LAS VEGAS — The massive betting odds that confront Felicia Spencer on Saturday at UFC Apex as she tries to lift the featherweight championship from Amanda Nunes in the main event of UFC 250 are not reflective of a lack of ability on her part.
Spencer is a well-rounded, dangerous fighter who would probably be favored against any featherweight on the planet other than Nunes and Bellator champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino. She’s 8-1 with six finishes, and her only loss came via decision at UFC 240 against Justino.
But in Nunes, she’s facing one of those rare UFC champions who not only has already lapped the field and earned acclaim as the greatest female fighter in MMA history but who is also improving.
Nunes had a difficult weight cut last time out and still dominated Germaine de Randamie in a bantamweight title defense. Nunes has won 10 in a row and has blown away a field that includes the greatest women to have ever fought. Only flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko gave Nunes a significant challenge.
In her 10-fight winning streak, Nunes has five knockouts and two submissions and has beaten six women who have held UFC championships (Justino, Shevchenko, Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and de Randamie). Early in her career, she had a tendency to gas late in fights, but it was her performance in the fifth round of her fight with Shevchenko at UFC 215 on Sept. 9, 2017, in Edmonton that carried her to the narrow victory.
Spencer is a complete fighter who has a black belt in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and taekwondo and who has no obvious holes in her game.
Betting on Nunes to win, though, is a difficult proposition because she’s a -600 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book. Spencer is +425. In many cases like this when the line is so high, people don’t want to bet on the favorite and take a flier on the underdog, so the line comes down. The UFC, though, hasn’t spent a lot of time promoting its featherweight division and, as a result, Spencer is far less known than the typical UFC title challenger.
As a result, it’s unlikely that bettors will back her in any significant way, particularly given that Nunes has beaten so many big names and is so well-known.
A Spencer win would be one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history. To pull it off, she’ll need to use her kicks to soften Nunes’ lead leg. The more she can batter Nunes’ leg and make it difficult on her to push off it, the more it will help extend the fight.
Spencer’s best hope is to push the pace and not allow Nunes to fight like she’s going downhill. Nunes is so quick and hits so powerfully that when she’s on the attack, it’s all but impossible to slow her. So Spencer has to find a way to keep Nunes from attacking, and should work on that leg.
Nunes has good takedowns and a good submission game, but Spencer stands a far better chance of winning a grappling contest with Nunes than she does a standup battle. Getting the fight to the ground by any means will be critical for her.
In Nunes’ fight with Cat Zingano in 2014, Zingano got her down and was able to hold her there for long periods. Nunes gassed in that fight and didn’t have the ability to force her way to her feet, though she has seemingly fixed that problem.
Spencer showed a quality chin against Justino, but Nunes has an explosiveness in her striking that Justino does not. Justino’s power comes from her physical size and sheer brute force. Nunes is a physically strong woman, but she’s quick and explosive and generates much of her power with speed.
The result is that opponents often don’t see the punches coming and one of the adages in the fight game that has held up over time is that the punches a fighter doesn’t see hurt the most.
I like Nunes to win the fight, but I don’t want to lay 6-1 on that. I will make two plays on this fight. I think Nunes wins by a finish in the second half of the fight, so I’ll bet her by KO/TKO/DQ. She is -150 at the MGM Grand Sports Book to win that way, so I’ll lay $150 to win $100.
I will also lay $130 on the fight to start Round 3 with the hope of making a $100 profit.
In my other plays, I like Neil Magny at -135 to defeat the surging Anthony Rocco Martin; I like Cory Sandhagen at -105 to defeat Aljamain Sterling, and I’ll lay $120 on Sean O’Malley to win by KO/TKO/DQ with the hope of making a $100 profit.
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