UFC 291 Props: MMA Prop Squad Picks for Dustin Poirier, Derrick Lewis, Tony Ferguson and More
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier
Welcome to the latest edition of MMA Prop Squad, in which we offer an array of UFC 291 prop bets with oversized odds for Saturday's event.
Each Prop Squad installment features a handful of picks from our squad of prop-betting enthusiasts, who have tallied +24.7 units and an 11.6% ROI per bet to date.
This week marks the return of squad members Liam Heslin, Dan Tom, Clint MacLean, Billy Ward and Bryan Fonseca.
Check out their UFC 291 prop picks for Saturday's event, which streams on ESPN+ PPV from Delta Center in Salt Lake City, below.
As with all betting endeavors, always wager within your means. That guidance is especially important when dealing with prop bets. Although the props often offer tantalizing odds, they also cash far less frequently than standard bet types. And be sure to shop around for the best price since prop odds can vary substantially depending on the sportsbook.
Liam Heslin: Roman Kopylov vs. Claudio Ribeiro Ends via Submission (+1100)
Contributor at The Action Network and host of Liam Picks Fights
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:25 p.m. ET
This is a striker vs. striker matchup, but I still think it is too volatile a fight to hang a price this wide on Roman Kopylov vs. Claudio Ribeiro ending via submission.
At +1100 odds, you expect to throw out more tickets than you cash, but let's examine why I believe we are getting a good price: 58% of middleweight fights end inside the distance on average, and this fight is expected to end ITD at -275 (73.3%). UFC middleweight fights have a historical "ends via sub" rate of 18%.
Sharp sportsbooks are pricing Kopylov to win via submission at +1200 (7.7%). Riberio is being priced at +1800 (5.3%). This means if we combined their sub equity on sharp markets, it would be about 13% – or equivalent to +669.
Kopylov was submitted in his first UFC loss. However, since moving to Dagestan, he has looked better in his wrestling and grappling technique.
Riberio, meanwhile, was submitted in his professional debut on the Brazilian regional scene.
Both of these men are primarily strikers, but I see three possible paths to a submission here: a "club and sub" for either fighter, an altitude-fueled cardio collapse that leads to a submission, or one fighter using his takedown and passing skills to go for a submission rather than a KO once on the mat.
Both men have question marks with their grappling, but as we saw in their last fights, they've got a willingness to pursue takedowns and ground control.
The odds on this submission prop are just too wide.
Dan Tom: Michael Chiesa by Submission (+400)
Contributor at The Action Network and host of the Protect Ya' Neck podcast
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 9:55 p.m. ET
For this week's Prop Squad submission, I decided to target UFC 291's main-card opener between Kevin Holland and Michael Chiesa.
I'm a fan of both fighters, but I haven't been a fan of the inflated odds that Holland has traditionally received since dropping down to welterweight.
Holland is the more active fighter, so I'm not surprised to see him favored in this spot. That said, I believe that Chiesa has some key ingredients to pose stylistic problems as an underdog.
Although Holland's right hand will be live in this open-stance affair, his record against southpaws (6-2-1) can be deceiving given that losses and controversial fights involved grapple-heavy fighters.
Not only is Chiesa a grapple-first fighter, but his improved striking and takedown entries off of counters will likely come in handy considering that Holland – even when having an opponent hurt – will crowd himself into grappling scenarios.
Couple that with Holland's propensity to expose his back standing and turtle to his base in bad positions, and I believe that Chiesa by submission is more than worth a sprinkle if you can find it anywhere around +400 odds.
Clint MacLean: Tony Ferguson by Round 2 KO (+3400), in Round 3 (+3900)
Contributor at The Action Network and host of the Die Hard MMA Podcast
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 10:25 p.m. ET
On Saturday at UFC 291, we're going to see Tony Ferguson come back to the cage as he finally faces an opponent who is at an appropriate level of competition.
Ferguson's last five opponents were Nate Diaz (170 pounds), Michael Chandler, Beneil Dariush, Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. It doesn't get harder than that.
Bobby Green is a smaller 155er who is 36 and 2-4-1 in his last seven fights. If there is an appropriate fighter in the UFC whom Ferguson might be able to fight successfully, it's Green.
The weakness we have seen from Ferguson in recent fights has really been a combination of his inability to defend takedowns from the best wrestlers in the division and power punchers. Green is neither of those.
Green has been knocked out four times in his career, and his most recent bout was a no-contest in which he was arguably losing the striking to Jared Gordon, who is primarily a wrestler.
If Green is losing striking exchanges to Gordon, I believe that even this version of Ferguson is live in this fight.
If we get treated to one last ride with Tony Ferguson, his whirlwind of knees and elbows has been known to cause cuts that can end fights, and he was one good follow-up shot away from knocking Michael Chandler out cold in the first round of their fight.
Ferguson is live to take over this fight and get a late stoppage. Split your bet in half, and let's also count on Green to stay out of trouble in Round 1 and look for a score.
Billy Ward: Derrick Lewis by Round 1 KO (+440)
Staff Writer at The Action Network
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 10:55 p.m. ET
This was not a spot where I thought I’d be looking to bet Derrick Lewis. The UFC’s all-time knockout leader has lost three in a row with the last two fairly one-sided affairs at the hands of Sergey Spivak and Sergei Pavlovich.
That is, until I saw Lewis at the weigh-ins. He showed up for this one in tremendous shape, sporting the hint of a six-pack for the first time that I can remember.
While I’m not normally one to base betting decisions on aesthetics, I think it’s relevant here for Lewis. He has a reputation for not spending much time in the gym, relying on his natural athleticism and legendary power to make up for his lack of preparation.
The physical transformation here is an indication that might be different this time around, as that wouldn’t happen without a ton of hard work. While I don’t think being visually in shape matters much, it’s certainly a sign of a refocused Derrick Lewis.
This is also a big step down for him in competition, with his last three losses all coming against top-10 fighters. Against lesser competition like Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Lewis was an unstoppable knockout machine for quite some time.
Naturally, it’s hard to see Lewis winning by anything other than a knockout here. He offers little in the way of offensive grappling, and de Lima should be the better minute-winner even in striking exchanges.
I’m fine with betting Lewis by knockout at +250, but for the sake of the Prop Squad let’s make it in Round 1.
If it happens, it is likely to be early in the fight. Physique improvements notwithstanding, I don’t have much faith in Lewis’ cardio, especially in the high elevation of Salt Lake City.
Bryan Fonseca: Dustin Poirier in Rounds 3-4 (+650)
Contributor at The Action Network and combat sports host and on-air talent
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 11:55 p.m. ET
This rematch is going to be too explosive to go to distance, but in that same breath, these guys are too durable to get put out right away.
I think the worthy long-shot sprinkle lies within Rounds 3-4 for whomever you think will win this fight, and for me, it's Dustin Poirier, who is just the better fighter.
Poirier stopped Justin Gaethje in Round 4 during their 2018 encounter, which was Fight of the Year for many. Before that, Gaethje was knocked out by Eddie Alvarez in Round 3. Of his two losses, those are the only two by KO, and both were in this range.
The other two losses were by submission and in Rounds 1-2, respectively – and much more recent – but expect Poirier to trade from the feet more than Khabib Nurmagomedov or Charles Oliveira.
Poirier choked out Michael Chandler in Round 3 of his last fight, and I'll roll with him to again stop Gaethje, in Round 3 or 4, as my realistic long-shot play.
I think the BMF title is mostly corny, but if I were going to have two guys fight over it – with the idea of the winning and getting a title shot next – it'd probably be Poirier and Gaethje.
The Pick: Dustin Poirier to win in Rounds 3-4 (+650 at DraftKings)