There is no better way to spend a Tuesday than sizing up bets for Saturday night. The UFC returns to the Apex for another Fight Night card headlined by lightweights Arman Tsarukyan and Mateusz Gamrot. Tsarukyan, a heavy -275 favorite, has won five straight, with his only loss in the UFC coming to current title contender Islam Makhachev. It's always nice to have some action on the main event, but there isn't much value with Tsarukyan at that price. I see this as a fight where you will want to hunt for edges in the prop market, as I do expect Tsarukyan to extend his winning streak.
What makes betting on MMA uniquely appealing is that you have a card of 10-15 fights scheduled with the entire week to prepare. It follows a similar cadence to NFL and college football despite those sports sprinkling a few games on certain weekdays. Do your research early in the week, and track the line movement to give yourself the best chance to capture the most favorable odds. Then rinse and repeat the following week.
The best opportunities aren't always with the most anticipated fights. This Saturday night is a perfect example. My most substantial edges appear on the preliminary card's first few fights. So if you want to get in on the action early Saturday night, you came to the right place. I jumped on the second fight of the night, a bantamweight scrap, where the opening odds at BetMGM were good enough to make it my first bet of the card.
Mario Bautista (-165) vs. Brian Kelleher (+135)
Bautista is 3-2 in the UFC and coming off an impressive unanimous decision victory over Jay Perrin, where he landed 30 more significant strikes and four takedowns. He is seven years younger than the Kelleher and holds a massive six-inch reach advantage, which I see as a key factor in this fight. Kelleher, entering the Octagon for the 15th time with the promotion, is a good test for Bautista. Kelleher will bang in the pocket while having the experience to capitalize if Bautista gets sloppy. He is crafty enough to grab Bautista's neck and end his night, as he has in two of his last five wins. His guillotine choke is a threatening enough weapon to put Bautista on alert and force him to fight sound defensively. But ultimately, Bautista's power and athleticism will be too much for the 35-year-old Kelleher.
Bautista is an explosive athlete that uses strong boxing combinations to set up his kicks. He is also the more accurate striker who aggressively initiates exchanges and has the cardio to maintain high output for all three rounds. Kelleher, on the other hand, lands only 3.41 significant strikes per minute compared to Bautista's 5.42. Kelleher is a durable opponent but also approaching the wrong side of thirty. Bautista's hand speed and reach should have him winning the striking exchanges cleanly.
Kelleher will have to force this fight to take place at close range, an area where he can find just as much trouble. If he cannot box his way in and crashes distance recklessly, Bautista could be meeting his entry with kicks or flying knees. However, even if Kelleher succeeds and makes this an ugly fight, Bautista has shown enough offense from the clinch to hold his own. I think the favorite handles the veteran in various scenarios, while Kelleher's path is tied more to a low-probability finish. There is always a slight chance Bautista gets cracked or leaves his neck open, but I think Bautista wins at more than the 62% clip that the odds imply.
The bet: Mario Bautista (-165)
*Stats provided by ufcstats.com.