The Octagon returns to Dallas tonight for a 13-fight card at American Airlines Arena, where Julianna ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ Pena will defend her women’s bantamweight belt against the woman she took it from, Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes.
As always with any combat sports events in the state of Texas (and New York), bettors should be aware that it’ll be ‘Sketch City’ every single time a fight has to go to the judges’ scorecards. There have been countless head-scratching decisions in the Lonestar State, including Andre Ewell’s split-decision win over Jonathan Martinez at UFC 247.
All 13 media outlets scored the contest in favor of Martinez, including one 30-27 score. However, judge Joe Soliz turned in an incomprehensible 30-27 card for Ewell and another judge scored it 29-28 for Ewell.
Also on that same night in Houston, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones retained his light-heavyweight title with a unanimous-decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) over Dominick Reyes, who was given the nod by 14 of the 21 media members scoring the bout and our scorecard here at MajorWager.
The Early Prelims begin at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on both ESPN+ and UFC FightPass. The Prelims start at 8:00 p.m. ET. on both ESPN and ABC, while the pay-per-view portion of the card gets going at 10:00 p.m. ET. on ESPN+.
In the main event, most books have Nunes (21-5 MMA, 14-2 UFC) installed as a favorite in the -265 (DraftKings) to -290 (FanDuel) range. Pena is a +225 underdog at most spots, while the total is 2.5 rounds shaded to the ‘under’ (-120, -110 for the ‘over’).
Pena (11-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) cashed tickets as a +700 underdog when she won the belt away from Nunes via second-round submission at UFC 269 last December. The 32-year-old, who won Season 18 of the Ultimate Fighter, has only lost twice since joining the promotion back in 2013.
Pena was submitted by Valentina Shevchenko — the current women’s flyweight champion — and Germaine de Randamie. Before shocking Nunes, her most notable career victories came over Sara McMann, Cat Zingano and Jessica Eye.
The 34-year-old Nunes is the universally recognized women’s GOAT. She has defeated nearly all of the all-time greats, including Cris Cyborg, Shevchenko (twice), Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and De Randamie. Nunes disposed of Holm, Cyborg and Rousey with first-round knockouts and finished Tate with a first-round submission.
The burning question coming into this scrap is if Nunes still has that hunger that is mandatory to compete in mixed martial arts at the highest level. When you’re already considered the GOAT of the sport, what’s left to accomplish?
She has fame, a wife, a child and plenty of money. Once a fighter has realized all of those goals, does he or she still want to get hit in the face?
In the last fight, Nunes dropped Pena with a right hand in the first round. From there, Nunes maintained top position on the ground, but she wasn’t able to land much damage. Nevertheless, she pocketed the opening frame.
However, the tide turned quickly in Round 2. Pena started to consistently land her left jab and stayed up in Nunes’s face despite absorbing a slew of right hands from the only female double champ in UFC history.
Midway through the stanza, Pena was sporting a bunch of swelling under her left eye. But it was also evident that Nunes was starting to tire and her face was red from eating so many jabs to the nose. Most important, it was clear that Pena had taken her best punches already and wasn’t going anywhere.
In fact, Pena was finding another gear. After peppering Nunes’s face with at least a half-dozen jabs in a row, Pena pushed her against the fence and started leaning on her. Then she took Nunes down and immediately jumped on her back.
Pena quickly got under Nunes’s neck and went for the choke. Nunes offered very little in the way of resistance before tapping out.
And just like that, Pena was the new women’s bantamweight champion.
Before offering my prediction, it would be irresponsible to avoid mentioning that Pena didn’t make weight until there was 90 seconds left in the weigh-in window on Friday morning. However, she tipped the scales with a bright smile on her face.
Her team then informed ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that they allowed Pena to sleep in to get some more rest. As my buddy GambLou put it on his ‘Bout Business podcast Friday afternoon, “That type of mental warfare is genius. I’ve never seen someone to do that in 15 years of watching weigh-ins. In betting Pena here, we’re not only betting her toughness, her belief and her game, but we’re betting her intelligence. And that’s the biggest difference in these two ladies here, and Pena’s already flexed it at the weigh-ins.”
Nunes has said all the right things this week. And hey, if this was 2-3 years ago before she was married, had a kid and been paid many millions of dollars, I’d be picking Nunes. But this opponent has zero fear of her — never has!
This opponent knows she can beat her and has the hunger Nunes possessed in bunches from 2015-2020 when she destroyed every foe not named Shevchenko (those two matches went the distance and were highly competitive). Amanda had better get it done in Round 1 tonight because if she can’t get Pena out of there early, her big advantage with power in her strikes starts to wane.
At that point, the fight becomes more about toughness, cardio and desire, and I give Julianna the advantages in those departments. Let’s go with one unit on Pena at +230 odds (Caesars). As somewhat of a hedge — where we concede we could get burned if Nunes wins by finish early in Round 2 — let’s put one-quarter of a unit on the prop for Nunes to win in Round 1 that’s +300 at FanDuel. If Pena wins, we still profit more than two units. If Nunes prevails after Round 1, we lose 1.25 units, but that wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means.
1-Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis owns a 6-1 career record in fights after he’s coming off a loss. I liked Lewis when he was the short favorite over Sergei Pavlovich early in the week. The odds have shifted, so I’m even more bullish on Lewis as an underdog.
Pavlovich is on a three-fight winning streak, but only his last opponnet (Shamil Abdurakhimov, #13) was ranked. The only other time he’s ever faced someone of Lewis’s ilk, he lost by first-round KO to Alistair Overeem.
Lewis, who holds the record for most KO wins in UFC history with 13, has fought nothing but the best the heavyweight loop has to offer in 17 straight contests. In that 17-fight stretch, Lewis is 12-5 with three of those five defeats coming against former UFC heavyweight champs. He has beaten the likes of current champ Francis Ngannou, Abdurakhimov, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson, Alexander Volkov, Curtis Blaydes, Alexey Oleynik and Travis Browne.
Let’s go with 1.5 units on Lewis for a +130 payout (DraftKings and FanDuel).
2-Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith comes into tonight’s 205-pound scrap against Magomed Ankalaev as a +450 underdog at Caesars. Smith has won three consecutive fights via first-round finishes.
He owns a 7-3 record with seven finishes and six fight-night bonuses since moving up a division from middleweight in June of 2018. The losses? The 34-year-old Smith went the distance in defeats to then-champion Jon Jones and third-ranked Aleksandar Rakic, in addition to losing to former champ Glover Teixeira by fourth-round KO. There’s no shame in any of those.
The fourth-ranked Ankalaev has won eight consecutive fights, but only sixth-ranked Thiago Santos, ninth-ranked Volkan Oezdemir and 11th-ranked Nikita Krylov had a number next to their names.
Nine of Smith’s last 10 opponents were either the champ, a former champ or ranked. So obviously, this is a big step up in competition for Ankalaev, while this is just a typical foe for Smith. Let’s go with three-quarters of a unit (0.75 units to win 3.375 units) on Smith at +450 odds.
3-The total for Smith-Ankalaev is 2.5 rounds with the ‘under’ at +134 odds at FanDuel. The ‘under’ is on a 3-0 run in Smith’s last three fights and is 6-5 in Ankalaev’s last 11 contests. Give me one-half unit on the ‘under’ for a +134 return.
4-In a heavyweight contest, Hamdy Abdelwahab (5-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) will make his promotional debut against Don’Tale Mayes. Abdelwahab has won all five of his career bouts by KO with four of those coming in 33 seconds or fewer. Mayes has five KOs and one submission in his nine career victories. Only three of his 13 fights have gone the distance. Let’s go with one-half unit on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds at +135 odds (Caesars).
5-In a flyweight bout that could determine who gets the next crack at 125-pound gold (after a unification bout with tonight’s co-main event winner and Deiveson Figueiredo), Alexandre Pantoja faces Alex Perez on tonight’s main card. Pantoja owns three wins via first-round finishes in his last seven fights, and he’s off a second-round submission victory over Brandon Royval. He has 17 finishes in his 24 career wins. Five of Perez’s last six fights have ended in the opening stanza. Give me one unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds for a +128 return (FanDuel).
That’s all I’ve got, folks. I do think Drew Dober (-165 to -175 range) should be in any parlay you might have working. However, I don’t like to put underdogs in parlays because I already have straight bets on the ‘dogs I like. I’m just not seeing a favorite that I want to package Dober with in a parlay, and I’m a tad hesitant to lay such an expensive price with Dober in a straight wager.
Anyhow, whether you tail or fade, good luck to all and enjoy the show!