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UFC Vegas 23 betting preview: Will Kevin Holland upset Marvin Vettori?

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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LAS VEGAS — Less than a month ago, Kevin Holland was a -175 favorite over the fifth-ranked middleweight in the UFC. Today at BetMGM, Holland is a +250 underdog against the sixth-ranked middleweight in the UFC.

The swing in those numbers shows how difficult sports betting is, and particularly on a mercurial personality like Holland.

Holland has everything a fighter could want in order to contend for a championship. He’s got terrific conditioning, he’s quick, he’s athletic, he hits hard, he’s fearless and he has terrific jiu-jitsu.

Those traits, and others, led him to a breakout year in 2020 in which he went 5-0 and earned him a shot against then-No. 5 Derek Brunson on March 20.

Brunson won the fight in a walk, but it wasn’t because he outclassed Holland. Rather, it was because Holland didn’t seem to care and appeared more interested in a stand-up comedy act than he did in fighting.

On Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC), Holland will step in for fifth-ranked Darren Till, who suffered a broken collarbone in training, and will face No. 6 Marvin Vettori at Apex.

Vettori, who enters the bout on a four-fight winning streak, is a -320 favorite at BetMGM. That’s an astounding turnaround for Holland from the Brunson fight and speaks to the bizarre performance Holland turned in that night.

If Holland were fighting Vettori and I didn’t know about the Brunson fight, I’d go with Holland to win. He has the varied game and the explosiveness to cause Vettori plenty of trouble.

But I don’t know what to expect from Holland. Do I get the guy who obliterated Jacare Souza with a violent knockout, or do I get the Chris Rock-wannabe who didn’t show up against Brunson?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 20: Kevin Holland prepares to fight Derek Brunson in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Kevin Holland was all fun and games during his last fight. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

To be fair to Holland (and to Brunson), Brunson’s wrestling was a huge factor in that fight, and it’s easy to overlook that in light of the act that Holland put on. But based on how easily Brunson took Holland down and Holland’s inability to deal with it, Brunson may well have dominated that fight even if Holland had been fully focused.

Vettori’s wrestling, though, isn’t nearly at the same level of Brunson’s. And so it’s easy to see a pathway for Holland to win.

It would be a remarkable victory if he can pull it off, but Vettori is in top form, has a complete game and is as focused as anyone in the sport.

I’m going to go with Vettori by decision and lay the -320, even though there is a large part of me urging me to take Holland. Vettori, though, is the safe bet and that seems the smart play here when hunches won’t necessarily cut it.

Bellator 256 main event pick, preview

In the last eight-plus years, Ryan Bader has lost four times, all of them coming by knockout. He was surprisingly kayoed by Vadim Nemkov and lost his light heavyweight title at Bellator 244 on Aug. 21.

His other KOs in that span were against Rumble Johnson in 2016, Glover Teixeira in 2013 and Lyoto Machida in 2012. Those three bouts all took place in the UFC.

Nearly nine years later, Bader gets another crack at Machida when they headline Bellator 256 on Friday (9 p.m. ET/Showtime) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. This time around, Bader is a healthy -300 favorite at BetMGM, with Machida at +240.

Machida is coming off of a pair of split-decision losses to Gegard Mousasi and Phil Davis and badly needs a victory.

He’s going to have a hard time with Bader’s wrestling, though, and I expect Bader to maul him. I see Bader repeatedly taking down Machida, who is nowhere near as quick nor as athletic as he was in 2012, and beating him up on the ground.

Eventually, a referee will step in to halt it as Bader is dropping elbows on Machida. BetMGM does not yet have prop bets up, but I’d play Bader by KO in this one.

Other MMA plays

  • I will lay the -250 and play Eddie Alvarez to win over Iuri Lapicus on Wednesday in ONE Championship in its debut on TNT.

  • I will play Mackenzie Dern by submission over Nina Ansaroff at UFC on ABC 2. Ansaroff is a -135 favorite to win. Dern is +110.

  • I like Julian Marquez at -190 to defeat Sam Alvey, who is +160.

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