Picks, Odds & Projections for UFC 257: Zerillo’s Betting Card for Saturday’s 11 Fights (Jan. 23)

Picks, Odds & Projections for UFC 257: Zerillo’s Betting Card for Saturday’s 11 Fights (Jan. 23) article feature image
  • Looking for value on a fight for UFC 257? How about value on every fight?
  • Sean Zerillo uses his crowdsourced model to break down every bout on Saturday's PPV card.
  • Here's everything you need to bet tonight's UFC action, including projections, analysis, odds and picks.

The UFC concludes its return to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi with 11 fights, beginning on Saturday with two early-preliminary bouts on UFC Fight Pass at 7 p.m. ET, before moving to ESPN at 8 PM for four additional prelims, followed by five fights on the PPV card at 10.m. ET.

In the main event, Conor McGregor returns to the Octagon against Dustin Poirier in a rematch of their UFC 178 bout, which McGregor finished by TKO in under two minutes.

If you are new to this piece, or this sport, note that 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 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 for each fight below.

UFC Fight Night Moneyline Projections and Picks

Below, you can find my fair odds moneyline projection for each of Saturday’s 11 bouts. In the next section, you’ll discover forecasts for those fights to finish inside the distance or for each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission.

UFC Fight Night Prop Projections and Picks

In addition to creating a crowdsourced projection for moneyline plays, I also collect data on each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission — which enables us to determine fair odds for each fight to go the distance or for each fighter to win inside of the distance.

Odds as of Friday and via BetMGM

UFC 257 Picks

Early Preliminary Card

  • ESPN+
  • 7 p.m. ET
[Click to Skip to Main Card]

Flyweight fight: Amir Albazi vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

Odds
Albazi odds -105
Zhumagulov odds -118
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -250/+200

Crowdsourced Projections: (Albazi 52%)

I bet Zhumagulov in his UFC debut against veteran Raulian Paiva and took a tough beat on the scorecards — 16-of-20 media members, and 77% of fans scored the bout for the native of Kazakhstan, but Paiva won by unanimous decision (29-28).

Zhalgas has a ton of black class – with wins over Tagir Ulanbekov and Tyson Nam on the Russian regional scene – but he’s not particularly athletic for Flyweight and has a bit of an awkward fighting style, leading to a lot of close decisions.

He possesses power and throws haymakers – so there could be some wild moments in the standup. Still, Albazi’s wrestling should be the advantage that leads to a greater chance of racking up control time and securing minutes or finding a submission in this contest.

I project this fight to go all 15 minutes at a high clip (projected 75%), and I would bet that prop up to -233 (implied 70%), at a five percent edge relative to my projection.

Both men offer fair value in the market to win by decision, but it’s difficult to choose a side in a likely split decision.

Bets: 

  • Fight Goes the Distance (-210, Risk 1.05u)

Catchweight fight: Nik Lentz vs. Movsar Evloev

Odds
Lentz odds +375
Evloev odds -550
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -275/+225

Crowdsourced Projections: (Evloev 86%)

Lentz was supposed to face Mike Grundy last week but will now face the man who beat Grundy last time out, undefeated Russian Movsar Evloev.

At age 36, I’m no longer hyper-confident in Lentz’s overall durability, though Evloev — who possesses a 4-inch reach advantage — has proven to be more of a point fighter.

He is also 10 years younger than his opponent, and when there is a double-digit age gap between UFC competitors, the younger fighter has won 65% of the time at average odds of -145 (implied 59%), or about 6% more frequently than expected.

While Lentz has developed his skillset beyond grinder status over the course of his career, his subpar takedown defense (45%) should present major openings for Evloev (three takedowns per 15 minutes, 33% accuracy) to maintain control if he wants to wrestle.

Furthermore, the Russian should have an even larger edge on the feet, where he has proven extremely difficult to hit (65% strike accuracy) while out-landing his opponents by a wide margin (+1.68 significant strike differential per minute).

I show value both on this fight to go the distance (projected -367, listed -250) and on Evloev to win by decision (projected -220, listed -145 at BetMGM, but would prefer to play his decision line to -176 (implied 63.8%) at a five percent edge relative to my projection.

Bets: 

  • Evloev to win by Decision (-150, Risk 1u)


Preliminary Card

  • ESPN
  • 8 p.m. ET

Light Heavyweight fight: Khalil Rountree Jr. vs. Marcin Prachnio

Odds
Rountree Jr. odds -350
Prachnio odds +270
Over/Under 1.5 rounds +135/-160

Crowdsourced Projections: (Rountree 84%)

I show value on three plays here: Rountree’s moneyline, Rountree to win inside the distance, and for the fight to end inside the distance.

Prachnio has suffered three consecutive first-round losses in the UFC – I had assumed he was cut after the most recent loss in August. Meanwhile, three of Rountree’s four UFC wins are by first-round knockout, and he recorded four knockdowns in a decision over Eryck Anders.

Formerly 300-plus pounds, Rountree is known to gas out, but when given time and space to operate and let his heavy hands fly, he can put opponents away with ease.

Stylistically, this seems like a slam dunk for Rountree, but if his heart isn’t fully in this after considering retirement, or if he has taken any step back on the heels of a 16-month layoff, then Prachio (11 first-round victories) could seize upon the opportunity.

I’m not keen to bet Rountree inside the distance at -220, even with a projected line close to -334. I would rather dabble with some Rountree in a moneyline parlay or look to play his Round 1 prop at even money.

For now, my best bet on this fight is the Under 1.5 rounds, which I like to -200.

Bets: 

  • Under 1.5 Rounds (-175, Risk 1u)
  • Rountree to win in Round 1 (+100, 0.25u)

Women’s Bantamweight fight: Julianna Pena vs. Sara McMann

Odds
Pena odds +110
McMann odds -130
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -225/+180

Crowdsourced Projections: (McMann 55%)

Relative to the other overs or distance props that I’m betting on this card, I’m slightly less confident about this play, which I have projected at -300 (implied 75%) to go the distance, relative to listed odds of -190 (implied 65.5%) in this matchup.

19 of the 30 professional fights for these two bantamweights have ended inside the distance, including 11 of their 18 combined UFC bouts.

But stylistically, these wrestlers could neutralize one another on the mat, leading to some fun grappling exchanges.

McMann, a former Olympic silver medalist, should be able to land takedowns with relative ease (2.39 per 15 minutes, 46% accuracy) against Pena (28% takedown defense), but holding “The Venezuelan Vixen” down will be the more difficult and important task, as Pena should have the edge on the feet.

Both fighters are known for mental lapses and making low-IQ decisions in the octagon, so it’s hard to trust either one on the decision line despite slight projection value (for both fighters).

Pena would be my lean – given that she is nine years younger (expected 65% win rate on age alone), but I’ll play the distance prop up to -200, with trepidation.

Bets: 

  • Fight Goes the Distance (-190, Risk 1u)

Middleweight fight: Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior

Odds
Tavares odds -135
Junior odds +110
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -185/+150

Crowdsourced Projections: (Tavares 52%)

The question in this fight is whether Junior (“ACJ”) can secure takedowns (3.7 landed per minute on 44% accuracy%) and either finish the fight or win the first ten minutes before gassing out. Five of his seven UFC wins have come by rear-naked choke.

The Brazilian has shown questionable stamina in the past, and this could be a difficult matchup against a fighter like Tavares, who offers solid takedown defense (77%).

The Hawaiian has the striking edge, maintaining a higher pace (+1.09 strikes per minute) at a superior differential (+0.26 to -0.07 per minute). Still, ACJ is the longer fighter (five-inch reach advantage).

Tavares by decision (projected +156) is listed at a fair number (+160), and I would consider a small bet on that prop, but I prefer to bet Tavares live after Round 1 and wouldn’t rule out a late finish given ACJ’s cardio concerns.

Bets: 

  • Bet Tavares live after Round 1


Catchweight fight: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Matt Frevola

Odds
Tsarukyan odds +475
Frevola odds -715
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -200/+145

Crowdsourced Projections: (Tsarukyan 88%)

This matchup was created at the last minute – as the opponents for both men dropped off Saturday’s card.

Tsarukyan also missed weight, but it’s worth a reminder that fighters who miss weight still win at a 48% clip, just about as often as their average odds suggest (+103).

It appears that Tsarukyan has now opened as a massive favorite for this matchup, and I don’t necessarily disagree with the market. Frevola had a path to victory over his originally scheduled opponent in the second and third rounds – while Tsarukyan should overwhelm him for a full 15 minutes.

A line so steep implies that a finish is likely, but I show Tsarukyan winning this matchup by decision 72% of the time (implied odds of -257), and I would likely bet that prop to -203 (67%) at a five percent edge when the market opens.

Bets: 

  • Tsarukyan to win by Decision (-130, Risk 1u)

Main Card

  • PPV
  • 10 p.m. ET

Women’s Strawweight fight: Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas

Odds
Rodriguez odds +260
Ribas odds -350
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -225/+185

Crowdsourced Projections: (Ribas 77%)

I always promise to be upfront about any potential biases, and Amanda Ribas – a rising star in the strawweight division – falls firmly into that category; I am a fan.

Fortunately, I don’t see any betting angle worth playing on this fight, and I don’t have to justify either taking up a position on Ribas or passing on a bet against her.

Rodriguez is stepping in on short notice for Michelle Waterson – and late replacements carry just a 38% win rate in the UFC, but her striking acumen (5.05 strikes landed per minute, 50% accuracy) is superior to Ribas’ – and she should have a major edge on the feet if Ribas doesn’t get the fight to the ground (2.28 takedowns landed per 15 minutes, 54% accuracy).

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, she’s not particularly adept off of her back, so if the black-belt judoka does take her for a ride, she’s likely to remain there for the duration of the round.

As a result, it’s hard to pick against Ribas in this spot – if she sticks to a grappling heavy gameplan, she should win minutes with ease and cruise to her fifth consecutive win with the promotion.

Bets: 

  • Pass

Middleweight fight: Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov

Odds
Sanchez odds +115
Muradov odds -143
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -150/+112

Crowdsourced Projections: (Muradov 65%)

Muradov – who fights under Floyd Mayweather’s banner with The Money Team, will hope to extend his 13-fight winning streak against Sanchez – who flattened Wellington Turman with a first-round knockout back in August:

Sanchez is known for gassing later in fights and showed much more aggression in that outing. Still, he’ll likely need to deploy his wrestling against Muradov (2.16 takedowns per 15 minutes, 32% accuracy), who has denied all three takedown attempts he has faced with the promotion.

Muradov is active enough (4.97 strikes landed per minute) on the feet to wear Sanchez down, and I think his defensive wrestling checks out to the point where I’m not particularly worried about him being ragdolled or dominated on the mat on first entry.

If he survives early, I believe that Muradov will begin to look like a massive favorite in this spot. I see slight value on the fight to end inside the distance (projected -124, listed -110) and for Muradov to win inside the distance (projected +122, listed +165), but Sanchez has shown durability until late in fights (both UFC knockout losses in Round 3), and I’m not interested in that sweat.

I prefer Muradov on the moneyline up to -163 (implied 62%), a three percent edge compared to my projected odds (65%).

He seems to have a substantially higher ceiling as a fighter, and I’m expecting to see improvements after a one-year layoff.

Bets: 

  • Makhmud Muradov (-140, 1u)

Women’s Flyweight fight: Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood

Odds
Eye odds +100
Calderwood odds -120
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -350/+270

Crowdsourced Projections: (Calderwood 46%)

It’s interesting to see Calderwood both favored and come out as a favorite in the projected odds – Eye has seemingly fought against a higher level of competition and has far more haters than fans.

But Calderwood is the more versatile offensive striker and maintains a higher volume (6.17 to 3.65 strikes landed per minute) of strikes. She is also much more efficient (+1.86 strikes landed per minute, +12% accuracy, -6% defense) in terms of her overall offense.

Eye should be the better grappler and likely the more technical boxer, but wrestling hasn’t been a huge part of her game (0.4 takedowns landed per 15 minutes, 45% accuracy). Unless she changes her approach for Calderwood, I do expect JoJo to finish with more significant strikes.

In the past, Eye has drawn scorn for a boring style, which has led to 11 of her 13 UFC bouts going the distance, and I project this fight to go the full 15 minutes 87% of the time.

While I have yet to place a bet on that distance prop, in theory, I would like it up to -335, at a ten percent edge relative to my projection.

I prefer the Over 2.5 as a parlay piece, but I may lay the juice and bet the distance prop at -320.

And while both fighters offer slight value to win by decision, it’s difficult to pick a side in this fight.

Bets: 

  • Parlay: Over 2.5 with Zhumagulov/Albazi Over 2.5 and Lentz/Evloev Over 2.5 (+149, 0.5u)

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Lightweight fight: Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler

Odds
Hooker odds -130
Chandler odds +110
Over/Under 2.5 rounds -120/+100

Crowdsourced Projections: (Hooker 63%)

Visually, Chandler seems like a well-rounded contender who is immediately ready for a Lightweight title shot. Still, he’s also 35-years-old, has shown cardio and durability concerns, and is technically a UFC debutant facing an octagon veteran (43% win rate for debutants).

While the late-career UFC jump has worked for some fighters (Alexander Volkov), other supposed stars (Ben Askren) have failed to find immediate success when making the past-their-prime move from the regional scene.

While Chandler offers the best wrestling that Hooker has ever faced, Hooker’s power is an equally new test for Chandler’s chin, as the Kiwi looked sharp in the early stages against Dustin Poirier (winning the first two rounds) and doesn’t have to worry about five rounds of output in this upcoming matchup.

His takedown defense (79%) will obviously be put to the test, and Chandler will hope to set traps and fire off power shots once Hooker starts over-committing to his low guard.

But Hooker can time Chandler’s entries into the pocket – he’s much longer (four inches taller, four inches of reach), and Chandler rarely fires off combinations.

While Chandler is the better athlete, Hooker is much more technical and creative. Expect to see some power knees up the middle – an offensive way to defend Chandler’s takedowns.

He’ll also look to fire his calf kick to try and slow Chandler down, though that kick could leave him exposed to takedown opportunities. If Hooker is landing that kick with consistency, it’s hard to imagine Chandler finding success.

But if Hooker struggles to deal with Chandler’s explosive movements and top control in the first two rounds, he’ll be too far behind on the cards and stuck looking for a late finish.

Hooker’s odds to win inside the distance (projected +152) offer slight value, and Hooker live after Round 1 looks like a solid angle. Still, I’m taking “The Hangman’s” moneyline up to -150, at a three percent edge compared to my projection (63%).

Bets: 

  • Dan Hooker (-140, 1u)
  • Hooker to win Inside the Distance (+180, 0.25u)

Lightweight fight: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier

Odds
McGregor odds -300
Poirier odds +240
Over/Under 1.5 rounds -134/+100

Crowdsourced Projections: (McGregor 72%)

As we approach fight night, the line on McGregor continues to widen, going from a consensus figure of -240 (implied 70.6%) to -300 (implied 75%) for the first time on Jan. 19, and now further still (data per Sports Insights):

It’s not uncommon to see McGregor become a more substantial favorite after opening lines are released – as the most public fighter on the planet attracts a ton of casual interest.

While some Conor haters are happy to run to the window to bet against him every time – regardless of expectations – plenty more bettors who don’t regularly engage with MMA are hitting McGregor’s knockout prop, win in Round 1 prop, and win inside the distance prop.

Additionally, as a substantial favorite, Conor gets tied into plenty of parlays as well; imagine all of the books that will be sweating McGregor/Chiefs and McGregor/Packers parlays this weekend.

All of that being said, I would have to suspect that the line skews even more heavily towards McGregor by fight time – and if you wait, you might be able to get a better price on Poirier.

Is that something that you WANT to do, however? My minimum target price on Poirier would be +300 (implied 25%), a three percent edge compared to my projection (28%) – but I would still be hesitant to pull the trigger at that number.

To be very clear — there is no McGregor fanboy in me — I am quite agnostic here; I try to be clear when I have any bias I may be betting on or against.

And while both men have made massive strides as fighters in all areas of their game since their first encounter in 2014 (McGregor closed -280) — and have each held world titles since — I don’t see the rematch playing out in a drastically different manner:

If you’re betting on the Poirier side, you’re banking on Dustin 1) being the larger man; 2) being the better grappler; 3) showing improved durability; 4) having the better gas tank.

Poirier’s stamina is no better than McGregor’s – he was winded in the championship rounds against Dan Hooker in June – and he has continually been clipped early in his fights. While Poirier was able to survive against Hooker, McGregor carries a different level of power – and Dustin doesn’t have the offensive wrestling to tire him out.

McGregor’s defensive grappling (70% takedown defense) has come a long way – surviving for four rounds against Khabib (denied four of seven takedown attempts) and Poirer’s entries (1 of 7 on takedowns vs. Hooker) aren’t in the same stratosphere as the Russian. Even if Poirier does get Conor down, I don’t think he will keep the Irishman down for long.

I suppose Poirier is the better offensive grappler, but Conor is far better defensively.

While Poirier has fought in the 155-pound division longer, McGregor has rebuilt his physique for lightweight (he looks freaking jacked) and carries a two-inch reach advantage. He should be both the longer and stronger man.

And he’s a master on the feet – the above knockout of Poirier, and many of his other in-cage executions in recent years were planned assaults. Mystic Mac isn’t merely predicting his first-round knockouts – these aren’t just guesses.

McGregor’s 20 finishes (of 22 wins) – all in the first or second round – are largely the product of intense preparation; studying his opponents’ tendencies, and developing a plan of attack:

McGregor is coming into this bout stronger than ever, and Poirer – who just absorbed 155 significant strikes from Dan Hooker, isn’t good enough defensively (54% strike defense) to avoid McGregor’s early wrath (5.43 strikes landed per minute, 49% accuracy).

Overall, I don’t think that this is a good matchup for Poirier, but I also don’t see value on either moneyline or any bets in the winning method market.

I projected McGregor to win inside the distance at odds of -184 (64.8%), which seems to be the most likely outcome, but I prefer the value on the Under 2.5 rounds up to -200.

I have this fight ending inside the distance 82.9% of the time, implied odds of -485, and each of McGregor’s finishes has occurred in the first or second round.

That’s when Poirier is typically at his most vulnerable (absorbed 99 significant strikes against Hooker in two rounds). Still, it also gives us the out if McGregor falls into a guillotine or breaks his leg kicking Poirier in the head.

Bets: 

  • Under 2.5 Rounds (-190, Risk 1u)


Distance or Decision Props and Overs

  • Albazi/Zhumagulov, Fight Goes the Distance (-210, 0.5 units)
  • Evloev to win by Decision (-150, Risk 1u)
  • Tsarukyan to win by Decision (-130, Risk 1u)
  • Pena/McMann, Fight Goes the Distance (-190, Risk 1u)
  • Parlay: Caldwerwood/Eye Over 2.5, with Zhumagulov/Albazi Over 2.5, and Lentz/Evloev Over 2.5, (+149, 0.5u)

Inside the Distance Props and Unders

  • Rountree/Prachnio, Under 1.5 Rounds (-175, Risk 1u)
  • Rountree to win in Round 1 (+100, 0.25u)
  • Hooker to win Inside the Distance (+180, 0.25u)
  • McGregor/Poirier, Under 2.5 Rounds (-190, Risk 1u)

Moneylines

  • Makhmud Muradov (-140, 1u)
  • Dan Hooker (-140, 1u)

Live Betting Notes

  • Brad Tavares live after Round 1

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