On Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the world will be watching as Irish superstar, and former two-weight world champion, Conor McGregor makes his return to the octagon after a nearly two-year absence.
McGregor will challenge undefeated lightweight kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov for the belt he never lost in the cage.
It’s the biggest fight in UFC history, which means it will almost assuredly be the most bet on fight in UFC history. MMA betting fans will be placing wagers on the outcome. So if you are looking to get in on the action, here are the best value bets available.
If you don’t know by now, let’s make it clear: Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the very best grapplers in the history of MMA. Not in accolades or pedigree - though he does not exactly lack in those categories either - but in functional MMA grappling.
He holds the UFC record for most takedowns in a fight, 21, and the most takedowns in UFC lightweight history, 43, which is more takedowns than the legendary Randy Couture managed in his entire UFC career.
Once he has an opponent down, Nurmagomedov specializes in brutalizing fighters with a loose, controlling top-ride that favors punishment over submissions. He will need to utilize these skills as in McGregor he is facing one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA.
Like Nurmagomedov’s grappling ability, McGregor’s true talent far outstrips his previous accomplishments: “Notorious” already ranks sixth in UFC history for Most Knockdowns and he has knocked out all but two of his UFC opponents.
McGregor’s money punch is his straight left hand. He possesses a number of other dangerous weapons as well - including a lead left uppercut that could play a factor against Nurmagomedov’s wrestling game.
But the bread and butter of his game revolves around his left straight and the myriad ways he has to disguise the punch. That being said, McGregor’s power is slightly exaggerated. While he certainly hits hard and has the ability to hurt people in an instant, McGregor only has two true one-shot KO’s on his record.
Where his real potency comes from is his world-class accuracy and timing, which he uses to rock opponents before finishing them off.
While both men have obvious primary skill sets, it’s important to note that neither is a one-trick pony. Though McGregor’s ground game is often maligned by haters and casual fans alike, the reality is he is no slouch on the floor, and even was able to sweep respected BJJ black belt Nate Diaz in their rematch.
Similarly, much has been made of Nurmagomedov’s striking against Al Iaquinta. But in the two rounds in which Iaquinta was able to fend off takedowns, Nurmagomedov outlanded the striker 72-22 and never looked in danger.
Neither Nurmagomedov nor McGregor is likely to win extended periods in the other’s domain, but neither should be completely defenseless either.
This fight is a gambler’s dream as the contours of the matchup are crystal clear: If it stays standing, McGregor wins, if it doesn’t Khabib wins. The only variable the sophisticated bettor needs to concern themselves with is who will succeed in implementing their game plan.
Historically, grapplers have been advantaged in the “Striker vs. Grappler” matchup and it should be no different here. McGregor is an elite striker with good takedown defense. But in Nurmagomedov he is facing a man with a size advantage who happens to be one of the most successful wrestlers in MMA.
Moreover, not only is Nurmagomedov an elite wrestler, but he is also extremely difficult to hit. He ranks top-10 in UFC history for strike differential and Significant Strike Defense, avoiding 70.4 percent of his opponent’s strikes.
Finally, Nurmagomedov also benefits from McGregor’s extended layoff. Time and again we’ve seen that ring rust is real.
For a fast starter like McGregor, coming out slow can really throw off his game plan, especially given that the longer the fight goes on, the less likely it is that McGregor will have the power to knock Nurmagomedov out.
All signs here point to a Nurmagomedov victory, but how to best extract value?
If you believe McGregor is going to KO Nurmagomedov, then betting this fight is straightforward: at +135 at 888Sport, McGregor straight is solid value if you think he wins the fight even half the time.
But if you’re planning on betting McGregor, instead of taking him straight, consider taking McGregor by stoppage at +160 at 888Sport or McGregor by KO/TKO at +170. The general consensus is that if McGregor wins it’s going to be by knockout, so you might as well get the extra points from the prop bet.
If you’re inclined to bet Nurmagomedov, betting him straight at -165 is fine given that he probably does win this fight more than 63 percent of the time. But the more exotic gambler should look towards the props as well.
Over 2.5 rounds is +105 at 888Sport, and the likelihood of Nurmagomedov stopping McGregor inside of 12.5 minutes is extremely low so essentially getting Khabib at plus money is great value. Plus, that also offers the added bonus of cashing even if McGregor does pull off a later round KO.
A few other bets worth considering: Nurmagomedov by decision at +350 is definitely enticing, as Nurmagomedov is not a tremendous finisher and has repeatedly said he wants to “humble” McGregor with a protracted beating.
Also, McGregor To Win in Rounds 1 or 2 at +225 should be tempting for the McGregor bettor. And the conservative bettor could consider handcuffing McGregor straight with Khabib and the over, nearly guaranteeing a small win.
In the co-main event, Tony Ferguson takes on former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in a bout with potential title implications. Ferguson comes in as a -355 favorite at Karamba , but the former interim champion hasn’t competed in a year, is coming off of knee surgery, and is 34 years old in a division that has historically not been kind to its elder statesmen.
On top of that, Ferguson has never been incredibly defensively minded and for his many foibles, Pettis is still one of the most offensively potent fighters in the UFC. Due to his impressive 10-fight win streak, Ferguson should be the favorite, but given the X-factors at play here, Pettis at +260 is tempting at 888Sport.