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Author: Sean Zerillo
A historic UFC 251 card begins Saturday at 6 p.m. ET – 2 a.m. local time in Abu Dhabi – on ESPN and ESPN+ with eight preliminary fights. The main card starts at 10 p.m. ET — 6 a.m. local time — featuring five bouts, including three title fights to declare the Bantamweight, Featherweight, and Welterweight champions.
In addition to moneylines and over/unders, there are numerous ways to bet on an MMA fight — including exact winning methods, winning round props, and whether or not the match will go to a decision or finish inside of the distance.
As a result, after examining all of the betting options, your typical UFC card can offer a substantial amount of actionable value.
Check out the full betting odds for Saturday’s UFC card, with analysis and picks from Sean Zerillo for each fight below:
UFC 251 Odds, Picks & Projections
- Time: 6 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN/ESPN+
Bantamweight Fight: Martin Day vs. Davey Grant
Crowdsourced Projections: Day (66%)
The projection suggests that the line is correct for the opening bout on Saturday’s card. Still, both the stylistic matchup and spot favors the underdog Englishman, Grant, against the Hawaiian-based Day.
Day lost via split decision — to a fighter who has since been cut — in his UFC debut in November of 2018, so he hasn’t won inside of the octagon or even competed in more than 19 months, and fighters who return off of a layoff of more than one year win less than 40% of the time.
Grant hasn’t been very active either, but he did win a three-round decision last November, his second taste of victory in the UFC, and he should be able to impose his wrestling and top control on Day — an underwhelming grappler who would prefer to strike from a distance for 15 minutes.
Day does have a height (+2 inches) and reach (+4 inches) advantage, and the 30-foot octagon on Fight Island, as opposed to the 25-foot cage at UFC Apex, will likely benefit the range strikers.
But, Day’s kicks will leave him exposed to takedown opportunities, which Grant needs to exploit early and often — as he seems like the more likely man to tire out in the later stages of the fight.
Grant has posted a +1.45 strike differential in five UFC bouts, with a 62% strike defense — so he won’t be overwhelmed on the feet, but he will have a lower output.
He was out-landed 57-34 in total strikes, and 35-30 in significant strikes in his last fight, but won by securing six of his nine takedown attempts — two in each round.
The crowd expects Day and Grant to go to the scorecards 75% of the time, fair odds of -300 for the fight to go the distance; so Yes (-190) has some appeal in the prop market, but Grant has recorded eight of his eleven wins by submission, including six in the first round – and if he takes Day’s back he can certainly slip in a choke.
However, neither Grant by decision (+245) nor Grant by submission (+775) offers value relative to the crowd projections, at around +300 and +1000, respectively.
Despite the crowd projection suggesting that there is no betting value on this fight, given the stylistic matchup and the questions surrounding the favorite, I’ll play the underdog small on the moneyline in what likely shakes out as a very close decision.
Day vs. Grant Bets
- Grant +141 (0.5 units)
Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo
Crowdsourced Projections: Rosa 90%
At nearly a 20% edge compared to listed odds, Karol Rosa is my single-favorite parlay piece on Saturday’s card. I think that she’s hugely undervalued against her Brazilian compatriot Vanessa Melo — who missed weight by five pounds on Friday, after also missing by five pounds and losing as a +450 underdog in September against Irene Aldana.
Fighters who miss weight are just 41-42 (49%) since 2013, and underdogs listed between +100 and +300 have fared exceptionally well (19-15), but five pounds is a substantial miss.
Melo’s lack of fitness will sure lead to another fight where, if she makes it to the later rounds, her output will diminish. Melo landed half as many significant strikes as Aldana (125-68) and managed just 19 total significant strikes in the second and third rounds combined against Tracy Cortez — compared to 21 in the first round.
Meanwhile, Rosa landed 11.4 significant strikes per minute (171 total) in a split-decision win in her record-setting UFC debut against Lara Procopio. If Rosa is either behind or around even in live betting after the first round, I would likely bet her again live.
Rosa has stopping power, but Melo is tough with all seven of her career losses coming by decision.
She is neither accurate (28% significant strike accuracy) nor particularly powerful, and there is no way that she can keep up with Rosa in terms of volume for 15 minutes.
The crowd projects the fight to go the distance 83% of the time – implied odds of -488, so there is some value on both the fight to go the distance (-300) or over 2.5 rounds (-335).
However, that also makes Rosa’s fair odds to win by decision -295 (implied 74.7%), so Rosa’s listed odds to win by decision at -120 (implied 54.6%) is arguably the steal of the night.
Melo vs. Rosa Bets
- Karol Rosa -250 (0.5 units)
- Karol Rosa by decision -120 (1 unit)
- Use Rosa as a parlay piece
Flyweight Fight: Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Crowdsourced Projections: Zhumagulov (51%)
Paiva was the only other fighter beside Vanessa Melo to miss weight for Saturday night.
Favorites priced between -122 to -233 who missed weight are 16-12 (57%) since 2013. They have slightly underperformed, but more importantly, all five fighters who have missed weight during the pandemic, including -225 favorite Frank Camacho, have lost their fights.
Conversely, Zhalgas Zhumagulov has to overcome a negative trend (43% win rate) for fighters making their octagon debut against UFC veterans, a critical stat to keep in mind for the rest of this undercard.
Zhumagolov is more polished than most UFC debutants, however, with multiple wins over UFC-caliber talent overseas, seven victories in his past eight fights, and four wins via five-round decision over that span.
He pushes a fast pace, which Paiva will be happy to meet, averaging 4.81 strikes landed per minute over three UFC fights. Zhumgalov will have to overcome a height (4 inches) and reach (3 inches) disadvantage, but his ability to switch stances and maintain pressure for 15 minutes helps to close that gap.
I see this fight as a close decision, and the crowd projects the fight to go the distance nearly 77% of the time, implied odds of -335, which offers slight value compared to the betting market at -250. Over 2.5 rounds (-286) is highly logical.
I’ll buy Zhumagulov as a live underdog, knowing that he has the stamina base from those five-round battles to maintain pressure and volume for 15 minutes.
Paiva vs. Zhumagulov Bets
- Zhalgas Zhumagulov +142 (1 unit)
- Use Over 2.5 rounds (-286) as a parlay piece
Heavyweight Fight: Marcin Tybura vs. Maxim Grishin
Crowdsourced Projections: Tybura (54%)
Maxim Grishin is the only fighter that I would classify as a genuine late replacement on the UFC 251 card, and late replacements win just 37% of the time (94-158) on fewer than 10 days notice.
Additionally, Grishin is making his debut in the octagon against a UFC veteran (43% win rate), so this is a smash spot for Tybura.
Furthermore, Grishin is a natural light-heavyweight, and he weighed in 29 pounds less than Tybura for this heavyweight bout.
Lastly, Grishin has been taken to the mat by a middleweight, and Tybura should be able to test his superior grappling against the smaller man.
Grishin has only lost once since 2011, he has decent power and significantly faster hands. Still, Tybura should be able to comfortably absorb the damage from a fighter competing above his weight class, before taking him to the mat (1.54 takedowns per 15 minutes, 50% accuracy).
Tybura is competent on the feet too, with a +0.5 strike differential in his UFC career, but the application of his grappling is his best path to victory.
There might be some value on betting the fight to finish inside the distance (-115), or under 2.5 rounds (+102) compared to a crowd projection of 58%.
With a 67% KO/TKO probability and a 46% win probability, Grishin’s fair KO/TKO odds are +223 (implied 31%) — so there is no value compared to his current line (+220).
I could make a similar argument for Tybura by decision (+200) or by KO/TKO (+415), which I would project at +237 and +416, respectively.
The crowd projection says that the oddsmakers have this fight lined correctly, but the size difference, situational spot, and style matchup says that I have to play Tybura’s moneyline for small stakes.
Tybura vs. Grishin Bets
- Marcin Tybura -112 (0.5 units)
Lightweight Fight: Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov
Crowdsourced Projections: Santos (74%)
Leonardo Santos is undefeated (6-0-1) in the UFC and has not lost since 2009, but the 40-year-old has a couple of data points working against him in this spot.
He hasn’t fought since June 2019, and fighters coming off of a year-long layoff win less than 40% of the time, though Santos did go nearly three years between bouts before winning that fight in the first round against Stevie Ray.
Additionally, Santos is facing a fighter more than 10 years his junior – and the older opponent wins just 35% of the time in such generational showdowns.
Bogatov is undefeated, but also untested, and as I have already mentioned in this preview UFC debutants only win at a 43% clip against UFC veterans.
Santos should have a clear advantage in the standup, and while Bogatov is a dominant wrestler, who plays into Santos’s world-class jiu-jitsu skills.
The crowd expects the fight to reach a decision 42.5% of the time – implied odds of +135 – so there is slight value on the NO (+105) on the fight to go the distance.
The odds on Santos – Round 1 (+400) is too low, and Santos by submission (+325) or KO/TKO (+400) are equally unappealing when I would set the fair odds for either around +350.
Ultimately, I’ll pass on betting this fight. I’m unsure if Santos can maintain the pace he needs if he cannot finish the younger fighter, who is experienced in five-round battles and should have no issues putting together three solid rounds.
Santos vs. Bogatov Bets
Featherweight Fight: Makwan Amirikhani vs. Danny Henry
Crowdsourced Projections: Amirikhani (80%)
Although the crowd projection suggests value on the favorite, Makwan Amirikihani, I’m not particularly interested in making any pre-fight wagers on this matchup.
Amirikhanki has 10 career wins by submission, including nine in the opening round. Still, he gasses out quickly and is hittable on the feet – particularly in the later stages of fights.
The odds on Mr. Finland to win in the first round (+325) or to win by submission (+175) lack value – I would make his submission odds +198 (implied 33.6%) based upon the crowd projection.
The crowd expects the fight to reach a decision 49% of the time, so you can get some value on the fight to go the distance (+130), but I don’t love the bet personally.
Instead, I’ll wait to see if Henry can survive some first-round submission attempts. If he doesn’t exert too much energy, I’ll look to fire on Henry as an even more significant live underdog than his pre-fight odds, to rally to win the final two rounds.
He has a positive strike differential (+1.01 vs. -1.17) and better accuracy (+6%) than his opponent, who has a significant edge in grappling stats (3.39 takedowns per 15 minutes, 34% accuracy).
I expect Henry to be in full control by the third round, so if he can avoid the first-round stoppage, he will likely control his fate as a big underdog in the middle stanza.
Amirkhani vs. Henry Bets
- Live Bet Henry after Round 1
Welterweight Fight: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov
|Zaleski dos Santos odds||+100|
Crowdsourced Projections: Salikhov (67%)
If you want a more in-depth analysis of this matchup, check out my full fight preview.
In short, if this remains a standup battle between two electric strikers, it plays to the advantage of Salikhov – a veteran kickboxer and five-time Wushu Sanda world champion who is both more accurate (+7%), and better defensively (+9%).
But if Zaleski deploys his wrestling, and Salikhov cannot remain standing or get back to his feet – he’s likely going to need to score a knockout to win; Zaleski offers a higher striking output.
The crowd projection suggests an edge more significant than 10% on Salikhov, relative to the listed odds. Nearly 60% of predictions siding with the Russian are also taking him to win by KO/TKO, which would make those fair odds roughly +150 (implied 40%). He is +188 to win by KO/TKO in the winning method market, but I would prefer to bet on his moneyline, given the increased level of implied value.
Zaleski dos Santos vs. Salikhov Bets
- Muslim Salikhov -125 (1 unit)
Light heavyweight Fight: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiri Prochazka
Crowdsourced Projections: Oezedemir (62%)
To re-iterate, UFC newcomers win just 43% of the time against UFC veterans – and this seems like precisely the type of fight where a hot prospect like Prochazka attracts a ton of betting attention and falls flat.
The betting line compares favorably to the crowd projection, but the crowd is also picking Prochazka to win 82% of the time by KO/TKO, making those fair odds +217 – so there is slight value on his knockout prop compared to the listed odds (+300). He has recorded each of his past eight, and 16 of his recent 17 victories by KO/TKO.
Oezdemir has only been knocked out by Daniel Cormier, however, and he has shown a tendency to fade later in his recent fights, so Prochazka by decision (+400) also seems likely, even though the crowd would make those odds closer to +2000.
The crowd makes the fight 73% (implied -270) to finish inside of the distance, offering slight value compared to listed odds on the NO (-225).
Prochazka can undoubtedly start hot and prove himself immediately, or record the early finish. Still, I find it more likely that Oezdemir has his best output early – and suggest that you look to bet Jiri as a live underdog after the first five minutes.
Prochazka vs. Oezedemir Bets
- Live Bet Prochazka after Round 1
- Time: 10 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN PPV
Women’s Flyweight Fight: Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
Crowdsourced Projections: Ribas (88%)
VanZant is the most significant underdog on the card, and one of the more massive underdogs in recent memory, against Amanda Ribas. But the odds aren’t unwarranted according to the crowd projection, which makes the projection -735.
My colleague Dan Stupp did extensive analysis on this fight already this week, and some analysts he interviewed set the fair odds anywhere between -600 and -1500.
Ribas has an impressive, well-rounded skill set, including multiple grappling black belts, averaging two takedowns per 15 minutes in the UFC (50% accuracy), and she has shown excellent striking defense (74%) with an elite strike differential (+3.14).
VanZant is very hittable (46% strike defense) and offers little resistance to takedowns (35%); she is outclassed in all facets against her opponent.
Paige needs to find her way to the clinch or to gain top control somehow to do damage, but I don’t think that she can keep Ribas down for long.
The crowd put fair odds on Ribas by submission at +257 (implied 28%), and they would make Ribas by decision +111 (implied 47.5%), so there is no value compared to listed odds at +180 and +120, respectively.
They do expect the fight to go the distance nearly 60% of the time, however, implied odds of -150; meaning that there is actionable value compared to listed odds at -105 (implied 51.2%).
As a result, I’ll make a small play on Yes, Fight Goes the Distance since Paige has exuded toughness in the past — fighting through a broken arm against Jessica-Rose Clark in 2018 — and back her to survive to the finish line in what is likely her UFC farewell.
Ribas vs. VanZant Bets
- Yes, fight Goes the Distance (-105, 0.5 units)
Women’s Strawweight Fight: Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
Crowdsourced Projections: Namajunas (81%)
This is a rematch between former strawweight champions Jessica Andrade and Rose Namajunas.
The first fight ended memorably:
The end of their first fight shocked the 🌍!
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) July 9, 2020
UFC Fighters who win the first fight win the rematch more than 70% of the time – but this is a bit of a curious situation.
Andrade opened as a -120 favorite for the first fight, was bet to -155 at the close, and opened as a +145 underdog for the rematch despite winning, with money coming now coming in against her.
Namajunas got the better of Andrade in the first round of their first fight, out-landing her 30-24. Still, Andrade spent time working to the body and legs, while 98% of Rose’s shots were to the head, and Andrade began to close the distance – by running at her opponent – and use her strength more effectively in the second round – where she drew even on strikes (25-23) before winning by the power slam.
Namajunas fought well, but I also don’t think that she was dominating to such a degree that she deserved to see such a massive swing in betting odds, regardless of the crowd projection.
Andrade is undoubtedly capable of racking up takedowns and dominating with top control. Still, Namajunas should benefit from the three-round format and 30-foot octagon, as opposed to the five-round championship fight that they were scheduled for last time.
The crowd makes Namajunas a -111 favorite (implied 52.6%) to win by decision, and it has the fight reaching the scorecards 62.1% of the time (implied odds of -164).
There is no value on the total, but Namajunas by decision (+175) has some appeal, and I’ll make a small play on the winning method prop.
Andrade vs. Namajunas Bets
- Namajunas by decision (+175, 0.5 units)
Bantamweight Fight: Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
Crowdsourced Projections: Yan (76%)
By my estimation, Saturday’s night’s Bantamweight clash between rising star Petr Yan and MMA legend Jose Aldo is less title fight than a coronation for the 27-year-old Siberian star.
“No Mercy” caught my eye the moment that he burst onto the UFC scene – with the ability to turn any match into a firefight with his relentless pressure kickboxing.
He is undefeated (6-0) on his UFC run and recently scored a knockout win over MMA legend Uriah Faber. Recording a win over another legend in Aldo, to win his first title, would cement Yan as one of the most prominent young stars in the sport:
Yan has been a significant betting favorite in every fight – with the market steaming him dramatically each time. The bout with Aldo is Yan’s first UFC fight where the line hasn’t moved significantly in his favor since open.
He should be able to dictate the pace and pressure and make adjustments while switching stances and maintaining a high volume (5.65 strikes landed per minute) against Aldo (3.47 strikes landed per minute), a curious choice for this vacant title fight.
Saturday could mark Aldo’s last shot to win a belt, and to be fair – while he has lost five of his past eight fights, they were all against championship level fighters with a handful of combined UFC losses; Conor McGregor, Max Holloway (2x), Alexander Volkanovki, and Marlon Moraes.
The Moraes fight was Aldo’s Bantamweight debut, and while he lost a close battle and came on late, Moraes mostly tired out. Aldo isn’t known for his cardio – Yan should be the much fresher man in the championship rounds.
The Russian applies his power via constant pressure like Holloway, who thoroughly out-struck Aldo during their two encounters (174-87 and 105-55) and Yan will continually find his openings the longer that the fight goes. He is an exceptional fighter with superior footwork, speed, strength, and stamina.
Aldo has to be willing to utilize his famed leg kicks, but he has sustained numerous lower-half injuries and relied on his boxing in the later stages of his career – which will not lead to success against Yan.
70% of the crowd is picking Yan by KO/TKO, making his fair odds -110 (implied 53.2%), so there isn’t much value compared to the listed odds at +110. His decision odds (+275) also don’t offer value relative to the crowd projection (+339).
And I would need a number higher than +700 for any winning method prop on Aldo.
The crowd expects the fight to go the distance 35% of the time, implied odds of +186, so there isn’t value in that market, either.
Over 2.5 rounds (-186) has some appeal since I don’t anticipate an early finish, and I’ll take a look at Yan Round 3 (+800), Yan Round 4 (+1000) and Yan Round 5 (+1600) as props, given the cumulative power that his volume generates.
My gut says that Yan should be a more significant favorite, and the crowd projection would put him at -316.
Aldo vs. Yan Bets
- Use Petr Yan as a Parlay Piece
- Over 2.5 Rounds (-186) as a Parlay Piece
Featherweight Fight: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
Crowdsourced Projections: Volkanovski (65%)
I was dead wrong about Holloway-Vokanovski Part 1, but I’m happy to swallow my pride and put aside my Holloway fandom for the rematch.
Volkanovski has the anticipated wrestling advantage in this matchup, but he was shut down on all four takedown opportunities by Holloway (84% career takedown defense) in their first encounter.
He landed 51% of his significant strikes, however, out-landing Max 157-134 overall, but he fell behind in the final two rounds (71-67) and personally requested a rematch – even after winning. I suppose he felt that he could do better.
Volkanovski chopped at Holloway’s lead leg early (75 total leg kicks), which forced Max to switch stances, but his stamina began to shine in the later rounds.
Volkanovski was the faster and more powerful striker during the early stages; however, when both men were fresh.
If Holloway can check those leg kicks this time around, and continue to work from a southpaw stance to avoid some of those low kicks, he could take three rounds instead of two – even while absorbing the more massive shots.
Questions are surrounding Holloway’s camp and whether he exclusively trained via Zoom. I’ll ignore that talk, as I did with Masvidal’s Pizza party, but I’ll also recognize that oddsmakers appear to have lined this one correctly; after Volkanovski won the first bout as a +140 underdog.
The crowd expects this fight to go the distance more than 77% of the time, implied odds of -334 – so there is some value compared to listed odds at -230.
Over 4.5 Rounds (-250) is an equally popular and viable bet, but I am as hesitant about betting a total as I am about backing Holloway as an underdog.
There is slight value in the winning method market – the crowd projects Volkanovski to win by decision 52.6% of the time, implied odds of -111; you can bet him at +111.
The last fight was probably closer than a 65/35 split – I would personally set the fair odds closer to 60% for Volkanovski or +150.
But Alexander the Great has superior striking efficiency (+3.01 to +2.25 strike differential) and accuracy (+13%), and he wasn’t able to fully deploy his wrestling skills last time, because he didn’t need too.
I’ll be rooting for Holloway – but I think Volkanovski by decision (+110) is the only bet offering actionable value.
Holloway vs. Volkanovski Bets
Welterweight Fight: Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
Crowdsourced Projections: Usman (65%)
If you want a more in-depth analysis of the main event, check out my full fight preview.
In short, the crowd expects a fairly binary outcome, predicting Usman by decision 80% of the time, and Masvidal by KO/TKO nearly 90% of the time, depending upon who wins – making those fair odds -108 for Usman by Decision, and +225 for Masvidal by KO/TKO.
Usman is +150 (implied 40%) to win by decision in the betting market, an 11.9% edge compared to the projection at -108 (implied 51.9%), while Masvidal is only +250 to win by KO/TKO, a 2.2% edge. Usman offers significantly better value.
Additionally, the crowd projects the fight to go the distance 55.5% of the time, implied odds of -125, but you can bet an 11.1% edge in the market at +120 (implied 44.4%)
Over 4.5 Rounds (+110) is equally appealing, given the chance that these two extremely tough fighters last the full 25 minutes.
I would recommend betting Over 4.5 rounds, betting the fight to go the distance, or betting Usman to win by decision – all at plus-money – I merely chose the juiciest option, and most substantial edge amongst the three potential wagers – all of which I feel are correlated; which is why I wouldn’t double down and place multiple bets on this fight.
Masvidal vs. Usman Bets
- Kamaru Usman by Decision +150 (1 unit)
Zerillo’s UFC 251 Bets
- Davey Grant +146 (0.5 units)
- Karol Rosa -250 (0.5 units)
- Karol Rosa by Decision -120 (1 unit)
- Zhalgas Zhumagulov +140 (1 unit)
- Marcin Tybura -108 (0.5 units)
- Muslim Salikhov -125 (1 unit)
- Amanda Ribas / Paige VanZant, Yes Fight Goes the Distance (-105, 0.5 units)
- Rose Namajunas by Decision (+175, 0.5 units)
- Kamaru Usman by Decision +150 (1 unit)
- Parlay: Karol Rosa / Petr Yan (+103, 1.5 units)
- Parlay: Paiva vs. Zhumagulov, Over 2.5 Rounds / Aldo vs. Yan, Over 2.5 Rounds (+108, 0.5 units)
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Author: Sean Zerillo