Will Dean previews the latest PPV action from the world of Mixed Martial Arts, with Amanda Nunes among his fancies for UFC 289.
1pt Amanda Nunes to win by submission at 5/1 (General)
2pts Nassourdine Imavov to win by decision at 9/5 (Unibet)
3pts Blake Bilder to win & Maverick/Jasuvadicius to go to decision at 5/6 (bet365)
0.5pt Blake Bilder to win in round three at 19/2 (Unibet)
Widely regarded as the greatest Women’s Mixed Martial Artist of all time, AMANDA NUNES has little left to prove in her dominant career. The Lioness has achieved double-champion status, broken multiple UFC records, and emerged victorious in some of the sport’s highest profile fights against Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, and Julianna Pena.
Conversations surrounding retirement have frequently been tied to Nunes over the last few years, with her wife and fellow UFC fighter Nina Nunes giving birth to their first child in late 2020. Since then, Nunes has been candid about her aspirations to lay her gloves in the centre of the Octagon sometime soon, but a shock loss to Julianna Pena at the end of 2021 seems to have inspired her to re-establish her dominance once again before all is said and done.
The Brazilian was expecting to face Pena for a trilogy bout at UFC 289, but an injury to her new adversary paved the way for Irene Aldana to take centre stage instead. Mexican MMA has been thriving in 2023, with Brandon Moreno, Alexa Grasso and Yair Rodriguez (interim) all claiming gold so far. Many feel that Aldana is now destined to show off her skilled boxing and continue this hot streak with a victory over the female GOAT.
MMA does sometimes work in mysterious ways, where narratives such as retirement rumours and geographical form can occasionally come to fruition, but the stylistic challenge that each fighter faces inside the cage will always be the most important element to the fight. Nunes was often priced as an eyewateringly short favourite during her recent 12-fight winning streak, but against Aldana her current 1/3 pricetag pales in comparison.
In reality, Nunes is going to have significant stylistic advantages in this fight. She is equally as dangerous and competent as Aldana in the striking realm, but her recent enthusiasm to implement her grappling should be the clear difference maker in this fight. The Lioness has landed 21 takedowns in her last five bouts, while Aldana has been taken down eight times in her last three (five of which came against Holly Holm, a career-long striker).
Nunes's dominance on the mat is enough to warrant her price as favourite and as a result the Method of Victory market appears to be presenting some value. Given the amount of time she should spend in a superior grappling position, the possibilities for a submission presenting itself are higher than the odds indicate.
Nunes may have found most of her finishes via strikes, but she has attempted more submissions in her last five fights than she did in her previous 12 combined. To me, that indicates a decent value bet on NUNES TO WIN BY SUBMISSION, which can be backed at 5/1.
NASSOURDINE IMAVOV returns after a disappointing performance in his first UFC main event at the start of the year and can get back on track with victory.
Many believed the Frenchman was poised and ready to step into the Middleweight title picture by beating Sean Strickland, but a unanimous decision loss seems to have turned the public opinion of Imavov on its head. Interestingly enough, The Russian Sniper’s opponent this week is none other than Strickland’s teammate and primary training partner, Chris Curtis.
The Action Man makes an even quicker return to competition, having competed in last month’s UFC PPV against Kelvin Gastelum. Regular readers may remember our winning tip on Gastelum to win that fight by decision, citing Curtis's loss to Jack Hermansson at UFC London as the blueprint to beating him. Both Gastelum and Hermansson were able to use range management and footwork to keep Curtis at distance, where his flat-footedness and insistence on low-volume counterstriking were easily exploited.
Imavov should also be able to execute a similar game plan this Saturday, potentially even with the highest degree of success of the three. The Frenchman has proven himself durable and well-conditioned so far, and his offensive diversity with clinch grappling and takedowns should be able to keep Curtis guessing throughout 15 minutes.
I was expecting Imavov to be graded as a steeper favourite by the oddsmakers here, with a degree of recency bias from his loss to Strickland likely the cause of the generous 4/6 odds available.
Despite the appealing outright price, the durability shown by both men indicates that this fight should hit the scorecards more often than not, making IMAVOV TO WIN BY DECISION the best bet of the fight at 9/5.
Featherweight prospect BLAKE BILDER impressed many fans with his UFC debut victory in enemy territory against Shane Young – a teammate of Israel Adesanya and a tricky test for any newcomer.
El Animal demonstrated encouraging potential with both his striking and grappling, as well as impressive cardio and decent fight IQ. In a division where all of the top 15 are supremely well-rounded, Bilder is yet to show a weakness that could prevent him from reaching the top of the rankings as his career progresses.
Bilder returns to fight another home country opponent, this time against Canada’s Kyle Nelson. The UFC have never been subtle about their relationship with certain fighters, seemingly keeping some of the lower-level talent on the roster as sacrificial pawns in the name of prospect building. With a 1-4-1 record inside the organisation, the writing seems to have been on the wall for Nelson for some time, and the fights he has previously been booked in further imply the same.
The Canadian most recently faced popular brawler Doo Ho Choi on a card that was intended to be hosted in the South Korean’s home country. Before that, he was facing Wolverhampton’s Jai Herbert at UFC London. This weekend, on a higher profile UFC PPV event, it certainly seems that the organisation are giving Bilder a platform to showcase his talents and announce himself as one to watch.
Stylistically, the fight also favours El Animal by a wide margin in striking and grappling anyway. Nelson is a hard hitter, but his striking game is quite limited and flawed – relying too much on a body kick and big looping hooks. Bilder showed himself to be disciplined, patient and elusive in the standup against Young, which should keep him safe against a more flat-footed opponent in Nelson.
Should the former Golden Gloves boxer somehow struggle on the feet, he should be able to use Nelson’s body kick against him and time an opportunistic takedown. On the mat, Bilder’s high-level grappling should prove far too much for the underdog, who struggled on the ground against a career-long striker in Choi last time out.
Bilder should also have superiority in the cardio department, as his aggression in the third round against Young showed. Given that we have seen Nelson fade and be subsequently finished in the final round of his two most recent stoppage losses, it seems clear that Bilder’s already high chances of winning will increase as the fight extends.
With that in mind, a small wager on BILDER TO WIN IN ROUND THREE certainly catches the eye at 19/2.
In summary, Bilder should be able to win this fight wherever and whenever it takes place. An argument could be made that his outright price should be shorter than the current 2/5 available, making him a worthy first half of a double.
The second leg of this bet takes place shortly afterwards, as Miranda Maverick takes on Canada’s Jasmine Jasudavicius. Both women are dedicated grapplers with elementary striking capabilities, which should see this fight take place at close quarters, predominantly in the clinch or on the mat.
Despite showing good promise as prospects within the division, we have already seen both women suffer losses to the division’s more talented up-and-comers. Maverick was bested by the smothering style of future title challenger Erin Blanchfield, while Jasudavicius struggled against Natalia Silva’s well-roundedness. Both fights did however show that the duo have competent defensive capabilities, with their one-sided losses never really threatening a finish at any point.
The same conclusion can also be made when both women are at their most dominant. In their latest UFC appearances, they found themselves with an abundance of top control time against clearly inferior grapplers, but again never really came close to the referee’s intervention.
With just 10 of their combined 25 professional bouts ending inside the distance, this fight seems more likely to head to the scorecards than the current 1/3 odds indicate. With value available, betting the FIGHT TO GO TO A DECISION alongside BILDER TO WIN at around 5/6 should result in the most confident wager across the entire card.
Posted at 1320 BST on 09/06/23
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.