The UFC continues its run at APEX in Las Vegas on Saturday with 14 fights and four heavyweight bouts, including the main event between No. 2-ranked contender Curtis Blaydes and No. 4 Derrick Lewis.
The preliminary card starts at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, and the main card begins at 8 p.m. ET.
The cage at APEX (25-foot diameter) is about 30% smaller in terms of square footage than a regular UFC octagon (30-foot diameter), and consequently, the finish rate is roughly 10% higher.
Over the three UFC shows to start the year on Fight Island (30-foot cage), 21 of the 35 fights (60%) went the distance. In the two cards since returning to APEX, 12 of the 22 fights (54.5%) have gone the distance.
Based upon the listed odds for Saturday’s card, seven of the 14 fights (50%) are expected to reach a decision.
If you are new to this piece, or this sport, note that in addition to moneylines and over/unders, there are numerous ways to bet on an MMA fight — including exact winning methods, winning round props, and whether or not the match will go to a decision or finish inside the distance.
As a result, after examining all of the betting options, your typical UFC card can offer a substantial amount of actionable value.
Check out the betting odds for Saturday’s UFC card, with analysis and picks for each fight below.
UFC Fight Night Moneyline Projections and Picks
Below, you can find my fair odds moneyline projection for each of Saturday’s 14 bouts. In the next section, you’ll discover forecasts for those fights to finish inside the distance or for each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission.
UFC Fight Night Prop Projections and Picks
In addition to creating a crowdsourced projection for moneyline plays, I also collect data on each fighter to win by decision, knockout, or submission — which enables us to determine fair odds for each fight to go the distance or for each fighter to win inside of the distance.
UFC Fight Night Picks
The Fights I’m Betting
Sergei Spivak vs. Jared Vanderaa
Despite his size — and toughness — Vanderaa has some major defensive holes. He’s incredibly hittable, and Spivak’s boxing has improved to the point where he should have the upper hand on the feet (out-struck Carlos Felipe 47-44 from range in July).
The Moldovan is also a far superior grappler (3.15 takedowns per 15 minutes, 44% accuracy) to the “The Mountain.” He just needs to avoid going to his back, because Vanderaa’s best asset is his ability to leverage his size into some vicious ground and pound.
Ultimately, I think Spivak does whatever he wants to his opponent, and widens the margin the longer that this fight goes. His wrestling is good enough to either keep the fight standing or put Vanderaa on his back whenever he wants, and I’m expecting to see his seventh win via submission.
There is value both on the fight to end inside the distance (projected -194, listed -155) and on Spivak to win inside the distance (projected +116, listed +165), but I’m going to stick to the moneyline for the “Polar Bear,” at -270 (implied 73%) or better; a three-percent edge compared to my projection (76%).
This could quickly dissolve into a sloppy heavyweight bout, where neither man has enough energy to damage their opponent, but I still expect Spivak to win minutes, at worst.
Aiemann Zahabi vs. Drako Rodriguez
Rodriguez missed weight by four pounds for his official UFC debut against Zahabi, who hasn’t competed since May 2019.
As a result, in terms of betting spots, both the debut angle (42% vs. UFC veteran) and layoff angle (38% after one year) cancel each other out.
After making his own UFC debut in 2017, Zahabi has failed to show significant improvements as a fighter — landing at low volume (2.81 strikes landed per minute, -1.12 differential) and without significant power. He also lacks the wrestling chops to appropriately control such an explosive opponent.
Not only is Rodriguez the younger man by nine years (expected 63% win rate based upon age differential), he’s also a far more athletic and powerful fighter, and his superior physicality should make all the difference in the grappling exchanges.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 9, 2020
I’m slightly worried that Rodriguez will try to chase submissions from his back and lose this fight on control time, but he offers more paths to victory in this bout.
I’ll play the debutant’s moneyline up to -186 (implied 65%), at a three-percent edge relative to my projection (68%).
Shana Dobson vs. Casey O’Neill
Dobson pulled off the upset of 2020, and one of the biggest upsets in the history of the UFC against Mariya Agapova, as a +800 underdog on August 22 of last year.
This one goes out to the underdogs 🐶
— UFC (@ufc) February 16, 2021
Credit to Dobson for pulling the upset, but she lost the first round of the fight (53-15 on total strikes) and only turned the tide after Agapova tore her right ACL.
The biggest mark against Dobson is her takedown defense (0%). Her opponents have finished all eight takedown attempts in the UFC.
Debutant Casey O’Neill is a relatively inexperienced fighter (two years as a professional) but a very strong grappler who will look to keep this fight on the mat and ride out control time.
She couldn’t ask for a better matchup in her UFC debut, but if Dobson shows any kind of resilience to those shots, she should be the more polished striker.
I projected O’Neill to win by decision at -101, and I would bet that prop to +121 at a five-percent edge.
Nate Landwehr vs. Julian Erosa
Erosa has the size advantage in this matchup (four inches taller, two inches of reach) but he isn’t particularly adept at managing distance, and Landwehr doesn’t let any opponent get comfortable from range.
“The Nate Train” only knows one direction: forward. And he’ll yell in your face while moving toward you. It’s quite a bit dangerous defensively, but that intensity certainly appeals to the judges.
Both fighters like to slug it out in the pocket, but Landwehr would get a major edge for durability in such a scenario. Erosa is 3-4 in three stints under the UFC banner, with three knockout losses.
Landwehr should also have the edge in terms of output (6.89 strikes landed per minute, +6% vs. Erosa in combined offensive-defensive efficiency), but I’m expecting to see one of these two men find a finish.
Of the pair, Landwehr carries more power, and winning inside the distance is a more significant part of his projected win condition (53%) than it is for Erosa (46%). He’s a dangerous man in a small cage and has also shown excellent cardio as a former track athlete.
I would bet Landwehr’s moneyline to -120 (implied 54.5%), at a 2.5%-edge compared to my projection (57%). He’s my favorite bet on the card.
Eddie Wineland vs. John Castaneda
At age 36, and in year 18 of his professional career, Wineland is nearing the end of the line. The former WEC bantamweight champion is returning from a knockout loss to Sean O’Malley in June where he was completely outclassed.
This fight is more of a test for Wineland — to see if he is capable of hanging on as a gatekeeper for just a bit longer — than it is for Castenada, who doesn’t possess the power or technique to be a major player at 145.
Wineland’s sturdy takedown defense (86%) — a product of keeping his hands low — should serve him well against Castenada’s grappling and enable him to keep this fight where he wants to: winning exchanges on the feet with his power.
Wineland’s efficiency metrics (29% accuracy, 69% defense) profile a striker who likes to sit at range and wait for kill shots (15 of 24 pro wins by KO/TKO), and I don’t see Castenada getting the better of Wineland from distance — despite a two-inch reach advantage.
“Sexi Mexi” has proven to be durable, and while I’m betting Wineland’s moneyline down to -108, a 3.1%-edge compared to my projection, I’m also playing his decision prop small at +198 or better, a five-percent edge compared to my projection (+160).
Drakkar Klose vs. Luis Pena
Pena’s size (6-foot-3, 75-inch reach) remains extremely tantalizing at 155. He’s six inches taller, with a five-inch reach advantage over Klose, a common advantage in his fights.
But “Violent Bob Ross” has yet to make significant improvements to his game — now going into his eighth UFC bout — and Klose’s smothering style should help to neutralize the gaps in height and reach, before wearing Pena down.
Klose turns most of his fights into a grind. He’s not particularly exciting to watch, but he is efficient on the feet and smart about using cage control to both win minutes and sap energy from his opposition. He’ll also look to chop down Pena’s lead leg in order to limit the larger man’s explosiveness.
I have a strong lean to Klose winning by decision, but my projection (+102) is right in line with listed odds. Instead, I’ll bet the fight to go the distance up to -212, at a three-percent edge relative to my projection — and we can leave the judges out of another close Klose fight.
Phil Hawes vs. Nassourdine Imavov
This fight was rescheduled from the January 16 card, since Hawes was not medically cleared to fight after weigh-ins. That medical issue only lends further credence to the Imavov side — which was my initial pick — and the crowdsourced projection has moved roughly 9% toward his side, since the initial booking.
To reiterate my points from January:
I’m still not sold on Hawes’ overall skill level. It took him multiple tries on Contender Series to earn a contract, Bellator didn’t re-sign him after a one-round victory, and his wins have all come against relatively low-level competition.
There’s no denying the improvement to his striking, the validity to his wrestling base, or his obvious power:
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 9, 2020
But those early stoppages can be both a blessing and a curse. Hawes has racked up highlights but without the ability to gain round time and build his stamina base.
Imavov took advantage of a tiring fighter in Jordan Williams in his own UFC debut, after dropping the first round on all three scorecards.
I expect to see the typical early fireworks from Hawes, but if Imavov survives that onslaught, the MMA Factory product is well-rounded enough to turn the tide of the fight.
As a result, I made a small play on Imavov to win by decision (+350) relative to my projection at +288, along with Imavov’s moneyline down to -110 (implied 52.4%), at a 3.6% edge compared to my projection.
Aleksei Oleinik vs. Chris Daukaus
After the UFC cut Anderson Silva and Yoel Romero, Oleinik is now the oldest remaining male fighter in the promotion. And a stoppage loss in this, his 75th professional MMA bout, likely seals his own UFC fate too.
“The Boa Constrictor” has struggled with mobile heavyweights in recent years, and Daukaus has worked to improve his physique since his UFC debut:
Full time police officer by day, knockout artist by night 😴
Chris Daukaus (+100) beats Parker Porter by KO in Round 1.pic.twitter.com/shRYO1sT8e
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) August 15, 2020
His boxing technique is sharp, and Olenik will get eaten alive on the feet, so the submission specialist needs to get this fight to the mat in a hurry (2.43 takedowns per 15 minutes, 48% accuracy) and force a tap.
While Daukaus’s takedown defense hasn’t really been tested against high-level competition, he is a BJJ blackbelt, and his brother Kyle is a very slick grappler. If Daukaus is able to survive the opening minutes, Oleinik is likely in serious trouble, and in danger of suffering his fourth knockout loss since April 2019.
I would bet Daukaus to win inside the distance (projected 63%, or -170) up to -150 (implied 60%) at a three-percent edge, and consider betting the Under 1.5 rounds as cover in case of an early Oleinik tap.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Yana Kunitskaya
I generally don’t lay big chalk in any sport, but I somewhat dropped the hammer on Vieira for Saturday, recommending her as a 1 unit play up to -300, at a 4% edge compared to my projection (79%).
Unfortunately, Vieira ended up missing weight, and I’m now considering taking a piece off. I’m still confident in her potential dominance of this matchup through her grappling, but a tough weight cut may prove daunting in the later rounds, particularly if Vieira cannot secure early takedowns or make Kunitskaya wear her weight in the cage.
Kunitskaya owns the superior striking metrics (+1.32 vs. -0.88 in strike differential) but Vieira should have a massive edge on the mat when she gets it there (2.02 takedowns per 15 minutes, 52% accuracy) and the Russian’s takedown defense (33%) is porous.
Vieira’s striking is still a work in progress, but she showed improvements in her return against Sijara Eubanks (won 66-65 at distance) following a knockout loss to Irene Aldana, before going back to her grappling to secure rounds (2-of-5 on takedowns, 2:27 to 0:39 of control time).
If Vieira gets top position, she should be able to control Kunitskaya or find a finish. Five of the Russian’s six losses have come when stuck on her back.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Derrick Lewis
I want to bet Curtis Blaydes in this spot — his skillset is a major problem at heavyweight — but even if Blaydes drops to listed odds of -400 (implied 80%) that’s only a two-percent edge compared to my projection, and I try not to go below 2.5-3% on a moneyline edge in order to account for possible projection error.
I would probably make an exception for Blaydes at -400 in this fight because the matchup looks so one-sided, but the line has generally floated past that number, and is creeping towards -500 at the majority of shops.
Blaydes is a nightmare matchup for the majority of the heavyweight division, combining durability and stamina with highly aggressive pressure wrestling (6.89 takedowns per 15 minutes, 55% accuracy). In his last fight, Blaydes scored a heavyweight record 14 takedowns (on 25 attempts) against Alexander Volkov, and controlled the Russian for 78% of the fight.
That’s bad news for Derrick Lewis, a brawler who offers little resistance to takedowns (52% defense, vs. 66% for Volkov) and who remains disinterested in improving his grappling.
Lewis is so strong that he can typically just stand up when his opponents are in control, but that’s unlikely to happen against Blaydes, who will repeatedly put Lewis back down or trip him on breaks, and slowly take away all of his energy.
Typically, I would think that the longer Blaydes has Lewis on his back early, the less of a true puncher’s chance you can give to Lewis later in the fight. That being said, while Blaydes is durable, all of those takedowns against Volkov actually gassed him out more than it did the Russian.
If I’m in the Blaydes camp, I’m hunting for a relatively early finish via submission or ground and pound, and not letting this fight get to the later stages where anything can happen.
It’s difficult to imagine Lewis winning on the scorecards, so losing minutes is largely irrelevant here. He just needs to find a way to land one decisive blow.
Given Blaydes preferred style, the Over 1.5 rounds is interesting, but not at such substantial vig (-200).
I actually show value on the fight to end inside the distance (projected 78%, or -354) up to odds of -300 (implied 75%) at a three-percent edge, and I think that covers the majority of outcomes in this fight.
The Fights I’m Passing On
Jamaal Emmers vs. Chas Skelly
I couldn’t find betting value on this bout from any perspective, though I think Emmers has the potential to dominate Skelly, who is making his first trip to the octagon since September 2019.
UFC fighters returning from a layoff greater than one year win just 38% of the time, and Emmers has the combination of strong defensive wrestling and aggressive striking (5.75 strikes landed per minute, +1.1 differential) to trouble his opponent.
Danny Chavez vs. Jared Gordon
Gordon missed weight badly on Friday, coming in four pounds over the featherweight limit — the second time he’s missed weight in his UFC career. Gordon also had an extremely difficult weight cut on Fight Island prior to his July win over Chris Fishgold, and looked a step slower than usual during that bout.
Perhaps Gordon didn’t completely push through with the cut this time in order to avoid draining his body yet again, and maybe a move up to 155 is necessary at this point in his career.
He’ll need to dominate Chavez with his wrestling (2.98 takedowns per 15 minutes, 41% accuracy) but “The Colombian Warrior” has made a ton of improvements to his takedown defense, denying all six attempts from T.J. Brown in his debut win in August.
I was leaning towards playing Gordon, by decision (projected +167, listed +180) but there’s not enough value to make a play, particularly after he missed weight.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Tom Aspinall
I’m really looking forward to this heavyweight bout between 42-year old Andrei Arlovski — who is making his 20th trip to the Octagon — and Tom Aspinall, one of my favorite youngsters in the UFC and perhaps the top prospect in the heavyweight division.
Aspinall has essentially been handed two highlight-reel knockouts in his first two UFC fights — facing bloated middleweight Jake Collier on return from a three-year-layoff, and late-replacement Alan Baudot, a bloated light heavyweight who probably doesn’t belong in the promotion.
We cashed some nice tickets on Aspinall to win inside the distance and win in Round 1 of those fights, but Arlovski is a completely different animal and the first real MMA test for the Englishman, who is sneakily also a BJJ black belt.
The spot absolutely screams Arlovski. Aspinall has been out of the first round twice in his career and lost both bouts by the second-round finish. But his last loss came in 2016 — against a 35-year-old when he was just 23 — and Aspinall has had a substantial amount of time to improve both his cardio and overall skill-level since then.
He hasn’t had to prove it on the professional stage yet. Early stoppages can be both a blessing and a curse. You rack up highlights and bonus money, but without the ability to gain round time and build your stamina base.
Arlovski has dragged better fighters than Aspinall to deep waters, and his later career run of decisions (nine of his past 10 fights have gone the distance) masks a career 66% finish rate.
Furthermore, the fact that he’s only been knocked out by two foes since 2017 — Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, both of whom have the death touch — speaks more to his durability than his 11 career knockout losses.
Does Aspinall have the death touch too, though? It’s entirely possible, and I think actually more likely than not. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s something different about the way he moves, and the way fighters react when he connects:
The death touch bet, which we have won with so far against inferior competition, is Aspinall to win in Round 1 (+175), but there’s not enough value on that number for me to make a play.
And if Arlovski survives the opening minutes, and first few shots, I’d immediately be concerned about a bet on the fight to end inside the distance (projected -173, listed -160), and there’s not enough value in that market for me to justify a play.
If I were blindly betting this fight, Arlovski by decision (+350) would strike my interest. If he does survive the opening minutes, and if Aspinall’s cardio hasn’t improved, Arlovski might be a live betting favorite heading into Round 3.
But compared to my projection at +334, there’s not enough value to justify a play on that line either.
Instead, I’ll sit back and enjoy this one. But I’ll hope the fight extends so that we can see Aspinall’s level of cardio.
Darrick Minner vs. Charles Rosa
Minner’s fights are typically actioned-packed, for however long they last. 33 of his 36 professional bouts (92%) have ended inside the distance, including 25 in the first round (21 wins, four losses).
As a result, Minner to win in Round 1 (+550) is always intriguing, as Rosa’s takedown defense (45%) could put the favorite in a vulnerable spot early.
But despite his subpar defensive wrestling, Rosa (a BJJ blackbelt with eight submission wins) has proven very difficult to submit in his MMA career, and I think his chances of surviving and winning this fight are likely underrated.
Zerillo’s UFC Fight Night Bets
Distance or Decision Props and Overs
- Casey O’Neill wins by Decision (+135, 0.5 units)
- Eddie Wineland wins by Decision (+240, 0.25u)
- Klose/Pena, Fight goes the Distance (-210, 0.5u)
- Nassourdine Imavov wins by Decision (+350, 0.25u)
Inside the Distance Props and Unders
- Daukaus/Oleinik, Under 1.5 Rounds (-170, 0.5u)
- Chris Daukuas wins Inside the Distance (-135, Risk 1u)
- Blaydes/Lewis, Fight ends Inside the Distance (-290, 0.5u)
- Sergey Spivak (-235, 1u)
- Drako Rodriguez (-180, 0.5u)
- Nate Landwehr (-115, 1u)
- Nate Landwehr (-120, 0.5u)
- Eddie Wineland (+101, 1u)
- Nassourdine Imavov (+110, 1u)
- Ketlen Vieira (-265, 1u)
Don’t forget to follow my picks in the Action Network App.