The UFC will be back May 9 in what is widely considered to be the return of U.S. sports.
It’s a huge opportunity for regulated online/mobile sportsbooks and sports bettors, especially for the operators that launched in Colorado on Friday. All together, 10 states have online/mobile wagering.
One sportsbook in Indiana has called a UFC event in the barren sports landscape a “miraculous coup” with the potential for “epic viewing and wagering results.” MMA sure beats Russian table tennis.
How we got here
UFC 249 has been a roller coaster over the past six weeks. The event was originally slated for April 18 in Brooklyn, N.Y., featuring the highly anticipated lightweight championship fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Tony Ferguson (25-3). It marked the fifth time that the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson bout had been scheduled. MMA fans often say the fight is cursed, and it’s hard to argue with that. The last time the two men were scheduled to face off, Ferguson tripped over a cord in a production studio and injured himself. Since they were first slated to brawl in 2015, it’s two withdraws apiece, and one at the hands of COVID-19. It’s possible the two will never share an Octagon together.
When it was rumored that the fight would be held in the Middle East due to the esclating public health crisis in the U.S., Nurmagomedov left California and returned to his home country of Dagestan, a federal subject of Russia, to finish training. When Nurmagomedov drew criticism for leaving California where Ferguson was also training, Nurmagomedov defended himself by saying he thought leaving the U.S. was safe because he was traveling to a location closer to where the fight was set to take place.
When the rumored plan for Abu Dhabi fell through and Nurmagomedov was stranded at home, the UFC was left scrambling to find a replacement for the main event. Justin Gaethje (21-2) was tapped, and the UFC found a home for the event at a tribal casino in California, after reportedly looking at tribal casinos in Oklahoma and Florida. However, just days before the April 18 event, the UFC announced the event was off, due to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, publicly opposing it. Ultimately, it was Disney/ESPN, the UFC’s pay-per-view partner, that was credited — or blamed if you want to look at it that way — with pulling the plug.
Not to be dissuaded, the UFC, as it also worked to flesh out the card with other fights, continued its efforts behind the scenes trying to stage the event as soon as possible. A fight camp is often expensive for a fighter and involves losing a significant amount of weight, so the UFC needed to move fast. The MMA leader finally found a venue in the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The event comes as the GOP-controlled Sunshine State moves, albeit controversially, to reopen its economy. With the mayor of Jackonsville on board with the UFC staging the event, as well as a blessing from the state’s boxing regulator, it appears unlikely that anything will derail the card, barring unforseen athlete illnesses. The UFC is taking many safety precautions for the event.
You never know, though. Like the Ellie Goulding song, ♫anything could happen♫.
MMA fans: we finally get UFC fights starting May 9th!!
May 8th: pic.twitter.com/agp8Bz5LPp
— Pissed Off Twood (@pissedofftwood) April 30, 2020
Betting options galore
The UFC has had to postpone several cards worth of fights since the near-total shutdown of the global sports world in mid-March. As a result, the promotion has shuffled things around and made UFC 249 one of the most stacked cards from top to bottom in recent memory.
That’s great news for MMA fans, as well as sports bettors and sportsbooks.
The Ferguson-Gaethje fight, expected to be a barnburner, is supported by many other intriguing fights.
Brick-and-mortar casinos across the country are closed, so wagering on the event is confined to online/mobile platforms. There are a handful of top sportsbooks in the state of Pennsylvania, which began online betting last year, to chose from for wagering on UFC 249 on May 9.
We could easily pen more than 10,000 words in an attempt to analyze all the fights and their respective betting options between the sportsbooks, so instead we’ll give you a few wagers that are worth consideration for those looking to have some skin in the game:
- The books are giving Gaethje a solid chance of winning, despite Ferguson’s 12-fight winning streak. Many MMA observers believe that Gaethje is a tough stylistic matchup for Ferguson, and it’s a convincing argument. FOX Bet is offering Gaethje at +170, the best price among the PA books. If you think he has a better than 37% chance of winning, then there’s value here. With Ferguson being 36 and surely nearing the end of his prime, it’s hard to argue against the fight being close to a coin flip.
- The final fight of the prelims is a rematch between Anthony Pettis (22-10) and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-14). Pettis, winner of their first fight in 2013 via a bodykick in the first round, has lost his last two fights after a sensational win in early 2019 against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Cerrone has lost three fights in a row, all by TKO, and all within the last 11 months. Both are nearing the end of their storied careers. A playable bet here, due to it being a three-round affair and the two men being close friends, is for it to go the distance. FanDuel is offering a +114 price, so if you think this goes to the judges’ scorecards significantly above 47.6% of the time, it’s a good value bet. Given the fact that COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in everyone’s training, it’s easy to imagine Pettis vs. Cerrone as a relatively slow-paced kickboxing affair with around a 60% chance of going the distance.
- The three-round heavyweight fight between Francis Ngannou (14-3) and Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0), both huge power punchers, could very well end with one of them face-first on the canvas. Ngannou has been clamoring for a title shot, but instead has to battle the surging Rozenstruik. They were originally slated to fight March 28, so there’s a chance both men won’t be in top conditioning for this fight, and if you think Ngannou fights cautiously like he did against Derrick Lewis in 2018 (a similar fight stylistically as the one with Rozenstruik), this fight has some solid chances of going the distance. Also consider that Rozenstruik’s last fight, a five-round contest against the washed-up Allistair Overeem, nearly went the distance with many fans wondering why there wasn’t more offense from Rozenstruik. If Ngannou vs. Rozenstruik does go the full three rounds, it’s likely the more experienced Ngannou will pull it off. He’s +550 on FanDuel to win on points. If we assume Ngannou, the significant favorite, squeezes out a decision win just a quarter of the time, it’s a solid bet.
The fight to consider avoiding is the bantamweight championship fight between Henry Cejudo (15-2) and Dominik Cruz (22-2). While Cejudo has quickly risen in the pound-for-pound rankings thanks to currently holding two UFC belts, Cruz is an all-time great and a significantly taller man. Cruz hasn’t fought since 2016, so there are too many unknowns here to wager on either Cejudo at around -220 or Cruz at around +185. The same logic can be applied to the other markets on this bout.