UFC 266 Bettor's Guide to Volkanovski-Ortega and More
What: UFC 266
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
When: September 25
How to Watch: ESPN+
What's at Stake: Vegas, baby!
Though the UFC produces the majority of its weekly broadcasts from the APEX facility a few miles off the strip, the amplitude gets cranked a few notches when it's pay-per-view week in the desert.
And that's precisely the case for UFC 266—the company's 10th PPV show of the year—which will emanate from the T-Mobile Arena and feature a trio of bouts scheduled for the championship distance.
Featherweights Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega share the bill in the main event, which is supported by a women's flyweight duel that'll match Valentina Shevchenko and Lauren Murphy, not to mention a five-round rematch nearly two decades in the making between Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler.
The latter duo first fought at UFC 47 in April 2004, when Volkanovski and Ortega were 15 and 13, respectively.
Saturday's main card will go live on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
From end to end, the 13-bout card will also include up-and-comers, familiar veterans and others simply hoping to boost their profiles for the next time around. The Bleacher Report combat and betting teams got together to assess how the fights are likely to go and where possibilities for profit might be found.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega
This just in: Volkanovski is pretty good.
He's ranked fourth on the UFC's pound-for-pound list. He's beaten two former champions and a three-time title challenger in his last four fights. And he's not lost to anyone in more than eight years.
So it's not too, too surprising that the line-makers at DraftKings are leaning his way.
Albeit not overwhelmingly.
The Australian is a -165 favorite (bet $165 to win $100) to retain his belt against Ortega, his second-ranked challenger who's 7-1 with a no-contest in nine fights since reaching the promotion in 2014.
Ortega notched three KOs and three submissions in a six-fight stretch from 2015 to 2018, before the run was halted by doctor's stoppage loss to Max Holloway in a failed featherweight title try.
Holloway lost his belt to Volkanovski two fights later and was beaten a second time in a rematch.
Thus, the challenger is a +150 (bet $100 to win $150) moneyline proposition to pull off the upset, meaning he'd return $150 for a successful $100 wager in his direction.
Additional bets are also available for the fight, including winning methods and rounds for each man.
So, when it comes to picking, it becomes as much about profit potential as prognostication.
Volkanovski has been labeled a dangerous striker since his days in muay thai at a far heavier weight. He tends to focus on his opponent's legs, as evidenced by 75 kicks landed on Holloway in their first fight. Complementing the striking is a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and training in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Meanwhile, Ortega is a versatile and durable operator himself, having lost just once in 17 career fights while winning three times by KO, seven by submission and five more by decision.
Put it all together and it's worth laying $165 on the champ for a straight moneyline bet and spreading some cash elsewhere to climb the risk/reward scale. Toward that latter end, we suggest a flyer on either man to break down the other and score a finish in the late going to collect $15K.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy
Into every card, a little prohibitive underdog must fall.
While Murphy is a credible pro and a worthy contender considering the level to which Shevchenko's already cleaned out the flyweight division, there's not a lot of belief that she'll beat the champ.
In fact, the 38-year-old is the longest shot on the entire card, with a +900 tag alongside her name.
She's ranked third at 125 pounds and will arrive Saturday for the first title fight of her UFC career, which has included five straight wins and seven victories in 11 fights since 2014.
The challenger is an aggressive striker with a grappling skill set, a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a resume boasting eight finishes by KO, one by submission (rear-naked choke) and six by decision.
Nevertheless, it doesn't look good.
Shevchenko is a -1600 favorite according to the same moneyline and arrives ranked second on the UFC women's pound-for-pound list behind only Amanda Nunes, whom she's pushed to the limit twice.
She seizes control via kickboxing and a penchant for controlling distance with precision counterstriking.
And there's not a lot of reason to think it won't happen again.
Problem is, laying down $1,600 to collect $100 isn't a recipe for long-term viability, which prompts a champ-backing profit-seeker to crunch numbers, too.
Shevchenko has fought 22 rounds in six flyweight title fights—an average of 3.66 rounds per. And whaddya know, picking her to win between one minute and 1:59 of the fourth is going off at +4500 these days.
Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Picking fights is hard enough.
Picking fights that are rematches of fights from 17 years ago is even harder.
That means that the fact that Diaz won by second-round finish when he and Lawler fought in 2004 is all but immaterial when it comes to 2021.
Diaz was as an off-and-on UFC fixture after the Lawler win and through 2006, then he returned to the organization in 2011 for a four-fight stint that included a win over B.J. Penn, losses to Carlos Condit and Georges St-Pierre and another defeat against Anderson Silva at UFC 183 that became a no-contest.
He's not fought competitively since 2015.
Lawler, meanwhile, has been far more active with at least one fight in every year except 2018, though he's won just once in his last five fights, most recently dropping a decision to Neil Magny in August 2020.
In his prime, Diaz relied mainly on boxing but also incorporated Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his game and has submitted eight fighters in his career. Lawler, meanwhile, has been an aggressive power puncher with a karate background, and he has earned three Fight of the Night and one Knockout of the Night bonuses.
Diaz claims to be more dangerous now than in the initial go-round, and it's probably not ridiculous to think so, particularly in the fight's early going. Logic would suggest that the longer the fight goes, the better it is for Lawler to have a chance to even the score.
Toward that end, we'll keep it simple. He's a +500 proposition to win by KO/TKO/DQ, while Lawler is a robust +250 to get it done via decision. And just for fun, remember that a draw is +5000.
Worth a Shot!
If you've read this far, you're clearly into the concept of risk vs. reward. And while favorites are often a worthwhile option, a well-chosen underdog is a nice benefit, too.
Fortunately, this card isn't hurting for intriguing plus-side options, even in the prelims.
Here are a few we'd suggest you take a look at:
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik: Fight to end in the first 60 seconds of Round 1 (+1000)
Take a look at the records.
Between them, the Nos. 4 and 6 heavyweight contenders have 10 wins by first-round knockouts. Not to mention a pair of losses, both to now-champion Francis Ngannou.
And of those 12 fights, no less than five have ended within the first 60 seconds.
Put the two big men in front of a big crowd on a big stage and watch it happen again.
Shamil Abdurakhimov: Moneyline (+170)
Looking for a fight not enough people are talking about? Here it is.
Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Chris Daukaus is a meeting of two top-10 contenders in the heavyweight division, with the former 40 years old and trying to hang on to his status and the latter a 31-year-old who is aiming to certify his ascension to the big-man elite.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Abdurakhimov has only lost to the third- and fourth-ranked fighters in the division in the last six years. His foe, Philadelphia police officer Chris Daukaus, has won three straight in the UFC but hasn't faced or beaten the same level of opponent.
A line on a quick KO would be ideal here, but in the absence of that offering, we'll go for the one chance that exists to make money.
Merab Dvalishvili: Win by KO/TKO/DQ in Round 3 (+2200)
Marlon Moraes is 33 years old.
Which, by most measures, is not terribly old. But the way he's looked recently—while going without a clear-cut win since early 2019—makes 33 seem a whole lot older.
A submission of Raphael Assuncao has been followed by a TKO loss to Henry Cejudo (Round 3), a disputed decision over Jose Aldo and finish losses to Cory Sandhagen (Round 2) and Rob Font (Round 1).
Enter Dvalishvili, a 30-year-old Georgian who's on a roll (six straight wins) and hungry to gain the title-challenging status his foe has previously commanded. Says here he'll get it.
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