Betting Guide for UFC 285
A second canceled main event in three months ruined last Saturday's festivities, but the UFC will make up for it with the return of a certified superstar. We're handing out two belts on a card littered with stars, but betting this one might be a bit tricky.
UFC 285: Jones vs. Gane will take place Saturday from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Which MMA bets stand out on FanDuel Sportsbook?
YTD: 2-4 (-3.5 units)
The curse the two-legger has felt all year has reached a new level. Andre Muniz, a world-class, credentialed grappler, won the striking battle against Brendan Allen, but the Brazilian was thoroughly handled on the mat and handed his first submission loss in 28 pro fights.
Here's this week's lay.
Tabatha Ricci and Marc-Andre Barriault to Both Win
(+110; 1.5 Units)
Though there is still some risk, I'm much more confident in this week's lay than last week's. One leg feels like a slam dunk, and that's Tabatha Ricci (-330).
Ricci's UFC career certainly leaves questions of its own. She was destroyed in a late-notice squash match by Manon Fiorot, which is still primarily the reason she's got a -1.91 striking success rate (SSR). She's been outstruck in all three fights, so there will be a spot to sell her. This isn't it.
At the very least, "Baby Shark" has gotten to her wrestling. She's posted 10 takedowns on 22 attempts at strawweight, and her opponent this weekend, Jessica Penne, has a putrid 40% takedown defense. I wouldn't write off Ricci demolishing Jessica Penne's 47% striking defense, either. This fight is as simple as the 40-year-old Penne is well past her prime -- and struggled through it.
Marc-Andre Barriault (-162) is the other leg that's a bit trickier, but I have reasons to believe in him. Namely, he was dismantled last fight in an eight-takedown battering from Anthony Hernandez, and his opponent this weekend hasn't landed a UFC takedown. That helps.
Julian Marquez is said opponent, and Marquez's poor striking defense last resulted in a three-knockdown loss to Gregory Rodrigues. Barriault and Rodrigues are similar offensively; the former lands quality volume at 5.35 significant strikes per minute with 46% accuracy.
Barriault's 61% takedown defense had held well against all others, and he's only been submitted once in 20 pro fights. I like his chances if that takedown defense holds -- and Marquez has never tried to crack anyone's.
Ciryl Gane to Win (+130; 1.0 Units)
Jon Jones' situation this week is a new one for me.
"Bones" hasn't fought since the COVID break, scoring a controversial win over Dominick Reyes in a light heavyweight title bout. Now, Jones will make his debut at heavyweight after over three years off, and I'm skeptical. He's been to a decision in three straight fights with foes who have a combined 5-10 record since facing him.
This isn't a soft landing. Ciryl Gane (+130) has a +2.86 SSR and is indisputably the best heavyweight striker in the world. He survived 25 minutes with Francis Ngannou while nearly winning the fight. Gane's 54% takedown defense was the problem that night, and Jones can -- admittedly -- do some of that.
The problem is Jones' wrestling wasn't elite the last time we saw him. He's just landed 6 of his last 23 takedowns against light heavyweights, and now Gane is a much larger person to drag to the canvas. Jones has put on muscle himself, but we don't have a sample of his wrestling here.
Recently, Conor McGregor lept into championship-level competition off a long layoff to face Dustin Poirier, and he was squashed twice. Gane finished a top-five contender last year, so I don't know why I'd expect Jones, struggling at the end of his light heavyweight tenure, to dominate an established heavyweight champ.
Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso Goes the Distance (+146; 0.75 Units)
Father Time is undefeated, and he might actually be the toughest career opponent Valentina Shevchenko (-670) has faced at flyweight.
The 34-year-old Shevchenko founded this division since becoming its first real champion in 2018. Valentina's a sizable favorite to retain this belt one more time before undefeated challengers Erin Blanchfield and Manon Fiorot -- dominating the rest the same way she has -- are inevitable, but there's a reason to believe Alexa Grasso (+430) can be the latest hang around all 25 minutes.
Grasso's only been finished once in her UFC career, and it wasn't at this weight. That was a submission win by Tatiana Suarez, who is a title fight hopeful at 115. Still, at flyweight, Grasso is 4-0 with a +27 striking differential, and she's defended 10 of the 15 takedowns she's faced at flyweight.
Shevchenko has seen the full distance in 8 of her 14 UFC bouts. A finish hasn't been automatic, and Grasso (61% striking defense) is one of the best defensive boxers in the division. Even if Shevchenko is a step ahead here and scores a few takedowns on Grasso, Grasso has posted five submission attempts in UFC, including a win in this weight over Joanne Wood. She's not a novice waiting to get subbed there.
Valentina's striking offense just hasn't been scary. She lands just 3.19 significant strikes per minute and hasn't eclipsed 80 total significant strikes in seven straight bouts. I don't see the high-level volume or power from Valentina at her advanced age to finish a successful challenger.
Dart Throws of the Week
Bo Nickal by KO/TKO in Round 1 (+330; 0.5 Units)
Bo Nickal (-2200) is as close to automatic as it gets.
The UFC is absolutely taking care of its prized prospect in this spot. Nickal was a two-time NCAA champion as a wrestler in college at Penn State, and his next professional move was mixed martial arts, and the UFC -- obviously not offering more money -- won out based on its platform.
Nickal has demolished three pro foes, and to amass a 90-3 record at the top of Division I athletics, he's already a better wrestler than 99% of UFC fighters who bring more complementary skills. Nickal's shown he can just use that to overwhelm prospects at this level.
He needed just 114 total seconds to secure two wins by submission on Dana White's Contender Series, and Jamie Pickett (3-6 UFC) just isn't that much tougher of a foe. Pickett has a mediocre 65% takedown defense and was submitted in the first round by Kyle Daukaus last year.
Nickal's ability is that of a ranked middleweight, but he's getting parade-level treatment to begin his career. Nickal is -210 to win in the first round, but this mark is +310 versus a submission at -105.
While it's more than plausible Bo just grabs another choke, he could have his choice of finishing method in this one, and he may just choose to punch himself to a win from mount. Those odds, to me, are closer to 50% than the 24.4% implied odds here.
Geoff Neal by KO/TKO or Decision (+550; 0.25 Units)
Combat sambo masters from Eastern Europe like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Khamzat Chimaev, and Islam Makhachev have dominated this sport for over a decade, so Shavkat Rakhmonov's hype makes sense.
I'm just not sure he's in the same mold.
Rakhmonov's four opponents are just 7-9 since the COVID break, and their average takedown defense was 61.3%. With that said, Rakhmonov's takedown accuracy of 50% isn't that high above expectation (38.7%). Shavkat's 55% striking defense also isn't that of Makhachev (61%), either.
This fight with Geoff Neal (+390) reminds me of when the aforementioned Chimaev -- relatively untested -- faced Gilbert Burns, an elite striker with a 48% striking accuracy, in this same weight class. Chimaev absorbed 108 significant strikes and snuck away with the win, but it was close.
Neal is a sensational matchup for Rakhmonov. His 51% striking accuracy and 60% striking defense are both elite, and he's been able to defend takedowns (85%) against everyone. He's also faced four ranked foes to Rakhmonov's one (Neil Magny).
While Neal won't likely play in Rakhmonov's zone, these odds on a win with his striking are just far too distant.