouts (one featuring champion versus champion), the No. 2 light heavyweight versus the No. 3 light heavyweight, the No. 2 flyweight versus the No. 3 flyweight, and the underdog, Dominick Cruz. Half of those are on the prelims. Any objections to this card? I didn’t think so.

Ahead are my fight previews and picks for possibly the best UFC card of the year. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. This card is juiced with ample opportunity to cash in on some value picks. Hey, maybe we’ll even hit a parlay.

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MAIN CARD

Light Heavyweight Championship: (C) Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya (-225)

Each week, the UFC absolutely nails the main event by making it the most compelling fight on the card. I know that’s the point, and it’s easy to do when it’s champion versus champion, but it’s a weekly reminder that boxing needs to get its head out of its arse. I digress. Onto the fight pick analysis – we’re looking at the biggest test of each fighter’s career.

Adesanya, the current middleweight champion, looks to etch his name in UFC history by becoming just the fifth fighter ever to hold two division championships simultaneously (Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo are the others).

The “Last Stylebender” (Adesanya’s nickname) takes on light heavyweight champion Blachowicz, who defeated world-class fighter Dominick Reyes for the vacant light heavyweight championship at UFC 253 last September.

Let’s state the obvious: Adesanya is in another striking class, even compared to heavy-handed Blachowicz. There’s little doubt Adesanya, a world-class kickboxer, will win the standup war, but can Blachowicz knock him out or put him on his back? It’s undoubtedly the main objective of his game plan as a black belt jiu-jitsu grappler who possesses knockout power.

No one has unlocked the Adesanya puzzle yet, though. Unless Blachowicz finds the key, Adesanya’s skill will be too much for him to withstand. It’s important to note while Adesanya doesn’t grapple, his takedown defense is a superb 86%.

That said, Adesanya is going up in weight, whereas Blachowicz is already comfortable at light heavyweight. That holds merit. I’m parlaying the three championship bouts together, but if I’m riding hot going into this main event, I’m considering hedging with Blachowicz to guarantee a profit. Perhaps consider it, too.

The Pick: Adesanya (-225) (relegated to parlay)

Women’s Featherweight Championship: (C) Amanda Nunes (-1100) vs. Megan Anderson

We go from a bout featuring a fighter looking to become a double champ to a co-main event featuring one who has already accomplished it: Amanda Nunes.

Nunes isn’t just the greatest woman fighter of all-time; she’s (at minimum) a top-3 UFC fighter ever. Barring the greatest upset in UFC history, she’s winning this fight, which speaks even further to her legacy, especially when you consider Megan Anderson is incredibly legit. But we’re talking about Nunes, the “Lioness.” There’s never been a more complete fighter in the entire women’s division.

As an aside, a group of friends and I ran into Nunes on the Vegas strip after UFC 200. She had just dominated Miesha Tate, winning the women’s bantamweight title, and was more than happy to spend a few minutes talking to us. She’s half my size and undoubtedly can beat my whole ass. No joke. She’s freaking awesome and fearless.

I’m not going to get all square with this and recommend you bet Nunes at -1100. That’s a ridiculously dumb bet, maybe even for a leg on a parlay (though I’m adding it to one). Seriously, don’t lay $1100 to win $100. Instead, we’re better off trying to predict how and when she finishes the fight.

Because Nunes is as elite of a striker as she is a grappler, it’s hard to do. But the much taller Megan Anderson isn’t the best takedown defender in the UFC, only defending 53% of takedowns. That plays well for Nunes if she hopes to finish the fight early by submission. Let’s ride with that.

The Pick: Nunes by Submission (+210)

Bantamweight Championship: (C) Peter Yan (-120) vs. No. 1 Aljamain Sterling

According to Oddsfire, this championship bout is an actual 50-50 split by bet count in the FanDuel Sportsbook, with a slight edge on Yan’s handle. The odds reflect that after spending the last few days at -110 each. Yan is now the favorite at -120.

It’s not surprising when you consider most casual bettors favor the champion in any championship fight. In this case, I’m going to take the plus money because I think this is a mismatch of skill. Sterling is the epitome of mystery, winning fights by striking with distance, superb leg kicks, and a fantastic submission ability (when he can actually take fighters down). He’ll take on Yan, who is no slouch himself. Yan is a brawler, averaging six significant strikes per minute and possessing an excellent takedown defense.

But let’s first address the elephant in the room – Sterling has a career takedown accuracy of just 29%, compared to Yan’s takedown defense of 87%. I promise I’m not overlooking it. I expect Sterling to implement a game plan similar to his against Cory Sandhagen, another great striker whom Sterling defeated by first-round submission.

If Sterling gets the fight to the ground and attempts a submission early, his path to victory is clear. If Yan uses his world-class takedown defense, we may be in for a five-round fight, in which case I’ll still take Sterling’s unique fighting style to muscle out a win.

The Pick: Sterling (+102)

Bonus: Main Card Parlay (+218)

Adesanya (-225), with Nunes (-1100), with Sterling (+102)

PRELIM CARD

Bantamweight bout: No. 11 Dominick Cruz vs. Casey Kenney (-134)

The Pick: Cruz (+116)

This fight is the featured bout on the UFC 259 prelims, and it’s an excellent one to bet. I always love to back an old dog to learn new tricks, and at plus money … sign me up!

Four years ago, would you have ever expected Cruz to be an underdog against a fighter only the most serious MMA fans have heard of? I realize that was then, and this is now, and let’s face it, Cruz isn’t getting any younger. He looked like a fraction of his former self in his lone fight last year, is injury-ridden, and coming off back-to-back brutal losses. But let’s not forget who Cruz is and who those losses came against (Cody Garbrandt and Henry Cejudo, two of the greatest bantamweights ever).

Let’s take a look at resumes. Cruz, regarded as the best bantamweight ever, takes on Kenney, a rising contender who is coming off a fight of the night performance against Nathaniel Wood at UFC 254. Kenney’s biggest wins start and end with Ray Borg. With respect to Kenney and Borg, let’s be honest – that’s quite the drop-off in talent.

That not to say Kenney isn’t deserving of or can’t win this fight because he can. But it’s the harsh reality of the market’s opinion of Cruz, a “harsh reality” I hope to expose as a façade. This bout is a must-win for Cruz and the perfect betting opportunity to potentially exploit a soft line. It’s the same reason sharps are hammering Cruz, who commands 71% of the handle in the FanDuel Sportsbook as of this writing.

I think we’re looking at a classic decision win for Cruz. That said, you never know when a punch will land square, so to be safe, I won’t get greedy. The pick is Cruz to win outright.

Flyweight bout: No. 2 Joseph Benavidez vs. No. 3 Askar Askarov (-134)

The Pick: Askarov (-134)

A No. 2 versus No. 3, and it’s not even the prelims’ featured bout?! Did I mention this card is stacked? My analysis of this fight is simple – Askarov has yet to lose a war, and Benavidez has yet to show he’s not broken after dropping two straight to Deiveson Figueiredo.

I don’t think my eyes deceive me. Until Benavidez proves otherwise, I’m fading him. Regardless, whoever is victorious has an excellent chance to face the Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno re-match winner later this year, so add that to your motivational pipe and smoke it.

I’ll get chalky with Askarov, the favorite.

Let’s make some money this weekend, folks. Enjoy the fights, eat some good food, and drink some good beer.

New users, don’t forget to take advantage of your risk-free bet up to $1,000 in the FanDuel Sportsbook. You can lock in the promotion and bet on UFC 259 by clicking this link.

Erick Valenciano is a sports betting writer for OutKick. For more betting tips, follow @ErickValenciano on Twitter. Make sure you’re following our sports betting account, too: @OutKickBets.

Written by OutKick Bets

6 Comments

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  1. I like Adesanya for a late fight TKO, after battering, and using footwork, against Blachowicz for a few rounds.

    Amanda by ground-and-pound in about the 3rd.

    Yan by decision.

    So I see no upsets in the three title fights. I do like the vets as underdogs though, both Cruz and Benavides by decision.

    • Excited to see it play out! I’m a little concerned Adesanya’s weight will be an issue. Jan is bigger and Izzy has never fought this heavy before. But we’ve gotta go skill!

      Yan vs. Aljo is my favorite fight on the entire card. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see your prediction play out. Enjoy the fights!

  2. “ Nunes isn’t just the greatest woman fighter of all-time; she’s (at minimum) a top-3 UFC fighter ever.”

    This is just silly. She couldn’t beat Forrest Griffin right now. What’s his all time standing? How about Matt Brown? I could name 500 current and former UFC fighters she couldn’t beat. Greatest female fighter? No doubt. Top 3 of all UFC fighters is just stupid.

  3. Really good article Erick.

    However, Nunes top 3? Come on bro. Gracie, Couture, Iceman, Hughes, Penn, Shamrock, Spider, Bones, GSP….. I could go on. But, I think in 20 years she’ll be looked back on as one of the first great female fighters. Female MMA is still young and the competition isn’t really there for someone like Nunes yet.

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