Best Bets and Odds for UFC Contender Series Week 1: 3 Bets, 2 Leans for Season 7 Kickoff (Tuesday, August 8)

Best Bets and Odds for UFC Contender Series Week 1: 3 Bets, 2 Leans for Season 7 Kickoff (Tuesday, August 8) article feature image

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC president Dana White

Check out our Dana White's Contender Series best bets for Week 1 as the latest UFC hopefuls look to impress the emperor at tonight's MMA event.

Season 7 of Contender Series kicks off tonight (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas with new events every Tuesday night for 10 straight weeks.

As with all UFC Contender Series events, some of tonight's winners – and even some of the losers – could earn a UFC contract. UFC president White is cageside for each show, and after each five-fight event, the UFC boss determines which fighters have earned an official UFC contract.

Contender Series has become the UFC's primary feeder system, so the shows feature tomorrow's UFC prospects (and some vets).

As a reminder, some sportsbooks can be slow to open Contender Series odds and betting markets – though nearly every major sportsbook eventually does post them.

(And don't forget that you can track your Contender Series bets in the Action App!)

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Middleweight: Lucas Fernando (-235) vs. Cesar Almeida (+196)

There's something about middleweight kickboxers transitioning to MMA, with Cesar Almeida attempting to join the ranks of current champion Israel Adesanya and ex-champ Alex Pereira as fighters to successfully jump sports.

Almeida's kickboxing credentials are roughly equivalent to the aforementioned fighters, and Almeida even had a trilogy of his own against Pereira. While he went 1-2, he managed to see it to the final bell in both of the losses – an accomplishment in and of itself against "Poatan."

However, I have my concerns about his preparedness for high-level MMA. Almeida hasn't had an MMA fight since 2021, with three kickboxing matches in that timeframe. It's not a great sign that he's still got one foot in the kickboxing door, especially against a well-seasoned opponent like Lucas Fernando.

Fernando is 9-1 in professional MMA, and while he's primarily a striker, he does have a pair of submission victories on his record. He's the current LFA middleweight champion after picking up a fourth-round victory to claim the title earlier this year. That's a good sign for his cardio if nothing else.

I wasn't especially impressed with his wrestling in that bout, but he did manage to pick up a few takedowns. Crucially for this matchup, they came primarily from the clinch – a position Almeida utilizes frequently in his kickboxing matchups.

The -235 line on Fernando at FanDuel is enough for me to take a stab as I think the -270/-270 lines elsewhere are closer to the true odds. However, I also like his inside-the-distance line of -105; he should be able to finish this on the ground once it gets there.

The Bets: Lucas Fernando (-235 at FanDuel) | Fernando wins inside the distance (-105 at DraftKings)

Lightweight: Tom Nolan (-148) vs. Bogdan Grad (+126)

This should be a fun clash of styles, with the 6-foot-3 Tom Nolan as one of the tallest lightweights around. He's taking on Bogdan Grad, a 5-foot-9 ball of explosive muscle.

Nolan is a creative striker and throws a variety of jumping and spinning attacks with his long limbs. He's also a BJJ brown belt, though he prefers to keep things on the feet whenever possible.

The 11-1 Grad has some highlight-reel knockouts of his own, but he does his best work controlling opponents on the ground. He's a bit over-aggressive with the ground and pound, but he uses his physical tools to maintain top position well.

Grad's only loss came in the second fight of a one-night tournament, which I'm willing to look past.

My biggest issue with Nolan being favored is that he doesn't make use of his length exceptionally well. His height and reach come with a significant cost to strength and power – since the shorter fighter can pack more muscle at the same weight class – which means he needs to use that length to have success here.

While I worry about Grad falling in love with his striking, he has a somewhat clear path to victory by bullying Nolan along the fence and controlling him with takedowns.

It's 'dog-or-pass situation here for me, but I'll take the dog Grad down to +120.

The Bet: Bogdan Grad (+135 at Caesars)

Heavyweight: Kevin Szaflarski (-172) vs. Caio Machado (+146)

The UFC is in constant need of heavyweight talent since most of the best athletes with the size to compete in the division are off making way more money playing football or basketball.

I'm not so sure either of these fighters tonight has what it takes to make it to the top of the division, but either could be a good addition.

Caio Machado is a Brazilian-born former law school student who moved to Canada to pursue an MMA career. Not a single part of that sentence makes sense to me. But it's worked for him to the tune of a 7-1-1 pro record.

However, that record is lined with tomato cans for him to crush, and it's hard to base much on his results.

Szaflarksi is 11-1 against a somewhat tougher level of competition. He has a solid grappling game with multiple wins via north-south choke and a heel hook on his record. He appears to be the overall more skilled fighter here, though Machado has the athletic edge.

I'm expecting a somewhat sloppy heavyweight fight here. Both men are better grapplers than strikers. Additionally, Szaflarski has gone to a decision against arguably his two best opponents, suggesting he's happy to control fights from the top.

I like the over in this bout, especially if your book offers an option of 1.5 rounds – or plus-money for over 2.5 rounds.

The Lean: Kevin Szaflarski vs. Caio Machado over 1.5 rounds (-139 at BetRivers)

Bantamweight: Payton Talbott (-155) vs. Reyes Cortez (+130)

Reyes Cortez is getting a second chance in the Contender Series, following a unanimous decision loss to Christian Rodriguez in 2021. That fight looks a lot better in retrospect given Rodriguez's UFC success since Cortez was able to out-grapple Rodriguez at times.

Cortez has picked up two more wins since his last appearance, stretching his overall record to 7-2 as a professional. At age 31, he's a bit long in the tooth for the Contender Series, but he should be nearing his athletic prime.

Payton Talbott is 5-0 as a professional with an impressive run as champion of Uriah Faber's A1 combat. All five of those victories were by knockout with the 24-year-old relying primarily on his athletic gifts to get the job done.

He's been a professional for less than two years, and his amateur career dates back to only 2018.

Cortez should have the grappling ability and experience to survive the striking onslaught, though, and I'll always take underdogs with grappling edges.

Talbott has the brighter long-term future, but I expect Cortez to be the better fighter tonight.

The Bet: Reyes Cortez (+135 at Caesars)

Flyweight: Victor Dias (-395) vs. Kevin Borjas (+280)

This is the third opponent for the 8-1 Kevin Borjas, who had one opponent jump the line directly into the UFC and another drop off the card due to visa issues.

Despite that, he's still the biggest underdog on the slate against 11-2 Victor Dias.

Dias is a training partner of flyweight champion Alexandre Pantjoa, with Pantoja on record that Dias would be a top-10 UFC fighter right now. The Titan FC flyweight champ has fought relatively tough opposition to get here, and he is riding a five-fight winning streak.

I wasn't able to find anything about either man to make me question the efficiency of the odds here, so I'll probably be staying away.

I was hoping we'd get a juicy plus-money line on under 2.5 rounds, but alas, opening markets set the total at 1.5 with the over/under both at -115 to -120.

The Pick: Pass

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