UFC 219: Finding Betting Value on a Tepid Card

In this article:

  • Is there value in betting on Holly Holm to pull a huge upset over featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino?
  • Can late addition Edson Barboza overcome Khabib Nurmagomedov to become a top lightweight contender?
  • What are the best parlays and prop bets for UFC 219?

The UFC didn’t have a great year. Many of the most interesting matchups fell through, a handful of their most marketable fighters went AWOL, and boxing reclaimed the spotlight with a flurry of attention-grabbing fights. It’s fitting, then, that we close the year with UFC 219 (Dec. 30, Las Vegas), a card that features quality fights, but doesn’t hold much appeal to casual fans.

In the main event, Cris “Cyborg” Justino will defend her featherweight title against Holly Holm. Co-headlining the night is a lightweight clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza, which should be an exciting fight but isn’t attracting the same amount of interest as the scrapped Nurmagomedov vs Ferguson matchup.

Nonetheless, it should be a fun night and a great way to briefly distract ourselves from the trainwreck we’re calling “2017.”  Below, we breakdown the two big fights of the night and find some value in the prop bets and potential parlays, using odds from Bet365.


Cris “Cyborg” Justino (-400) vs Holly Holm (+300)

The women’s featherweight division springs back to life just as the year draws to a close. The division was created at the start of the year with Cris Cyborg (18-1) specifically in mind, but the former Invicta featherweight champ had just tested positive and wasn’t able to fight. Instead, former bantamweight champ Holly Holm (11-3) fought Germaine de Randamie for the title.

De Randamie landed multiple strikes after the bell and was awarded a questionable decision victory. Then, after winning the inaugural featherweight championship, she refused to take a fight against Cyborg and was stripped of her title. The UFC cobbled together a fight for the freshly vacated title, matching Cyborg against Tonya Evinger, a woefully underprepared fighter making her UFC debut, and the fight played out as expected.

Now the UFC has finally made the fight that should have kicked off the women’s featherweight division in the first place: Cyborg vs Holm.

Cris Cyborg is the clear favorite here and with good reason. The champ hasn’t lost a fight since making her MMA debut in 2005, winning her last 19 in a row (though one was ruled a “No Contest” after she tested positive). She ended all but two of those fights before the final bell and scored a knockout in each of the last 13.

Cyborg barreled through Leslie Smith and Lina Länsberg after joining the UFC, fighting at a catchweight of 140 pounds. Then she defeated Evinger for the featherweight title, yet wasn’t as dominant as expected. At times, her striking was sluggish and, while she was able to land a number of clean strikes, she wasn’t landing with her usual devastating power.

Of course, it’s absurd to knock her too hard after just one lackluster fight, especially when she still won easily. But you have to wonder: have all the dangerous weight cuts and the stricter supplement restrictions finally caught up to her?

Holly Holm suffered a three-fight losing streak after her career-defining win against Ronda Rousey back in 2015. She bounced back with a convincing win against Bethe Correia, knocking her out in the third round with her trademark headkick. Holm is clearly the underdog in this fight but, after what she did to Rousey, we know better than to underestimate her.

Holm, one of the greatest female boxers of all time, poses a significant threat to Cyborg, who also prefers to fight on her feet. We have the two best strikers in women’s MMA squaring off, both capable of ending fights with a single blow. This is a much closer fight than the bookmakers suggest. Holly Holm has shocked the world once and she can do it again. There’s more value on her +300 ods than the short -400 price you’re getting with Cyborg.

Value Bet: Holly Holm (+300)

Barboza lands a headkick
Barboza lands a headkick. Photo credit: Alexandre Loureiro (Flickr) CC License

Khabib Nurmagomedov (-275) vs Edson Barboza (+225)

This is one of the more exciting matchups available to the UFC, but let’s not count our chickens before they hatch, make weight, and enter the cage. We’ve been in this situation before with Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0), and we know just how hard it is for him to cut down to 155 pounds. If the fight isn’t decided on the scales, he’ll face the ferocious Edson Barboza (19-4).

This is an intriguing stylistic match-up. Nurmagomedov is one of the fiercest fighters on the ground and Barboza is one of the best strikers in the UFC. The game-plan for both fighters seems quite clear. Barboza needs to keep the fight upright and unleash his arsenal of leg kicks, spinning back kicks, and hooks; Khabib needs to close the distance, take the fight to the ground, and maul Barboza with his terrifying ground-and-pound.

Barboza has fought some of the best fighters in the lightweight division and is currently riding a three-fight win streak. He finished his most recent fight in spectacular fashion, knocking out Beneil Dariush with a devastating flying knee. However, the Muay Thai specialist is out of his depth when the fight is taken to the ground.

That’s where Khabib will dominate: the undefeated Dagestani will look to capitalize on Barboza’s weak ground game. His aggressive, high-pressure style makes it extremely difficult for his opponents to keep him at a distance and he’s not afraid to absorb a few blows in order to get inside. Half of Barboza’s losses have come by submission. Tony Ferguson caught him in a D’Arce choke and Donald Cerrone tied him up with a rear-naked choke. If Khabib can take Barboza down, there’s a good chance he’ll be able to stop the fight right there. At -275, Nurmagomedov would have to win this fight roughly 74% of the time to be the value bet. I’m comfortable that he’d emerge victorious in three out of four, given that he should be able to drag this fight to the canvas. 

Value Bet: Khabib Nurmagomedov (-275)


Best Prop Bet for UFC 219:
Nurmagomedov vs Barboza does not go the distance (-125)

Regardless of who wins, there’s a good chance the fight will not be decided by the judges. If Khabib is able to control the fight, he should be able to stop Barboza on the ground. He’s simply leagues ahead of his opponent on the mat. If Barboza is able to clip Nurmagomedov as he tries to close the distance, he could be out cold just like Dariush before him.


Best Parlay for UFC 219:
Holly Holm (+300) + Cynthia Calvillo (-333) + John Lineker (+175)

Here’s a parlay with value. As I explained earlier, I believe that Holm is being wildly undervalued against Cyborg. Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) is, in my opinion, a very safe bet against Carla Esparza (12-4). The Team Alpha Male fighter is a rising star in women’s MMA and should prove too much for Esparza. Lastly, picking John Lineker (30-8) over Jimmie Rivera (21-1) could prove to be a savvy bet. The two diminutive bantamweights both like to stand and trade blows, and Lineker possesses the heavier fists. A small $10 wager would yield a $143 return if all three of those picks hit.