It's another big UFC card on Saturday for UFC 257, headlined by Conor McGregor's return to the octagon.
Our handicapper Reed Kuhn breaks down the best value bets for the card.
Lightweight (main event): Conor McGregor (-310) vs. Dustin Poirier (260)
The return of McGregor means one thing is for sure this week: lots of chalk. He opened as a -180 favorite, and the early punters have hammered him to -300. While probabilities give him a slight edge over Poirier, it’s not nearly enough to pay that price.
For McGregor, a lot will come down to his preparation and motivation. He mailed in his first post-Floyd Mayweather payday fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov but appeared in better form against Donald Cerrone, though that was at welterweight. Still, one has to wonder what condition he can get into at lightweight given all his out-of-the-cage distractions.
Meanwhile, Poirier has certainly gotten better since their last meeting and has stayed more active than McGregor. Poirier’s submission game remains a threat, and if he avoids the early knockout, his cardio and pressure could provide an edge in later rounds.
Straight up, the lean would be McGregor, with a TKO finish as his best path to victory. But with a return of 250 or greater, Poirier could be worth a small stab. As with most McGregor fights, wait for the support from his fan base to top out before grabbing the upset play.
Women’s bantamweight: Sara McMann -130 vs. Julianna Pena 100
Sara McMann and Julianna Pena have won fights with stifling ground control. Both women have spent most of their octagon time on the mat and only a small minority of time at a distance trading strikes. Neither has relied on her striking, and we don’t expect strikes to make the difference Saturday at UFC 257. So if the fight is determined by which one can win the wrestling matchup, you have to favor former Olympic medal winner McMann.
It’s rare to pick the much older fighter in a matchup, but McMann’s age does not come with a history of head damage, and her strength and conditioning have always been superior. In a three-round fight, she’s capable of dominant wrestling in each round without evidence of slowing down.
Though Pena looked like a potential star during her streak of wins that included winning the Ultimate Fighter Season 18, she has battled injuries since. The athleticism that propelled her through her early career won’t be a differentiator in this matchup. Furthermore, her mere 29% takedown defense will be a huge liability that McMann is perfectly suited to exploit.
McMann has also improved her striking from her early days, which included a TKO loss to former champion Ronda Rousey. Being able to hang with Pena on the feet will buy McMann some time to ensure her takedowns are set up properly. Her Olympian work ethic boosts her chances of a strong showing this week, even at 40.
The pick is McMann, with value even as a slight favorite.