UFC 223 – 5 Big Upsets Worth Targeting

By Philip Andrews
Published on March 26, 2018
Brandon Moreno UFC

There were many Ronda Rousey fans who smugly awaited Rowdy’s return to the winner’s circle in the fall and winter of 2016. Bantamweight belt-holder Amanda Nunes was sure to lose to the expert grappler – or that was at least the prevailing wisdom.

Rousey entered the ring with minus-odds on December 30th, and by the New Year she would no longer be considered a top challenger for the title. But Nunes had opened at as much as 2-to-1 underdog odds at some casinos, and casual fans probably felt that was too generous. The Brazilian had lost 4 matches in her career.

Meanwhile, smart handicappers saw warning signs in Rousey’s schedule and behavior. The challenger had lost to Holly Holm in an unsuccessful title defense, then sat out over a year while her flirtation with World Wrestling Entertainment began. Leading up to the evening of the fight, a skittish Rousey responded to trash-talk by blocking Nunes on Instagram.

Amanda Nunes destroyed Ronda Rousey in less than 50 seconds. As bettors who had picked the underdog cleaned up, in hindsight it seemed so obvious why it happened. Nunes was powerful, quick, fearsome and improving rapidly. Rousey was a distracted celebrity. But not enough gamblers (or bookies) had considered those factors ahead of time to turn the odds around.

That’s not a rare occurrence. Experts can parse through every UFC result after the fact and think, “of course.” Predictions always seem like they should have been easy, once the result is in the books…but none of us have time machines.

Or do we? Remember that the future depends on the present, and in some fighters’ cases, the recent past. By gauging the mental state of each competitor, smart wagers can be made based on the overall picture and not just the relative size, speed and experience of the athletes.

Bookies already have the tale of the tape – that’s what makes the odds. What makes a winning bet when the gambler successfully looks past the hard numbers.

The betting lines for UFC 223 in New York City are tight. A few underdogs are swimming in the mix, but the undercard’s betting value is a mystery. No odds have yet been released for the 4 pay-per-view matches that will take place before mid-tier prelims begin on Fox Sports 1.

Yet the biggest mystery of all may surround the main event, waged for the UFC Lightweight Championship belt between Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champ Tony Ferguson. The bout has been scheduled, canceled, rescheduled and delayed for literally 3 years. Which fighter has the proper focus and long-term consistency to win a match that took 36 months to materialize?

Bookies like Nurmagomedov, along with Ray Borg and at least one other semi-heavy favorite to triumph at Barclays Center. But is there value in the sleepers? Let’s take a closer look at 5 UFC 223 matches that could potentially surprise – and win a bundle for those who venture an underdog pick.

Ray Borg (-275 at My Bookie) vs Brandon Moreno (+225)

There is a term called “confirmation bias” that refers to people taking everything they see as evidence that they were right all along. It usually comes up in politics, or science. But in case of the Borg vs Moreno Flyweight bout at UFC 223, it has much to do with the betting action.

Brandon Moreno is unorthodox, a fighter from Mexico who ran up an 11-match winning streak after appearing on The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions. When he lost by decision to Sergio Pettis last August, it confirmed his status as a 2nd-rate contender in many analysts’ minds. Yet who is to say the loss to Pettis was the real deal and the winning streak was a fluke? Maybe it’s the other way around.

In 2 of his 3 previous fights, the underdog Moreno won Performance of the Night with submission choke-hold finishes.

Meanwhile, favorite Ray Borg lost his most recent bout as well. Due to injuries and delays, each combatant has had a long time to think things over. There’s a possibility that Moreno will out-fox Borg and prove that he’s no flash in the pan.

The 24-year-old up-and-comer is a solid sleeper pick to defeat Borg on April 7th.

If you can find a prop bet asking if Borg will lose by submission, consider it strongly.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (-250) vs Tony Ferguson (+200)

The Borg-Moreno match will be followed by a much-anticipated main event featuring an unbeaten challenger for the Lightweight title. Khabib Nurmagomedov is a perfect 15-0, is considered one of the best grapplers in MMA, and has been machine-like in his consistency from round to round and bout to bout. Joe Rogan has been calling the Russian “.”

But underdog Tony Ferguson has a few things going for him in this one.

Khabib has never fought more than 3 rounds, while the title bout in New York is scheduled for 5 rounds. The Eagle has not flown into the Octagon very often lately – Khabib has fought only once since 2016, and the title tilt with Ferguson has been rescheduled 4 times. Finally, the American holds the interim strap and has great momentum having won 10 bouts in a row.

Khabib is intimidating, but he’s not Floyd Mayweather.

Everyone’s first loss must come at some point, and conditions are rarely riper for an upset than they will be at Barclays.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz (-190) vs Felice Herrig (+160)

“This is the match I asked for,” 33-year-old Felice Herrig after being scheduled against Karolina “Polish Princess” Kowalkiewicz at UFC 223. “I’ve been the underdog most of my career and I thrive on it.”

That sounds like a typical confident-fighter quote, doesn’t it? Yet the scenario going into this Women’s Strawweight bout is anything but typical for a favorite vs underdog match.

Kowalkiewicz is ranked higher than Herrig but owns more losses in UFC fights and has lost 2 of her last 3 matches. Like Khabib, the favorite has not fought often enough over the past 2 years to have a valid claim to any kind of consistency. Consistency occurs when prizefighters fight and win often.

Lastly, Herrig is experienced enough to channel her talent into 3 rounds of focus and smart choices in the Octagon. She fought 3 times in 2017 and won all 3 fights handily. This could be the final chance for the aging upstart to get into a title picture.

I’m betting she won’t go down without a supreme effort…and possibly not at all.

Renato Moicano vs Calvin Kattar (Over/Under Sleeper Pick)

Does a surprise winner on an O/U bet slip count as an “upset” pick? Why not? After all, the casino will be upset if it owes a bundle after the match.

Odds-makers are not giving the Featherweight bout between Renato Moicano and Calvin Kattar much of a chance to end in an early knockout or submission. Odds of the fight lasting beyond 2 ½ total rounds are (-210) at My Bookie.

But it’s not as if Moicano fights are slow, scientific jab-fests. The Brazilian has shown the consistent ability to tap-out rivals with submission holds, winning 5 out of 13 UFC fights with a patented version of the rear-naked choke. Yet the Muay Thai black belt was vulnerable against strong wrestling in his most recent fight last summer, getting caught in a guillotine choke hold courtesy of Brian Ortega.

It’s also not as if Kattar is a tappy-tap finesse guy who loves when bouts last all night. The 29-year-old American is nicknamed “The Boston Finisher” and could wipe out Moicano early if the South American is not fully prepared.

This fight does not have a 2-in-3 chance of going past the halfway mark.

Bet the under for a unique kind of upset special.

Bec Rawlings vs Ashlee Evans-Smith (Odds TBA)

At press time, odds have not been released for the undercard in New York. But we’ll take a wild guess that Bec Rawlings will be a sizable underdog for her Flyweight bout with talented Ashlee Evans-Smith. Rawlings is only 7-7 as a professional, hasn’t won since March ’16, and is a natural Strawweight trying to take on the relatively bulky Evans-Smith.

But the probable favorite has dropped 2 bouts in a row, losing by decision last April before trying to force things against Sarah Moras at UFC 215 and falling to a vicious armbar in the 1st round. Meanwhile, Rawlings looks at awful lot like a cage-fighter who could be coming out of a slump. She lost brutally to Paige VanZant in Vancouver, then lasted a game 3 rounds against Tecia Torres. Finally, in November, Rawlings fought Jessica-Rose Clark and overcome a slight size disadvantage to reach a split-decision finish.

From a bad beatdown, to an improved defensive outing, to a classic near-draw, the 29-year-old Aussie is getting better.

She could surprise with a Flyweight triumph in the Big Apple.
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