UFC tips: The best value bets for a stacked UFC 249 preliminary card

Forget lockdowns... and get ready for knockdowns

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After a couple of false starts, UFC 249 is finally upon us – and boy have they stacked the deck for fight fans this weekend.

The first major sporting organisation to restart following the COVID-19 outbreak is all set to host THREE events in the space of just EIGHT days in Jacksonville, Florida, starting with an absolute blockbuster of a fight card this Saturday night.

It means we can finally watch live fights again, and where there are live fights there’s a chance to find some value and maybe earn a few extra pennies along the way.

So here’s our rundown of the preliminary card, in order of appearance, with a solid value bet for each and every fight that could offer a decent return by the end of the night.

THE EARLY PRELIMS (UFC FIGHT PASS)

SAM ALVEY VS. RYAN SPANN

“Superman” Ryan Spann is a man going places at 205 pounds. The American is riding a seven-fight win streak, including a victory on Dana White’s Contender Series, plus all three of his fights in the UFC. Now the former LFA Light Heavyweight Champion faces heavy-handed Sam Alvey in the first fight of the night on UFC Fight Pass.

Alvey is a slow, plodding fighter who almost lulls opposing fighters into a false sense of security before viciously knocking them out.

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But over recent years Alvey’s opponents have started to figure him and, to be honest, “Smilin’ Sam” hasn’t really evolved a Plan B to deal with it.

Spann is bigger, stronger, more athletic and has an excellent submission game, and the 10/3 available on “Superman” kicking off the night with a tapout victory looks like a solid option.

VALUE PICK: Spann by submission @ 10/3

BRYCE MITCHELL VS. CHARLES ROSA

This may only be the second fight on the card, but it has the potential to be one of the best of the night.

Mitchell is undefeated at 12-0 and has nine submission finishes to his name, including a rarely-seen twister finish in his last outing. But while he may appear to have the momentum on paper, his opponent Charles Rosa offers superb value as the all-round betting underdog here.

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Rosa trains out of one of the best camps in the world, American Top Team, where he is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. He also has 12 wins to his name, with eight submissions on his record. Critics will point to three defeats and a patchy UFC record, but Rosa has operated in a higher level of company than Mitchell, and will fancy his chances of pitting his BJJ black belt skills against Mitchell’s brown belt abilities.

The fashionable pick is Mitchell, but we’re going Rosa. The likelihood is they will cancel themselves out on the ground, and Rosa will shade a decision (23/10), but if we’re looking for the best value, the 8/1 available for Rosa to tap out “Thug Nasty” looks too big a price not to take, even if it’s a small side bet alongside a main wager on the decision win.

VALUE PICK: Rosa by submission @ 8/1

VICENTE LUQUE VS. NIKO PRICE

Brazil’s Luque is a hard-nosed, come-forward fighter with outstanding striking skills and a submission game to back it up. Price, meanwhile, is a wild man, who has the ability to finish a fight in an instant and has the crowd-pleasing penchant for involving himself in crazy wars.

In short, this fight is going to be bananas.

Price is wild, unpredictable and explosive, but while Price hurls himself into fights with sheer abandon, Luque is almost his polar opposite. He’s compact, considered, but no less explosive. It means someone’s going to get KO’d, and the chances are it’ll be Price.

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Luque has an outstanding chin, counters well and has the power and savvy to walk Price onto something. The pair have fought once before, with Luque finishing “The Hybrid” with a D’Arce choke back in 2017. Luque’s only loss since then was a decision defeat to title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson last November, but he’s looked outstanding for the last few years.

It’s tempting to go for the huge 5/1 on Luque to win on the scorecards, but I just can’t see this going the distance. The 17/10 on a KO/TKO finish looks the more likely outcome.

VALUE PICK: Luque by KO/ TKO @ 17/10

THE PRELIMINARY CARD (BT SPORT)

URIAH HALL VS. JACARE SOUZA

Common sense says we should pick Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza here. He’s the better fighter overall, he’s had the better career and he’s still operating at a higher level than Uriah Hall. But I just have a feeling about the man known as “Primetime” this weekend.

Souza’s abilities are well known. he’s big, strong and has outstanding submissions. He also has heavy, if slightly ponderous, hands. When “Jacare” shows up, you know what you’re going to get.

You can’t say the same for Hall, however. Tipped for big things when he exploded onto the scene in The Ultimate Fighter years ago, Hall has never really lived up to the potential he showed back then. But when he’s on, he’s absolutely lethal.

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When on form, Hall’s striking is as good as almost anyone at 185 pounds in the UFC, and he showed his ability to defeat one of the world’s best when he stunned Gegard Mousasi back in 2015. His form has been pretty patchy since then, as he’s become one of the biggest enigmas in the UFC.

It’s a gamble to pick him, but sometimes you have to back a hunch, and my hunch this weekend is we’re going to see Hall turn up the power against an ageing, slowing Jacare, and connect with something big to claim one of the biggest wins of his career.

Hall still has his power – just ask dynamic UFC new boy Bevon Lewis, who he knocked out in 2018 – while Jacare is getting slower and more static in his stand-up. That’s a bad combination for the Brazilian, and the 16/5 on Hall to get the KO/TKO finish looks good to me.

VALUE PICK: Hall by KO/TKO @ 16/5

CARLA ESPARZA VS. MICHELLE WATERSON

Two highly-ranked strawweights will face off in the only female matchup on the card, as the first woman to ever win the UFC’s women’s 115-pound title, Carla Esparza, takes on “The Karate Hottie” and one of the most popular female fighters on the roster, Michelle Waterson.

Esparza’s wrestle-heavy approach saw her win The Ultimate Fighter and claim the inaugural title, but she was absolutely dismantled by Joanna Jedrzejczyk and has struggled to work her way back to the top ever since. She’s rounded out her game, though, and her striking has improved. But it’s unlikely to be good enough to hang with Waterson, who is arguably the best strawweight not to have challenged for the title.

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Waterson has underrated ground skills, but it’s her striking that really holds the key here. Her ability to fight at range and keep Esparza guessing will be crucial, and while her strikes may not carry the same destructive power as some of her fellow strawweight colleagues, Waterson’s sheer array of shots means she should hold a massive advantage on the feet.

Interestingly, Paddy’s oddsmakers have Esparza as the favourite here, but I can’t go along with that. Waterson is the better fighter, has done better against the world’s best, and has the all-round game that Esparza doesn’t. It may go all the way to the scorecards, as many strawweight fights tend to do, but Waterson definitely gets the nod from us.

VALUE PICK: Waterson by points @ 21/10

ALEKSEI OLEINIK VS. FABRICIO WERDUM

Two of the best heavyweight grapplers to set foot in the octagon will go head to head, but it might not end in a submission. There’s a fair chance the outstanding respective mat skills of Aleksei Oleinik and Fabricio Werdum could cancel each other out if the fight goes to the ground.

But I don’t think Werdum wants this fight on the floor. While he’ll back his BJJ black belt skills against anyone in the world, Werdum’s best route to success actually lies in the stand-up.

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Werdum’s striking has improved immeasurably over the years, thanks to the tutelage of Master Rafael Cordeiro, and he’ll hold a huge advantage in the striking department against Oleinik, who has scored just eight knockouts in his 58 career wins.

Werdum may not have a record littered with KOs himself, but the difference will be there for all to see on fight night, and while I doubt he’ll finish the wily Russian inside three rounds, I do think his striking ability will see him stick and move his way to a decision win.

VALUE PICK: Werdum by points 11/4

DONALD CERRONE VS. ANTHONY PETTIS

The featured preliminary bout is a welterweight battle between two of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the sport.

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone has picked up more post-fight bonuses than any fighter in UFC history, while Anthony “Showtime” Pettis is one of the most spectacular fighters on the roster. So, who wins?

Chances are, it’ll be Pettis. They’ve met before, and Pettis finished Cerrone with a body kick. Add to that Cowboy is in a terrible run of form, having lost each of his last three fights by stoppage.

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Granted, those fights came against savages by the names of Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje and Conor McGregor, but when Pettis is firing on all cylinders, he’s capable of some nasty stuff, too.

Both fighters are vastly experienced, but Pettis looks less shopworn than Cerrone at this stage, and with “Showtime” potentially looking to test free agency at the end of his UFC contract, he knows a big performance, and a big win, over Cerrone could secure him a fat fight contract, either for the promotion or rivals Bellator, who snapped up his brother Sergio last year.

I like Pettis to get the job done inside the distance, with the 23/10 on a KO/TKO finish looking the most likely route to value here.

VALUE PICK: Pettis by KO/ TKO @ 23/10

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What do you think?