UFC 288 Luck Ratings: The Undervalued Fighter to Bet Before It’s Too Late (Saturday, May 6)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images. Pictured: UFC women’s strawweight Jessica Andrade of Brazil
Let’s look into some mispriced betting lines for UFC 288: Sterling vs. Cejudo on Saturday and see which fighters are overvalued and which are undervalued heading into the 12-fight event.
UFC 288 takes place at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The early preliminary card and regular prelims stream on ESPN+ beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. PT), and the main card is available via ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 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
Aljamain Sterling (-113) vs. Henry Cejudo (-113)
Aljamain Sterling may be one of the luckiest fighters, in the UFC, at least based on his recent results. He won, and twice defended, the UFC bantamweight title with a DQ win (in a fight he was losing), a close split decision that went his way, and a TKO via injury against T.J. Dillashaw. That last fight is particularly hard to evaluate as there’s no way to know how he would’ve performed against a healthy Dillashaw.
In Sterling’s defense, he lost back-to-back split decisions early in his UFC career, giving him officially a losing record in non-unanimous decisions. Those probably weigh much less heavily on the UFC 288 markets, though, as they took place more than six years ago.
Henry Cejudo is another puzzle. The biggest factor at play for him is his three-year “retirement” prior to this fight. At his peak, he was nearly unbeatable, with a 10-2 UFC record. One of those losses was a split decision, and the other was to unquestioned flyweight GOAT Demetrius Johnson.
Cejudo is 2-1 overall in UFC split decisions, though, so it’s entirely possible his double-champ status never would’ve come to fruition if even one judge saw a round differently.
All things considered, both fighters have run a bit better than expected throughout their career, but the far bigger factor is any potential ring rust on the Cejudo side. Cejduo also did the bulk of his best work at flyweight, not bantamweight, while Sterling is massive for the division. All things considered, Sterling has been “luckier,” but it’s close – and I’m still leaning in his direction for other reasons.
Verdict: Fairly Valued (Mostly)
Gilbert Burns (-138) vs. Belal Muhammad (+108)
This fight came together on just a few weeks’ notice with the (alleged) promise of a title shot to the winner. Both men have been at the top of the division for a long time with Gilbert Burns already having a crack at former champ Kamaru Usman and Belal Muhammad yet to receive a title shot despite his eight-fight winning streak.
Muhammad has the well-earned reputation of a boring grappler looking to win fights by stalling his way to decisions. He shattered that expectation in his last fight, starching fellow grappler Sean Brady with a second-round knockout.
BELAL TEED OFF AND FINISHES BRADY AT #UFC280 😱 pic.twitter.com/Ks2j6dyyH9
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) October 22, 2022
Overall, Muhammad is 13-3-1 in the UFC with a 10-2 record in decisions. Just one of those was a split, and it was back in 2017. He was losing his fight against Leon Edwards, however, before an Edwards eye-poke ended things early.
Burns is 15-5 in the UFC, with a 7-3 record in fights that saw the judges’ cards. Remarkably, not a single one was a split decision. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, “He is what his record says he is.” Of course, that record was built against the best of the best in multiple divisions while keeping a very busy schedule.
The bigger factor here is the short-notice nature of this fight, especially considering the difficulties in making weight. Muhammad, who is Muslim, is also dealing with the disruption to his diet during Ramadan, which ended just two weeks ago. Burns is also a former lightweight, and he should have an easier time on the scales.
For that reason, I’d say Burns is a bit undervalued here, but it will be important to see how Muhammad looks on the scales Friday afternoon.
Verdict: Burns Undervalued (But Wait)
Jessica Andrade (-200) vs. Xiaonan Yan (+154)
Jessica Andrade somehow already has 23 UFC fights under her belt with a solid 15-8 record. Unique to female fighters, only nine of those have gone to a decision, with Andrade 7-2 when the judges get involved. She’s an even 1-1 in split decisions.
The record doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Andrade has fought in three different weight classes in the UFC, debuting all the way up at bantamweight, where she went 4-3. Since dropping to the lighter weight classes, all of her losses have come against current or former champions – with the exception of a short-notice fight against Erin Blanchfield. Blanchfield will be champion soon enough that the last sentence is rendered useless anyway.
This one is back at 115 pounds, where Andrade is a former champion and at her best.
Slams, head shots, body shots, barrages, two arm chokes, one arm chokes … Jessica Andrade Fight Week is here! pic.twitter.com/5BdTUoBRNO
— RJ Clifford (@RJcliffordMMA) May 1, 2023
Xiaonan Yan has far less UFC experience, with a 7-2 record including eight decisions. The only stoppage was a loss, and she’s 1-1 in split/majority decisions. I thought her majority win over Mackenzie Dern was a gift from the judges for what it’s worth.
It’s hard to say so about a -200 favorite, but the last-minute fight against Blanchfield has Andrade undervalued here. We’ll look for more creative ways to bet on her once prop markets open up, but betting on her now makes sense too. Especially at bet365, where she’s still -175.
Verdict: Jessica Andrade Undervalued (on bet365)
Mosvar Evloev (-290) vs. Bryce Mitchell (+215)
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Bryce Mitchell has been forced out of this bout for undisclosed reasons and has been replaced by Diego Lopes.)
This line has already moved considerably toward Mosvar Evloev, with Bryce Mitchell opening around +150 for this rebooking from last November. Both men were undefeated when this fight was originally put together, but an Evloev injury derailed the fight. Mitchell went on to face Ilia Topuria instead.
Topuria finished Mitchell in the second round, but Mitchell claimed he was sick for the fight and would’ve turned it down but needed the money. Given the UFC fighter pay and the fact that he just had a fight canceled, that’s at least a plausible excuse.
All told, Mitchell’s 6-1 in the UFC, with a 4-0 record in decisions (no splits).
Evloev is 6-0 in the UFC, with each of his fights going to a decision. Just one was a split: his win over Nik Lentz that Evloev took on somewhat short notice. That’s notable here, though, since Mitchell was originally booked opposite Jonathan Pearce, with Evloev filling in a few weeks ago.
If we believe Mitchell about the fight with Topuria – and I do – then both men have virtually identical UFC resumes. While Evloev is the deserving favorite here, the line has gotten a bit out of hand at certain books. Let’s get greedy and see if it moves any further before making a bet though.
Verdict: Mitchell Undervalued
Kennedy Nzechukwu (-184) vs. Devin Clark (+142)
These massive light heavyweights have drastically different styles. Kennedy Nzechukwu is a pure finisher, with four of his five UFC victories coming inside the distance, and a 1-1 record when it hits the judges. The decision loss was a split – but also the right call.
On the other hand, Devin Clark is 1-6 in UFC fights that end early, with his only finish win coming against a completely gassed William Knight at heavyweight. He’s 7-1 when going the distance, however, with all of them unanimous.
That finishing upside makes the moneyline about right since I’d rather bet on the fighter who can win definitively.
Kennedy Nzechukwu with the ground-and-pound TKO 👊 #UFCVegas58pic.twitter.com/jpthsqqvX3
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) July 9, 2022
However, this early prelim is a perfect fight on which to bet both sides: Nzechukwu inside the distance (or “finish only”) and Clark on points.
Those lines aren’t up yet, but I’d be thrilled if I could get them both at plus-money – or the Clark side at long enough odds to cover the juice I lay on Nzechukwu.
Verdict: Bet Nzechukwu By Finish, Clark Decision
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