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UFC 223: Main Event Preview and Upset-Special Predictions

Khabib Nurmagomedov(25-0) @ Max Holloway(19-3)

  • Where: Barclays Center. New York, NY
  • When: April 7, 2018 7:00 pm EST
  • Moneyline: Khabib Nurmagomedov (-450) vs Max Holloway (+325)

The favorites are getting an awful lot of praise going into UFC 223 in the Big Apple. Especially unbeaten Lightweight challenger Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Khabib is being hailed as the “most terrifying Lightweight in the world” after winning 25 straight fights and setting himself up as potentially the next dominant MMA star. Some experts even felt that The Eagle carried Edson Barboza 3 rounds in the pair’s battle last year, and would have been able to end the match with a vicious strike at any time.

But let’s face it – when the odds-on favorite wins, we’re respectful, but not exactly thrilled. There’s nothing like an unexpected, underdog victory to really get the blood flowing. Not to mention there’s a much more hefty payout on a winning bet slip.

Will there be surprises at Barclays Center? Here’s a look at the main event and 3 other matches from an alternate POV. How likely are these upset picks to pay off on April 7th?

UPDATE 4/2: Tony Ferguson has suffered a leg injury that has knocked him out of UFC 223. Max Holloway has stepped in as a replacement opponent for Khabib.

Nurmagomedov (-450) vs Holloway (+325)

Holloway is the reigning Featherweight champ and feels like a strong replacement for Ferguson. “Blessed” has won 12 fights in a row and presents the kind of pace and agility that could give the fearsome Russian problems.

Meanwhile, Nurmagomedov is behaving like an overconfident fighter, saying that Holloway made a mistake to even take the bout and will be overwhelmed by the step up in weight class. The Eagle’s odds-to-win opened very short but have gone to (-450) as gamblers take their chances with the underdog.

However, the Featherweight’s real problem is that he is still coming off an orbital bone injury that almost required an operation back in February. Holloway has only a few days to train for the fight, and it will be harder to prepare and perform in the Octagon in this situation if any of his 4 limbs must be coddled.

Blessed will likely be cautious in early rounds, and Khabib may not come out on fire against a less-scouted opponent. We’re liking the favorite on the money line, but an even-safer bet could be the Over (total rounds).

Upset Meter: Holloway probably won’t win, but he’s got stamina to take Khabib 3-5 rounds. 

Ray Borg (-275) vs Brandon Moreno (+215)

Click here to wager on Brandon Moreno to upset Ray Borg at UFC 223 and receive a 50% welcome bonus from Bovada Sportsbook.

Brandon Moreno’s odds are slowly getting shorter as the action flows in for this one. It’s nothing against Borg, one of the most respected Flyweights in the business. But “The Assassin Baby” has something working for him besides a grammatically-awkward nickname.

Moreno recently enjoyed an 11-match winning streak after appearing on The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions. His loss to Sergio Pettis last August seemed to cause too many handicappers to write him off as a flash in the pan. But in 2 of his 3 previous fights, Moreno won Performance of the Night with brutal submission-hold victories.

Meanwhile, Borg lost his most recent fight and could be feeling the effects of lingering bumps and bruises. In hindsight, we could look back and consider this one a coming-out party for the younger underdog.

Upset Meter: Moreno is possibly the best sleeper-pick on the fight card. 

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

The favored Kowalkiewicz is ranked higher than Herrig but has more losses in UFC fights and has dropped 2 of her last 3 matches. Much like Khabib, the Polish Princess has not fought often enough over the past 2 years to be able to tout any kind of consistency.

The 34-year-old Herrig is experienced enough to channel her talent into 3 rounds of focus and smart choices in the cage. She has fought 3 times in 2017 and won each bout handily.

Upset Meter: Herrig is a worthy wager even if her odds are somewhat short for a fighter who is lucky to be in this position. She could make the most of it. 

Ashlee Evans-Smith (-190) vs Bec Rawlings (+155)

First, the bad news. 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 betting-odds favorite has dropped 2 bouts in a row, losing by decision last April and then trying to force things against Sarah Moras at UFC 215 and falling in the 1st round. Meanwhile, Rawlings could be coming out of a slump. In November, she fought Jessica-Rose Clark and overcome a slight size disadvantage to reach a split-decision finish.

Upset Meter: Rawlings isn’t as hot of a sleeper pick as Moreno, but she could definitely surprise in Gotham City on 4/7.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.


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