Best Bets and Odds for UFC Contender Series Week 3: Take Underdog in Main Event (Tuesday, August 22)

Best Bets and Odds for UFC Contender Series Week 3: Take Underdog in Main Event (Tuesday, August 22) article feature image

Amy Kaplan/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: MMA middleweights Eli Aronov and Zachary Reese

Contender Series Week 3 is back for another Tuesday night, and we've got picks for all four bouts, in which UFC hopefuls look to earn their way into the UFC octagon proper.

Season 7 Episode 3 of Contender Series streams on ESPN+  at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) from the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas with new events every Tuesday night through early October.

As with all UFC Contender Series events, some of tonight's DWCS winners – and even some of the losers – could earn a UFC deal. In fact, the Contender Series events have become one of the UFC's primary feeder systems.

UFC President Dana White is cageside for each show, and after each event, the UFC boss determines which fighters have earned an official UFC contract.

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.

(On Monday UFC officials canceled a bout between flyweights Felipe dos Santos and Luciano Pereira after the latter couldn't weigh in due to a medical issue. So, Contender Series Week 3 continues with a four-fight lineup.)

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

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* Odds as of Monday afternoon and via DraftKings

Contender Series Week 3 Odd and Picks

Middleweights: Eli Aronov (+145) vs. Zachary Reese (-170)

Fighter walkouts: Approx. 9:25 p.m. ET

The Week 3 main event features undefeated middleweights Eli Aronov against Texan Zacahry Reese.

Reese is a Fury FC prospect, with the Texas promotion sending yet another fighter to the Contender Series cage. Reese is 5-0 as a professional with three of those bouts in Fury.

All five of Reese's bouts were first-round stoppages with four knockouts and one submission. That means we have fairly limited tape on Reese; he finished his last fight (against a 5-10 opponent) in less than a minute.

Reese is a tall, long southpaw who maintains range well with kicks, but he isn't afraid to get inside and throw heavy punches either. He's not especially fast or snappy with his strikes, but he loads up with big swings to produce power.

Reese's lone submission win was the result of countering an opponent's shot with a guillotine – rather than initiating offensive grappling himself.

Aronov is a short, stocky grappler whose 5-foot-10 frame carries plenty of muscle for the division. "The Israeli Tank" is 6-0 with three finishes, but he also has a history of competing in professional grappling competitions. Prior to that, he competed in judo and wrestling at the national level as well.

In Aronov's last fight, he fought a tall, long southpaw with a similar frame to Reese. Aronov did a good job staying out of striking range until he exploded into the pocket, where he was able to secure takedowns fairly easily.

This is the first of a few "striker vs. grappler" matchups on the card, and I'm siding with the grappler at plus-money. With Aronov appearing to have a significant athletic edge and Reese replacing takedown defense with guillotines, I don't think Reese can keep this standing as long as he'll need it to.

The Bet: Eli Aronov (+145 at Caesars)

Welterweights: Kaik Brito (-185) vs. Oban Elliott (+150)

Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:55 p.m. ET

Oban Elliot is another Cage Warriors prospect attempting to make the jump to the UFC. While not a champion of the promotion, Elliot was close with a four-fight winning streak heading into his stateside debut.

Elliot is 6-2 as a professional with the entirety of his career taking place under the Cage Warriors banner. That's a fairly encouraging sign; the level of competition is reasonably high there.

Unlike many regional promotions, Cage Warriors matchmakers also shy away from padding promising fighters' records. In Elliot's last bout, he picked up a unanimous decision win over a 6-2 opponent, for example.

Elliot showcased solid striking in that bout with a fairly traditional offering of boxing mixed with the occasional leg kick. He really took over with his grappling, though, with the speed and explosiveness enough to overcome a lack of setups behind his shots.

Elliot trains with UFC featherweight Jack Shore in Wales, so we can trust his preparation and training to a degree here as well.

Kaik Brito is the more experienced fighter and has a 16-4 record amassed in various Brazilian and Eastern European promotions. His level of competition leaves much to be desired, though he did fight future UFC competitor Mateusz Rebecki in 2019.

Brito is a dynamic and dangerous striker – with Rebecki able to finish him with strikes on the ground.

This boils down to a striker-vs.-grappler matchup with the underdog Elliot likely to have an edge at least with the wrestling. Given the binary nature of the fight, I like the under 2.5 at -166, but I'll be mixing in a bet on Elliot's moneyline at +150 as well.

The Bets: Under 2.5 (-166 at DraftKings) | Oban Elliot (+150 at DraftKings)

Women's Strawweights: Isis Verbeek (+230) vs. Josefine Lindgren Knutsson (-285)

Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:25 p.m. ET

Two former kickboxers are attempting to make the jump to the UFC with Isis Verbeek taking on Josefine Knutsson.

Verbeek is officially 3-1 in professional MMA but has a wide variety of combat sports experience. Besides kickboxing and MMA, she's also competed in bare-knuckle MMA, boxing and old-school shoot fighting.

While she's primarily a striker, she does have one win via rear-naked choke and has been competing in mixed-rules bouts of some form since 2014.

On the other side, Knutsson is the more decorated kickboxer, but she has less depth of overall experience. However, she's training with the All-Stars MMA camp in Sweden, home of excellent grappler Khamzat Chimaev among many others.

Knutsson is the deserving favorite here based on camp alone. I trust that group to have her prepared in the grappling department.

Given her likely superior striking skills, that makes it hard to see a path for Verbeek.

On the other hand, I'm not laying -285 on a low-level Contender Series fight. Instead, I'll take this one to go to decision with Knutsson as the winner. Knutsson via decision it is.

The Leans: Josefine Lindgren Knutsson by decision (-110 at bet365)

Featherweights: Luis Pajuelo (+170) vs. Robbie Ring (-200)

Fighter walkouts: Approx. 7:55 p.m. ET

The opening bout features two featherweight prospects who've shown plenty of promise in their early career but against a very questionable level of competition.

Virginia's Robbie Ring is a perfect 6-0 in his professional career, but outside of a win over UFC veteran Jacob Kilburn, he has fought extremely low-level opponents. His last fight was against a debuting fighter, as are three of his six pro wins.

Kilburn is hardly UFC level himself, going 0-2 with the promotion and then losing two more regional fights before the matching with Ring.

Ring trains at his family's gym in Virginia, where he's a black belt in "combat jiu-jitsu" under his father. He's also the only pro fighter listed on their team, so I doubt he's pushed much in practice either. He showed very strong submission skills on tape, but he looked fairly uncomfortable on the feet during the limited exchanges there.

Ring's wrestling ability will be the key to this matchup since Pajuelo is an aggressive, all-action striker. The tape I saw on Ring wasn't promisin with him getting taken down by the debuting fighter in his last bout, and securing takedowns on Kilburn only when Ring was able to catch kicks.

From the little tape available on Pajuelo, he's somewhat limited defensively on the feet but more than willing to take a shot to give one. He also showed fairly strong takedown defense in his last bout, an encouraging sign here. He's far more battle-tested as well, having made his pro debut against a 7-4 opponent and defeating a 13-2 fighter in his last bout.

Ring has the brighter future here at age 23 and with the more impressive skill set, but he's not ready for the UFC. He's been far too protected by his manager-parents, who've paved a very smooth path to his 6-0 record.

I'm going with the more proven commodity Pajuelo here at plus-money – and considering a sprinkle on his knockout prop when those are available.

The Bets: Luis Paujelo (+170 at Caesars) | Paujelo by KO (+330 at DraftKings)

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