UFC Saudi Arabia Predictions & Luck Ratings: 4 Early Picks With Value (Saturday, June 22)

UFC Saudi Arabia Predictions & Luck Ratings: 4 Early Picks With Value (Saturday, June 22) article feature image

Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images. Pictured: UFC welterweight Nicolas Dalby of Denmark

Check out our early UFC predictions for UFC Saudi Arabia this Saturday, June 22, with our Luck Ratings.

UFC Saudi Arabia takes place at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh. The event kicks off at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) on ESPN before shifting to ABC for the main card at 3 p.m. ET.

The latest UFC Saudi Arabia odds suggest we should see some competitive matchups this weekend. But will we?

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.

UFC Saudi Arabia odds as of Tuesday and via DraftKings. Bet on the UFC with our DraftKings promo code

UFC Saudi Arabia Predictions & Luck Ratings

Robert Whittaker (-148) vs. Ikram Aliskerov (+124)

Robert "Bobby Knuckles" Whittaker was set to fight Khamzat Chimaev in the highly anticipated return of Khamzat this weekend. However, a "severe illness" forced Chimaev's withdrawal from the card.

With some UFC reshuffling, Whittaker now takes on Ikram Aliskerov, a 15-1 pro whose only career loss came at the hands of Chimaev prior to either joining the UFC.

It's a massive step up in competition for Aliskerov, whose prior UFC wins came against Warrley Alves and Phi Hawes, both of whom are exactly .500 in the UFC. Whittaker is a former champion with a 16-5 promotional record, and all three of his losses at 185 pounds came against fellow champions.

While both fighters had to do some adjusting due to the opponent switch, I also expect this late-notice booking to impact Aliskerov more heavily. He was set for a three-round fight last weekend, where he was a massive favorite before being alerted midweek that he was fighting five rounds on the following card. Aliskerov was likely already cutting weight when the news broke, which places further demands on him – plus the travel from Las Vegas to Saudi Arabia.

Given all of that, I love Whittaker as a slight favorite. The best line on Tuesday is -134 at BetRivers, though they seem to be holding steady. I'm betting to win half a unit on this one while reserving another half unit on potential live bets on Whittaker come Saturday.

Verdict: Robert Whittaker Undervalued

Rinat Fakhretdinov (-355) vs. Nicolas Dalby (+280)

I like Rinat Fakhretdinov, but I'm having a hard time seeing why he's such a heavy favorite here. His UFC career to date consists of decision wins over Bryan Battle and Andres Michalidis, a submission victory over Kevin Lee (Lee tore his ACL while entering the cage) and a majority draw against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos.

That last result exposed a major weakness in Fakhretdinov's game. He dropped the final round 10-8 on two judges' scorecards. His wrestling-heavy style puts quite the strain on his cardio, and he was lucky to have made it to the final bell.

Both of those things make Dalby a tough matchup.

The Danish fighter is an underrated grappler who's unique breathing techniques seem to give him excellent cardio. He's on a four-fight winning streak with the last three all coming as an underdog.

Like in the main event, my primary interest in this one is a live-betting opportunity on Dalby. Fakhretdinov very well might be able to overwhelm him early and pick up a finish, but if he doesn't, Dalby should build throughout the fight.

The market seems to be trending toward Fakhretdinov, so there's probably no rush here. Still, I could see a case for putting half of a unit on Dalby in case the current +280 line is the top of the trend.

Verdict: Nicolas Dalby Undervalued

Muin Gafurov (-155) vs. Kyung Ho Kang (+130)

This one is all about the line movement. Muin Gafurov was around a -115 favorite as late as Sunday. Now, he's approaching -160 to -170 on every book – and I totally agree with the line movement.

His two UFC appearances so far are a short-notice decision loss to John Castenada and a submission defeat to Said Nurmagomedov.

Kyung Ho Kang is coming off a less competitive decision loss to Castenada, and he would be a massive underdog in a hypothetical matchup against Nurmagomedov.

Beyond the always dubious "MMA math," there's also the fact that Kang, at age 36, is eight years older than Gafurov and likely on the downturn of his career. Gafurov should still be improving at just 28, and he was only recently able to train full time.

Grab the line on Gafurov now before it moves even further.

Verdict: Muin Gafurov Undervalued

Long Xiao (-115) vs. Chang Ho Lee (-105)

This bout is the culmination of the recent Road to UFC season, a tournament designed as a pipeline for the best up-and-coming talent in Asia to earn their way to the UFC.

In the interest of transparency: I didn't watch any of this season. However, I did dig into the results of both fighters to see how they got here.

The slightly favored Long Xiao won a split and majority decision to get to the finals, surrendering seven takedowns along the way. Chang Ho Lee punched his ticket with two knockouts, both via ground and pound.

While there are obviously some questions about the level of competition for both men, that seems like a huge stylistic edge for Lee. I'll be watching some tape and circling back to this one, but for now, it makes sense to grab the +105 line at Caesars Sportsbook for half of a unit.

Verdict: Chang Ho Lee Undervalued

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