UFC 291 Luck Ratings: 4 Undervalued Fighters to Consider Betting Now (Saturday, July 29)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC welterweight Michel Pereira of Brazil
Let’s look into some mispriced lines for UFC 291 betting on Saturday and see which fighters are overvalued and which are undervalued heading into the big pay-per-view event.
UFC 291 takes place at Delta Center in Salt Lake City, with elevation expected to be a factor on fight night. Following the early preliminary card on ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET) and regular prelims on ABC/ESPN (8 p.m. ET), the five-fight UFC 291 main card streams on ESPN+ PPV beginning 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.
* UFC 291 odds as of Tuesday and via FanDuel
Dustin Poirier (-162) vs. Justin Gaethje (+126)
This fight is a rematch of a 2018 classic that saw Dustin Poirier finish Justin Gaethje in the fourth round of a wild brawl. In the ensuing five-plus years, Poirier has been undefeated except when fighting against the lightweight GOAT Khabib Nurmagomedov or former champion Charles Oliveira.
Since losing to Poirier, Gaethje has defeated everyone he's fought – except Nurmagomedov and Oliveira.
Both fighters have also improved a ton since their first meeting, with both having held the (interim) lightweight belt for a brief run since then. Both have also had wins over Michael Chandler in that span, with Poirier picking up a third-round finish and Gaethje winning a convincing decision.
The BMF belt is back on the line TOMORROW 🏆
— UFC (@ufc) July 28, 2023
The point of all of this is to highlight the similarities between the pair. Remarkably, neither of them has a single split decision on his record, and the only "fluke" outcome for either of them was Poirier's win over Conor McGregor that saw McGregor's leg snap. That was a rematch, though, of a fight Poirier dominated just six months prior.
All things considered, I could see a case for saying that this line should be a bit closer given all the similarities. However, the data on rematches more or less justifies Poirier's favoritism.
Additionally, with this line having been posted for weeks at this point, I'd say it's been hammered mostly into shape.
Verdict: Fairly valued
Jan Blachowicz (-122) vs. Alex Pereira (-104)
This is another fight in which "luck" isn't quite the right word, but it's a bit more interesting from an "external factors" standpoint. The most important being Alex Pereira's move up to the 205-pound division after losing the middleweight title to longtime foe Israel Adesanya.
Normally, I tend to fade fighters who make the jump between these weight classes specifically since the 20-pound difference between is significant. It's the biggest jump between any two divisions, and we saw how much the size mattered when Adesanya came to 205 against Jan Blachowicz.
This isn't one of those times, though: Pereira is massive. He dwarfs plenty of heavyweights when pictured together, with massive hands and huge power as well. I actually expect him to be the physically stronger of the pair, especially with Blachowicz now on the wrong side of 40.
— danawhite (@danawhite) July 28, 2023
Additionally, this fight is being contested at elevation, and Blachowicz lost the fifth round 10-8 in his last fight after winning the first three rounds. Pereira won the middleweight title with a fifth-round knockout of Adesanya, and he has impressive cardio for a man of his size.
While it's only a three-round fight, this should favor Pereira the longer it goes. He's undervalued here, but I'll be waiting for various prop markets to open up – that way we can get a juicier line of him in the later rounds.
Verdict: Pereira undervalued
Stephen Thompson (-174) vs. Michel Pereira (+136)
(Editor's note: After Michel Pereira missed weight by three pounds during Friday's weigh-ins, his fight with Stephen Thompson was canceled and pulled from the UFC 291 lineup.)
"The Wonderman" Stephen Thompson has been a UFC mainstay for more than a decade now, making his promotional debut way back in 2012. He'll be making his 2023 debut on Saturday after finishing Kevin Holland last December in one of 2022's best fights.
It was a weird fight, though, with Holland winning the opening round but breaking his right hand somewhat early in the fight. Thompson took over from there, but it's hard to say if he would've done so against a fully healthy Holland. Holland also took a bizarre gameplan into the fight, wrestling infrequently despite his obviously hindered standup.
Prior to that, the now-40-year-old Thompson had lost consecutive fights, though there's no shame in being bested by Gilbert Burns or Belal Muhammad.
Pereira is riding a five-fight winning streak dating back to 2020, and he has looked much better since limiting some of the acrobatics and fighting more traditionally in recent fights. His last win was a semi-controversial split decision with Santiago Ponzinibbio. None of the three judges had the same scorecard, so it's easy to find fault with any or all of them, but I do believe Pereira showed himself as the better overall fighter that night.
More importantly, Pereira is more than 10 years younger than Thompson, and he has shown improvements every trip to the octagon. We can't say the same about Thompson at this point in his career.
This line has already shifted toward Pereira after he opened around +170. However, I'd be more than happy grabbing any of the +145 lines still available for Pereira. Act fast before those are gone too.
Verdict: Pereira undervalued
Matthew Semelsberger (-215) vs. Uros Medic (+164)
The last time we saw Matthew Semelsberger, he lost a hotly contested split decision against one of the best welterweights around, Jeremiah Wells. Prior to that, all of his UFC bouts ended definitively, with two knockouts to his credit and a 3-3 record in decisions.
Wells was a big step up in competition for Semelsberger, but he'd fought other reasonably tough competition in the past. The same can't be said for Uros Medic, who has two wins against bottom-of-the-barrel lightweights, as well as a stoppage loss to Jalin Turner.
While I won't hold the loss against Turner against him, we haven't seen Medic with any amount of success against anyone even remotely close to Semelsberger's level. Medic is also stepping up a weight class here and taking this bout on short(ish) notice, neither of which is a good sign.
Unfortunately, much of the value has been sucked out of the market by odds movement in the last day or two. However, I'd still take Semelsberger at his current price, especially the -205 on DraftKings.
Verdict: Semelsberger undervalued
Miranda Maverick (-350) vs. Priscilla Cachoeira (+255)
Miranda Maverick is stepping up on somewhat short notice for this one after Priscilla Cachoeira's original opponent Jojo Wood withdrew due to injury. That makes this line even more curious since, generally, it's the short-notice fighter who gets lined as a massive underdog.
Of course, it's not exactly a surprise as to why. Maverick will likely have a massive grappling edge here while also being the more technical striker of the pair. Cachoeira's nickname is "Zombie Girl" for a reason – that being her ability and willingness to march through strikes while hunting for her own.
That's not a great long-term plan, but it does make her a fighter worth betting on as a big underdog. Maverick isn't much of a finisher, and Cachoeira has a huge power edge. Maverick is also coming off of a loss just over a month ago, and she could very well struggle to keep her cardio up in the Salt Lake City elevation.
While I expect this line to tighten up a bit by fight time, I much prefer waiting for the prop market before placing a bet. Cachoeira by knockout is the preferred long-shot option, but "finish-only" props – with which the bet is voided if it goes to a decision for either fighter – are also a solid choice.