We are less than one month from one of the most anticipated pay-per-view lineups of the year. At UFC 280, Charles Oliveira faces Islam Makhachev for the lightweight championship on a stacked card featuring Aljamain Sterling vs. T.J. Dillashaw, Petr Yan vs.Sean O'Malley, and rising welterweight Sean Brady. Until then, we have a couple of Fight Nights at the UFC Apex to keep us busy and another rare idle week following this Saturday's card. Oddly, it feels like we are right in the middle of the closest thing the UFC has to a slow season. Nonetheless, there are still fights this weekend and bets to make.
UFC Vegas 61: Dern vs. Yan might lack household names, but there are plenty of stylistic matchups to keep bettors intrigued. The main event is the perfect example. Almost every UFC card features a pairing of striker versus submission specialist at some level. The handicap comes down to the fighters' ability to force the fight to where it's most advantageous for them. I will explain why I see value on the underdog in the main event and a solid parlay option that I locked up at +103 odds at BetMGM.
Mackenzie Dern (-250) vs. Xiaonan Yan (+195)
Dern is coming off a close decision win over Tecia Torres, capping off a recent 5-1 run in the UFC. Yan has lost her last two after starting her UFC career with six straight wins. With Dern ranked fifth and Yan sixth in the strawweight division, the winner puts herself in the mix for a No. 1 contender fight early in 2023.
Dern's improvement continues to impress, but her striking is still well-below average. Yan, on the other hand, is a polished striker with crisp boxing whose leg kicks will be something to keep an eye on early. If she is able to keep Dern on the defensive at a distance, every second both women stand and trade is a big win for Yan. After the first few minutes, you will see Dern look to tie up in grappling exchanges and find ways to get close enough to drag Yan to the mat. Her success in doing so will decide the fight.
Yan's takedown defense has been exploited in previous losses. That's part of the reason Dern is such a big favorite. She is an elite grappler and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu blackbelt who will relentlessly attack with submissions once she has you on the mat. It's going to be a challenge for Yan to have the discipline to keep this fight standing, especially for five rounds in the smaller cage at the Apex. But, she can do it.
More importantly, the probability of her doing it is higher than the implied 33.9% chance the odds give her. In fact, the onus is on Dern to get the fight to the ground. I don't know how much Yan's takedown defense has improved since her loss to Carla Esparza, but she has the weapons to execute a game plan to keep her opponent at distance for the majority of the fight. It might not thrill the crowd, but we could be in for a lot of circling and point fighting as Yan carefully picks her spots to slide into the pocket and rack up points for the judges. One of the gaps in Dern's game is that she doesn't have the strong wrestling that allows fighters to force the fight to the ground. If Dern gets sloppy on her entries in the later rounds, Yan has the cardio and clean enough combinations to punish her.
There is certainly a solid chance Yan's night ends by succumbing to one of Dern's submissions, but at this price, the value is on the underdog. When BetMGM opens the prop markets, both Dern by submission and Yan via decision are worth a look. They are the most likely outcomes of the fight. However, most of my stake will be on the Yan moneyline. The odds at +195 are good enough for me to bet on Yan's ability to avoid danger and get us to the window with a winning ticket.
Parlay: Randy Brown & John Castaneda (+103)
"Rude Boy" Randy Brown should be able to tune up Francisco Trinaldo from the outside by pairing his speed with his eight-inch reach advantage. Trinaldo has always been a tough out. The 44-year old hasn't been stopped in the Octagon in over five years, but it's hard to get past the 12-year age gap between these fighters. Brown's won three straight and has a pretty clear path to a decisive win by keeping this at range.
Pairing him with Castaneda gets the odds of the parlay to +103. In this matchup versus Daniel Santos, Castaneda will be the more active fighter. His strong cardio fuels his ability to pressure his opponent, and I see him using his wrestling and winning rounds with a heavy top game while Santos spends too much time working in his own guard.
Stats provided by ufcstats.com.