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UFC Best Bets: UFC 266 Picks, Predictions, Odds to Consider on DraftKings Sportsbook for September 25

Stephie Haynes gives her best bets on DraftKings Sportsbook for Saturday’s UFC betting card.

UFC 261: Usman v Masvidal 2 Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

On Saturday, the UFC will put an outstanding show on for MMA fans around the globe. UFC 266 will feature not one, but two title fights, plus the return of Nick Diaz after a six-year hiatus from the octagon. Diaz’s fight with Robbie Lawler is a rematch that’s been 17 years in the making and to make things even more interesting, it has been exactly 209 months since their first fight. How’s that for fight legacy?

Valentina Shevchenko will be defending her flyweight belt for the sixth time against Lauren Murphy, who is currently on a five-fight win streak. Finally, in the headlining spot, we’ll be treated to a featherweight battle for supremacy when current kingpin Alexander Volkanovski takes center stage with No. 1 contender Brian Ortega. There are plenty of other fights that will no doubt appeal to all sorts of combat appetites, but we’re going to take a look at the four that we feel are the most optimal bets to make on DraftKings Sportsbook.

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Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega – Men’s Featherweight

Alexander Volkanovski To Win By Decision (+140)

Alexander Volkanovski has a very good case that he, not Max Holloway, has the best boxing in the sport when he out-landed him in both their fights. He’s a juggernaut tank with a deep well of cardio and a very slick skillset designed to maximize the potential for damage from head to toe. He’s a pressure fighter who dictates range and pace, a true cage general. His high-volume output clocks in at 6.02 SLPM (strikes landed per minute), while only absorbing 3.31. Ortega, by comparison, lands just 4.29 per minute while absorbing a whopping 6.28 strikes in that same 60-second time frame. He has a variety of crafty tricks he implements to offset balance and momentum, like the hard, chopping low kicks he lands frequently, and his clinch game is top-notch as well. While he has excellent wrestling, it’s likely we won’t see a whole lot of that because Ortega is lethal from literally anywhere on the ground, be it from the top or bottom, and Volk has exercised great care and caution to keep the fight in HIS wheelhouse, an ode to his excellent fight IQ.

Ortega’s striking has certainly improved by leaps and bounds, but I can’t feel confident in choosing him to beat a masterful technician as Alexander has become. And while Ortega is known for being able to turn a losing effort around in the blink of an eye, it has been to lesser men than Volkanovski. I don’t discount Ortega having a chance to upset the applecart, because he is quite an opportunist, but I just can’t see Volk making the kind of mistakes that hypothetical situation would require. Look for Alex to get his arm raised thanks to volume and pressure.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Lauren Murphy – Women’s Flyweight

Valentina Shevchenko To Win By Decision (+200)

Valentina Shevchenko is one of the most complete fighters in the sport. She’s fast, incredibly powerful, has great wrestling and excellent striking. Her fight IQ is through the roof and she takes every fight seriously, as though her opponents are on a level equal to her, even though none but Amanda Nunes has proven to be up to the task, and that was at 135 pounds. At 125 pounds, Valentina is virtually unstoppable, and she’s given us some terrific highlight reels (looking at you, Jessica Eye).

Lauren Murphy is a steadfast, gritty fighter who has also improved with every outing, and is currently cruising on a five-fight win streak. Her split decisions to Andrea Lee and Joanne Calderwood give me a little pause, as both those women have put out mixed results of late, and those ultra-close wins may not hold up over time as both those women are just 2-3 over their last five fights. Murphy has her upside, though, and one factor is her strength and durability. She’s also doggedly persistent once she gets into a rhythm. Once upon a time, she tended towards being a slow starter, but she’s looked much sharper and quicker out of the gate.

Will that be enough to cause problems for Shevchenko? Probably not, as Valentina is quick and perceptive, and seems to have a sixth sense for where her opponent’s strong suit lies, and she immediately works to nullify it. Her outstanding wrestling sees her average 2.64 takedowns per 15 minutes and her positional control is excellent. I don’t think Valentina will finish her, but I do think this will be a comfortable decision. This fight may end up looking a bit like the Jennifer Maia fight, but I can’t see Shevchenko losing her belt.

Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler – Middleweight

Robbie Lawler To Win By KO/TKO/DQ (+215)

Seventeen years later, Robbie Lawler and Nick Diaz are finally going to run it back. It’s about 7-10 years too late, but I’m certainly not going to complain, seeing as how both men are action fighters that bring it every time they step in the cage. Diaz, known for his speed and agility, has been away from the octagon for six-and-a-half years and hasn’t had a win in nearly 10 years. As a matter of fact, October 29th will mark the ten-year anniversary of that win, over BJ Penn. He fought just three times following that fight, and none of them were wins. That’s not to say he hasn’t maintained a high activity level, because he frequently competes in triathlons and keeps himself in excellent shape. That said, he is rumored to lead a bit of a partier’s lifestyle, with his friend Jake Shields having said in an interview just last year that “Nick’s drinking had gotten out of control.” Just something to consider.

Lawler has been active the entire time Nick was away, and while he’s had little success, he still fights at a fairly high level and still has power. He literally knocked out Ben Askren, then punched him back into consciousness. I will never let Herb Dean live that one down, but I digress. Robbie has great wrestling, Nick has great jiu-jitsu, but it’s doubtful we’ll see much groundwork as both like to keep the fight upright. When it comes down to brass tacks, I think Robbie has more left in the old man reserves of mental and intestinal fortitude. Look for him to reverse his fortunes with a knockout before the midpoint of the fight.

*Note: This fight was supposed to be contested at the welterweight limit of 170 pounds. Earlier this week, Diaz requested that it be moved to the middleweight limit of 185 pounds. Early Wednesday morning, it was announced that all parties (Diaz, Lawler and the UFC) had agreed to the change.

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Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik – Heavyweight

Curtis Blaydes To Win By KO/TKO/DQ (+120)

This battle of the heavyweights is an interesting one. Clearly, Blaydes has more upside since he has those meat hammers and that incredible wrestling. When he faces strikers, he doesn’t mess around with testing the waters, rather he goes straight to his bread and butter and gets the fight to the ground. From there, his top control is like a lead blanket and his ground-and-pound is absolutely fearsome. When he fought Alexander Volkov, he started spamming those takedowns and kept the Russian floored for nearly the entire fight. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but it was effective, and Volkov was soundly beaten. Blaydes does have his weaknesses, though, namely his chin. He’s only lost three fights, but all were by knockout. Two of those were to current champ, Francis Ngannou, and the third was in his last fight against Derrick Lewis.

Now, both those men are known for throwing rockets, but that’s where the intrigue comes into this matchup. Jairzinho Rozenstruik has legitimate knockout power, and he’s demonstrated that time after time. The problem with “Bigi Boy” is that he’s unpolished and goes through long stretches of inactivity, waiting to land the perfect counter. He doesn’t do much bodywork, he doesn’t force a pace or swarm with volume. He just sits back throwing shots here and there while he headhunts for big counters. He also has been slept by Ngannou (no shame there) and outclassed from start to finish by Ciryl Gane. One way Alistair Overeem was able to make it almost to the end of their fight and was comfortably ahead on all the scorecards before the devastating punch landed that split his lip apart, was because he used his wrestling and took him down, controlling him fairly easily. When the fight was upright, he constantly pressured, forcing Rozenstruik into uncomfortable exchanges off the back foot. Blaydes will almost certainly employ a similar strategy, as that is his wheelhouse through and through.

Both men have made it through five-rounders, but Blaydes looked absolutely spent and could barely stand after the Volkov fight. Just a note for consideration. Both Rozenstruik’s ventures into the fifth round seemed like his cardio was up to the challenge, and if this contest goes the distance, I’d be willing to bet that he’ll be the fresher of the two, even if he’s on the losing end of it. When this fight takes center stage, look for Blaydes to take him down early and pound him out.

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All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.

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