UFC Fight Night Odds, Picks, Projections: 3 Best Bets for Kelleher vs. Croom, Royval vs. Bontorin (January 15)
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC fighter Brandon Royval.
- A UFC Fight Night card headlined by Calvin Kattar vs. Giga Chikadze starts 2022 in the octagon.
- Our team of betting analysts broke down the card and found three fights with value for bettors.
- The trio breaks down its picks below.
And just like that, we’re back! This weekend’s UFC Fight Night card is the first of 2022 and it’s shaping up to be a good one.
Featherweight contenders will meet in the main event No. 5-ranked Calvin Kattar faces No. 8-ranked Giga Chikadze. The card features 10 fights in total and begins at 5 p.m. ET with four prelims before the six-bout main card kicks off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
So where should you be looking to place your bets? Our crew has pinpointed two fights and picks on Saturday’s stacked card that present betting value.
You can find their analysis and picks on those matches plus Sean Zerillo’s projections below.
Billy Ward: Brian Kelleher vs. Kevin Croom
Contributor at The Action Network
Croom is stepping in on very short notice to take on Brian Kelleher in the opening bout on Saturday. Kelleher’s original opponent dropped out on Wednesday, but Croom was announced as the replacement early on Thursday.
I generally don’t like targeting fighters in short notice situations, but there’s a lot to like about Croom this week. While Croom is officially winless in the UFC, he beat Roosevelt Roberts by first round guillotine in his UFC debut before the bout was overturned. That was also a short notice bout, which suggests Croom is comfortable in those situations.
The short notice nature of this bout also gives Croom a size advantage. Kelleher generally — and was scheduled to — fights at Bantamweight. Croom fights at featherweight (And fought Roberts at lightweight) which is the weight class for this bout. He’s five inches taller with a nine-inch reach advantage, which should help him immensely in this one.
Croom is also a willing — if not able — wrestler, which has been Kelleher’s weakness in the past. His 59% takedown defense is well below the UFC average, and he was out-grappled by Cody Stamann (two takedowns surrendered) and Ricky Simon (six takedowns) in recent losses.
Were this fight to not be a short notice contest, I’d put it as roughly a pick ‘em. The short notice factor works against Croom, but not to the extent that the odds would imply. I’d bet this one down to +180, but the best line is +240 at BetMGM.
The Pick: Kevin Croom ML (+240)
Sean Zerillo: Dakota Bush vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Staff Writer at The Action Network
I look for binary matchups to bet violence props, and Saturday’s Lightweight scrap between debutant Viacheslav “Slava Claus” Borshchev and Dakota Bush presents a striker vs. grappler affair, where either man could look like a massive favorite, in hindsight.
Although I typically look to fade fighters who earn contracts on Dana White’s Contender Series, I’m exceptionally high on Slava’s striking. The Russian is a decorated kickboxer, and despite limited MMA experience, he’s immediately one of the smoothest strikers on the UFC roster.
This fight should be one-way traffic on the feet in favor of the Russian. Bush has never been knocked out, but lesser strikers than Borshchev have also hurt him. However, Borshchev’s grappling is still very raw, though he should eventually improve while training at Team Alpha Male.
If Bush pursues takedowns from the opening bell, he could take Slava’s back and choke him out; Slava is very reckless when trying to scramble back to his feet. That said, I expect Slava to shrug off the early takedowns or keep this fight standing and find a second-round knockout.
I projected this fight to end inside the distance 67% of the time (-201 implied), and I’m happy to bet the Under 2.5 Rounds up to -175.
The Pick: Under 2.5 (-140)
Erich Richter: Brandon Royval vs. Rogerio Bontorin
Contributor at The Action Network
This is what many people would call “The People’s Main Event” on Saturday’s card. Bontorin returns to the 125-pound division whereas Royval has actually beaten some of the division’s best fighters.
Royval impressively submitted Kai Kara-France in Sept. 2020. Since then, he was TKO’d by current champion Brandon Moreno and submitted by contender Alexandre Pantoja. Royval’s last two losses have come against the cream of the crop that this division has to offer.
Interestingly, there is a serious disagreement on the odds this week for Brandon Royval to win by submission. Most sportsbooks have Royval by submission at around +150. FanDuel has this prop at +195.
Bontorin was submitted by Michinori Tanaka, a former 1-3 UFC fighter. While anyone can get submitted on any day, Royval is a particularly aggressive submission grappler. Moreover, I have serious questions about Bontorin’s cardio due to weight cuts. Bontorin infamously missed weight for his last fight at 135 pounds.
He did successfully make flyweight on Friday but it remains to be seen how compromised he is getting that far down in weight. As a general rule, cardio questions combined with a submission grappler as an opponent can very well equal a submission. Take the value and bet this prop down to +160.
The Pick: Brandon Royval by submission +195