Best bets for UFC 266: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega 👊



Mar 6, 2018

Best bets for UFC 266: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega​


It has been a few months since we've seen a truly loaded pay-per-view card, but the main card for UFC 266 will have two title fights and feature eight of 10 fighters with main event experience.

Ironically, the only two competing on the PPV with no prior main events are featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and women's flyweight title challenger Lauren Murphy. We're also going to see a rematch of the 2004 pairing of Nick Diaz and Robbie Lawler, so this card checks a lot of boxes. A deep card makes for more plays than usual.

Early prelims start at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+, prelims are at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNN/ESPN+, and the main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on PPV.

Odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

Featherweight title fight: Champ Alexander Volkanovski (-170) vs. No. 2 Brian Ortega (+145)​

Tale Of The Tape​

Last fight weight classFeatherweightFeatherweight
Analyzed minutes136113
Stand-up striking offense
Total knockdown ratio (scored:received)4:15:1
Distance knockdown rate2.3%2.3%
Head jab accuracy41%27%
Head power accuracy40%32%
Total stand-up strike ratio1.00.8
Striking defense
Total head strike defense69%59%
Distance knockdown defense ("Chin")99%100%
Wrestling and grappling
TD attempts per min standing/clinch0.480.28
Takedown accuracy35%21%
Advances per takedown/top control0.70.7
Opponent takedown attempts2225
Takedown defense73%56%
Share of total ground time in control84%32%
Submission attempts per trip to ground0.120.47
A fight pairing of opposing coaches from "The Ultimate Fighter" series always creates a little extra tension. But the skills of the main event competitors will add plenty more. Volkanovski has demonstrated exceptional distance striking, capped by consecutive wins over striking savant Max Holloway. Despite those fights being closely contested, compare either one to Ortega's own challenge against Holloway, which was a lopsided drubbing that seemed to derail the hype train behind Ortega.

But Ortega's recent dominance over Chan Sung Jung was enough to relight his status as a top contender and even suggest that he might have improved his striking. Ortega rose quickly to contender status, largely via his slick submission game. And he'll have the more dangerous submissions in his second title shot this week. But this time his opponent is not only a dominant distance striker, but also a competent wrestler.

Volkanovski has statistical edges in nearly every striking metric and should be the more effective and diverse striker while at a distance. He'll also be exploiting some subpar strike defense on the side of Ortega, who eats a disproportionately high rate of punches. They both have above average power, but round to round, expect the champ to get the best of exchanges and dictate the pace.

The big question is whether Ortega will have the opportunity to leverage his submission game. The problem is that Volkanovski might not be a willing grappling partner, knowing this is Ortega's strength. Ortega has had a meager 21% takedown success rate, while the champ has shown above average takedown defense. Ortega is certainly willing and eager to fight off his back and look for chokes, but if Volkanovski doesn't take the bait there it will be an uphill battle for the challenger.

The numbers are actually closer than the story line suggests. But they could also be swayed by Volkanovski logging 10 consecutive rounds against an elite featherweight in Holloway. Expect it to take some time to develop, but the champ should pull away if this stays mostly a striking duel.

E+ recommends: Money line lean on Volkanovski.

Women's flyweight title fight: Champ Valentina Shevchenko (-1500) vs. No. 3 Lauren Murphy (+850)​

Tale Of The Tape​

Last fight weight classWomen's flyweightWomen's flyweight
Analyzed minutes199155
Stand-up striking offense
Total knockdown ratio (scored:received)1:01:0
Distance knockdown rate0.7%0.0%
Head jab accuracy26%28%
Head power accuracy33%28%
Total stand-up strike ratio1.00.8
Striking defense
Total head strike defense87%72%
Distance knockdown defense ("Chin")100%100%
Wrestling and grappling
TD attempts per min standing/clinch0.410.30
Takedown accuracy64%34%
Advances per takedown/top control0.80.6
Opponent takedown attempts3134
Takedown defense77%71%
Share of total ground time in control79%54%
Submission attempts per trip to ground0.120.05
The incumbent champion is flirting with becoming the biggest UFC betting favorite ever, but there is often a tightening off odds come fight night. At these prices, the real question focuses on the challenger and what we can expect in terms of her upset ability, or just her durability.

From a skills standpoint, Murphy's stats are good, but not nearly as great as Shevchenko, and there is also a big difference in strength of schedule. Shevchenko is unlikely to get caught by anything surprising, having best-in-class defense. And Murphy's best weapons of grinding opponents in the clinch or on the ground aren't enough to expect an epic upset.

We're left to consider the totals. Murphy is tough and durable and has taken stronger opponents the distance, even in defeat. Over 1.5 rounds seems far more affordable at -200 compared to looking at the money line. Even though Shevchenko has a good chance to finish, it might not come in the first seven and a half minutes.

E+ recommends: Shevchenko offers a small parlay booster, but instead take a small play on over 1.5 rounds or use fight starts Round 2 as parlay fodder.

Best bets elsewhere on the card​

For another favorite to use in a parlay, consider Merab Dvalishvili (-260) over Marlon Moraes (+210). It's wrestler versus striker, and we'll find out quickly in the first round if Moraes can fend off the relentless takedowns of Dvalishvili.

Having seen what Dvalishvili recently did to the famously buoyant John Dodson, we're trusting the wrestler will succeed often enough to grind down Moraes.

E+ recommends: Money line play on Dvalishvili, small play on Dvalishvili by decision.

A more affordable favorite is heavyweight striker Chris Daukaus (-195) facing Shamil Abdurakhimov (+165). Daukhaus will prefer to keep this standing, but if his opponent tries to test those waters, Daukhaus will have the far superior pace, accuracy and power. So the key to the fight will be defending the eventual takedowns from Abdurakhimov, which could stifle the strengths of Daukhaus.

But Abdurakhimov's takedown success rate is just 24%, which is below average. He'll definitely be the one initiating contact, but if early attempts are stifled, the 40-year old might not be able to withstand much damage on the feet.

E+ recommends: Money line play on Daukhaus, small prop on Daukhaus by TKO at plus money.

And finally, for a small potential upset, consider lightweight Nasrat Haqparast (+125) over Dan Hooker (-150). It's a matchup between two guys getting last-minute travel visas, but assuming the fight happens, this could be much closer than the original odds imply.

The fight is unlikely to spend much time on the ground and should be determined on the feet. Both fighters have excellent offensive striking, but Haqparast has the tighter defense. The market has already tightened the odds, but this looks closer to a coin flip than current prices. If you can get clear plus money on Haqparast, he's worth a stab. But if odds even up or flip, then the value is back on Hooker.

E+ recommends: Underdog or pass, depending on where lines land.