After hosting one of the most exciting cards of the year in March, the UFC heads back to London, giving bettors another early Saturday afternoon filled with fights. England's top stars, including "Meatball" Molly McMann, brash lightweight Paddy Pimblett and heavyweight headliner Tom Aspinall, fill out the 13-fight card. The crowd at the O2 Arena will have plenty to cheer about as all seven local fighters are expected to win, most of them massive favorites ranging between -250 to as high as -500 odds.
The favorable fights are a fun way to enhance the fan experience by showcasing the area's best fighters, but the wide odds across the card aren't nearly as enjoyable for bettors. As a result, these cards drive us to look hard into the prop market or calculate the expected value on parlays while pairing up two favorites. That may very well become part of my strategy this weekend, but my first bet of the card was on a live underdog. We hit on Li Jingliang at +145 last weekend and are getting a similar price with my first bet on the card.
Somebody is getting trapped in this fight, and it isn't me. After a lackluster 3-4 start in the UFC, Craig has completely turned his career around with a six-fight unbeaten streak. His last two victories came via first-round finish, including a submission win against Nikita Krylov in the UFC's last trip to London. Earlier in his career, Craig developed a reputation as a one-trick pony who relied on taking advantage of his opponent's overconfidence after losing striking exchanges badly.
There may still be a little truth to his willingness to play possum, but I contend that the market is not giving him enough credit for his recent development. Craig is taking his final run much more seriously than the betting market is valuing his victories. He has been training with Tom Aspinall and working on his offensive improvements to complement his lethal grappling.
Volkan Oezdemir is undoubtedly a big step up in competition for Craig. He is coming off two straight losses to top contender Magomed Ankalaev and current light heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka. He is the rightful favorite in this fight, but his striking and aggression can easily open up opportunities for Craig to hand him his third consecutive loss. Both fighters hold massive advantages in their greatest strengths. It's genuinely a fight that comes down to who gets who first.
That's part of why I am siding with Craig in this matchup. He knows his strengths and has matured into a more tactical fighter. He fights like a praying mantis, transitioning into submissions before his opponent realizes it's too late. I am not convinced Oezdemir has the discipline to stay out of danger, especially if he is trying to walk him down to unload a barrage of kicks or combinations. Oezdemir's ideal win condition is to stay at a distance and methodically batter Craig on the feet. Still, it only takes one mistake for his opponent to find his way to a limb he can grab. Thirteen of Craig's 16 career victories have come by submission, so I don't expect much additional value in the method-of-victory props. At +140, I will take my chances on the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt closing the distance against the cage and dragging the over-aggressive striker into a situation he can't survive.
The Bet: Paul Craig (+140)
*Stats provided by ufcstats.com