UFC 257 Fight Island Betting Pick: Juliana Pena vs Sara McMann

We are now just hours away from UFC 257 and as much as I love to see Conor McGregor fight, there are so many other fights on the under and even main card that get overshadowed. I suppose they get the greater exposure on fight night and maybe that makes up for it.

A fight like Nasrat Haqparast and Arman Tsarukyen could easily be a fight night main event.

I have definitely seen lower level scraps headlining a non pay per view card. Movsar Evloev is fighting at the bottom of the card.

That guy could be a future world champion! I eat, drink, sleep, and breathe mixed martial arts every day so I’m aware but talking to friends who are casual fans tells me that most people have no idea who these guys are.

The UFC can only push so many fighters and there is just so much talent popping up around the world every day. This sport is growing and growing quickly. Fighting is in our DNA. You have heard Dana White say it a million times and yes he’s a jerk with his flaws but he isn’t wrong in this regard. Not only that. This is the age of social media and the internet. Basketball was invented in the USA but it took half a century for it to gain popularity around the world. Think about how much faster the sport would have grown if the sport got its start at the same time as the internet.

The UFC is really booming and every employee from the bottom to the top of the UFC owes Conor McGregor a thank you. The Irishman changed the game and everyone is making more money now; Dana, the fighters, Mark Wahlberg, The Rock, and the list goes on.

You guys remember “50 G’s, babay!”? What is 50 grand to Conor McGregor now? He is in the fighting business, the whiskey business, the fitness business as well as the fashion business. It all comes from martial arts and a lot of people don’t see that.

“The way is two-fold of the pen and sword.”

Or even better: “If you know the way broadly, then you will see it in everything.”

These are quotes from the great Miyamoto Musashi. I recommend everyone read at least “A Book of Five Rings”. If you learn excellence and focus on practicing that, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to learn or do. You will succeed.

Yes, the guy is a great businessman and a jerk sometimes but you have to give him credit where it is due and it’s important for us and also him to realize and recognize where this all came from.

Punching, kicking, moving…

I am really excited to see the guy fight again. Before Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier are locked inside of the Octagon in front of tens of millions of people, 24 other prize fighters must make that walk as well.

Two of those fighters are some of the best takedown artists in the history of the UFC Women’s Divisions. Olympic Silver Medalist in Wrestling, Sara McMann, is a powerhouse and still in great shape at 40 years old.

Her opponent, Juliana Pena, is a strong wrestler as well and probably has a better submission game than Sara but the question remains: Who will end up on top?

We saw it with Gillian Robertson vs Taila Santos. Gil is a terror on the mat…when she’s on top. Take that away and what do you have? Neil Magny tried to do this to Michael Chiesa but it backfired on him as he was giving the clinch to the better wrestler.

Juliana Pena if nothing else, is a dog in there. She has a lot of heart and loves to fight. It just isn’t her style to keep her hips back, stay on her bike, and jab her way to victory. She likes to come forward with aggressive punches and chain them into a takedown attempt up against the side of the Octagon.

That strategy may get her put directly onto her butt by Sara McMann. Let’s look at the betting odds from BetOnline.AG for this matchup and see what if any kind of edge we have on the sportsbooks. From there, we can hopefully make a strong play on either a moneyline winner, a round total, and/or a method of victory prop.

Sara McMann (-130) vs Juliana Pena (+110)

That 40 year old thing is a biggie. I think Sara would garner (-170) or more expensive odds if she wasn’t 40 years old. There are some serious miles on those 40 years too. You don’t get to the Olympics and win a Silver Medal in one of the most grueling sports in the world by not being a lifelong athlete and lifelong athletes’ bodies are beat to all heck.

How has the former world title challenger looked lately, though?

Her last fight was a year ago almost to the day and she got hit once in 15 minutes. I would say that was a pretty dominant performance. Prior to that fight against Lina Landsberg, though, Sara was submitted twice in a row.

Ketlen Vieira and Marion Reneau are both gigantic for the weight division. Ketlen took Sara down in the second and scored an arm triangle win after McMann appeared to kinda quit. Fellow elder stateswoman, Marion Reneau gave up the takedown to Sara but not the fight as she subbed her with a triable off of her back.

Please Note:
Those are not good looks for Sara who will be facing an opponent in Juliana Pena who is similarly styled and loved to push a pace and break her opponents. Pena runs into a problem here, though, in the shape of a shiny Olympic Silver Medal.

Sara’s takedown percentage is 63%! That is outstanding! Lately, though, they have been getting up or tapping her out from the bottom. Prior to those losses, though, Sara had only fallen to Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Amanda Nunes.

Pena has great takedowns scoring 2.7 per 15 minutes at a 51% rate. Juliana has Sara beat with heart, cardio, submissions, and I give her a slight edge in the striking. Sara has the wrestling edge along with, well, not much else.

Many times, that is all you need to win but I am going to need more than just that. What about Juliana’s takedown defense? 3/5, 2/2, 3/4, 1/1, 1/2.

Those are the takedown attempts and landed by her previous 5 opponents prior to Germain de Randamie who was happy to stand and trade. That is not a good look heading into a fight with a woman who lands 63% and has an Olympic Medal.

I went into this wanting to bet on Juliana because she has the intangibles but it is really hard to ignore these numbers. They are overwhelming. When I capped and wrote up the article on the Neil Magny vs Michael Chiesa fight, I went into it thinking Magny had a great price.

Coming out of it, though, I had just seen too many numbers, particularly takedown percentage and takedown defense and taking into account who they fought and I had to take my old gym mate, Mike.

That’s what I have to do here:
I think Sara likely wins the first round and the 63% against the 28% is going to have to play out. Let’s just hope Sara can keep her there without getting tired or being submitted. I think Juliana is primarily a top control fighter and will be compromised on her back. She has been able to get up and eventually win in the past. She did it to Cat Zingano and Nicco Montano who are both very strong ladies but 63%, Olympian, no.

She has been around 50% for her last 5 fights which is still very good. I am riding with the Olympic Silver Medalist to win the first couple of rounds against the Venezuelan Vixen.

Since Juliana will have the submission advantage here and I think Sara is smart enough to hit, hold, and wrestle when Juliana is doing her BJJ thing and not try to match her there.

This is a risky fight and Sara can be a flake so I am going to need plus money to make a play and that’s what we get here with the McMann by decision betting line.

My Pick
McMann by Decision!

In Conclusion

I’m curious if Sara will retire after a win or perhaps if she loses…Okay, I don’t even want to think about Sara McMann fading late in the third round while Juliana Pena unleashes a fury of punches from the back hoping to open up the neck of McMann.

You have to imagine the worst and try to prove yourself wrong in this game. Don’t focus on picking a side and then becoming a Narrative Nancy to tell one side of the story.

I see this all the time and I only notice it now because it is something I used to do way too much and I’m finally starting to grow out of it. I don’t, however, think that you can completely eliminate that demon. He will always be there just like your ego but awareness is the first step. From that point, just feed the good wolf.

I don’t like to make decisions for fights based on numbers but when they are overwhelming, they can’t be ignored. One number that I didn’t ignore is the age gap between the two women.

That is something that will keep this bet size small. Just one unit here, guys, as both women are very capable of winning the fight.

Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.