UFC 251 takes place Saturday night at Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It will feature three title fights, including the welterweight main event between champion Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal.
Usman is a strong favorite (-270) for his second title defense and deservedly so. Facing off with Usman - the No. 6 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC - is a tough task for anybody with a full camp, and Masvidal stepped up on a week's notice. While Usman was getting ready to fight Gilbert Burns, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week, he was still training with the July 11 date in mind.
"The Nigerian Nightmare" should be able to hold Masvidal up against the fence and score several takedowns throughout the five-round contest, leading him to a decision victory. Masvidal could win if he somehow keeps the fight standing, but based on some of his past performances, like his loss to Demian Maia in 2017, I don't think he'll be able to. I lean toward Usman, but the price is a bit too steep for my liking. He's not the worst option for some parlays, but it's not worth betting Usman straight considering Masvidal is dangerous and can knock out anybody.
With that, here are two of the best bets for the pay-per-view event.
Volkanovski beat Holloway via unanimous decision in their first meeting in December, and I think we'll see the same outcome in Saturday's rematch.
The Australian titleholder appeared to have the former champ's number at UFC 245, largely shutting down Holloway's striking game and picking him apart with leg kicks. The Hawaiian has likely made some adjustments in anticipation of the rematch, but I'm confident it'll be mostly rinse and repeat for Volkanovski.
If anything, the rematch will be more dominant for "The Great." The first bout was predominantly a stand-up affair, and Volkanovski has a tremendous ground game. He's strong for the division and punishes his opponents with ground-and-pound, so Volkanovski could rack up a lot of offense if he gets Holloway to the mat.
Even if it's another striking battle, though, Volkanovski should still be successful in his first title defense. It'll play out similar to the first bout, with Volkanovski finding the right openings and landing damaging calf kicks. Holloway will keep it competitive, but he'll be a step behind.
I'm confident in the decision prop because Holloway is tough as nails, which we saw when he beat Brian Ortega in 2018 and lost to Dustin Poirier in 2019. "Blessed" has a great chin, and Volkanovski won't be able to put him away.
In a rematch between former strawweight champions, I'm siding with Namajunas to avenge her loss to Andrade, which came in May 2019 via second-round knockout.
Namajunas performed well in the early moments of the first meeting, which was her second title defense. But in the second round, Andrade slammed Namajunas on her head and knocked "Thug" unconscious. I don't want to take anything away from the Brazilian's win, because she tried to slam Namajunas and it worked - it wasn't a mistake. But it's also not a method in which fights are ended often, so I can't rely on Andrade doing the same thing in the rematch.
Namajunas should be able to pick Andrade apart in the striking department, similar to what we saw in the first round last year, as she has a three-inch reach advantage. If Namajunas keeps the fight at her own range, she can avoid Andrade's power shots and land more offense. This is the same way then-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk dominated Andrade in a title defense in 2017.
The fight will be in the regular-sized Octagon since it's the inaugural "Fight Island" event, which also favors Namajunas as the lengthier fighter. I expect to see this one stay standing for 15 minutes, but if it goes to the ground, Namajunas will absolutely be able to hold her own against the wrestling powerhouse. Before Namajunas developed her striking skills later in her career, she was a talented submission artist - and remains one today.
I expected a bit of a better price on Namajunas since she lost the first fight, but I still think she's worth a bet at -200.
Here are the full odds for UFC 251 on July 11:
Kamaru Usman (-270) vs. Jorge Masvidal (+220)
Alexander Volkanovski (-230) vs. Max Holloway (+185)
Petr Yan (-240) vs. Jose Aldo (+190)
Rose Namajunas (-200) vs. Jessica Andrade (+165)
Amanda Ribas (-800) vs. Paige VanZant (+525)
Volkan Oezdemir (-170) vs. Jiri Prochazka (+140)
Muslim Salikhov (-130) vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (+100)
Makwan Amirkhani (-200) vs. Danny Henry (+165)
Leonardo Santos (-185) vs. Roman Bogatov (+155)
Early preliminary card
Marcin Tybura (-115) vs. Maxim Grishin (-115)
Raulian Paiva (-185) vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov (+155)
Karol Rosa (-225) vs. Vanessa Melo (+180)
Martin Day (-180) vs. Davey Grant (+150)
(Odds source: theScore Bet.)