LAS VEGAS — When the UFC put on its first show on May 9 after a nearly two-month layoff caused by the coronavirus pandemic, UFC 249 was hyped as one of the strongest top-to-bottom cards the company had ever promoted.
But it hasn’t been able to hold a candle in terms of betting action to UFC 251, which will be held at Flash Forum on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. According to Jeff Stoneback, the director of trading at MGM Resorts, UFC 251 has been its most heavily bet UFC event since the promotion returned from the lockdown.
Much of that is attributable to the switch in the main event, when Gilbert Burns was pulled because of a positive COVID-19 test and Jorge Masvidal took his spot opposite welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
The MGM opened Usman as a -300 favorite, but most of the action has been on Masvidal. Stoneback said that as of 1 p.m. ET on Friday, bets have been 8-to-1 in favor of Masvidal and money taken in has been 3-to-1 in favor of Masvidal.
But it hasn’t only been that fight that has gotten the bettors’ interest.
“Actually, since the UFC has come back, this is our biggest betting event so far,” Stoneback told Yahoo Sports of UFC 251. “There’s been a lot of action on the main event. That’s been very popular. Also, on the [Max] Holloway fight [in the co-main event against featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski], there’s been a lot of action.
“Overall since we’ve come back, this has been by far the best [UFC] betting action that we’ve had.”
Stoneback said that the biggest bet the MGM Grand has taken so far has been a $25,000 wager on Holloway to win at +170 that would net the winner $42,500 if Holloway were to defeat Volkanovski and regain the featherweight title.
He said he had a $6,000 bet on Masvidal at +250 that would pay $15,000 if the UFC’s BMF champion upsets Usman.
It’s not that huge of a surprise that most of the tickets so far have been on Masvidal. He’s a popular fighter with the public, and the professional bettors known in the industry as “the sharps” are waiting on the line to drop even more before they play Usman.
Masvidal officially took the fight on Sunday.
“The line has moved pretty quickly in that fight,” Stoneback said. “The ticket count is almost 8-to-1 on the dog there. That obviously happens a lot during these bigger fights where we get a lot of money on the dog until the price goes down and then the people come in and lay the favorite.
“What’s interesting is, like I said, tickets were about 8-to-1 in favor of Masvidal, but in terms of the money, it’s been 3-to-1 to this point on him, as well. I’m sure we’ll get some money on the favorite [Saturday] night, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that price go down even more.”
The main and co-main have gotten the most betting action, but Stoneback said the only fight on the main card that does not include at least one current or former champion is getting the third-highest amount of bets.
In a women’s flyweight bout, the MGM has been inundated with wagers on Paige VanZant, but the line has moved heavily in favor of Amanda Ribas. That’s because the wagers on VanZant have been small and the ones on Ribas have been large.
“There actually has been a lot of play on the dog in that fight,” Stoneback said. “We originally opened that at -500 but Ribas is now up to -825. We took some sharp money on the favorite there. There have been a lot of small wagers on VanZant. That ticket count, believe it or not, is about 20-to-1 in favor of VanZant right now. But there’s a lot of $10 tickets in there, $5 tickets in there.
“For some reason, that fight has gotten a lot of attention. We’re going to end up needing the favorite in that one because with those $10, $20, $30 bets at +575, it adds up quickly.”
He said there have also been a lot of parlay bets tied to Holloway and Masvidal.
I like Usman in the main event, and I’ll lay the -250 to win $100. My preference would be to wait for the line to go down more and then take Usman, but given the deadline for my picks has arrived, I’ll take him at -250 to retain his belt.
I like Rose Namajunas to defeat Jessica Andrade in their rematch that opens the main card. I’ll make two plays on this one. First, I’ll lay the -210 to win $100 on Namajunas. I’ll also parlay Namajunas with Namajunas by decision, which is now at +150.
On the preliminary card, I’ll take “will go the distance” at +160 in the Volkan Oezdemir-Jiri Prochazka fight.
I’ll lay the -220 and take Petr Yan to defeat Jose Aldo in their fight for the vacant bantamweight title. I also will take “will go the distance” at +125 in that fight.
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