Ultimate Fighting Championship

UFC 259 is Saturday, and Sam Panayotovich is here with his betting guidance

March 6

By Sam Panayotovich 
FOX Sports betting analyst

Three championship belts are on the line Saturday night at UFC 259 in Las Vegas and sportsbooks expect a ton of action at the betting windows. 

In the main event, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (-213) is a sizable favorite against light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz (+175) over at FOX Bet. Adesanya is aiming to become the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold two titles at the same time. 

"The main event is going to be a monster handle fight," Westgate SuperBook executive sports director John Murray told FOX Sports. "That Adesanya-Blachowicz fight will be one of our biggest UFC handles of the year to date outside of McGregor-Poirier."

I was very curious about the term "monster handle," so it felt necessary to ask Murray to compare the betting handle on a main event to the handle on an early preliminary fight.

"It could be 20 or 30 times as much," he forecasted. "Remember, all the parlays roll into the last couple of fights, too. Especially the last fight. The casual bettors don’t really get involved in the early fights. But they’re throwing Adesanya into their parlays.

"Plus, it’s the end of the night and college basketball will be winding down. People will shift all their focus to the UFC. We’ll see way more money concentrated on the last two fights."  

Speaking of the last two fights, Amanda Nunes (-1000) will defend her featherweight belt against Megan Anderson (+650), which means you have to lay $1,000 to win $100. That’s how big of an underdog Anderson in the eyes of the bookmakers. 

"The public is still going to bet her," Murray said. "Our straight bets are about 5-to-1 on Anderson at the moment. People don’t want to lay big chalk on Nunes. Nobody wants to bet $100 to win $9. They want to bet 100 dollars to win 700 on Anderson. You’ll probably see books rooting for the favorite there.

"We just try to get a number where we’re getting bets on both sides. You don’t want to be too overloaded one way unless you have a really strong opinion. I certainly think Nunes is going to win but I don’t want to give away Anderson at like 15-to-1. They’re already taking 7 or 8-to-1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number comes down a little by the fight.

"You also have a ton of moneyline parlays, though." Murray continued. "People will throw Nunes in there like she’s a free Bingo space. You’ll have a ton of parlay money tied to Nunes and all the straight bets will be on Anderson."

I personally like the "Under" 1.5 rounds in Nunes-Anderson at +110. This is a bettable prop where you’re literally wagering on how long the fight will go. I’ve got Nunes knocking out Anderson pretty early.

Big tree fall hard. 

Betting that plus-money price (+110) is much more advantageous for a betting bankroll than laying -1000. If you lose one bet at -1000, you’ve got to win 10 consecutive bets just to break even. No thanks. 

The third belt up for grabs is in the men’s bantamweight division, where champion Petr Yan (-133) faces Aljamain Sterling (+115). 

"The Sterling-Yan fight should outwrite the Nunes-Anderson fight. The public gets scared away by these -1100 favorite-type fights. We’ve seen sharp and public money on Sterling here. He was +120 earlier in the week. We usually write more bets on fights that are priced closer to pick ‘em." 

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that the best UFC bettors usually make their bread on the non-marquee fights. They’re whacking the books on preliminary fights while you’re trying to spell A-d-e-s-a-n-y-a in your group thread. 

"Sometimes you’ll get people looking to make big bets on fighters I’ve never heard of," Murray cracked. "Like some guy comes in off the street and wants to bet twenty dimes on a fight between two guys I don’t really know that well. That makes me a little nervous. 

"If somebody wanted to bet $50,000 on the main event, I would say sure. If somebody wanted to bet $40,000 on the first or second fight, I would be a little wary. You’ve got a lot of UFC events these days, but the cards are deep. There are guys you don’t have a lot of familiarity with and it can make you a little nervous when a guy wants to hammer one of those fights.

"Our best sharps hit us on underdogs in preliminary fights. Our best UFC bettor almost exclusively bets ‘dogs. He’s been beating us for years. He took Jake Matthews at +240 this weekend and he’s already down to +170. Last week, he bet a guy at +300. The guy lost the fight, but he clearly won the first round. The second and third rounds were close. It was a fair decision, but watching that fight as an oddsmaker, I know the guy wouldn’t be 3-to-1 again. It was the right bet even though it lost.

"The sharper guys are playing dogs in fights that should maybe be priced closer to pick ‘em. They’re taking the underdogs +150 or +170 or so and winning more than they’re losing. At those numbers, they make out very well." 

While Saturday might represent the biggest card of the year for the UFC in terms of intriguing fights from top to bottom, the UFC has come up big for Murray for the past year, much to his delight.

"UFC saved our spring," Murray said. "It was an unbelievable spike. We closed our casino on March 17 and there obviously weren’t any sporting events. We didn’t even have our mobile betting app up. When we heard they were doing UFC 249 on May 9, we reopened the app and brought our team back to make the numbers and take bets. We wrote a ridiculous amount of business on it.

"The UFC sort of carried us through the summer culminating with the Usman-Masvidal fight in Abu Dhabi. We did an outrageous amount of business on that and did very well. Basketball and hockey didn’t come back until the end of July. So the UFC carried us through May, June and July." 

Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.


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