Betting Guide for UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Gastelum
We're still a week away from UFC 261, but we have an 11-fight card on tap for this weekend, UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Gastelum (a.k.a UFC on ESPN 22, a.k.a UFC Vegas 24, a.k.a. UFC Fight Night 4/17/21).
There are a good number of hefty favorites (five fighters are -270 or shorter on FanDuel Sportsbook), and at those odds, we're looking at around 73% win probability for 5 of the 11 fights sitting on one fighter.
My betting model likes all of those heavy favorites (no surprise) but not to the point where I'm seeing positive expected value across the board.
So, where is the value actually popping up? Let's dig into some fights. (All stats from UFCStats.com unless otherwise noted.)
Robert Whittaker (-270) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (+220)
For the main event of the card, we have Robert Whittaker taking on Kelvin Gastelum in the middleweight division. Whittaker (23-5-0) is the number-one contender in the division, and Gastelum (17-6-0, 1 no contest) is ranked eighth.
Gastelum broke out of a three-fight losing streak in February with a win over Ian Heinisch by unanimous decision at UFC 258. Whittaker is 11-1-0 over his past 12 fights, the only loss being by knockout to Israel Adesanya when Whittaker lost the middleweight championship.
Whittaker has stuffed 84% of takedowns in his UFC career, which doesn't bode particularly well for Gastelum, who averages 1.22 takedowns per 15 minutes at a strong 39% clip (top-10 among active middleweights).
The public is super heavy on Whittaker, and 92% of nearly 2,000 fight predictions are siding with him (71% predicting a decision victory).
Of Whittaker's 22 career wins, 14 have come by early finish, but of Gastelum's 6 losses, only 2 were finishes (both submissions and none by knockout). Overall, the fight to finish by points is -140, meaning an early finish is unlikely.
My model is giving Whittaker a 71.0% chance to win this fight, in line with his -270 odds. For a more specific angle, Whittaker by points is available at +135, which coincides with the public consensus and with Gastelum's track record of losses.
Jeremy Stephens (-120) vs. Drakkar Klose (+102)
It's a little strange to see a fighter who is 0-4-0 (1 no contest) over his past five fights be a favorite, but that's the case for Jeremy Stephens in this lightweight bout. Stephens is the 10th-ranked contender in the featherweight division and is moving up to 155 to take on Klose.
Klose owns a 5-2-0 record in the UFC, most recently losing in March 2020 by a second-round knockout to Beneil Dariush (the ninth-ranked contender in the lightweight division).
That's a long layoff, but Stephens himself has just one fight since October 2019 (a second-round knockout loss to Calvin Kattar, ranked sixth among lightweight contenders, in May of 2020).
Klose should hold a relatively sizable striking advantage, as he bests Stephens in per-minute significant strikes (3.89 to 3.18) and in striking accuracy (53% to 40%). Both fighters have pretty similar grappling stats across the board, though Klose has averaged 0.40 more takedowns per 15 minutes (1.56 to 1.16).
In all, my model gives Klose a 58.3% chance to win, which is a welcomed number given his underdog status.
The consensus is pretty split but leans toward Klose 52% to 48% on Tapology. The main path for Stephens to win is via knockout, but Klose has been knocked out just once in his 15 career fights. You can take the extra value with Klose by points at +220 if you're inclined.
Luis Pena (-146) vs. Alexander Munoz (+124)
Luis "Violent Bob Ross" Pena has some rocky form with a 1-2-0 record over his past three fights but is 8-3-0 in his career and 4-3-0 in the UFC since July 2018. His opponent, Alexander Munoz, is 1-1-0 in the UFC. Both fighters lost their last fight.
Munoz has only a two-fight sample in the UFC, but he has absorbed 5.23 significant strikes per minute, the third-highest rate on the card, and Pena holds a striking accuracy advantage (47% to 40%).
Of course, Pena has won four of his eight career victories by submission, and both fighters average at least 1.37 takedowns per 15 minutes (1.37 for Pena and 2.5 for Munoz), so he won't be relying solely on the stand-up game.
In all, though, too much leans toward the favorite in this fight. MMAMatrix ranks Pena 105th among lightweights with Munoz at 179th, and Tapology has Pena 59th with Munoz 117th. My win model is giving Pena a 61.0% chance to win this fight, in line with what fighters around -146 have done historically in the UFC.