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UFC 286 Luck Ratings: Undervalued and Overvalued Fighters to Bet Now (Saturday, March 18)

UFC 286 Luck Ratings: Undervalued and Overvalued Fighters to Bet Now (Saturday, March 18) article feature image

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images. Pictured: UFC women’s flyweight Casey O’Neill

Let’s look into some mispriced betting lines for the UFC 286 pay-per-view event on Saturday and see which fighters are overvalued and which are undervalued heading into the event.

UFC 286 takes place at The O2 Arena in London. The main card streams via online PPV at a special time of 5 p.m. ET (ESPN+ PPV) following preliminary-card fights on ESPN+ (12:30 p.m. ET) and ESPNews/ESPN+ (3 p.m. ET).

One of the first “aha!” moments I had in gambling (generally, not just MMA) was to start thinking about why markets might be wrong, rather than just trying to predict what I think will happen.

At its core, that’s what a betting line is: a market where we can “buy” or “sell” events happening. For the most part, these markets are efficient, with the “price” eventually reflecting the true odds of the event.

While this is less true in MMA – where there are far more information asymmetries than in major markets like the NFL or NBA – it’s still broadly (and increasingly) the case. Therefore, to beat the markets over the long term, we need to figure out spots where they’re wrong.

That’s the point of this piece. Inspired by our NFL “Luck Rankings,” I’ll be looking into spots where variance has favored one fighter more than another, causing the line to be inefficient. The biggest input will be split and/or controversial decisions, with short-notice fights, fights that are later overruled, fluke injuries, and out-of-weight-class fights considered, as well.

The focus will be on fights reasonably likely to see the scorecards here, or where one fighter holds most of the finishing upside.

* Odds as of Tuesday and via FanDuel

Kamaru Usman (-260) vs. Leon Edwards (+196)

This is a trilogy fight between Kamaru Usman and new champ Leon Edwards, made necessary by Edwards’ Hail Mary head-kick knockout in their recent second meeting. Both fighters have 20 professional wins, with just two losses for Usman and three for Edwards.

Each owes one of those losses to the other but has been nearly unbeatable otherwise. Usman’s only prior loss was in his second professional fight, when he suffered a submission back in 2013. Edwards’ previous losses are Usman, a split decision to Claudio Silva, and a DQ prior to his UFC tenure.

Of course, with those losses so far in the rearview mirror, they aren’t big factors to the betting line.

The biggest factor is Edwards’ KO victory in their last meeting. Usman closed anywhere between -315 and -380 for that one, but he’s currently as low as -240.

I’m not here to argue that a perfectly executed head kick from Edwards was lucky – but that doesn’t mean it’s repeatable. Usman was dominating the fight until that point, and he was within a minute from coasting to another title defense.

Nothing about that fight up to that point gave any indication that Edwards is the better fighter, so it’s curious to see the lines shift this heavily. Therefore, Usman is a bit of a bargain here based on the somewhat fluky ending to the last one.

Verdict: Edwards Overvalued

Gunnar Nelson (-430) vs. Bryan Barberena (+300)

Gunnar Nelson was originally slated to fight Daniel Rodriguez here, but an injury forced Rodriguez off the card. In steps the always-game Bryan Barberena on a couple weeks’ notice.

Nelson is 9-5 in the UFC, though he has just one fight in the last three-and-a-half years. (Much of the time off was apparently due to injuries sustained while grappling “The Mountain” from Game of Thrones.) He finished seven of his nine UFC wins, all via submission.

Of his five losses, Nelson was finished just once, and two of those losses were split decisions. Both decision wins were unanimous, and he came close to finishing Takashi Soto numerous times in his most recent bout.

He’s an extremely high-level grappler who once beat the much larger Jeff Monson in an ADCC match at the tender age of 21. That’s no small feat.

Barbarena has made a career of taking fun fights against aging legends, with his last three bouts coming against Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown and Rafael dos Anjos. He’s 9-7 in the UFC with a 1-1 record in split or majority decisions. The win was against Brown, and it was a fairly generous decision for Barberena.

It’s hard to say a -400 favorite is undervalued here, but it just might be the case. I won’t be laying the moneyline, but keep an eye on submission or finish props for Gunnar as the week goes on.

Verdict: Nelson Undervalued (Submission or Finish Props)

Casey O’Neill (-192) vs. Jennifer Maia (+148)

“King” Casey O’Neill is an undefeated (9-0) pro fighter, with four of those wins coming in the UFC octagon. Three of those nine have come inside the distance – an impressive rate for the women’s flyweight division.

The lone outlier was her last bout, a split-decision win over Roxanne Modafferi. That’s not super confidence-inspiring, given the Modafferi was 4-8 in the UFC and the fight against O’Neill was her retirement bout.

With that said, watching the fight back, it looked like a pretty clear decision for O’Neill. The only disputed round was the first, with two judges siding with Modafferi. However, O’Neill outstruck her nearly two-to-one in that round, and neither fighter landed a takedown.

Jennifer Maia is a more pedestrian 5-5 in the UFC, though she’s fought stiffer competition than O’Neill. Nine of those 10 bouts went to a decision, with the lone exception a stoppage win over Joanne “JoJo” Wood. Remarkably, none of her UFC decisions were split, though she does have a split decision win in her pre-UFC career. Ironically, it came against Modafferi.

All things considered,  not a ton of “luck” for either fighter here since the only split decision in question went the correct way. Still, O’Neill seems a bit undervalued here. She’s more than a decade younger and has all of the finishing upside. Additionally, this feels like a fight booked to showcase O’Neill. Maia has already had a crack at the title while O’Neill is the hometown fighter getting a push from the promotion.

Verdict: O’Neill Undervalued (Inside the Distance or Finish-only Lines)

Marvin Vettori (-295) vs. Roman Dolidze (+220)

The main-card opener features former title contender and top-five mainstay Marvin Vettori looking to fend off the surging Roman Dolidze.

Vettori is 8-4-1 in the UFC with two of his losses coming to former champ Israel Adesanya, and one to another former champion in Robert Whittaker. His only loss that hasn’t aged well came against Antonio Carlos Junior in 2016. He also has a draw against Omari Akhmedov, though one judge gave him the win.

Vettori has finished just one of his UFC wins – while never being finished himself. One of his losses to Adesanya was a split decision, which is impressive given Adesanya’s dominance at the time. Notably, he took the third round on all three scorecards in that fight.

Dolidze is 6-1 in the UFC with four finishes, plus a split and unanimous decision win. His lone loss was a decision as well. Notably, he’s lost the final round in two of his three bouts that went the distance.

Based on his superior finishing ability, Dolidze is a bit undervalued early. However, his cardio is a major concern against Vettori. While the moneyline is fairly priced, look to play Dolidze early/inside the distance while hedging with Vettori live or by decision.

Verdict: Dolidze Undervalued Early, Vettori Undervalued Late

L’udovit Klein (-174) vs. Jai Herbert (+136)

Jai Herbert is another English fighter getting a home game here as he takes on Slovakia’s L’udovit Klein. Herbert is 2-3 in his UFC career with all three losses via finish. His two wins include a decision and a knockout.

Herbert’s last two fights came against fighters who primarily compete at featherweight but stepped up to lightweight for the matchup. It seems like the UFC has been trying to do him some favors, with both of those fights also taking place in the U.K. That’s worth noting here as Herbert won’t have as much of a size edge against natural lightweights.

Klein has a 3-2 UFC record with three of those (two losses) going to decision. His lone decision win was a split, though I thought he fairly clearly won the fight when watching it back. He started the third round (that ultimately went against him) very strong before losing it down the stretch – but he was fighting for the second time in seven days.

All things considered, both fighters’ records fairly accurately tell the whole story. What stands out here is the line on FanDuel. Klein is as high as -200 on other books with nobody else offering better than -180. That makes the FanDuel line (-174) a bit of an outlier, so he’s undervalued there.

Verdict: Klein Undervalued On FanDuel

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