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UFC Fight Night Odds & Picks: Zerillo’s Betting Card for Saturday’s 11 Fights (January 16)

UFC Fight Night Odds & Picks: Zerillo’s Betting Card for Saturday’s 11 Fights (January 16) article feature image

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images. Pictured: A general view of the Octagon prior to the UFC Fight Night event.

  • UFC is back with an 11-fight card in Abu Dhabi.
  • Sean Zerillo breaks down everything you need to know, from betting odds to complete analysis for each fight.
  • Check out Zerillo's full betting preview for all 11 fights below.

The UFC returns to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi with three cards over the next seven days, beginning on Saturday with six preliminary bouts on ESPN+ at noon, before moving to ABC at 3 p.m. for a five-fight main card.

The main event is a Featherweight showdown between former champion Max Holloway and No. 6 contender Calvin Kattar.

If you are new to this piece, or this sport, note that in addition to moneylines and over/unders, there are numerous ways to bet on an MMA fight — including exact winning methods, winning round props, and whether or not the match will go to a decision or finish inside the distance.

As a result, after examining all of the betting options, your typical UFC card can offer a substantial amount of actionable value.

Check out the full betting odds for Saturday’s UFC card, with analysis and picks for each fight below.

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2020 Recap

Before we get into the projections for the first card of 2021, I wanted to quickly recap how I performed across all articles and tracked wagers last year.

As you can see below, the key positives included 1) totals; and 2) fighters to win by decision. The negatives included 1) inside-the-distance props, and 2) exact result (knockout or submission) props.


Based upon my analysis of the difference in finish rates between 25- and 30-foot cages, I expect to continue to hammer decision props and overs on Fight Island — but I’ll look to dial back my “violence bets.”

UFC Fight Night Moneyline Projections and Picks

Below, you can find my fair odds moneyline projection for each of Saturday’s 11 bouts. In the next section, you’ll discover forecasts for those fights to finish inside the distance or for each fighter to win by decision, knockout or submission.

UFC Fight Night Prop Projections and Picks

In addition to creating a crowdsourced projection for moneyline plays, I also collect data on each fighter to win by decision, knockout or submission — which enables us to determine fair odds for each fight to go the distance or for each fighter to win inside of the distance.

UFC Fight Night Picks

Jacob Kilburn vs. Austin Lingo 

I was woefully unsuccessful with projecting and betting the first fight on most cards last year, likely since I have the least amount of reliable data for those fighters.

That said, I do project an actionable edge on the favorite, Austin Lingo, in the first bout of 2021.

Though I’m generally critical of Fortis MMA products, Lingo is coming off of his first career loss and is significantly more likely to have made improvements and adjustments to his game over the past year with the training partners and coaches around him than his opponent.

Kilburn, who is merely surrounded by amateur fighters in his local gym, is just a big fish in a small pond.

Lingo will look to finish the fight quickly (five of seven wins in the first round), but there are sufficient concerns regarding his gas tank to trust him as a sizable favorite if Kilburn can survive and extend the fight.

Lingo closed as a -250 against Youssef Zalal in his UFC debut, but he could not contain the Moroccan’s movement and quickly tired out.

Lingo to win inside the distance (projected +133) is intriguing if you can get a fair price (listed +135) but given 1) the relatively low finish rate at Featherweight (44.2%); 2) my lack of success with inside-the-distance bets or first fights on the card; and 3) the 30-foot octagon, I would need to see a more significant edge to place that wager.

I do want a piece of Lingo, but not by laying significant juice on his moneyline, so I’ll toss him into a small moneyline parlay with one of my other favorite edge plays on the card, Joaquin Buckley (I essentially broke even on 40 UFC parlays last year).


  • Parlay: Buckley/Lingo (+101, 0.5 units)

Vanessa Melo vs. Sarah Moras

I don’t see a betting edge on this fight from any angle, and I’m happy to avoid taking a position when either competitor could get cut after a loss.

Moras, who has lost four of her past five fights, is a strong grappler who hasn’t developed her offensive wrestling (22% takedown accuracy), so if Melo (69% takedown defense) can keep the fight standing, she should have the edge in terms of pressure, despite some ugly striking metrics (-3.8 strike differential).

It’s difficult to trust Moras as this significant of a favorite, even against an opponent who is 0-3 with the promotion. Still, the Canadian could also finish the fight after one successful takedown attempt.


  • Pass

Ramazan Emeev vs. David Zawada

Perhaps the organization is hoping that Zawada — who has earned two performance bonuses in three UFC fights — can coax Emeev into an exciting contest.

All five UFC fights for the Dagestani native have gone the distance (4-1 record), as his desire to control opponents against the cage or ground them (2 takedowns per 15 minutes, 25% accuracy) and maintain position amounts to a low-volume, minute-winning strategy.

Zawada (60% takedown defense) hasn’t shown the requisite takedown defense to avoid Emeev’s grip. Still, if he can keep the fight standing for a long stretch, he could win on volume at a distance (+1.09 strikes landed per minute) by maintaining a higher pace.

It’s also possible that Emeev gasses late in the fight, as his style tends to consume a lot of energy.

I do see an edge on the Russian’s moneyline, but I prefer Emeev’s odds to win by decision (projected -205, listed +100) and for the fight to go the distance (projected -348, listed -175).

Play Emeev’s decision prop to -133, and the Over 2.5 rounds up to -222.


  • Emeev wins by Decision (+100, 1u)
  • Emeev/Zawada, Over 2.5 Rounds (-190, 0.5u)

Carlos Felipe vs. Justin Tafa

On paper, this Heavyweight bout seems primed for a finish, but a closer look suggests that this is exactly the type of fight that sails over the total of 1.5 rounds and turns into a complete slop fest.

All five career fights for Tafa have ended in the first or second round, and Felipe maintains pressure even when fatigued, but the Brazilian isn’t overly powerful from the jump. If anything, Tafa seems to be the more likely man to finish the fight with one blow in the early stages.

A finish from Felipe would likely come as a result of sustained volume against a fatigued opponent. Still, he seems pretty durable himself, and that leaves a relatively small window for these two men to catch one another at the right (or wrong) moment.

As a result, while I projected this bout to finish inside the distance 63% of the time (implied odds of -171), the 2.2% betting edge at listed odds of -155 (implied 60.8%) isn’t enough of a gap for me to place a wager.

To reiterate, inside-the-distance bets have been my least successful prop plays, and it seems wise to avoid those props in a 30-foot cage.


  • Pass

Wu Yunan vs. Joselyne Edwards

Edwards is both our first debutant (43% win rate vs. veterans) and late replacement (38% win rate) of 2021. She’s stepping in for Bethe Correia on a week’s notice, but Wu hasn’t competed since August of 2019 — and fighters returning off of a one-year layoff also have a win expectancy below 40%.

Certainly, the 24-year-old Wu has taken advantage of that time off to improve her skillset, but Edwards should be the more physical and powerful fighter in exchanges.

I expect Wu to have faster hands, and ultimately, to have more output (4.79 strikes landed per minute in the UFC) over three rounds. While I don’t expect either woman to have a significant advantage on the ground, I do think that Wu is the more skilled wrestler.

Though I expect a high-volume striking affair, I project this bout to go the distance 79% of the time, and I would bet that prop up to -285, at a five percent edge.

Alternatively, you can play Over 2.5 Rounds up to -260.

Naturally, I also see slight value on either fighter to win by decision, but not enough value on either prop to make either actionable.

Wu by decision, would be my lean, but I’ll stick to the Over.


  • Wu/Edwards, Over 2.5 Rounds (-260, 0.5u)

Phil Hawes vs. Nassourdine Imavov

Editors note: According to Ariel Helwani of ESPN, Phil Hawes is not medically cleared to fight and the bout has been called off.

I’ll keep my thoughts here relatively succinct — my colleague Eric Richter has a longer breakdown of this fight.

I’m still not sold on Hawes’ overall skill level. It took him multiple tries on Contender Series to earn a contract. Bellator failed to re-sign him after a one-round victory. His wins have all come against relatively low-level competition.

There’s no denying the improvement to his striking, the validity to his wrestling base, or his obvious power:

NO HYPE 😤 Phil Hawes just detonated on #DWCS 💥

— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 9, 2020

But those early stoppages can be both a blessing and a curse. Hawes has racked up highlights but without the ability to gain round time and build his stamina base.

Imavov took advantage of a tiring fighter in Jordan Williams in his own UFC debut, after dropping the first round on all three scorecards.

I expect to see the typical early fireworks from Hawes, but if Imavov survives that onslaught, the MMA Factory product is well-rounded enough to turn the tide of the fight.

As a result, I made a small play on Imavov to win by decision (+375) relative to my projection at +334, but my preferred way to play this fight is to bet Imavov as a more significant underdog after Round 1.


  • Imavov by Decision (+375, 0.25u)
  • Imavov live after Round 1

Punahele Soriano vs. Dusko Todorovic

This scrap is a fun way to kick off the main card on ABC, as the 0 has to go for one of these undefeated middleweight prospects.

Soriano has recorded six of seven career victories in the first round, and was completely exhausted (one significant strike landed) for the third round of his contender series fight.

Hopefully, after a 13-month layoff, his cardio and overall skillset have improved under the guidance of the Xtreme Couture team in Las Vegas.

If Soriano cannot secure an early finish, Todorovic could be a lot to handle in terms of volume (eight significant strikes landed per minute with 67% accuracy), and his power (the only man to knockout Michel Pereira) is likely underrated too.

The fact that Todorovic faced Periera on the regional scene speaks to his opponents’ relative back-class, which is certainly a step up in competition and a new test for Soriano.

In the 30-foot cage, Dusko, who owns the size advantage (two inches taller, two inches of reach), should have ample room to move and pick apart his opponent with his karate style.

I think the Serbian scores a clean 29-28 decision or a late finish against a tiring Soriano.

I would play Dusko’s moneyline for a half-unit up to -160, a 2.5% edge compared to my projection (64%), but I’ll skip any potential value play on Todorvic by knockout or win inside the distance (projected +148).

Here's how Dusko Todorovic stopped Dequan Townsend on the #UFCFightIsland4 main

— Bloody Elbow (@BloodyElbow) October 4, 2020


  • Todorovic (-150, 0.5u)

Alessio Di Chirico vs. Joaquin Buckley

After taking progressive steps down in competition — from Kevin Holland to Impa Kasanganay and then Jordan Wright — Buckley now gets a slightly tougher test in Di Chirico, an eight-time Octagon veteran who has never been knocked out.

But for his positive marks in terms of durability, the Italian fights at low volume (3.25 strikes landed per minute, 40% accuracy) and isn’t exceptionally skilled in any one area, though his defensive metrics (60% striking defense, 83% takedown defense) speak to his desire to stay at range and control the tempo of his bouts.

Buckley has proven to be more aggressive (4.9 strikes landed per minute) with striking to all levels. If Di Chirico is overwhelmed, he may have to deploy his offensive wrestling (1.66 takedowns per 15 minutes, 45% accuracy).

I think that’s his path to victory — control time both on the ground and up against the cage — but Buckley, who owns the reach advantage, should be the much faster and more powerful man.

Despite my projection, this could be a closer fight than the odds suggest. Mostly, I think the market is overrating Buckley’s chances to become the first man to stop Di Chirico.

I’m using Buckley as the second half of my moneyline parlay with Lingo, but I really like the look of his decision prop (projected +252) at +250 or better.

“New Mansa” has gone the distance four times in his career, but his finishes are the result of pressure and technique, combined with strength. He’s not just some overwhelming freak of nature.

Make no mistake, the UFC wants to continue to build this kid into a star. Everything with his name on it pulls one million views:

They’re going to continue to hand him winnable fights for the foreseeable future before lining him up against James Krause.


  • Buckley wins by Decision (+275, 0.5u)
  • Parlay: Buckley / Lingo (+101, 0.5u)

Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Li Jingliang

This is the third fight on the card where I’m taking a full pass and one of two where I don’t see any projection value. Both fighters also have negative marks against them, given the spot.

Jingliang is a late replacement for Muslim Salikhov (three weeks’ notice). To reiterate my point earlier, late-notice replacements carry just a 38% win rate in the UFC.

Ponzinibbio, who is 9-2 in the UFC and on a seven-fight winning streak, hasn’t competed since November 2018 due to injury accumulation and a subsequent staph infection. To reiterate, fighters returning from a layoff greater than one year win less than 40%.

When we last saw him, Ponzinibbio was surgical in a win over Neil Magny (44% to 28% in strike accuracy):

If Ponzinibbio returns as the same fighter or better, it’s hard to imagine Jingliang having the tools to pull the upset. But two years is a long time, and staph can take quite the toll on the human body.

Ponzinibbio has refined his defensive grappling (60% takedown defense) to the point where the “The Leech” (1.32 takedowns per 15 minutes, 39% accuracy) will likely have to stand and brawl.

Li will be happy to oblige, but Ponzinibbio carries more power and is the better technician of the two.

I expect to see a firefight, and since both men are durable, this could easily turn into the Fight of the Night. While I don’t have a bet for this contest, it’ll be worth your time to tune in.


  • Pass

Matt Brown vs. Carlos Condit

This fight was originally scheduled in 2013 — when both men were closer to their primes — but the pair have suffered a combined 13 losses since that time, and each are mere shadows of their former selves.

Condit has lost five of his past six fights, finally returning to the winner’s circle with a victory over Court McGee in October, but he has never been knocked out in his career.

Brown didn’t suffer his first knockout loss until 2016 — 35 fights into his pro career — but each of his past three losses has come by way of stoppage. That’s a troubling trend for a 40-year-old fighter.

Knockout of the day UFC Fight Night
Matt Brown vs Miguel

— Blue Corner Fighting (@blue_fighting) January 5, 2021

Brown showed power in the early stages of that Miguel Baeza fight but eventually slowed. He has the tools to win Saturday’s fight with control time, as Condit’s takedown defense (36%) is the biggest hole in his game, but Brown also has 10 career submission losses, and both men like to slug it out just a little too much.

If you can get Brown at +400 or better to win by decision (projected +391), it’s worth a tiny stab; otherwise, you can bypass the co-main event.


  • Matt Brown wins by Decision (+400, 0.25u)

Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar

A decent amount of money has come in on the underdog side of this fight, taking Kattar from a peak of +165 around Christmas to +138 as of writing, right in line with my projection.

Holloway, the former Featherweight champion, obviously has significantly more experience in five-round fights, against better competition than Kattar.

Though he initially lost his title to Alexander Volkanovski, most fans and media members scored the rematch for Max.

Suppose Kattar was fighting for the Featherweight title on Saturday after Holloway had recorded the decision over Volkanovski; what would the line be? Probably -200 or higher.

Holloway has never been knocked out or even knocked down. He keeps a ridiculous pace (6.47 strikes landed per minute) and maintains it for five rounds, though despite a 61% striking defense rate, he is certainly there to be hit.

Holloway has proven to be significantly more efficient (+1.95 to -0.55 strike differential) than Kattar against better opponents. While Kattar has some of the best boxing amongst all UFC fighters and is the more powerful man that Holloway, I don’t see any reason to suddenly suspect that Kattar will be the first to put him out.

If the significant strike numbers are close, Kattar could sway the judges with the more powerful strikes.

In addition to being the younger man, Holloway is the better and faster athlete. He should be able to get in and out of range more quickly than Kattar, despite a three-inch reach discrepancy, and eventually start to pull away in the striking metrics.

Both of these men are extremely durable, and even though five-round fights ended inside the distance 51% of the time in 2020, I have this bout going the distance 69% of the time and would play that prop to -180.

Alternatively, I would bet the Over 4.5 rounds up to -200.

I also see value on either man to win by the decision (projected +121 for Holloway, +325 for Kattar), but given the expected close nature of this fight — and Holloway’s previous issues with the judges — I’m sticking to the total.


  • Holloway/Kattar, Over 4.5 Rounds (-180, 0.5u)

Zerillo’s UFC Fight Night Bets

Distance or Decision Props and Overs

  • Emeev wins by Decision (+100, 1u)
  • Emeev/Zawada, Over 2.5 Rounds (-190, 0.5u)
  • Wu/Edwards, Over 2.5 Rounds (-260, 0.5u)
  • Imavov by Decision (+375, 0.25u)
  • Buckley wins by Decision (+275, 0.5u)
  • Brown wins by Decision (+400, 0.25u)
  • Holloway/Kattar, Over 4.5 Rounds (-180, 0.5u

Inside the Distance Props and Unders

  • N/A


  • Todorovic (-150, 0.5u)
  • Parlay: Buckley / Lingo (+101, 0.5u)

Live Betting Notes

  • Imavov live after Round 1

Don’t forget to follow my picks in the Action Network App.

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