Want even more UFC betting and DFS analysis? SI PRO members get exclusive plays in real-time and have access to our members-only Discord channel.
UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Gastelum
#UFCVegas24 MMA Betting Preview
Two years later, we finally get to see Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum square off as they headline UFC Fight Night from Las Vegas this Saturday night. The two were originally slated to face each other back in 2019. However, Whittaker had to make a very last minute withdrawal due to a hernia the day of the card. Whittaker was originally slated to take on Paulo Costa on this card. However, Costa was forced out due to an illness. So with that said, the stars have aligned, and we get to see Whittaker vs Gastelum finally go down.
The entire card looks to be solid, and is slated for 12 fights, all broadcast live and free on ESPN this go around.
- DATE: SATURDAY 04/17/21
- BROADCAST: ESPN
- VENUE: UFC APEX
- LOCATION: Las Vegas, Nevada
- # of MATCHES: 12
MAIN CARD TAKES, PREDICTIONS & BETS
MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE BOUT 185LBS: #1 ROBERT WHITTAKER 22-5 VS #8 KELVIN GASTELUM 17-6
It was a rebooking from their first scheduled fight back in 2019, where Whittaker had to pull out very late due to a hernia. The result led to Gastelum getting his shot against Israel Adesanya, in one of the best fights we've seen in recent years. That fight, and his next two, led to Gastelum dropping three straight, before getting back on track against Ian Heinisch back in February, setting up this match. Whittaker has taken a ton of damage over the years fighting the best of the best along the way. However, he has absolutely proven his toughness no doubt. Aside from his durability (only been KO’d twice in 27 fights, against Adesanya & Wonderboy), Whittaker will be the sharper striker on the feet and have better technical movement overall, coupled with the cardio edge as the fight goes into the later rounds. Gastelum will do what he’s known for, looking to land that big shot as he moves in and out with his southpaw combos, but Whittaker's ability to avoid and counter, if he's not already controlling where the fight goes, will be the difference-maker.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker
LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT 155LBS: #10 JEREMY STEPHENS 28-18 VS DRAKKAR KLOSE 11-2-1
Stephens moves back up to 155 after a tough skid down a class, though against a murderer’s row in Calvin Kattar, Yair Rodriguez, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Jose Aldo. Drakkar Klose is clearly a step down in competition, but he’s always tough to get out of there and should make for a solid co-main. For the first time in his career last March against Beneil Dariush in a fight that was a really back and forth scrap, Klose was finished moments before Dariush landed the kill shot. Stephens loves wars such as that. His durability coupled with his power will cause some issues at any moment, even if Klose is overall winning the fight on the cards. Although it's been a while since Klose's last match, he’s had two cancelled, including his most recent scheduled bout a couple month’s back where his corner tested positive for Covid. I think both guys will get sucked into a striking war, and I see Klose landing more, though Stephens causing more damage, which will be the difference-maker.
Prediction: Stephens gets back in the win column.
HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS: ANDREI ARLOVSKI 30-20 VS CHASE SHERMAN 15-6
The former UFC champ Andrei Arlovski is now 50 fights into his career and still going. His style is very revised from his more successful days. We typically see him more passive and very selective, looking to avoid as much damage as possible, while pouncing when spots open up. Sherman has a very different approach, who typically brings the volume, but hasn't fought the level of an opponent such as Arlovski. Sherman slows as the fight goes on, typically struggles with pace if he cannot get his opponent out of there early. Arlovski should be able to get through the early storm and eventually take over this one.
Prediction: The vet does enough to slow “The Vanilla Gorilla”
Bet: Andrei Arlovski -125
MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS: ABDUL RAZAK ALHASSAN 10-3 VS JACOB MALKOUN 4-1
Alhassan moved up a weight class after some weight cut issues in his last couple fights. Additionally, he was stretched in his last bout against Kalinin Williams in less than a minute. Malkoun was as well in his debut against Phil Hawes, where Hawes caught him just 18 seconds into the fight. Alhassan closes and forces the fight and in my opinion, will be the much more explosive fighter which will be a difference-maker.
Prediction: Alhassan gets back on track with a finish.
Bet: If you play this, I’d suggest only playing the KO prop, as the -300 is wide. Alhassan via KO -149 for me.
LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT 155LBS: LUIS PENA 8-3 VS ALEXANDER MUNOZ 6-1
Pena, as usual with the big height and reach advantage, takes on Alex Munoz, who looks to secure his first UFC victory, after losing a tough decision against Nasrat Haqparast last August. Before that, Munoz had won six straight to start his career, and should have the cardio to match Pena. This fight really could go either way, but I believe the grappling will be the deciding factor, and I actually give that edge to Munoz, surprisingly.
Prediction: Munoz edges out Violent Bob Ross
PRELIMS TAKES, PREDICTIONS & BETS
WOMEN’S FLYWEIGHT BOUT 125LBS: TRACY CORTEZ 8-1 VS JUSTINE KISH 7-3
Cortez looks to keep the momentum going as she’s now won eight straight, including her two UFC fights winning via clear decisions, and up a weight class. Here she drops back down to 125, and will take on a very durable Justine Kish, who’s lost three of her last four. Although Kish will be able to hang or even have the edge on the feet, I like Cortez here implementing some grappling and control on her way to another clear decision
Prediction: Cortez will do enough to get it done.
Bet: Cortez (look via DEC -120)
HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT 265LBS: ALEXANDER ROMANOV 13-0 VS JUAN ESPINO 7-3
I have no clue how this is down this far on the card, but this is absolutely my favorite match on the entire card, including the main event. (Don’t let me down, fellas) The winner of this fight should absolutely get a ranked opponent in their next bout. Juan Espino only has one loss and it occurred 10 years ago. In contrast, Romanov has yet to taste defeat 13 fights into his professional career. Both are heavy on top and are pure grapplers, known for dominating their opponents on the mat. Romanov has faced some slightly smaller guys since entering the UFC, and here faces a guy who will have some reach on him and come in just a bit. Romanov will for once be facing a more experienced grappler. We've seen him just manhandle his opponents so far, so it will be something if he's able to do the same here.
Prediction: Romanov has had the tougher strength of schedule and will be 10 years younger than Espino. This fight really could go either way, but I’m siding with Romanov.
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT BOUT 115LBS: JESSICA PENNE 12-5 VS LUPITA GODINEZ 5-0
Penne was originally slated to face Hannah Goldy, but Goldy withdrew, so getting the call is Lupita Godinez, who’s coming off a five round war over in LFA against Crystal Demopoulos. Godinez is undefeated, a great striker, and has been fairly active compared to Jessica Penne, whose last fight was in 2017. Penne’s back is against the wall, as she’s also riding a three fight skid. She’ll have the size and reach, but I suspect Godinez to close and stay busy. Penne probably doesn’t want to stand with a boxer like Godinez.
Bet: Nothing straight with this line, but potentially worth pairing in a parlay.
MIDDLEWEIGHT BOUT 185LBS: BARTOSZ FABINSKI 15-4 VS GERALD MEERSCHAERT 31-14
Grappler vs. grappler matchup. Should be good. Although Fabinski isn't known for his striking, he has eight finishes by KO (53%) and has grinded out some wins against some tough foes (Darren Stewart, Emil Meek) to name a few. GM3 is always dangerous with the submissions, so Fabinski will obviously need to be aware and watch for transitions while on the mat and play this one smart. GM3 has been KO’d in his last two fights, and finished with just one shot in 14 seconds against Khamzat Chimaev last September.
Prediction: It's always tough to back a fighter coming off of back to back losses by knockout. GM3 also hasn’t won a decision since 2013. On the flip side, Fabinski’s last two losses have been by submission, in two of his last three fights to boot. I will side with Fabinski, though I see him grinding this one out and having more control time as long as he avoids the submission, which I see as GM3’s only path to victory.
Bet: Bartosz Fabinksi -135
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT BOUT 135LBS: ZARAH FAIRN 6-4 VS JOSIANE NUNES 7-1
Fairn gets another crack at her first UFC win here after dropping her first two fights, against two former title contenders in Felicia Spencer, and Megan Anderson. She will welcome Josiane Nunes to the UFC, making her debut and first match outside of Brazil. She's won six straight earning this shot and has some proven power in her hands, winning her last five via TKO/KO, though against lower-level opponents.
Prediction: I feel like they are trying to get us to bite on the under here with the available lines. Both are lower level fighters who will make mistakes. Nunes could come out and steamroll with her striking, but Fairn is pretty long and should be the bigger of the two and have the ability to control inside. I’ll take the dog with the UFC experience, but no way wagering on this mess of a fight.
BANTAMWEIGHT BOUT 135LBS: TONY GRAVELY 20-6 VS ANTHONY BIRCHAK 15-7
Gravely opened -333 and his opponent Birchak got hit a little, but it moved back to its original number for the most part. Take it for what it's worth but Birchak looked pretty bad in his last fight, but did take it on very short notice and had a huge weight cut to deal with as well to make the walk. I expect Birchak to come forward and attempt to outstrike Gravely, who will look for takedowns if he’s getting peppered. Gravely averages over 5 takedowns per 15 minutes. He has landed three or more in each of his three UFC fights, while Birchak has allowed two in each of his last two UFC appearances. Birchak is a black belt, but I believe Gravely will take top control if it goes down. Gravely should have the better gas tank as well if this gets into the over rounds.
Prediction: Gravely either by decision or via TKO.
LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT 155LBS: AUSTIN HUBBARD 12-5 VS DAKOTA BUSH 8-2
Bush makes his UFC debut looking to earn his keep and gets no favors, facing Austin Hubbard in this match up. Hubbard was originally slated to take on Natan Levy though Levy was injured, so Bush steps in on short notice. Bush is a pretty tough, well-rounded dude who undoubtedly will come out fast and look to be the more aggressive of the two. Hubbard can hang though, he’s been in there with some tough guys (Solecki, Madsen, Ramos, etc), and though he has alternated wins and losses, he's hung around with tougher tests.
Prediction: I've got to go with the fighter with more UFC experience, vs the debuting fighter on short notice. Give me Austin Hubbard.
- Whittaker/Alhassan -132
- Add Cortez +139
- Add Godinez +222
THE GUPPY SPECIAL
Now, this is no "whale play," and actually, it's completely the opposite. This one is for pure entertainment purposes only. Many of you know that I’ve run the board a handful of times as I’ve thrown out predictions, and one of these week’s we will hit one of these “guppies.”
Use this play to round your balance off at your book, nothing serious, just entertainment purposes only.
This week's Guppy Special (odds from DraftKings):
Parlay pays +2111
FULL CARD PREDICTIONS
- ROBERT WHITTAKER defeats KELVIN GASTELUM
- JEREMY STEPHENS defeats DRAKKAR KLOSE
- ANDREI ARLOVSKI defeats CHASE SHERMAN
- ABDUL RAZAK ALHASSAN defeats JACOB MALKOUN
- ALEXANDER MUNOZ defeats LUIS PENA
- TRACY CORTEZ defeats JUSTINE KISH
- ALEXANDER ROMANOV defeats JUAN ESPINO
- LUPITA GODINEZ defeats JESSICA PENNE
- BARTOSZ FABINSKI defeats GERALD MEERSCHAERT
- ZARAH FAIRN defeats JOSIANE NUNES
- TONY GRAVELY defeats ANTHONY BIRCHAK
- AUSTIN HUBBARD defeats DAKOTA BUSH
UFC PREDICTION BET SUMMARY
- 2021 Fight card predictions overall: 78-58-3 (57%)
- 2021 Targeted matchups (wagers): 45-47-1 (49%)
Be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook options as well, on top of the daily fantasy tournaments available for Saturday. The sportsbook has lines up and available for fight lines, method of victory, and round betting!
DFS PLAYS & STRATEGIES
- Choose active fighters. Coupling an active fighter on his/her way to a unanimous decision will give you key points for your team. Just like any other DFS traditional sport, you want the active, offensive player that scores. Key metrics here are SLpM and TD AVG/15min.
- Play the heavyweights. The approximate overall finish rate in the UFC is 54%. Most weight divisions range from 40%-60%, while the heavyweights push a 75% finish rate. You will receive bonus points for finishes inside the distance.
- Try to always include the main event or title fights. Five round fights mean more time to rack up points if you pick the right fighter. In some cases, even if you have the loser, the points can be more than a three-round winner.
- Don’t get excited and rush a pick based on stats, consider sample size. Some fighters have limited fights compared to their opponents when looking at metrics. Stats could be exaggerated. Do your research. Watch for spots with debuting fighters as well. Always check the records of the opponents they faced on their way to the UFC. Always pull fight tape as well. You’d be surprised at what you will find.
- Review methods of victory. I supply the finish rates within this article. As you dive in even more, you can compare method of victory to method of loss for the matchups. For example, you can find matchups where Fighter A has a high % of submission victories matched up with Fighter B, with a high % of submission losses.
As mentioned in the tip sheet above, here’s my MMA DFS Heat Chart for UFC Vegas. As you can see, the chart is ranked based on fight finish odds. Fight finishes are where the points are in MMA DFS. Take a quick glance at the stack, and we will break down the individual matchups below.
Two key offensive metrics are strikes and takedowns. They get off on their opponents, watch your points rack up quick. Here's my Offensive Output Meter for the card. With this chart, you can compare historical fighter averages in these two key metrics as I rank all fighters participating Saturday.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT DFS RECOMMENDATIONS
- Roster fighters with high finish rates that press the action and land takedowns matched up against those that get finished. (See my charts above.)
- Fights projected to NOT go to a decision
- Fabinski/Meerschaert -110
- Romanov/Espino -245
- Birchak/Gravely -180
- Alhassan/Malkoun -285
- Nunes/Fairn -105
- The five-round main event is in play. I really like Whittaker’s volume and ability to take fights late and ability to score, against a guy that will eventually fade.
- Top-tier fighters to build around include: Alhassan, Gravely
- Mid-tier fighter considerations are: Whittaker, Romanov, Cortez
- Live dogs that could score: Espino (if you fade Romanov), Meerschaert (if you fade Fabinski), Fairn, Munoz.
Good luck, everyone. I hope to see some of you cashing after Saturday night! Follow me on Twitter @Y2CASEY