In what should be one of the best events of the year, UFC 254 from Abu Dhabi has finally arrived and is set to begin at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday morning. The main card features a long-awaited bout for the lightweight title between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje, and there are many other intriguing fights on the card as well.
Betting Splits Breakdown
Most of the big names on the card are dominating the betting markets, with Khabib, Alexander Volkov and Cynthia Calvillo drawing some of the largest betting share on the main card. The most notable fight where we don’t have an obvious preference from DraftKings Sportsbook bettors is the co-main event between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier. The odds for this fight haven’t moved much, which makes sense given that both fighters are getting roughly half of both the bet percentage and handle percentage.
Whittaker and Cannonier are both looking to climb up the middleweight ranks to unseat the champion Israel Adesanya, who is actually the only fighter that Whittaker has lost to in the past six years. Cannonier enters the fight in strong form as well, winning three consecutive fights after losing to Dominick Reyes back in 2018. One of the interesting things about this matchup is that there are distinct paths to victory for each side, as Cannonier by knockout (+162) and Whittaker by decision (+210) are two most likely outcomes via the betting odds. DraftKings Sportsbook bettors are buying into this as well, as roughly 75% of the win method bets on this fight are on those two options.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has never lost a professional fight and he’ll obviously be looking to keep that going once again as he attempts to defend his lightweight belt against Justin Gaethje. Gaethje has surged up the lightweight ranks, thanks mostly to his recent upset victory over Tony Ferguson, which marked his fourth consecutive win. Nurmagomedov is getting most of the betting volume as more than a 3-to-1 favorite, but the wagering is actually pretty evenly split in the win method markets.
Nurmagomedov by submission (+162) is the odds-on most likely outcome — and it’s the most popular wager both in terms of bets and handle — but Gaethje by knockout isn’t far behind at least in terms of the bet percentage. There are almost as many bets on Gaethje by KO as there are on a Khabib by submission, and overall there are almost as many win method bets for Gaethje as there are for Khabib. This could indicate that Gaethje has a better chance to win than the standard odds imply, or it might just mean that Gaethje is simply a popular underdog pick and many DraftKings Sportsbook bettors just want to see him succeed.
Tracking the Odds
- Alexander Yakovlev (+145 to +138)
- Nathaniel Wood (+150 to +140)
- Shakvat Rakhmonov (+115 to -124)
- Tai Tuivasa (-112 to -124)
- Walt Harris (+155 to +150)
Odds are on the move for many of the fights, but the one that clearly jumps out for its magnitude is the line for Shavkat Rakhmonov. Rakhmonov actually opened as an underdog and is now a favorite, with the odds shifting from +115 all the way to -124. The more prominent name in this fight is clearly the 32-year-old Alex Oliveira, who has obviously been around a lot longer, going against the 26-year-old Rakhmonov, who is making his UFC debut. Rakhmonov is actually getting the second-highest handle percentage (85%) of any fighter on this card (next to Cynthia Calvillo) so it’s not a huge surprise to see the odds moving so strongly in his favor.
The lines for Alexander Yakovlev, Nathaniel Wood and Walt Harris all warrant specific mentions because the movement is actually coinciding with higher bet percentages coming in on their opponents. The odds for all three of these fights are moving against public sentiment, which could indicate that the larger wagers favor each of these three fighters. That appears to be especially true for Yakovlev, who’s handle percentage (39%) exceeds his bet percentage (26%) by a significant margin.
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All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests.