On Saturday night, Kamaru Usman looks to once again become UFC welterweight champion when he clashes with Leon Edwards in the main event of UFC 286. Edwards scored a literal last-minute knockout of Usman in their meeting at UFC 278 last August, winning the welterweight title in the process.
Usman has been an overwhelming favorite in just about all of his UFC contests. The Nigerian was around -360 in the second meeting with Edwards last August, which proved to be plenty of value on the underdog. Now, Usman enters the trilogy around -240 to bounce back and regain his 170-pound crown. A bet on Edwards would return +200 value if you believe the hometown hero can repeat the feat.
“It’s weird because on the ride to the hospital that night, I was already over it,” Usman told “Morning Kombat” this week. “I was over it. When you feel that sense of relief of all the expectations, you just hear it all quiet down. All of the people that were jumping on the ship making it heavy and needed to go, now have kind of jumped off.
“It makes the sport fun for me and it wasn’t as much fun with all the noise. I love the position I ascended to and I appreciated it because I know I put in all the work I did over the years. But it wasn’t as necessarily as fun as the journey. I love that I get to really enjoy the sport again. I’ve enjoyed the times of me and my daughter getting to drive to the gym every day, there and back.”
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The undercard fills out with some fun battles that could produce fireworks. Look no further than the co-main event when “The Highlight” Justin Gaethje returns. The perennial lightweight contender is back as he looks to turn away the next rising contender in the division in the form of Rafael Fiziev. Gaethje hinted at the possibility of engaging with his wrestling background for the first time in his UFC career this week.
“It’s always a risk assessment, obviously. Up until I got TKOed by Eddie Alvarez, and the same with [Dustin] Poirier, I thought I was being more successful in that area,” Gaethje said. “So I didn’t necessarily find it necessary to take that take shot. Against Khabib [Nurmagomedov] and [Charles] Oliveira, I didn’t want to take it to the ground because they’ve been doing jiu-jitsu their whole life and I’m a wrestler.”
As always, we are looking ahead to the event to determine our choices for the best bets for each fight on the pay-per-view main card. 2023’s strong start continued at UFC 285 with our picks going 4-1, improving our overall record to 11-4 across the UFC’s first three pay-per-view events.
Let’s take a look at our picks for the best bets on the UFC 286 main card with odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
Marvin Vettori vs. Roman Dolidze
Marvin Vettori via decision (-125)
This fight feels better as an add-on to a parlay with Vettori -280 than a standalone, but that’s not what we do here. Vettori is good at a grinding, patient approach to fighting. Dolidze has had plenty of success as a professional, with only one loss in his career. But according to UFC Stats, Dolidze has just a 33% takedown defense, which puts him in a very bad spot against someone like Vettori, who will look to smother, take the fight to the ground and smother some more. In a three-round fight, that’s a solid recipe for a Vettori decision victory.
Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O’Neill
Under 2.5 rounds (+240)
Only women’s strawweight has a lower rate of finishes than women’s flyweight, and Maia has seen nine of her 10 UFC bouts go to the scorecards. Those two things line up for a fight where the logic would indicate the fight to go the distance. There are just some nagging factors with this fight that make the idea of taking a shot at a +240 line for under 2.5 rounds an appealing longshot for the night. O’Neill is coming off a significant knee injury and facing someone with solid striking who may target in on that previously injured joint with leg kicks. O’Neill likes to push the pace, which will open up enough exchanges on the feet and enough opportunities for either woman to find success in scrambles on the ground for a finish to materialize. Also, for as many of Maia’s fights as have gone to decision, O’Neill has five stoppage wins in nine career fights. This is the rare fight where I’d advocate a move that goes against what the numbers suggest for the potential of a big reward.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Bryan Barberena
Gunnar Nelson via submission (+105)
Nelson is a beast on the ground, with 12 submissions in 18 career victories. He also possesses solid karate and can get his strikes off a little bit quicker than Barberena, who is more of a wide-open brawler that wants to dirty the fight up. Unfortunately for Barberena, if he tries to charge forward, he will quickly be taken down by Nelson, who is a far better grappler and capable of exploiting Barberena’s somewhat shaky wrestling. Once the fight hits the ground, it’s only a matter of time before Nelson locks something up and finishes the fight. Barberena is also stepping in on short notice, adding to his list of potential issues in this fight.
Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev
Rafael Fiziev via KO, TKO or disqualification (+125)
This is one of those fights where nostalgia may tickle the back of your brain and make you strongly consider Gaethje’s +190 moneyline or even Gaethje by knockout at +330. Ignore that feeling. Fiziev does two things that give him a strong edge here. He is able to deal with pressure and land pinpoint counters in the storm, and he works to the body very well. Fiziev’s style is built to punish fighters like Gaethje, who want to force give-and-take exchanges in the hopes that they’ll land first and hardest. Fiziev’s counters are going to hurt Gaethje and the body work will break him down. Roll with the favorite to take it home with a knockout.
Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman
Fight to go the distance: No (+130)
Both men are going to be out to prove a point in this trilogy fight and both have fight-ending power. Yes, they fought to a decision in the first meeting and fought into the literal final minute of the rematch before Edwards landed the fight-ending head kick, but that one kick changed everything. Both men fully know that Edwards has the power to end the fight now and Usman should understand that trying to play out the final stage of the fight safely was the wrong approach. There’s also the question of whether that knockout had long-term implications for Usman. He would not be the first great fighter whose career quickly went south after suffering a brutal knockout defeat. With so many questions and so much pressure, it feels like Saturday night ends with a stoppage.
Who wins Edwards vs. Usman at UFC 286? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 286, all from the MMA expert who profited more than $6,200 in 2022, and find out.