Regardless of what league or organization staged it, the first major American sporting event back from the coronavirus disruption was always going to make for blockbuster betting action.
It’s arguably going to be even bigger since it’s one of the most jampacked mixed martial arts cards in recent memory. The UFC is already a main draw in local sports books to the point that it probably would have attracted the most handle today even if the rest of the sports world wasn’t still shut down.
Now almost everyone with money in their mobile accounts — or those who sign up for accounts via drive-thru options at South Point, Circa Sports and William Hill — will be betting on UFC 249, scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. today at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Luckily, there are plenty of spots that offer value on the card.
Here are four bets to consider making on UFC 249.
Interim Lightweight Championship Bout: Tony Ferguson over Justin Gaethje at minus-175 (risking $175 to win $100) at Westgate Las Vegas Superbook
Gyms closed. Training partners limited. Fewer coaches readily available.
Fighters faced unprecedented hurdles in attempting to prepare for UFC 249 amidst a worldwide shutdown. It’s impossible to predict exactly how much it affected each and every fighter on the card, but in the main event, it seems the circumstances are more stacked against the underdog. Don’t forget, Ferguson was slated to face Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 18 and therefore had already been in a normal camp for a handful of weeks before the pandemic struck.
Gaethje only agreed to step in for Nurmagomedov and fight Ferguson in early April, giving him far less lead time including none when everything was still life as normal.
Oh, and don’t forget Ferguson is a much better fighter in the first place. Endurance and precision striking are big factors in the favor of Ferguson, who hasn’t lost since 2012.
His probability of beating Gaethje should be around 65 percent assuming both are in prime form. The current line implies only a 62 percent win probability after accounting for hold percentage, and there are questions on whether Gaethje will be as sharp as usual.
Bantamweight Championship Bout: Henry Cejudo over Dominick Cruz at minus-220 at Circa Sports
It’s a tall task for Cruz to come back after more than three years and knock off a two-division champion, too tall of a task. Yes, the venerable former champion/commentator has fought off his injuries to win a title before, beating T.J. Dillashaw in January 2016.
But his layoff was only 17 months back then, and more importantly, he was 31 years old. There’s a big difference now that he’s 35 with his body further worn down from more attrition.
Cejudo is also significantly better than Dillashaw considering he knocked him out in 32 seconds in January 2019 despite a size disadvantage and the latter testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The UFC’s pre-fight promotional materials do a terrific job of highlighting Cruz’s strengths but their effect might be creeping into the market.
He needs to be a bigger underdog here.
Heavyweight Bout: Yorgan De Castro over Greg Hardy at plus-180 (risking $100 to win $180) at Circa Sports
A general rule of thumb when betting mixed martial arts: Take the underdogs in heavyweight fights. Variance rules in bouts featuring 265-pound men wearing 4-ounce gloves.
Out of the two heavyweight fights on the UFC 249 main card, this is the one where that advice could be better employed. Sure, Jairzinho Rozenstruik could catch Francis Ngannou as well but the latter is so much more seasoned than the former that plus-220 doesn’t seem like enough.
Hardy is not nearly as shrewd. The 6-foot-5 former Dallas Cowboy looks a lot more intimidating than the 6-foot-1 Yorgan De Castro but they're about equal in knockout power.
Name recognition and athleticism are inflating this line above where it should be.
Lightweight Bout: Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis over 2.5 rounds at plus-125 at Circa Sports
Cerrone and Pettis, two all-time great lightweights, are known for finishing power they no longer possess, at least not in the same way they did a decade ago.
A combined 83 total mixed martial arts fights between the two have slowed them down, as they now rely far more on experience than the high-flying, unbridled-aggression they once utilized.
Additionally, it might be smart to look to the “over” in all the fights at UFC 249 with no fans at the arena. UFC fans are boisterous and often push the action more than fighters would like to admit.
In the one other event without fans so far, a Fight Night card in Brazil in March, nine of 12 fights reached the scorecards.