This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
The UFC is back at the UFC Apex on Saturday, July 24 for UFC Vegas 32. In the main event, former bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw makes his return from a USADA suspension against Cory Sandhagen in a potential No. 1 contender fight at bantamweight.
In this series of articles, I'll share my favorite play, an underdog pick, a prop, and a two-fighter parlay I like. All lines are taken from William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article.
Darrick Minner (26-11) vs. Darren Elkins (25-9)
Weight Class: Featherweight
Minner is not an elite featherweight by any means, but he has looked good as of late and comes from a great gym at Glory MMA under James Krause. He's coming off two straight wins and beat T.J. Laramie in under a minute, which was impressive. He has a very dangerous ground game and his striking has gotten better. Elkins, however, lives up to his nickname of "The Damage" as he usually gets cut up from his scar tissue.
In this fight, I think Minner is the better wrestler, as he lands 60 percent of his takedowns and averages three takedowns per 15 minutes. Elkins, meanwhile, has a 58 percent takedown defense, but Minner is relentless and will eventually get him down. Even on the feet, Minner does a good job of avoiding shots, while the same can't be said for Elkins.
Ultimately, I like Minner to mix in his striking and grappling to likely win a decision or possibly get the late finish. But, at -155 I really like the price, and it will be one of my main plays this weekend.
The Play: Darrick Minner (-155)
TJ Dillashaw (16-4) vs. Cory Sandhagen (14-2)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
TJ Dillashaw is making his return to the sport after a two-year USADA suspension, but it will be over 2.5 years since his last fight – a drop to flyweight where he suffered a TKO loss to Henry Cejudo. However, I still believe Dillashaw is one of, if not the best bantamweight alive and will show that Saturday against Cory Sandhagen.
Although Sandhagen has looked impressive as of late, as he TKO'd Marlon Moraes and KO'd Frankie Edgar, both aren't elite bantamweights in their current stage. Why I like Dillashaw, however, is due to his experience in five-round fights as well as his wrestling.
The last time we saw Sandhagen get grappled, Sterling easily got him down, got ahold of his back and tapped him out in 88 seconds. For me, there are still major questions about his takedown defense, and I expect Dillashaw to shoot early and often on him. He's also never gone five rounds before, so whether or not he has the cardio to do so is also unknown.
I like Dillashaw to be able to mix in his striking and wrestling to get a late stoppage in the championship rounds and mark his return to the sport.
The Play: TJ Dillashaw (+165)
Kyler Phillips (9-1) vs. Raulian Paiva (20-3)
Weight Class: Bantamweight
*Prop odds at DraftKings, as WilliamHill has yet to release them.
Although Phillips is only ranked 14th at bantamweight and isn't well known to many, I personally believe he has all the skills to be a top-five bantamweight in the next year or two. He has phenomenal striking and underrated grappling, along with good cardio, which I think will be the difference here.
Paiva has struggled to make flyweight and gets a tough test at bantamweight in a fight that stylistically isn't a good one for him. Although Phillips only has a one-inch reach advantage, he lands 5.32 significant strikes per minute, while Paiva absorbs 4.89 significant strikers.
Although Paiva has been durable in the UFC, he was getting hit by a flyweight, and Phillips has the power to end this fight. I think Phillips pace and pressure will eventually break Paiva, and he'll get a stoppage win.
The Play: Kyler Phillips inside the distance (+240)
Sijara Eubanks (6-6) vs. Elise Reed (4-0) &
Ian Heinisch (14-4) vs. Nassourdine Imavov (9-3)
Weight Class: Women's Flyweight & Middleweight
Eubanks may be fighting for her job against Reed who will be undersized at flyweight as she has fought at strawweight in her last three fights and atomweight in her pro debut. I also don't think she won her CFFC fight to win the belt which is a fight she got taken down and controlled which is where Eubanks excells. I expect Eubanks to wrestle early and often and either win a clear-cut decision or potentially get a ground and pound TKO win.
On the other leg of the parlay, I like Ian Heinisch to beat Nassourdine Imavov which is a big step-down in completion for Heinisch. For this camp, the American moved to Sanford MMA which is a move I like as it will improve his wrestling and cardio. On the feet, Imavov has KO power but Heinisch is very durable but I think he will clinch Imavov for the majority of the fight and win a lackluster decision.
The Play: Eubanks and Heinisch parlay (+114)