The UFC returns to Las Vegas for UFC 279 at the T-Mobile Arena this Saturday night, with the main card starting at 10 p.m. ET. There is no denying that the week of a pay-per-view card hits differently. The media coverage ramps up, giving us more access inside the minds of the promotion's biggest stars before they enter the Octagon. As a bettor, obtaining more information is always valuable, but it's important not to let narrative cloud your handicap. Winners are decided by a fighter's ability to leverage his strengths against his opponent's weaknesses, not by the words leading up to the fight.
Pay-per-view cards almost always include title fights, so the promotion's decision to headline the event with Khamzat Chimaev vs. Nate Diaz speaks volumes about both fighters. The main event serves the UFC's dual motives of showcasing its unbeaten title contender while squeezing the last drop of drawing power from its longtime needle-mover in Diaz. The wide odds make it difficult to find valuable angles, but I put together a few unique ways to get some action down on the main event.
Khamzat Chimaev (-1200) vs. Nate Diaz (+725)
Let's cut right to the chase in this one. It's not Chimaev's 11-0 record that makes him a monster favorite against Diaz. Chimaev's meteoric rise through the ranks started by winning his first two fights in a span of 10 days. In both bouts, Chimaev mauled his opponents by earning stoppages in each. He holds massive physical advantages over Diaz, who has struggled with more powerful grapplers throughout his career. The most decisive losses for Diaz have come when he is at a size disadvantage, and Chimaev has the brute strength to rag-doll fighters in higher weight classes.
This is as poor of a stylistic matchup as possible for Diaz, giving Chimaev a clear path to an easy victory. With such a wide moneyline price, the wagering angle becomes when or how Chimaev wins. I have a best bet for each, plus a prop for anyone looking to back Diaz.
Khamzat Chimaev by submission (+225)
Chimaev's disposal of Li Jingliang at UFC 267 in only three minutes is the fight that forced him into the title conversation. He dragged Jingliang to the canvas and battled him relentlessly before choking him for the win. Chimaev outstruck his opponent 25-0, but more importantly, looked to finish by submission. It's been the method of victory in three of his last six wins, so +225 is enough to get me on board. Many expect the fight to follow the same script as his efficient win over Jingliang. Let's bet it ends the same way as well.
Alternate over 2.5 rounds (+100)
Every UFC bettor can attest that fighters don't always take the easiest path to victory. They sometimes just want to stand, bang and give the crowd the type of fight it paid good money to see. Chimaev's insane war with Gilbert Burns was a perfect example. Remember, the purpose of making this fight is to showcase Chimaev. So it's not out of the realm of possibility that he spends a few rounds engaging with Diaz on the feet, especially if he doesn't consider his opponent a legitimate threat to knock him out.
If that's the case, I don't think Diaz will be in any rush to trade in the pocket. Instead, we will see a good amount of circling, taunting and showboating, inciting the crowd while extending the fight. You can get the over 1.5 rounds at (-140) at BetMGM now, or take it one step further by waiting for the alternate round market to open at around even money. If Chimaev fights with urgency, I would rather be on the submission prop at +225 than the under.
Nate Diaz by submission (+1600)
The legend of Diaz in the UFC was born in 2008, the second he lured Kurt Pellegrino into a triangle choke and flipped off the cameras while securing a highly improbable win. That's when the UFC realized that Diaz had the durability and submission skills to remain live in every fight, regardless of the physical disadvantages he faces. It would be epic to see Stockton's favorite son end his UFC career the same way it started, by defying all the odds. Diaz isn't knocking out Chimaev, so this is the most likely outcome if Diaz pulls off the upset. If you are going to throw a dart on Diaz, do it at +1600.
All stats provided by ufcstats.com.