Dana White said UFC had to go 3-for-3 on its eight-day, three-event whirlwind spanning May 9, 13 and 16.
It’s already 2-for-2, with underdogs earning substantial upsets in both main events, social distance protocols being observed and bettors dramatically elevating sportsbook handle.
The finale in this once-in-a-lifetime betting buzz occurs Saturday night, without spectators, in Jacksonville, Fla., accessible via ESPN +.
Preliminary Card 6p.m. ET
- Welterweight: Miguel Baeza -205 vs Matt Brown 172
- Middleweight: Anthony Hernandez -108 vs Kevin Holland -108
- Featherweight: Mike Davis -220 vs Giga Chikadze +184
- Featherweight: Darren Elkins -114 vs Nate Landwehr -102
- Flyweight: Courtney Casey -148 vs Mara Romero Barella +126
- Heavyweight: Don’Tale Mayes -122 vs Rodrigo Nascimento +104
Main Card: 9 p.m.
- Featherweight: Song Yadong – 200 vs Marlon Vera +160
- Middleweight: Krzysztof Jotko -165 vs Eryk Anders + 130
- Featherweight: Edson Barboza -137 vs Dan Ige +110
- Strawweight: Co-main event. Claudia Gadelha -190 vs Angela Hill +150.
- Heavyweight: (Main Event) Walt Harris -155, Alistair Overeem, +130
Bettors began their more serious wagering after the completion of Wednesday’s card. Jotko has moved from -150 to -165 at Draft Kings. Hill has slightly more value at FanDuel, +164.=
How did the first two cards play out?
Here’s some “Scoring” after two rounds.
*Justin Gaethje and Glover Teixeira, who came up big as underdogs against Tony Ferguson and Anthony Smith in the main events.
Both notched fifth-round victories. Both returned roughly +150 on the moneyline and +700 to win by knockout at varied books. Gaethje, now the interim lightweight champ, advanced to a probable fall matchup with division champion Khabib Nurmagomedov by beating Tony Ferguson.
Teixeira. Who toppled Anthony Smith, makes himself more marketable in the light-heavyweight division.
*Francis Ngannou _ Tim BER! A 20-second knockout victory over Jairzinho Rozenstruik on May 9 lit up social media. The rising heavyweight was compared to heavyweight legend Mike Tyson, which was entirely appropriate. Some of the praise came from Iron Mike himself. He considers Ngannou a future champ.
*Prop bettors. Talk about hitting the big one twice in a row. Gamblers made huge gains with both Gaethje and Teixeira delivering 35-1 returns at most books on the exact-round knockout prediction. Well-played for those who cashed this.
The prop remains a terrific side bet, just as wild-card wagers would in poker. The moneyline was attractive either way and could easily constitute most of the bet. But for a small second ticket, the gamblers realized a huge return.
Taking the prop route is part of most gamblers’ human nature to begin with. A hunch will produce a small stab in search of a big hit. And on these two occasions, it happened.
Four of Wednesday’s bouts were captured by underdogs. Besides Teixeira, Ben Rothwell delivered in the co-main with a triumph against favored Ovince St. Preux.
To be fair, Rothwell was a small dog, poodle-like, at +115 at DraftKings. But he still prevailed against the favorite.
Brian Kelleher, elevated to +144 at FanDuel, scored the first upset of the night by stopping Hunter Azure in the second round.
Andrei Arlovski, +132 at FanDuel, defeated Phillipe Lins.
*Favorites in female bouts.
No surprises so far. Carla Esparza defeated Michelle Waterson in a split decision May 9 and Sijara Eubanks rolled past Sarah Moras on Wednesday.
Gadelha will try to keep that going in the co-main event Saturday. She is ranked sixth in the strawweight division. Her most notable win came over Esparza, ranked seventh.
Hill has won three fights in a row.
It has been superb. Most favorites are less than 2-1. This inspires confidence on both sides of the wagering board. Chalk bettors don’t want to lay too high a price and underdog players may think their fighter has a good chance to win.
Oh, how they have loved this. Some compared May 9’s handle as bigger than any single NFL game in the past year. UFC carried many markets Wednesday and will probably do so again Saturday.
The books, who also see the return of NASCAR this weekend, have more confidence. UFC provided three blasts of fresh air.
*Ferguson had a UFC record 12-fight lightweight winning streak snapped. It also cost him a sixth attempt at Khabib. The fight has already been postponed five different times.
*Fabricio Werdum was the most prohibitive favorite on the board according to DraftKings. He was -335 but Aleksei Oleinik, +265, outhustled him to capture a split decision.
*Henry Cejudo fans. He abruptly retired after scoring a knockout over Dominik Cruz, but there was no crowd to share adulation with. That’s one drawback of no spectators, but it’s also the new normal for a while.
*Donald Cerrone. The lovable Cowboy lost his fourth straight and his marquee has noticeable slipped.