The UFC 251 card set for Saturday night was already a stacked one, but it just became even better.
The main event pitting Kamaru Usman (16-1) against Gilbert Burns (19-3) in a welterweight title bout is off, after the latter fighter tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the time when a main event falls apart in or around fight week it’s bad news for the UFC, but not this time.
Jorge Masvidal (35-13), one of the biggest names in the sport over the past two years, was originally expected to fight Usman next for the title, but a labor dispute between the UFC and Masvidal resulted in Burns snagging the title shot. It wasn’t undeserved for Burns, as he’s on an impressive six-fight win streak. However, Masvidal is the much bigger name and arguably even more deserving based on recent wins.
U.S. legal sportsbooks are surely thrilled with the development, as Masvidal entering the equation will result in significantly more handle on the main event. Before Burns dropped out, it was more than arguable that the main event for UFC 251 was not even the biggest fight on the card. Now it is.
Breaking: UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman (@USMAN84kg), will defend his title against Jorge Masvidal (@GamebredFighter), who is stepping in to fight on one week notice at UFC 251 on July 11 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, per Dana White and additional sources. pic.twitter.com/bL2ggGr2aN
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPM) July 5, 2020
What the odds look like
The moneyline on Usman vs. Masvidal is not that far off from the line on Usman vs. Burns.
Usman, riding a 15-fight win streak, is a substantial favorite against Masvidal as well.
At FanDuel Sportsbook, Usman was listed at -240 and Burns was at +192. Usman currently sits at -300 against Masvidal. Bettors can get “Gamebred” for +230.
The line would be closer had Masvidal received more time to prepare for Saturday’s fight. While he’s been training and undoubtedly eyeing a match-up with Usman, he wasn’t in a full fight camp.
The Masvidal line could have some value if you think the impact of the fight being short notice for him is overestimated. An elite UFC fighter like Masvidal doesn’t get out of shape.
It’s also worth stressing the fact that the fight is also short notice for Usman. Masvidal is a much different fighter than Burns. Some of the techniques Usman brushed up on for Burns won’t be as applicable against Masvidal. Not to mention, Masvidal has a certain aura around him, something that Usman may need time to prepare for. Of course, Usman is a world-class athlete capable of competing at the highest level regardless of opponent, but Masvidal is one of the few fighters for whom you probably want warm up psychologically.
MMA journalist Adam Martin echoed this sentiment in a Tweet Monday:
It's still early but I'm genuinely shocked how many people are counting out Masvidal this weekend against Usman. The line continues to shift towards Usman and he's -340 now. That seems too high. This fight is way closer than the odds are suggesting, even with the short notice.
— Adam Martin (@MMAdamMartin) July 6, 2020
Prop bets on the fight
If the moneyline doesn’t interest you, there are plenty of other options that are intriguing for having skin in the game. Sportsbooks offer a wide menu of options involving how the fight will end.
Below is a look at what’s offered on FanDuel as of Monday. You may be able to find better prices elsewhere.
Let’s start with a method-of-victory bet you shouldn’t go with: Masvidal by submission. That’s not happening to Usman, who is one of the division’s best wrestlers. In 48 professional MMA fights, Masvidal has just two wins by submission. Usman has been tapped out just once, way back in 2013.
Usman could finish Masvidal, as he does have power, but Masvidal has just one loss in his career by KO/TKO. Incredibly, that happened 12 years ago. Masvidal’s chin is as tough as they come.
Usman by points at +150 is interesting. Taking that line is basically betting on Usman to grind Masvidal out with wrestling and grappling, mixed with some striking. Masvidal is much more technical on the feet, so Usman isn’t winning the fight on points in a kickboxing match like he almost did against Colby Covington before Usman was able to finish him near the end of the fight. Usman wins on points on Saturday by grappling, but +150 doesn’t scream value.
If you’re looking for value on Usman’s method of victory, you could consider the +1200 line on a submission. It’s very possible Usman utilizes his wrestling but becomes a bit tired in the process and opts to seek a kimura submission (like what Khabib Nurmagomedov did to Michael Johnson in 2016) to finish off Masvidal. That wouldn’t come until the later rounds. You can get Usman by submission at +7500 in the fourth and +9000 in the fifth and final round. Though long shots for a reason, the ROI is attractive.
Masvidal’s method-of-victory lines are also interesting. The conventional wisdom says Masvidal’s path to victory is by finishing Usman, because if he doesn’t, Usman’s wrestling will play too big of a factor. However, consider Usman’s chin, and if Masvidal can stop the takedowns, Usman might be in for a long night of getting peppered with strikes. Masvidal could conceivably win on the scorecards, so if you believe he will win, the +1100 prop might actually be better than Masvidal’s moneyline.
At any rate, the Usman vs. Masvidal fight has provided bettors with much more to think about than what was available for the props on the Burns fight. Masvidal, holder of the record for the UFC’s fastest knockout at just five seconds in the first round, brings welcomed uncertainty to Saturday’s main event.
Betting on himself
For what it’s worth, Masvidal loves what the sports betting industry is offering on his fight.
He told ESPN Monday that he’ll be wagering on himself.
“The oddsmakers have you as a 3/1 underdog, how do you feel about that?” an ESPN MMA reporter asked Masvidal in a segment on Monday.
“It’s getting-paid time,” Masvidal said while grinning. “I gamble on myself. Shout out to those oddsmakers. I appreciate this payday. Thank you.”
Sounds like this wouldn’t be the first time Masvidal has placed a legal sports wager on himself. However, his excitement on the moneyline seems genuine. He doesn’t seem worried about taking the fight on short notice, and he doesn’t think he’s that big of a ‘dog.
It’s tough to disagree.