UFC 278 betting: Will Kamaru Usman's title reign continue?

The UFC's No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, Kamaru Usman, looks for his 20th straight win and 16th inside the Octagon on Saturday night at UFC 278. The defending welterweight champion takes on Leon "Rocky" Edwards as a -400 favorite in the main event. Usman's position as a massive favorite highlights how dominating the defending champ's title run has been. Since capturing the welterweight belt in 2019, Usman has defended his belt five times, winning three by knockout.

Heavy favorites are a common theme throughout this card. The average favorite is going off at approximately -340, with Miranda Maverick and Tyson Pedro on the top end at -650 and -750, respectively. Wide odds can open parlay opportunities and push bettors toward the prop market, but don't move too fast off the moneyline. If a fighter's win probability is better than the implied odds, there is value in the bet. The returns will accumulate long term if you continue to place winning wagers. I put that strategy in action on the early preliminary card. But first, let's take a solid swing at the main event.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - AUGUST 17: UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman speaks to the media during the UFC 278 media day on August 17, 2022, at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo by Amy Kaplan/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman speaks during UFC 278 media day on Aug. 17, 2022, at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center in Utah. (Photo by Amy Kaplan/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kamaru Usman (-400) vs. Leon Edwards (+310)

Patience pays off for Leon Edwards, whose 10-fight unbeaten streak finally earns him a rematch against the fighter who handed him his last loss in 2015. While Edwards worked his way back up the ladder, Usman secured his place as one of the all-time greats in the sport. A second win over Edwards and sixth title defense earns him a share of Anderson Silva's record for most consecutive UFC wins in history.

Don't let the wide odds fool you into believing Usman will run right through the challenger on Saturday night. Edwards is as talented a fighter as you will see as a +310 underdog. Usman packs more power on the feet, but Edwards' precise striking, strong clinch game and 70% takedown defense will push the champ into deep waters. Edwards must be willing to forego his offensive wrestling to avoid the same fate as the first fight. His best path is patiently picking Usman apart with a combination of boxing, kicks and elbows. However, surviving rounds against the "Nigerian Nightmare" requires an almost perfect approach.

There's always a razor-thin margin for error when fighting against the promotion's elite. The rapid progression of Usman's boxing added a lethal element to his powerful wrestling base. And it certainly feels like Edwards is forced to pick his poison in the biggest fight of his career. Even at distance, Usman holds a superior striking differential advantage (+0.42). I can see Usman having enough success standing to get lured away from his wrestling early, but then Usman going back to his base to wear Edwards down in the championship rounds. Betting Usman by decision shortens the odds to -120 and makes sense, considering my expectation that Edwards will be much more competitive in the fight than the market reflects.

The bet: Usman By Decision (-120)

A.J. Fletcher (-160) vs. Ange Loosa (+130)

Both welterweight newcomers are coming off losses in their debuts, but Fletcher has the skill set that translates to early success in the UFC. He has a higher motor with strong wrestling and power in his hands. He isn't technical as a striker and tends to load up, but he incorporates a diverse attack of spinning kicks and flying knees that keep his opponents on the defensive. Against the less aggressive Loosa, the ability to lean on his wrestling will give Fletcher the confidence to hunt for finishes against Loosa's exploitable defensive holes.

There is a world where Loosa targets Fletcher's front leg and shuts him down from crashing distance, but that seems more unlikely than the -160 odds imply. Fletcher is a notoriously fast starter who completely controlled Matthew Semelsberger in the first round of his eventual decision loss. If A.J. Fletcher starts this fight with his trademark pace and aggression, I don't see Loosa winning the next two rounds. Instead, I expect an improved gas tank out of Fletcher, who can win one of the later rounds with his wrestling. I give Fletcher a 60% chance if it hits the scorecards, so his finishing ability turns this into a value play at this price.

The bet: Fletcher (-160)

*Stats provided by ufcstats.com and Nate Latshaw.