The UFC heads back to the city of sin as UFC 209 emanates from under the neon lights of Las Vegas and features a pair of title fights that fight fans should be absolutely salivating over.
UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson pick up where they left off after their majority draw war in New York last fall while the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title and a shot at MMA's biggest star: Conor McGregor.
But we're not here to drool over the matchups, are we? This is about the betting individual and where the value is on a pretty solid pay per view card.
Starting with the main event, Woodley finds himself in a familiar predicament as the underdog despite being the champion and coming within nanoseconds of finishing off Thompson. But the oddsmakers are finding the champion as much as a +140 underdog (like at 5Dimes). Facing Wonderboy is a tall order for any fighter given his background as an unbeaten professional kickboxer and arguably the most talented striker in the sport. Although he opened up as a -125 favorite, the money continues to fall on his shoulders and Thompson is now up to a -160 underdog at quite a few sportsbooks.
Given his striking proficiency, it's very difficult for me to bet against Thompson. In their last fight, Thompson was in control when the two were standing until Woodley's underrated speed closed the distance as he landed the very punch that cut the lights off on Robbie Lawler. Thompson was in a world of hurt but showed great resilience to survive the round and make it out of the fight. That may bode well for the challenger in the rematch as he's seen what Woodley has to over and will be a lot smarter with his standup this time around. I give the slight edge to Thompson but am a little interested in the under of 2 ½ rounds at +160. Woodley will likely be cautious in the rematch and pick his spots carefully, but there's always a possibility that both fighters are weary of leaving another fight in the judges' hands and come out a bit more aggressive. Somebody may get their lights cut off early so I'm all about Thompson at -160 and the under at +160.
The other fight that is worthy of your attention is the heavyweight throwdown between Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem. Hunt is currently listed as much as a +125 underdog and I'm totally fine with it. A pair of walkoff knockouts preceded his loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 200, which was later ruled a no contest after Lesnar was flagged by USADA.
We should all be aware of Overeem's fragile jaw, which failed him miserably against Stipe Miocic at UFC 203 last September. Even though he's the more proficient striker, all it takes is one punch from hunt to end the night. Overeem will play it smart for as long as he can. That will likely be over 1 ½ rounds, which is at +125. Hunt may catch up to him but Overeem should be smart enough to avoid the home run punch for at likes a round and a half. I don't see Hunt winning a decision here because he's just not active enough in his fights. I like Hunt at +125 and the over, which is also at +125.
Last but not least, take a hard look at Dani Kelly being a +200 against Rashad Evans, who is making his debut at middleweight but has had his fair share of trouble getting cleared to fight at UFC 206 and 206. He looked terrible in his last two fights against Glover Teixiera and Ryan Bader so it is interesting that he's a favorite against a man who has only one loss on his record to date. If you can snatch Kelly at +200, take it. There are far too many question marks hovering over Evans' career not to.