Betting Guide for UFC 286

How should last August's battle between Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards impact the way we bet their rematch on Saturday?

I've been dreading the card for a while. As a data guy, one of the largest upsets in UFC history defied math, logic, reason, and live probability last August.

Now, on the belt-holder's home turf, will math get its revenge, or was a dominant champion's decline just predicted by fate a bit early?

UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman 3 will take place Saturday from the O2 Arena in London, England this weekend. Which MMA bets stand out on FanDuel Sportsbook?

Two-Leg Parlay

YTD: 3-5 (-2.90 units)

Our two-legger this year is a cornerstone lesson on unit management.

I regularly fired two-plus units at this last year with much better success, but we just haven't had a lot of cards that set up well for this style of bet. We're in okay shape despite five losses -- including another last week on a -400 leg of all outcomes.

This is the best I've felt about a lay all year, and it comes at plus money. I'm excited about this one.

Joanne Wood and Ludovit Klein to Both Win
(+141; 1.45 Units)

The core of this wager structure is to support a couple of modest favorites at near-even money, but this plus juice is a gift.

I couldn't feel better about the matchups and profiles for Joanne Wood (-188) and Ludovit Klein (-174) in their early prelim matches.

Wood's setbacks have primarily been due to grappling. In fact, five of her eight UFC losses have come via submission. It's immediately noteworthy that her opponent this week, Luana Carolina, has 0 career UFC takedowns or submission attempts. As a striker, Wood lands more significant strikes per minute (6.76) on equal 50% accuracy to Carolina. Her 52% striking defense also trumps Carolina's (47%).

She's also fought seven fighters currently ranked by UFC to Carolina's zero. Given she's actually the better grappler, I've got this line closer to -375.

As for Klein, he'll have to dodge the power of Jai Herbert, but that appears to be his lone path to failure. Herbert has also never landed a UFC takedown or submission attempt, but unlike Carolina, he's just a poor striker overall. His 41% striking accuracy lags well behind Klein's (56%), and Klein's 48% striking defense also surpasses that of Jai (42%).

Herbert's 2.72% knockdown rate is very much a concern, but he also lands a very low percentage of the time. I really can't ask for much more than the more efficient strikers -- with grappling advantages -- that have faced better competition.

Straight Bets

Gunnar Nelson by KO/TKO/Submission (-120; 1.0 Units)

We're going to find out on Saturday whether Gunnar Nelson (-430) is totally shot or not. Obviously, with this bet, I'm going with the latter.

Nelson took the current 170-pound champion to a split decision in London back in 2019, but since, he's lost a huge chunk of his late prime to a bad rib injury. Nelson finally returned in March 2022 back at the O2 Arena, but his unanimous decision win over Takashi Sato wasn't the explosive re-emergence that was expected from the -800 favorite.

In his prime, this is a fight Nelson would finish quickly. Bryan "Bam Bam" Barbarena has always been willing to stand and bang, but his grappling stinks. His 55% takedown defense is poor, surrendering a total of 26 takedowns in his last six fights. He was submitted in his last fight for the first time in his UFC career by undersized lightweight Rafael Dos Anjos, so it's only getting worse.

Nelson should dominate this fight on the mat. His 60% takedown accuracy, considering his two fights before this were Leon Edwards (+196) and Gilbert Burns, is tremendous, and he's added 0.90 submission attempts per 15 minutes.

Without the jitters and back in a normal camp routine, expect Nelson to be more confident and aggressive hunting this finish.

Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards Don't Go The Distance
(+124; 0.85 Units)

The elevation in Utah didn't change the outcome of the second fight between Kamaru Usman (-260) and Leon Edwards. A loss of focus did.

Usman dominated the fight with a +28 striking differential and a +4 takedown differential, adding over 10 minutes of control time along the way. He was coasting into the final round when a lazy stance switch in range led to the opening of a lifetime for "Rocky" Edwards.

Leon's performance in that fight didn't provide me hope he wins this rematch; the wrestling gap was enormous. I just think it squashed the value of Usman's betting line when Kamaru was equally poor defensively. Edwards landed 72% of his significant strikes, and Usman posted 61%. Defense wins titles, fellas.

The former champion didn't really show much of a sense of urgency when he had Edwards in disadvantageous positions last year. I don't believe he considered him dangerous. Obviously, now knowing the danger, expect a very different temperament.

Usman's inside-the-distance odds are +250, but I don't mind this plus-money hedge considering Edwards was also landing a vast majority of his shots. Leon's volume remains poor (2.59 significant strikes landed per minute), so a finish is likely his only path to win, too.

This bet perfectly encapsulates both outcomes, and it's undoubtedly what both will aim for to close this trilogy.

Justin Gaethje by KO/TKO or Decision (+195; 0.95 Units)

I don't understand the Rafael Fiziev love at all this week.

In other dimensions, Fiziev is allegedly a technical wizard that many have pegged as a potential lightweight title challenger. In my analytical world, I see a guy with a -0.05 striking success rate (SSR) that's got plus striking accuracy (50%), average striking defense (50%), and no wrestling or grappling to speak of.

He had a +10 striking differential against the aforementioned Dos Anjos, a +7 one to Brad Riddell, and a -39 striking differential against the unranked Bobby Green. He's yet to put on a dominant showing entering -- by far -- his toughest test yet.

Justin Gaethje (+186) won't win an award for his -0.39 SSR, either. However, Gaethje's issues have come in grappling-heavy losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira. As a striker, Gaethje lands more significant strikes per minute (7.46) with higher accuracy (60%) and better defense (55%) than Fiziev.

Plus, he's fought tougher guys, holding a +13 striking differential on Michael Chandler and a +7 differential on Tony Ferguson that don't tell the full story of the damage.

These longer odds add a tiny bit of juice by taking out a submission that would be Gaethje's first attempt in 11 fights. I like him to win this weekend via violence.

Dart Throw of the Week

Roman Dolidze by Submission (+750; 0.25 Units)

I think I've finally made sense of Roman Dolidze (+220) flying up the middleweight rankings.

On short notice, Dolidze upset Jack Hermansson in Orlando late last year. It was his sixth win in seven tries, and the only exception was universally regarded as a narrow decision against Trevin Giles. How does he keep doing it? He's an excellent grappler, and this division can't grapple.

11 of the 15 ranked middleweights average less than one submission attempt per 15 minutes. At 2.1 submission attempts per 15, Dolidze is a massive outlier. I made this mistake with Andre Muniz three weeks ago. He had a few submissions climbing the ranks at 185, so I assumed he was skilled, but Muniz was flattened by a higher-volume grappler in Brendan Allen (1.6 per 15).

There's a difference between competent and confident. Marvin Vettori, the favorite over Dolidze this weekend, is competent. He's got two unranked wins via submission in UFC and averages 0.6 attempts per 15 minutes. Dolidze is confident.

Therefore, I don't actually know if Vettori is a solid grappler. We assume so based on his results thus far, but Dolidze is the first high-volume, high-skill guy that he's faced averaging north of a submission attempt per 15 minutes.

This is a small flier that middleweight remains incredibly unreliable in this department.