Contender Series Week 3 Odds, Picks, Projections: Any Value With 30-1 Favorite and NCAA Champ Bo Nickal? (August 9)

Contender Series Week 3 Odds, Picks, Projections: Any Value With 30-1 Favorite and NCAA Champ Bo Nickal? (August 9) article feature image

Hunter Martin/Getty Images. Pictured: MMA fighter Bo Nickal

This week’s episode of Dana White's Contender Series (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) features five bouts, but Tuesday's event was built around one man.

His name is Bo Nickal, and he's one of the most transcendent American wrestling talents to make the leap into professional mixed martial arts.

Tonight at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nickal is a massive favorite. Is there value to be found, though?

Let's look at that matchup and the rest of the Contender Series Week 3 card. (And don't forget that you can track your DWCS bets in the Action App.)

Lightweights Bo Nickal vs. Zachary Borrego

Nickal secured three NCAA Division I national championships as part of the legendary Penn State Wrestling dynasty before committing himself to being the best fighter in the world.

Nickal is only 1-0 as a professional, but don’t let that fool you. He has grappled with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts on multiple big stages, wrestled against the best competitors on the planet, and sparred with UFC-level fighters from American Top Team such as Jorge Masvidal and Rodolfo Vieira.

His opponent, Zachary Borrego, shows an impressive 3-0 record as a pro. However, he's fought a very poor quality of competition, so those are the kind of fights you are “supposed” to win as an up-and-coming fighter.

Borrego had his first amateur fight in December 2020. He ascended to the pros after accumulating a 3-3 record as an amatuer with two losses via stoppage (one via KO and one via submission – both in the first round). To his credit, Borrego has won most of his bouts by KO (only one amatuer submission), and against his most experienced opponent (4-8 Tommie Briton), he gritted out a 15-minute decision.

Watching his fight tape, Borrego does appear to be a green fighter with some holes in his wrestling defense, as well as his defensive hand placement and head movement.

Some fights strike you as a setup fight for one side; this fight is one such case. Nickal is being given an opponent whom the UFC expects may test him in the standup without throwing him into the deep end of the pool as a 1-0 prospect.

The UFC understands that Nickal has the potential to be a star because of his charisma, his talent, and his prebuilt fan base as one of the most popular domestic wrestlers of the past 20 years. However, if you read this breakdown and thought to yourself, I have to run and bet on Bo Nickal, think again.

Nickal opened as a -300 favorite and has been relentlessly bet to a market average of -2500 (96.2%), including -3000 at Caesars. Even the method-of-victory markets have been crushed to a large extent, with the Nickal by KO prop sitting at -240 (70.6%), followed by Nickal by submission +225 (30.8%), and lastly followed by Nickal by decision +700 (12.5%).

If you want to fade the hype on Nickal, you are in luck. Borrego on the money line can be had for as high as +2400 (4%) offshore while the average pricing at U.S. books is around +1300 (7.1%). Borrego’s method-of-victory props all pay 20-1 or more. According to bookmakers, Borrego to win via submission +4000 (2.4%) is the least likely outcome.

Although it's hard to see much value with these inflated lines, I do like the "Under 1.5 Rounds" total bet at -250 odds. This covers a potential shocking upset from Borrego and also offers more expected value than betting Nickal to win in the first round. However, I'd hesitate to take odds any worse than -250.

Prediction: Bo Nickal def. Zachary Borrego via knockout (left hook) – Round 1

The Bet: Under 1.5 Rounds (-250 at DraftKings)

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Heavyweights: Jamal Pogues vs. Paulo Renato Jr.

Besides the main event, Tuesday's event offers several other fights that should be fun and more competitive (on paper), beginning with the co-main event between Jamal Pogues and Paulo Renato Jr.

Pogues is a BJJ brown belt who won at a 2019 Contender Series event, but he was unable to secure a contract.

Pogues has gone 1-1 since that loss, tapping out in the fourth round of an LFA title fight with Alex Polizzi before securing a unanimous-decision win over Tim Hiley to get him back in the win column. That being said, he has not fought professionally since September 2020, so he may be shaking off some ring rust early in this bout.

Pogues has fought the more well-known and talented roster of fighters, including Alex Polizzi (5-0), Marcos Brigagao (11-0), Jordan Young (8-0), Kyle Noblitt (9-0) and Taylor Johnson (0-0 at the time, featured on DWCS). His amatuer record also lists two wins over current UFC heavyweight Jared Vanderaa. Despite moving up from 205 pounds to the heavyweight division, Pogues seems to have relevant experience fighting in both weight classes.

If you thought Pogues' back-and-forth career from light heavyweight to heavyweight was something to behold, enter Renato Jr., a virtual unknown with minimal fight tape and a record that leaves more room for questions than answers.

In March 2017, he competed for Warrior Grand Prix Fighting at welterweight (170 pounds). After a four-year hiatus from the sport, he reemerged as a heavyweight fighter in July 2021. He rattled off three wins in 2021 (pro MMA), as well as a few local boxing/kickboxing matches that don’t appear on his Tapology page.

Renato Jr. doesn’t look like he is necessarily well-sized for the heavyweight division, but he seems to have solid enough cardio and some knowledge of jiu-jitsu off his back (with a submission win via guillotine from his guard at 170 pounds). He can be seen on his social media training with the likes of Parana Vale Tudo, Infinity Fight Team, Gracie Baja and more.

If this fight stays on the feet, I think it will be highly competitive and may favor the cardio of the lighter athlete in Renato Jr. However, I think the more proven, developed mixed martial artist at this time is Pogues (-300), and I suspect he will mix his strategy up and try to exploit his advantages on the ground.

Oddsmakers are pricing Pogues to win inside the distance at chalk, but they are shading toward his KO line +150 (40%) rather than his submission line +550 (15.4%) despite the fact that Renato Jr.'s only loss is via submission and Pogues has secured one of his five finishes (20%) via submission.

I think if you want a sneaky prop, backing Pogues – the larger athlete with more jiu-jitsu experience – to win by submission at greater than 5-1 (+500) is a +EV situation long-term.

However, I also couldn't fault you for taking a flier on Renato Jr., especially if his moneyline odds (+260) get any wider.

Prediction: Jamal Pogues def. Paulo Renato Jr. via submission – Round 2

The Bet: James Pogues Wins Via Submission (+550 at DraftKings)

Featherweights: Anvar Boynazarov vs. Erik Silva

Anvar Boynazoarov comes to us from the world of kickboxing with a feather already firmly placed in his cap; he holds a win via split decision over ranked UFC fighter Giga Chikadze at Glory Kickboxing 23 in August 2015.

After an up-and-down career in kickboxing, Boynazarov decided to pursue MMA much like his former adversary. He's now rattled off three straight wins via first-round KO over a level of competition that leaves a lot to be desired. This week's fight with Erik Silva represents far and away his biggest step up in competition as a professional mixed martial artist.

Silva, on the other hand, is unproven for different reasons: He has dominated the Latin American regional scene since 2016, suffering only one defeat – via rear naked choke in the third round of his second professional fight.

Since then, Silva has accumulated seven straight victories, including two decisions, one knockout, and four first-round rear-naked chokes. Silva is extremely aggressive in looking to close down distance, get on top of his opponents and open up with strikes, and passing to create back-take opportunities.

This is an incredible booking by the UFC because it pits two dynamic, fun stylists together. If Boynazarov uses footwork and takedown defense to keep the fight upright, he will be extremely dangerous and could be the first man to knock out Silva.

On the other hand, we saw what happened to Giga Chikadze when he arrived at the Contender Series with too little experience; Austin Springer exposed him with a rear-naked choke. Boynaroz will meet the same fate against Silva if he is not extremely careful.

Silva (-140 at Caesars) is a modest favorite in this bout, but my only suggested play is betting Silva inside the distance if it reaches plus-money before fight time.

Result: Erik Silva def. Anvar Boynzarov via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1

The Bet: Erik Silva Inside the Distance (if it reaches +100 or better); Otherwise, Pass

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Flyweights: Clayton Carpenter vs. Edgar Chairez

Speaking of fascinating fights with great matchmaking, we have a similar treat awaiting in the flyweight division. Clayton Carpenter appears to be the real deal Holyfield; he has power in his hands, dynamic combinations, powerful wrestling, well-schooled grappling, and an intensity that jumps out at you while watching this young man compete.

In fact, Carpenter has never tasted defeat as a professional, but he did drop a split decision to DWCS alumni Junior Cortez as an amateur in 2016.

Carpenter’s past two professional bouts failed to last a combined minute. He dispatched Rodney Kealohi with a first-round KO via head kick in 13 seconds after tapping Nick Clem with a kneebar in 45 seconds seven months earlier.

Carpenter needed a step up in competition, and “Pitbull” Edgar Chairez is more than happy to bring him that challenge. Chairez shows three losses as a professional, but all have aged well, meaning the fighters he lost to have gone on to have winning records and regional-level success.

The problem for Chairez in this matchup is that his best skills are standing. He has nasty low calf kicks, solid punching mechanics, good finishing instincts, and a solid chin. The difficulty is that his takedown defense is somewhat suspect, and he has twice lost via submission to other regional-level Latin American fighters.

Carpenter, who's a healthy -350 favorite (77.8%), will have to mind his Ps and Qs in this matchup since Chairez is game, well-conditioned, and an intense competitor. However, skill for skill, I expect Carpenter to be superior, to get takedowns when he wants them, and to eventually find his way to a submission or decision victory over a tough Chairez (+310).

As for a bet, I like Carpenter to win inside the distance, which is available at -135.

Prediction: Clayton Carpenter def. Edgar Chairez via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 2

The Bet: Carpenter Wins Inside the Distance (-135 at DraftKings)

Women's Strawweights: Karolina Wojcik vs. Sandra Lavado

If there were two fighters who made it clear they don’t like one another, it was Sandra Lavado and Karolina Wojcik at the face-offs for this card.

Lavado is a bit of a slickster. She likes to point-fight from the outside, use her length and reach to land from outside her opponents' range, and threaten with submissions when forced to grapple. However, she shows two regional losses in 2018 and 2019 to the same woman, Karla Elizabeth Sanchez Lozano. Lozano shows a 5-0 professional record, but she hasn't fought since and she was a 3-4-1 amateur prior to turning pro, so it wasn’t like she was a blue-chip prospect.

Wojcik also shows losses as a professional, but dropping two split decisions to known fighters such as Cheyanne Vlismas (UFC fighter) and Ewelina Wozniak (7-1) is more forgivable in my mind than losing to the same fighter twice in as many years. Both ladies have been fighting since 2016, but Wojcik has been more active (nearly 20 fights) while accruing amateur and professional experience at a higher clip.

This fight is fairly low level, and either woman with a victory would likely be earning the biggest win of her career. With Lavado entrenched as about a +190 (34.5%) underdog, I can understand why some people feel compelled to bet into her physical advantages; Lavado will have a sizable six-inch height advantage and a reach advantage, as well.

However, stylistically I think Lavado gives up takedowns too easily against an opponent such as Wojcik. Wojcik doesn’t always fight optimally, so I am not interested in laying more than 2-1 on her as a favorite, but I think she will have many opportunities to take the fight to the ground and look to ride out control or lock up a submission against an opponent who has only fought regional level talent so far in her career.

Prediction: Karolina Wojcik def. Sandra Lavado Garcia via split decision

The Bet: Pass

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