Parlaying and Praying: UFC 229

By Jordan Breen Oct 5, 2018

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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UFC 229 is now available on Amazon Prime.

We are mere hours from one of the biggest, most lucrative and historically significant fights in MMA history between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. Undoubtedly, UFC 229 in Las Vegas on Saturday is going to see an awful lot of gambling on the lightweight title bout, if not the rest of the fantastic card. Do you really want to be left out of that action?

Nurmagomedov-McGregor is one of those special marquee main events that has profoundly polarized the fight public. Is it a true pick-’em fight? No: Nurmagomedov has hovered between -160 and -170 and McGregor between +130 and +140 since the lines opened. However, it is a unique instance in which most of the MMA public concedes both men have distinct, viable chances to win and to do so in style, yet virtually everybody has a clear take on the fight and its outcome. With a competitive if not even line on the fight, it makes it ripe for gambling activity.

More than just its hailed headliner, UFC 229 is a 12-fight card in which nine of the dozen fights have implied percentage odds of 70-30 or closer, with many hovering in the 60-40 range. Plain and simple, there’s a whole host of competitive fights to strike your betting fancy on this card. If you’re sharp or maybe a little clairvoyant, you could be making it rain like McGregor come Sunday.

Regrettably, there’s no betting line where we can capitalize on UFC President Dana White’s lofty and inadvisable claims that the event will do near or above three million pay-per-view buys. Nonetheless, there’s something for everyone -- there’s over 60 available props on Nurmagomedov-McGregor alone -- when it comes to betting on UFC 229:

Straight Up Cash

Khabib Nurmagomedov (-170)

A few qualifiers here. First of all, this is my column and I reserve the right to discuss any straight bet that I think is smart to play on any card. However, as is usually the case, I recognize that the biggest fights generate the most interest, especially when it comes to folks being compelled to plunk down their cash; this fight only amplifies that dynamic, and so, even if I don’t think Nurmagomedov is a mortal lock by any means, y’all are reading this with an eye toward marquee betting and I’d be cruel to not cater to that.

Secondly and more crucially to the actual gambling part, Nurmagomedov is -170 right now, but this is a McGregor fight. “The Notorious” one is the sort of transcendent superstar who, between casual Vegas goers and his traveling Irish faithful combined, will generate an enormous amount of late cash on his name from square gamblers. Therefore, if you’re on board with this analysis, you’d be smart to wait until after weigh-ins or just before fight time when those raucous folks take their chances at the betting windows and potentially drive the line on Nurmagomedov down.

As for why I like Nurmagomedov here, especially as a straight bet: one, I think he’ll win the fight straight up, and two, conceptually speaking, there are more ways he could potentially get his hand raised, making him more attractive as the moneyline bet, as opposed to McGregor, who will rely on the knockout. The major technical sticking point for me isn’t just the simple broad stroke of “Nurmagomedov is going to wrestle McGregor and tire him out.” While I think this is principally true, what has always stood out to me is that for all the emphasis on McGregor’s left hand, he’s actually a diverse, ambidextrous boxer whose hands are set up with his diverse, pressuring kicks. For the Irishman, it’s almost always his unique array of footwork and kicking attacks that move around his opponents, often baiting them into counterpunching, whereupon McGregor then pounces by countering their counter attempts. In this bout, I suspect his kicks will have little purchase.

Consider that Nurmagomedov is not a classic, “clean” wrestler -- he only completes 44 percent of his takedowns proper -- but doesn’t actually need to complete a pristine double-leg takedown in order to enact his game. The Dagestani can thrive off of simply tripping McGregor off a kick or scrambling off of a busted takedown, as long as he gets to his waist. After all, despite the surprisingly low efficiency of Nurmagomedov’s takedowns, he still completes 5.44 takedowns per 15 minutes, all while relentlessly ragdolling his opponents from the waistlock, riding them and hammering away with punches. If Nurmagomedov can quickly demonstrate that any false move by McGregor is going to allow “The Eagle” to control his body, if not put his back on the mat cleanly, it’s going to curtail the former two-division UFC champion’s offensive arsenal and start the ball rolling downhill. From there, the more casual conception about Nurmagomedov running the Irishman out of steam over 25 minutes takes over; and considering we’re talking about a straight bet here, Nurmagomedov has viable chances for a late-round stoppage, a decision win if McGregor shows some incredible meddle and toughness or even a submission win if he can bully McGregor on top, as he did to Michael Johnson. Unless you’re a big-money bettor dealing with prop limits, if you’re betting on “The Notorious,” you’re better off taking the prop of McGregor by knockout at +200.

Straight Up Pass

Michelle Waterson (+110)

Make no mistake, Waterson’s strawweight showdown with Felice Herrig is a close fight and figures to be a competitive, back-and-forth affair bound for the scorecards. However, I think keen gamblers got this one right from jump street, as Waterson opened up as a -140 favorite in late August and has since been driven to a +110 underdog -- with good reason.

Waterson, owing to her karate background, is certainly the more precise striker in this particular fight, landing 60 percent of her significant strikes, dwarfing Herrig’s paltry 35 percent. However, those numbers don’t account for either jabs or overall volume. When you consider those factors, plus Herrig’s three-inch reach advantage, there’s a different picture being painted. In Herrig’s last three fights, she’s averaged over 237 strikes thrown per 15 minutes. “The Karate Hottie” might be the sharpshooter who lands clean punches, but Herrig is the rangier fighter who throws infinitely more volume, with the ability to stay outside and control the range and tempo of the fight with her steady jabs and low kicks, even if she’s not winning the pure percentage game.

“Lil Bulldog’s” size advantage over Waterson extends beyond that. Waterson is a true atomweight, while Herrig is a much brawnier, ripped-up fighter who is more naturally suited to 115 pounds. Plus, Herrig has significant skills in the clinch, where Waterson all too often relies on spamming headlock throws from close quarters, which figure to either be blocked or lead to her sacrificing position against the stronger woman on the inside.

If the fight does hit the ground, Waterson is slick with her submissions and scrambles but very often ends up complacently working from her full guard rather than standing; and she is prone to giving up advantageous positions because of her aggression. Meanwhile, Herrig, under the tutelage of UFC and Pride Fighting Championships veteran Jeff Curran, has bolstered her grappling game. While she was surprisingly tapped by Randa Markos on “The Ultimate Fighter 20” in an exhibition bout, Herrig has never been submitted in her pro MMA career proper. This fight will no doubt be competitive, but Herrig’s steadily improving all-around game, physical advantages and volume striking should give her a larger leg up than the betting line suggests, hence the hard pass on “The Karate Hottie.”

A Prop-ular Pick

Alexander Volkov Wins by Decision (+175)

In 36 pro fights, Volkov has polished off 23 opponents, finishing 77 percent of his 30 wins. Meanwhile, opponent Derrick Lewis is one of the most devastating punchers in all of MMA, having finished 20 of 25 opponents -- excluding his one career no-contest -- while knocking out 17 of them, finishing at a 90 percent clip. Plus, this is heavyweight MMA. Suffice to say, I understand why you might be skeptical about this suggestion, but hear me out.

At 6-foot-7, Volkov, despite being a surprisingly adroit puncher in close quarters, is a natural range fighter. However, in this fight, despite a four-inch height advantage, he has only one inch of reach over Lewis. More than that, Lewis, as mentioned, is a positively destructive puncher who needs just one crushing flurry to put an opponent on his face, and he actually excels in closer quarters when he can land thudding hooks and uppercuts. In the most general technical sense, Volkov is the versatile technician and Lewis is the pure puncher; it would be asinine for the Russian to do anything but jab, one-two and try to kick the bejesus out of “The Black Beast’s” legs and body.

Lewis, who is still suffering from chronic back issues, stands flat-footed and plods around the cage, looking to uncork his home-run shots, while Volkov lands 4.84 significant strikes per minute, again, not accounting for his jab. However, Lewis has demonstrated an astonishing ability to absorb punishment to his head, body and legs, all while being exhausted, even prevailing despite his fatigue in the third and fourth rounds of several bouts. “Drago” deserves to be the -170 favorite, but given the cautious, rangy game he is likely to employ against the ever-dangerous, unfathomably tough Lewis, +170 on the prop bet seems far juicier than the -170 straight bet, as Lewis figures to be bloodied but unbowed after 15 minutes.

An Un-prop-ular Pick

Khabib Nurmagomedov-Conor McGregor Goes Less Than 2.5 Rounds (-130)

Again, some necessary context here: I am not saying that it is silly to think this fight might last less than 12 and a half minutes; it very well could. This is more about considering both fighters’ likely methods of victory, the timeliness of those potential outcomes and how they correspond to other available props.

Think about it like this: If I told you Nurmagomedov-McGregor ended in the first half of the fight, who would you think won? Probably McGregor, right? Exactly. Now, if McGregor won in the first half of the fight, how would you think he did it? Do you think he armbarred Nurmagomedov or choked out the Dagestani? Un-bloody-likely. As divisive as this fight might be, I think you could get virtually any MMA fan to subscribe to the idea that the two greatest potential competing outcomes here are McGregor knocking out “The Eagle” in the first half of the fight or Nurmagomedov wearing out “The Notorious” one and either stopping him late or winning a commanding decision.

Given the agreeability of those two hypotheticals, regardless of who you think is going to win straight up, why would you just bet the under at -130? Unless you’re somehow of the conviction that Nurmagomedov is going to hustle McGregor early, which is again unlikely, McGregor by knockout pays +195 and inside the distance period pays +175. Bolder still, the Irishman by knockout in the opening round is +550 and +850 in the second stanza. All of these plays pay much better and make infinitely more sense than just taking the halfway-mark under.

An Accumulation Contemplation

Felice Herrig (-140)
Ryan LaFlare (-130)
Alexander Volkov (-170)
Total Odds: (+382)

As we know, the nature of a classic three-team parlay is always a sweaty, nervous one, and that’s only enhanced when you’re choosing three plays that are all in the neighborhood of between 55 and 65 percent likelihood to win. This is why so many folks try to play it safe by utilizing -300 favorites and end up falling prey to the classic parlay-buster.

In this case? I think we’ve got three rock solid, deserved favorites, all of whom could be larger favorites. I’ve already made the cases for Herrig and Volkov above: Herrig was bet from an underdog to a favorite against Waterson quickly after lines opened, likely due to her size, volume and positional grappling advantages, while Volkov, despite facing a fearsome puncher like Lewis, is the better technical craftsman on the feet and figures to use his rangier style, predicated on his jab and kicking offense, against the plodding Lewis, who is still dealing with chronic back injuries. That leaves us with LaFlare.

I was frankly shocked to see Long Islander at -130, as I could have easily seen him being nearly double as big a favorite. Opponent Tony Martin, despite returning to the welterweight division for the first time in years, isn’t going to be outsized by a large margin, as he was an enormous lightweight and will only give up one inch of both height and reach to LaFlare. However, despite his improved boxing, Martin is at heart a hard-wrestling grinder who has largely relied on his size and strength at 155 pounds to wear out his opponents.

Through his UFC tenure, Martin has only completed 25 percent of his takedowns, and while it may be a function of the lightweight cut, he tends to get tired in the second half of his fights. There’s nothing flashy or outstanding about LaFlare’s game, but he’s a perfect jack of all trades with above-average athleticism who figures to outjab and outkick the Midwesterner on the feet and ably sprawl on all of his takedowns attempts. Martin doesn’t have the grappling chops to exploit LaFlare as Demian Maia did, nor the power to punch him out like Alex Oliveira. Martin is facing a better striking version of himself who is far more comfortable at 170 pounds, making this LaFlare’s fight to lose and this betting line far too good to pass on.

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