This article is part of our MMA Best Bets series.
The title fights at the top of the card will (rightly) carry the interest of the fans, but in this edition of "Best Bets" I travel down the slate to point out the value plays that could potentially bring bettors profit. These include turning favorites into underdogs through the magic of props and a veteran who is always ready for a scrap. As always, I have limited my looks to lines below (-200), as I feel that anything more expensive is supposed to come in, and doesn't really require a write-up. All lines are taken from the William Hill online sportsbook and are accurate as of the post date of this article.
Without any further ado, let's get to it.
Bobby Green (27-12-1) vs. Al Iaquinta (14-6-1) Weight class: Lightweight
As I sit down to write this entry, it occurs to me that no fighter on the UFC roster has been on the wrong end of more unjust decisions than Green. This may have to do with the fact that he often lets his opponents dictate the pace of fights. Whatever the reason, we should be thanking the shoddy judging ahead of Green's bout with Iaquinta, as it likely played a role in giving us such an advantageous betting line.
It's not that I dislike Iaquinta as a fighter. He is a reasonably sharp boxer who gets in his opponent's face and is legendarily tough. The issue is that Green is almost certainly better everywhere. This should manifest itself strongest when it comes to footwork and head movement, as Green's ability to slip and pivot will likely leave the plodding Iaquinta open to eat shots. While he will likely be competitive enough to see the scorecards, I expect Iaquinta to be a step behind Green for the majority of the fight, resulting in a fantastic performance for "King."
A line skirting the upper limits of our parameters may not seem like value, but I would consider this fight to be safe to take a shot at in the (-250) range, as I can't imagine Iaquinta has gotten much sharper in the two years since he last stepped in the Octagon.
The play: Bobby Green (-180)
Meslik Baghdasaryan (6-1-0) vs. Bruno Souza (10-1-0) Weight class: Featherweight
Betting is all about looking for value, so if I can get significant plus-money on a committed finisher who is more than a 3:1 favorite to win outright, I feel as though I have to take my shot. There may not be a lot of nuance to Baghdasaryan's game, but his raw skills should be enough to give Souza a rude welcome to the UFC.
Baghdasaryan doesn't need any help swarming fighters and overwhelming them with his speed and power, but Silva may oblige as someone who likes to hang back and counter, thus ceding the center of the Octagon. While he has shown some slick footwork, Souza has finished just three of his 10 opponents on the regional scene, which means that Baghdasaryan shouldn't have to worry about much when crashing the pocket. The 25-year-old is tall for the weight class and sometimes attempts to simply lean away from strikes as a result, which can become a problem when the opponent throws as fast and often as Baghdasaryan.
Souza has a decent pedigree as someone who trains with the Machida brothers, but I haven't seen anything from his tape that says he's ready for competition in the UFC. This is doubly true in the case of someone like Baghdasaryan, who can send him into unconsciousness at any moment.
The play: Melsik Baghdasaryan via KO/TKO/DQ: (+150)
Shane Burgos (13-3-0) vs. Billy Qurantillo (16-3-0) Weight class: Featherweight
It's difficult to watch Burgos' body completely shut down a full five seconds after taking a punch and conclude anything other than "Hurricane" takes too much damage. While his come forward, heavy-handed style is effective, his lack of defense has stuck the 30-year-old with uphill climbs even in fights he wins.
This is not the best way to fight Quarantillo, a tireless grappler who held his own striking with Gabriel Benitez for as long as that fight was on the feet. Burgos spent most of the first round on his back against Makwan Amirkhani, and Quarantillo is unlikely to get tired and allow Burgos a chance to work his way back into the contest. It's also worth pointing out that the 32-year-old has only been finished by strikes once in 19 bouts, so one might expect that he will be able to stand up to Burgos' shots.
Burgos may have started his UFC career with some highlight-worthy performances, but he seems too one dimensional to be a favorite over a fighter as dynamic as "Billy Q," particularly after coming off of back-to-back punishing losses.
The play: Billy Quarantillo (+165)
Gian Villante (17-3-0) vs. Chris Barnett (21-7-0) Weight class: Heavyweight
Villante has decided he will retire after this fight, which is a pretty clear indication that things have not gone well in his move up to the heavyweight division. Villante was a big light heavyweight, but when he finally made the jump up, he looked slow and out of shape, which has resulted in the 36-year-old gassing out hard in his last two fights.
This would be costly in a fight with Barnett, who will throw in combination and make the fight chaotic even when he is tired. "Huggy Bear" often swings wildly and from odd angles, but he will be the more athletic fighter in the cage and should have the chin to avoid being put out by the UFC veteran's rote, mechanical strikes.
If a finish doesn't materialize, this could turn into a slog through the mud in the later rounds, but the price is right to test the chin of a man who has been either hurt or finished since moving up in weight. It also doesn't hurt that his opponent has finished 16 of his 21 wins via KO/TKO.
The play: Chris Barnett via KO/TKO/DQ or submission (+200)