UFC on ESPN features some excellent fights, including the main event between Arman Tsarukyan vs Mateusz Gamrot. However, before that goes down, bettors get five preliminary fights to enjoy.
Kicking off the action is Brian Kelleher vs. Mario Bautista, but the card is headlined by New Zealand’s Carlos Ulberg vs Tafon Nchukwi. UFC odds have Nchukwi as the slight favorite in what could be the best fight on the card.
Carlos Ulberg vs Tafon Nchukwi
The sky is the limit for Ulberg, who made an impression on The Contender Series, but he hasn’t been impressive since arriving in the UFC.
He was knocked out by Kennedy Nzechukwu at UFC 259 when he fought with his hands down the entire time. He learned from his mistakes when beating Fabio Cherant, but he needs to show his true potential and we think he will.
The Kiwi faces Nchukwi, who was knocked out by Azamat Murzakanov in March. We weren’t impressed by that performance, so the sportsbook odds of -105 for Ulberg are worth taking.
“It’s going to be a war!” Ulberg told UFC.com. “I’ve seen [Tafon] fight, and he comes from a great gym. But the one thing I know is that he is gonna wake up on Sunday morning, sore, 6-3, and wishing he hadn’t signed to fight me.”
Pick: Carlos Ulberg -105
Sha Yilan vs TJ Brown
TJ Brown is the firm favorite to beat Sha Yilan following a decision win over Charles Rosa.
The Arkansas native is unbeaten since arriving in the UFC after beating Kai Kamaka last year, so he has been impressive and that’s why he’s the -210 favorite to improve his record to 17-8.
Yilan is the more experienced fighter at 37-10 and he’s only 28 years old. The “Wolverine” lost his UFC debut against Joshua Culibao before beating Sean Soriano by decision.
With 37 wins on his record, the +165 underdog demands respect. However, Brown has more upside and he’s worth including in UFC parlays on Saturday.
Pick: TJ Brown -210
Raulian Paiva vs Sergey Morozov
Bettors get value with Raulian Paiva, who opened as the +120 underdog against Sergey Morozov.
The Brazilian bantamweight scored a decision win over Kyler Phillips before being knocked out by Sean O’Malley, but he’s one of many to be knocked out by the American superstar.
We think he’s good enough to bounce back against Morozov, who doesn’t pose the same power. Two of his last three fights have resulted in submission losses, so he’s not fighting at his best.
He will try to limit the power of Paiva by grappling, but we’re taking the underdog at the value odds.
Pick: Raulian Paiva +120
JP Buys vs Cody Durden
Betting online markets are finding it hard to split JP Buys and Cody Durden. Buys is the slight -120 favorite despite back-to-back losses, so bookmakers have kept the faith.
Buys was knocked out by Bruno Silva before losing a decision to Montel Jackson, so he needs to regain his best form to beat Durden, who lost to Muhammad Mokaev by first-round decision.
Consistency has been tough for Durden, who isn’t the most athletic, and that’s why Buys could have the advantage.
The -120 line is a fair price and bettors should include him in UFC selections.
Pick: JP Buys -120
Brian Kelleher vs Mario Bautista
Kelleher is always tough to bet against because he’s a talented striker, but the upside is with Bautista.
The 9-2 fighter scored a decision win in February, which was a good bounce-back effort after being knocked out by Trevin Jones.
He has enough firepower to beat Kelleher, who owns 24 MMA wins but was soundly beaten by Umar Nurmagomedov in the first round.
Most of the money has come for Bautista at -170, so we’re prepared to include him in our selections.
Pick: Mario Bautista -170