UFC 238 takes place this Saturday in Chicago and it’s one of the most stacked cards of the year. The event features two title fights at the top of the card as well as a number of other superb matchups that hold title implications in a variety of weight classes. It’s a tremendous bill and one that is full of close fights at the sportsbooks. There are 13 bouts with odds available to bet on, and my top plays are listed below in the UFC 238 edition of Prime Picks.
Tony Ferguson (-140)
Though the card features two title fights, the people’s main event of the evening is a lightweight bout between Ferguson (24-3) and Donald Cerrone (36-11, 1 NC). Both guys are amazing fighters and future Hall of Famers, but I favor "El Cucuy" to get his hand raised here. Although he hasn’t fought since last October, it’s hard to forget just how dominant Ferguson has been since winning TUF 13 back in 2011. Ferguson has a 14-1 record in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and has won 11 straight fights, making him one of the best bets over the past decade. He’s a winning fighter and someone who has come through time and time again for his backers, making him arguably one of the best bets in the sport. Although Cerrone has looked rejuvenated in his last couple of fights, he’s still someone who has always been known for losing the big fight, and I feel like this is another spot where that happens. Ferguson should be able to match “Cowboy” in the striking department and he has the better wrestling and submission game as well. That’s not to mention Ferguson’s incredible cardio and his iron chin. Don’t get me wrong, Cerrone is an incredible fighter, but he’s been finished numerous times in his career and now he’s fighting someone in Ferguson who is known for his vicious finishing ability. Ferguson actually opened as a big favorite in this fight, but the action has primarily come in on Cerrone because of how good he’s looked and since “El Cucuy” has dealt with personal issues outside of the Octagon. Despite this, you can’t forget what Ferguson has accomplished in his career, and I really like him to win this fight. At -140 odds give me the former UFC lightweight interim champion to get his hand raised.
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye UNDER 4.5 Rounds (+105)
The co-main event sees UFC flyweight champion Shevchenko (16-3) take on Eye (14-6, 1 NC), and as far as the odds go it’s a mismatch of epic proportions. Shevchenko is a -1300 favorite while Eye is a +850 underdog, so there’s no real betting value here on “Bullet” at these massive odds. Since there isn’t value on “Evil” as an underdog, this is a fight to take a look at the total instead. The oddsmakers have set the total at over/under 4.5 rounds and considering the under is available at +105 odds I would prefer to take that route as I don’t see this fight going the distance. It’s true that Eye hasn’t been stopped yet in the Octagon, but she hasn’t fought someone like Shevchenko who can finish fights both on the feet and on the mat. I just don’t see Eye being able to go the full five rounds against the champ and Shevchenko will come on strong in the championship rounds and get the stoppage. The champ retaining inside the distance is available at +102 odds which I like but going with this under at +105 is a better bet because it provides an out just in case the challenger manages to shock the world. Either way, Shevchenko likely finishes this fight, and I like the under 4.5 rounds total at +105 odds.
Alexa Grasso (-105)
In women’s strawweight action, I like Grasso (10-2) to defeat Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-4). This seems like a good spot to fade Kowalkiewicz, who appears to be on a significant decline at 33. That brutal KO loss she suffered to Jessica Andrade last fall at UFC 228 seems to have really affected her as she did not look the same at all when she lost a lopsided decision to Michelle Waterson back in March. It wasn’t that long ago that the Polish fighter was one of the best women’s strawweights in the sport, but it appears her time at the top of the division has come to an end. While Grasso has been disappointing so far in the UFC with just a 2-2 record and is coming off of a stoppage loss to Tatiana Suarez, she’s still only 25 and remains an intriguing prospect at 115. This is likely going to be a striking-based matchup and the Mexican should be the more effective striker in the fight. Grasso should probably be favored to beat Kowalkiewicz at this point, so getting her at -105 underdog odds makes for a tempting bet.
Grigory Popov (+110)
For an underdog pick, I like Popov (13-1) to defeat Eddie Wineland (23-13-1) in a bantamweight bout. While it’s true that Popov is making his UFC debut against an experienced veteran in Wineland, I think this is a good spot to fade the American and take plus money on a fighter who is riding a long win streak. There’s a reason Popov got signed to the UFC despite being 35, and that’s because he’s an exciting talent who can finish fights both on the feet and on the mat. He’s riding a nine-fight win streak into this bout that includes two rare gogoplata finishes, and the way he finished his fights intrigued he UFC matchmakers. His level of competition has been subpar, but at least he’s remained active unlike Wineland, who basically only fights once a year now. In fact, the veteran hasn’t won a fight since 2016. He’s also taken a ton of damage over the years and despite being one year younger than his opponent at 34-years-old. The Russian is a latecomer to mixed martial arts having started fighting as a pro in 2012, but he’s been making up for lost time and looks like an intriguing addition to the bantamweight division. I view this as an opportunity to fade Wineland and take the fighter with more momentum in Popov at +110 underdog odds to get the win.
Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for Sherdog.com as well as the lead staff writer for MMAOddsbreaker.com. Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all time is Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua and he wishes Pride never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.