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UFC Fight Night 159 on Saturday came and went in Mexico City, with a few pick-’ems and over half the bouts on the card featuring odds with a favorite at -150 or less. With such close odds, it was to be expected that there were some slight but notable upsets. As there are several fights to examine, let us move on to this edition of Beating the Books.
Carla Esparza (+125)
In our Prime Picks analysis, we expected that Esparza, as she is wont to do, would lean on her wrestling chops and take advantage of Alexa Grasso’s less-than-stellar takedown defense to pick up a win. She did just that, capturing the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards with her takedown game, before Grasso turned things around in Round 3. The last round could have arguably been a 10-8 for Grasso, as the Mexican fighter had her opponent trapped in an armbar that “Cookie Monster” should not have been able to survive.
Luckily for Esparza and unluckily for the increasingly angry crowd, only one of three judges scored that last round a 10-8 for Grasso, so the former champion eked out a majority decision win. While the strike totals ended within one strike of one another, Esparza grounded Grasso four times in 11 attempts, racking up control time and doing just enough to get the win. As Esparza grew tired in the final round, Grasso picked up steam. The Mexican standout had Esparza badly hurt but did not capitalize on it. It might have cost her the win and allowed “Cookie Monster” to score the minor upset. A 15-minute battle was the most likely outcome according to the sportsbooks, with the line for Fight Goes to Decision closing at a whopping -385.
Steven Peterson (+125)
The first round against Martin Bravo did not look good for Peterson, as he was outlanded at a 2-to-1 clip and gave up brief takedown, all while taking heavy damage. Bravo looked every part of the favorite for the first six minutes of the bout, beating Peterson to the punch and showing a definitive power advantage. However, things changed completely when Bravo went to throw a spinning backfist.
What happened next was miraculous, as Peterson simultaneously evaded the strike while countering it with his own spinning backfist. This perfectly placed spin move is reminiscent of when Gogo Shamatava leveled Pavel Pastushkov with a counter spinning back elbow at Absolute Championship Berkut 89 in 2018. Peterson’s spinning right hand caught Bravo square on the chin, separating the Mexican from his consciousness immediately. The follow-up punch afterwards was not needed, and “Ocho” later expressed remorse for dropping down one more shot even though Bravo was clearly out. If you took Peterson, you came out on top but likely were sweating bullets, as the American was getting worked until the stoppage. If you managed to take the line of Peterson Wins Inside Distance at +395 or Peterson Wins by KO/TKO at +625, you cashed in on this instant “Knockout of the Year” contender.
Angela Hill (-105)
Even though Hill seemingly closed as a favorite, opponent Ariane Carnelossi was a slightly larger favorite at -115 odds in one of the event’s two pick-’ems. With all the momentum on her side, Carnelossi lost her MMA debut and never looked back, picking up 12 victories and nine stoppages. With the lights shining down on her in her promotional debut, however, the Brazilian never quite looked comfortable in the Octagon. Hill managed to beat her to the punch early and often, although she absorbed a lot more leg kicks than she needed to take on her way to a victory.
Carnelossi's best weapon was arguably her leg kick, giving Hill pause in the second round and even forcing the American to switch stances after repeatedly taking hard impacts. “Overkill” managed to take charge of the bout, however, strategically closing the distance and continuously landing damaging elbows when they broke out of clinches. The elbow for Hill was there frequently, and in Round 3, a big one opened a cut on Carnelossi immediately, causing the doctor to intervene. The line moved significantly on fight day, as Hill was a -150 favorite in the morning. Money came in on the Brazilian, forcing it in the other direction. The outcome was unexpected by all viewers, with Hill Wins by KO/TKO at +700 and Wins Inside Distance at +500, as every previous UFC victory for the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder had come on the scorecards.
Bethe Correia (+245)
Sijara Eubanks was unable to get her wrestling going to plant Correia on the canvas after the first round. That opening round was fairly one-sided, with one of the Sherdog.com scorers even awarding a 10-8 first round to Eubanks. Despite her success in that opening stanza, Eubanks never managed to get “Pitbull” back down again, allowing the Brazilian to keep her advantage on the feet.
Correia quickly realized that the jab was an effective tool, and in Round 3, she caught Eubanks with one of them and damaged the American’s eye. “Sarj” was not the same afterward. Although the two went punch for punch several times throughout the fight, even going so far as to mirror one another’s combinations, Correia often seemed to land the cleaner strikes. In taking a decision win over Eubanks, the Brazilian scored the biggest upset of the night; and if there were a prop bet that Correia would dance after her victory, you could cash that in, as well.