UFC 290 Luck Ratings: The Undervalued Fighters to Bet Now (Saturday, July 8)
Paul Kane/Getty Images. Pictured: UFC light heavyweight Jimmy Crute of Australia
Let’s look into some mispriced betting lines for Saturday's UFC 290 pay-per-view event and see which fighters are overvalued and undervalued heading into the 13-bout card.
UFC 290, which also marks the celebration of the annual "International Fight Week," is one of the biggest events on the UFC's calendar. It's a star-studded show with a stacked fight card from top to bottom.
The UFC 290 preliminary card is available via ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass (6 p.m. ET) and then ABC and ESPN (8 p.m. ET). The UFC 290 main card then streams via ESPN+ PPV (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 in which 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 Ratings,” 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 Monday and via FanDuel
Alexander Volkanovski (-400) vs. Yair Rodriguez (+285)
This isn't usually something that factors into my analysis of UFC lines, but I'm taking a different approach to this one. Let's talk about how lucky Yair Rodriguez is to even be fighting for a title on Saturday.
Rodriguez has just three fights in the last three and a half years or so. The first of those was a one-sided loss to Max Holloway. While there's no shame in that – Holloway has dominated everyone other than Alexander Volkanovski – Holloway does have three losses to the current champ. Next, Rodriguez fought Brian Ortega, who suffered a freak shoulder injury just one round into the fight.
We can debate whether Rodriguez caused that injury or not by way of the armbar he was attempting (I'd argue he didn't, since arm bars attack the elbow joint), but Ortega was likely winning that round. Then, Rodriguez became interim champ with a submission win over Josh Emmett, who himself wasn't really deserving of the title shot.
On the flip side, Volkanovski was nearly a two-division champ, with a razor-close loss to Islam Makhachev. Outside of Holloway, none of his featherweight fights were even remotely close. He deserves every bit of his -400 odds, and then some.
I'm not sure I'm willing to lay that price myself, but he's a worthwhile parlay sprinkle at the very least. As is often the case, he'll probably finish with even longer odds.
Verdict: Volkanovski undervalued
Brandon Moreno (-200) vs. Alexandre Pantoja (+154)
Brandon Moreno is the rare UFC champion with two separate stints in the UFC after being released. The second trip around has been more successful for him to say the least, with a 6-1-2 record in that timeframe.
Nearly half of those fights were his tetralogy with Deiveson Figueiredo. Both of his wins were via stoppage – though one was from the doctor between rounds – while his loss and draw both went to decisions. Moreno has one other split decision in his recent UFC stint, another draw against Askar Askarov.
Alexandre Pantjoa is 9-3 in the UFC, with all three losses coming via unanimous decision. He too lost to Figueiredo, with a loss to Askarov in that span as well. His wins have been fairly definitive, though, with six stoppages and no split decisions.
The more relevant point here is the prior meetings between these two. Pantoja bounced Moreno in the first round of The Ultimate Fighter 24, and it was a loss to Pantoja that saw Moreno briefly cut from the promotion. The first meeting was officially an exhibition bout, but for all intents and purposes, this is a trilogy fight.
There's not a ton of data on trilogies in which the same fighter won each of the first two fights – for obvious reasons. This piece includes a few notable instances, though. Of the fights listed, there are seven examples of trilogies in which the same fighter won the first two meetings, with that fighter going 5-2. Throw in Volkanovski vs. Holloway (the third fight happened since that story's publication), and that record goes to 6-2.
It's hard to see why this one would be any different, especially with both fighters reasonably close in age. Pantoja is as high as +170 in the market.
Verdict: Pantoja undervalued
Robert Whittaker (-400) vs. Dricus du Plessis (+285)
Another of my least favorite kind of fight to handicap: an elite veteran who has only lost to the best of the best, fighting an up-and-comer who's demolished lesser competition. Obviously, Robert Whittaker is the former in this pairing.
He's 9-4 in the UFC with the first two losses coming nearly a decade ago and in a different weight class. The latter two losses both came to current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. None of his wins has even been particularly close outside of his second fight against Yoel Romero in 2018.
The lack of finishes from Whittaker is a bit concerning, though. It's been more than six years since he finished a fight, opting instead for a safer high-volume but low-impact approach.
Which is the polar opposite method of Dricus du Plessis, who has finished four of his five UFC bouts. They've come against an ever-increasing level of opposition, including most recently Derek Brunson. While that's still nowhere near the level of Whittaker's competition, he's passed each successive test with flying colors.
Whittaker's track record makes him a more-than-deserving favorite here – but not at the lines we're seeing on Tuesday. Still, it's probably best to wait until we can bet some method of victory props on "DDP" since he probably needs a knockout to win this one.
Verdict: Du Plessis undervalued
Jimmy Crute (-120) vs. Alonzo Menifield (-106)
This is an interesting matchup since it's an immediate rematch of a fight that went to a draw back at UFC 284. That fight was a clear 29-28 for Alonzo Menifield – except he lost a point for some blatant fence-grabbing in the third round.
There's more to the story, though, as Jimmy Crute was taking over down the stretch after a rough first two frames.
Menfield's suspect cardio was a major factor in that, as was some potential ring rust from Crute. That was his first fight in more than a year – time that was spent recovering from a fairly significant knee injury.
Normally when the previous fight was a draw and the fighter who lost a point is an underdog, that would be a clear sign for the dog. However, in addition to the ring rust and injury factor, Crute is also more than eight years younger. The stats on age gaps between fighters are pretty significant, and it's pretty likely Crute is still getting better while Menifield peaked some time ago.
Menifield actually opened as a slight favorite here, so the line is already swinging Crute's way. I suspect it continues to do so, making now the time to jump on Crute's moneyline.
Verdict: Crute undervalued
Niko Price (-295) vs. Robbie Lawler (+220)
We all should know the cardinal rule of MMA betting by now: Never bet on retiring fighters. That's Robbie Lawler, who at 41 will be closing out his professional MMA career after more than two decades of competition.
Lawler has just one win since 2017, against a similarly-aged Nick Diaz who clearly didn't want to be there. Price is 7-6 in the UFC with six of those wins by finish – and with a reasonably tough schedule over his last handful of bouts.
The bigger reason to mention this bout is that BetMGM has hung an off line on Monday, opening up at -250, which is still available on Tuesday.
That line certainly won't last, and I doubt Niko Price will be available at less than -300 or so by the end of the week.