UFC 302 Predictions & Luck Ratings: 4 Undervalued Fighters to Bet Early (Saturday, June 1)

UFC 302 Predictions & Luck Ratings: 4 Undervalued Fighters to Bet Early (Saturday, June 1) article feature image

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier

Check out our early UFC predictions for this Saturday, June 1, with our UFC 302 Luck Ratings.

After a week off for the holiday weekend, the UFC returns with UFC 302: Makhachev vs. Poirier from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  Saturday's preliminary card is available on ESPN+ (6:30 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 (8 p.m. ET) before the ESPN+ PPV main card at 10 p.m. ET.

In the UFC 302 headliner, fan favorite Dustin Poirier gets another shot at the undisputed UFC lightweight title when he meets reigning champion Islam Makhachev.

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 in which one fighter holds most of the finishing upside.

Here are my UFC 302 early preview and betting picks.

*UFC 302 odds as of Monday and via DraftKings. Bet on UFC 302 with our DraftKings promo code

UFC Vegas 92 Predictions & Luck Ratings

Islam Makhachev (-625) vs. Dustin Poirier (+455)

UFC 302 is headlined by an interesting title fight. Dustin Poirier is getting one more shot at the undefeated title that has eluded him throughout his career, but it comes against the world's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in Islam Makhachev.

The good news for Poirier is that Makhachev has yet to defend his title against a fellow lightweight, and outside of his title win over Charles Oliveira, he's largely fought weaker competition than Poirier on his way to the top. The bad news is the Khabib Nurmagomedov protege has looked nearly unbeatable along the way.

Poirier lost to the stylistically similar Khabib in 2019, and he's now five years older and presumably on the downswing of his career. It doesn't look great for Poirier, as indicated by the lopsided line.

However, at these prices, I like Poirier, for two reasons. One is that I expect public money to come in on the fan favorite throughout the week, creating a potential arbitrage opportunity.

The other is that UFC 302 is the debut of the new, much lighter UFC gloves. Those should result in more knockouts and favor strikers over grapplers to an extent. Poirier has big power, so his chances of landing the big shot are higher thanks to the new equipment.

Verdict: Dustin Poirier Undervalued

Sean Strickland (-238) vs. Paulo Costa (+195)

There are tons of factors we could dive into in the co-main event between former middleweight champion Sean Strickland and social media star/silly little guy Paulo Costa.

Costa was once the UFC's most drug-tested athlete. He walks around with a bottle of water labeled "secret juice" while looking incredibly shredded. To say that he might benefit from the lack of stringent drug testing in this post-USADA era is a bit of an understatement.

Strickland is either a journeyman middleweight who had one strong night against an unprepared Israel Adesanya, or he should still be the champion but got robbed by the judges, depending on your perspective.

Crucially, Strickland is 3-2 over his last five fights, but both losses were split decisions. The title-dropping fight against Dricus du Plessis was razor close with roughly half of media members scoring the fight for Strickland.

Assuming he's dialed in and motivated here, Strickland should be the better fighter on Saturday. His line has dropped considerably already, but he can still be bet at BetMGM at -210, which is a playable price for me considering he's moved from -185 all the way to -238 at DraftKings.

Verdict: Sean Strickland Undervalued (BetMGM only)

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Randy Brown (-175) vs. Elizeu Zaleski (+145)

This fight is about as perfect from a Luck Rankings standpoint as I've ever seen. It has it all: Controversial decisions, an aging fighter, and even some MMA math!

The underdog Elizeu Zaleski comes in off a majority draw against Rinat Fakhretdinov. Zaleski was down 2-0 on the scorecards before a late flurry earned him a 10-8 round on two judges' cards, but he lost far more minutes than he won in that fight. His last win was also a split decision against Abubakhar Nurmagomedov.

He's also 37 and is likely to be in decline as he nears the end of his UFC run.

Finally, he has a split decision loss to Muslim Salikhov in 2020 – the same Muslim Salikhov that Brown just knocked out.

This line is moving quickly toward Brown, who opened -155. Grab the -175 on DraftKings as soon as possible because it will close at an even bigger number.

Verdict: Randy Brown Undervalued

Jake Matthews (-162) vs. Phil Rowe (+136)

Jake Matthews has alternated wins and losses over his last six bouts with wins over Darrius Flowers (0-2 UFC record), Andre Fialho (2-5 UFC record, now on a five-fight losing skid) and Diego Sanchez (38-year-old former lightweight completely divorced from reality).

Anytime Matthews has fought someone in or near the UFC rankings, it's gone poorly for him, with recent losses to Sean Brady, Matthew Semelsberger and Michael Morales.

Rowe fits more comfortably in the second group than the first with a three-fight winning streak (all via KO) snapped by a split-decision loss to the always-tough Neil Magny.

Rowe is also the more powerful puncher with knockouts in all of his UFC/Contender Series wins. Which means the new gloves should only further benefit him.

I like Rowe here, though the line has moved in both directions depending on the sportsbook, so it's probably not one you have to rush to bet right away.

Verdict: Phil Rowe Undervalued

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