On Saturday, April 17th, the UFC will be live from their Apex Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC on ESPN 22: Whittaker vs Gastelum.
Like always, before we take a look at the main card action, we must first examine the seven bout preliminary card for this event which begins at 7pm ET on ESPN and ESPN+.
UFC betting sites have already released the majority of their odds and props for this event. Let’s step inside the betting octagon to examine the current UFC on ESPN 22 odds, identify any betting value, and put these predictions in an arm-triangle choke.
Tony Gravely vs. Anthony Birchak
Tony Gravely (-320)
Anthony Birchak (+260)
Over (+115)/Under (-145) 2.5 rounds
Birchak is 3-1 in his last four fights, but lost the last time out which was his return to the octagon after being gone from the UFC since the summer of 2016. His first stint with the promotion produced a 2-2 record.
After an unsuccessful run in Rizin, Birchak fought for other promotions like Combate Americas and LFA where he won three in a row. He returned to the UFC last November, but lost via 1st round submission to Gustavo Lopez.
13 of his 16 pro wins have come via stoppage with eight by way of submission. He’s 3-3 when going the distance.
Despite the 2-3 record inside the octagon, Birchak is very confident in this weekend’s fight against Gravely
“Tony versus Johnny Eduardo, both stylistically great for me. I’ll be able to pick him apart, exploit some of the things that I’ve seen. He’s got a great record, 20-6 is amazing, out of those 6 losses, 5 are submission losses. Me being a 10th planet black belt, and a division 1 wrestler myself, that matchup is just stylistically perfect.”
Gravely appeared on DWCS in August 2019 and won his fight against Ray Rodriguez via 3rd round TKO. The former CES champ earned a contract with the promotion, but lost in his debut to Brett Johnson via 3rd round submission in January 2020.
Gravely bounced back from that loss with a split decision win over Geraldo de Freitas Jr. in November. 11 of his 20 pro wins have come via stoppage with eight by way of TKO/KO. He’s 9-1 when going the distance.
Gravely heard about Birchak’s comments regarding his confidence in this weekend’s matchup. The former CES champ had the following response:
“My response is that’s what everyone says. I can’t tell you how many times, every fight I go into it is the same thing. I hope he believes that confidence, because I want the best Anthony Birchak. I like the match-up, he’s a grappler, I don’t think we are going to back up. I’ve fought a lot of grapplers, I know he’s tough and I’m not underestimating him, but I’ve fought tougher opponents and train with tougher opponents every single day.”
This is going to be a tight contest with two guys looking to implement their strengths. Birchak will try to make it a grapple heavy bout and Gravely will look to keep it upright and strike.
Gravely is a large betting favorite and I am going to side with the oddsmakers on this one. But, I do think that Birchak is a live dog in this matchup.
I’m also going with the Under 2.5 rounds (-145) and for this fight to end inside the distance (-180). I think we’re going to get a stoppage in this bout. Gravely will pick up the TKO/KO victory (+250).
Best value for this fight is Gravely winning inside the distance at -110 odds.
Tony Gravely vs. Anthony Birchak –Gravely (-320)
Under 2.5 rounds (-145)
Fight ends inside the distance (-180)
Gravely wins inside the distance (-110)
Gravely wins via TKO/KO (-180)
Zarah Fairn vs. Josiane Nunes
Zarah Fairn (+105)
Josiane Nunes (-125)
Over (-140)/Under (+120) 2.5 rounds
Fairn is the slight underdog as she makes her 3rd trip inside the octagon. The 34 year old French fighter earned a shot with the UFC in the fall of 2019, but lost in her debut via 1st round submission to Megan Anderson. She followed that up with a loss 14 months ago to Felicia Spencer via 1st round TKO.
Four of her six pro wins have come via TKO/KO. She’s 2-2 when going the distance.
Nunes is making her octagon debut this week and enters the UFC on a six fight win streak. She last fought in November and won via 2nd round TKO. She’s won five fights in a row via TKO/KO.
Six of her seven pro wins have come via TKO/KO. She’s 1-1 when going the distance and has never been stopped in a pro fight.
The question for this fight is whether or not it goes the distance. These two women have combined to knockout 10 opponents and only go the distance in six pro fights.
With that said, I think the safe play here is for the fight to go Over 2.5 rounds (-150) and the full 15 minutes (-130).
We don’t know how Nunes will perform in her first UFC fight. It’s hard to imagine she will come in and knockout Fairn. Yet, I am taking Nunes to win because I really haven’t liked what I’ve seen from Fairn inside the octagon.
The value is with each fighter’s moneyline.
Zarah Fairn vs. Josiane Nunes –Nunes (-125)
Over 2.5 rounds (-150)
Fight goes the distance (-130)
Nunes wins via decision (+280)
Dakota Bush vs. Austin Hubbard
Dakota Bush (+145)
Austin Hubbard (-175)
This contest was originally scheduled for Natan Levy versus Austin Hubbard. However, Levy suffered an injury and was removed from the card. Dakota Bush has agreed to fill in on less than one week’s notice. As of this writing there are no props or O/U for this matchup.
Dakota Bush will make his UFC debut after a lengthy run in the LFA where he’s gone 5-2 overall. Bush has won two straight fights and last competed in late January where he beat Austin Clem via 1st round TKO.
Six of his eight pro wins have come via stoppage with four by way of submission. He’s 2-2 when going the distance and has never been stopped in a pro fight.
Hubbard shocked the LFA by winning the lightweight title in just his second fight with the promotion. That earned him a ticket to the UFC where he’s gone 2-3 since.
His last fight came in August 2020 where he lost to Joe Solecki via 1st round submission. It was the third contest of 2020 for Hubbard as he also beat Max Rohskopf via 2nd round TKO and lost to Mark Madsen via decision.
Seven of his 12 pro wins have come via stoppage with five by way of TKO/KO. He’s 5-3 when going the distance.
This bout will come down to Hubbard’s striking versus Bush’s takedown attempts. Hubbard has struggled with top notch grapplers of which Bush is not. So, I expect Hubbard to defend the takedown and light up Bush in the striking department.
Since Bush has never been stopped in a pro fight before, I am going to take Hubbard winning this fight via decision due to his large advantage in striking.
There should be value with some of the prop bets for this fight once they’re released.
Dakota Bush vs. Austin Hubbard –Hubbard (-175)
Gerald Meerschaert vs. Bartosz Fabinski
Gerald Meerschaert (+110)
Bartosz Fabinski (-130)
Over (-140)/Under (+110) 2.5 rounds
Meerschaert comes into this contest as the slight underdog and riding a two fight losing streak. In fact, he’s gone 2-5 in his last seven fights.
“GM 3” last fought in September 2020 and lost via KO to Khamzat Chimaev in 17 seconds. It’s an embarrassing loss that he’s looking to bounce back from.
29 of his 31 pro wins have come via stoppage with 23 by way of submission. He’s 2-3 when going the distance. Eight of his 14 pro losses have come via submission.
As for this weekend’s matchup against Fabinski, Meerschaert had the following comments:
“I feel like stylistically it definitely favors me. They say he’s a judo guy, seems to be more of a straight like European freestyle type wrestler — gets in on a double leg. To his credit, for his build, little bit shorter, stocky guy, he wrestles to make the most out of his physical attributes. I feel like the match-up definitely favors me and I think I’ve really got the edge on the feet as well.”
Fabinski has been with the UFC for six years, but only has five fights with the promotion and is 3-2 overall. He last competed in September and lost via 1st round submission to Andre Muniz.
Eight of his 15 pro wins have come via TKO/KO. He’s 7-1 when going the distance. Three of his four pro losses have come via submission.
I believe we’ll see another submission loss for Fabinski as he’s going to play right into GM3’s strategy. Fabinski will go in for his usual double-legged takedown and end up on the mat with a strong submission specialist.
Meerschaert will eventually lock on to a limb or his opponent’s neck and crank away until Fabinski taps out. I don’t see this fight going the distance (-120) nor will it go Over 2.5 rounds (-140).
The betting value is with each fighter’s moneyline.
Gerald Meerschaert vs. Bartosz Fabinski –Meerschaert (+110)
Under 2.5 rounds (+110)
Fight ends inside the distance (-120)
Meerschaert wins inside the distance (+170)
Meerschaert wins via submission (+225)
Jessica Penne vs. Lupita Godinez
Jessica Penne (+235)
Lupita Godinez (-275)
Over (-350)/Under (+260) 2.5 rounds
Jessica Penne was originally set to face Hannah Goldy at UFC 260 a few weeks ago. However, Goldy tested positive for covid and the fight was cancelled.
Instead of rebooking the bout with Goldy, the UFC decided to give Penne a different opponent in newcomer Lupita Godinez who is a large betting favorite for this fight.
Godinez, nicknamed “Loopy,” is considered one of the top female prospects from Canada. She last fought in October 2020 and won the LFA strawweight title by defeating Crystal Vanessa Demopoulos via decision. Four of her five pro wins have come via decision.
Penne makes her long awaited return to the octagon after multiple violations with USADA. She hasn’t fought in four years and is now 38 years old. Penne has lost three fights in a row and is 1-3 all-time in the octagon.
Nine of her 12 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of submission. She’s 3-2 when going the distance.
Give Penne credit for sticking with her MMA career despite the long hiatus due to a self-inflicted suspension with USADA. But, that’s all I can give her for this matchup because I just don’t see Penne winning this fight.
Penne wasn’t that impressive four years ago when we last saw her, and she will be taking on a talented prospect who looked good in her last fight.
This bout will go Over 2.5 rounds (-350) and the full 15 minutes (-305). Four of Godinez’s five pro fights have gone the distance. Two of Penne’s four UFC fights have gone to a decision.
I like Godinez to win this bout via decision (-130) as she starts off her UFC tenure on a winning note. This wager also offers the best betting value.
Jessica Penne vs. Lupita Godinez –Over 2.5 rounds (-350)
Over 2.5 rounds (-350)
Fight goes the distance (-305)
Godinez wins via decision (-130)
Alexander Romanov vs. Juan Francisco Espino
Alexander Romanov (-140)
Juan Francisco Espino (+120)
Over (-120)/Under (-110) 1.5 rounds
Espino comes into this heavyweight matchup as the slight underdog. He’s on an eight fight win streak that has seen him victorious in both of his UFC bouts.
Espino rode a six fight win streak into the octagon where he debuted in November 2018 and won the season 28 Ultimate Fighter via 1st round submission over Justin Frazier.
Espino was out of the octagon for nearly two years before returning to the UFC in September 2020 and defeating Jeff Hughes via 1st round submission. Espino scored a rare scarf hold for the win.
Eight of his 10 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of submission. He’s 2-0 when going the distance.
Romanov debuted with the UFC last fall and beat Roque Martinez via 2nd round submission. He followed that up with a quick turnaround and beat Marcos Rogerio de Lima via 1st round submission last November.
Romanov has never gone the distance in a pro fight. The undefeated fighter has stopped all 13 of his opponents with eight victories coming via submission.
This battle of heavyweight prospects is going to be an exciting one. The winner could take a big step towards the Top 15 rankings.
With 21 combined stoppages between the two, I definitely don’t see this bout going the full 15 minutes. So, take his heavyweight fight to end inside the distance (-295).
The Over/Under is a bit trickier as I can see this bout going at least two full rounds. I can also see it ending in the 1st. I’m leaning towards the Over 1.5 rounds (-120), but I don’t have much confidence in either option.
I believe the value is with each fighter’s moneyline. As for the winner, I like Romanov in this contest. He has the grappling to hang with Espino, but is the better overall striker in this matchup. Romanov will pick up the victory inside the distance.
However, I’m not sure if it will be via TKO/KO or submission. But, since Espino’s only loss has come via TKO/KO, I am going with Romanov to win this contest via TKO in the late 2nd round.
Alexander Romanov vs. Juan Francisco Espino –Romanov (-140)
Over 1.5 rounds (-120)
Fight ends inside the distance (-295)
Romanov wins inside the distance (+105)
Romanov wins via TKO/KO (+300)
Tracy Cortez vs. Justine Kish
Tracy Cortez (-255)
Justine Kish (+215)
Over (-335)/Under (+255) 2.5 rounds
Kish has been with the UFC since the beginning of 2016 and has tallied a 3-3 record inside the octagon. She started off 2-0 in the UFC, but has gone 1-3 since then. Her last fight was in September 2020 and she lost via 3rd round submission to Sabina Mazo.
Five of her seven pro wins have come via decision. Two of her three pro losses have also come via decision.
Cortez scored a decision victory on DWCS in July 2019 and then made her UFC debut in November 2019 where she beat Vanessa Melo via decision. Her most recent fight came in October 2020 and she beat Stephanie Egger via decision.
Six of her eight pro wins have come via decision. Her lone loss came via submission.
I think it’s pretty obvious that this fight is going the distance. Combined, these two women have gone the distance in 13 of their 19 pro contests. For Cortez, she’s gone the distance in four straight bouts. For Kish, she’s seen the scorecards in seven of her last eight fights.
As for the winner, I’m betting on Cortez to win this one on my UFC betting app. She’s the better overall fighter and should be able to cruise to a unanimous decision win over Kish.
The best value for this contest is with Cortez winning via decision (-125).
Tracy Cortez vs. Justine Kish –Cortez (-255)
Over 2.5 rounds (-335)
Fight goes the distance (-290)
Cortez wins via decision (-125)
As a longtime freelance writer, avid sports fan, former athlete, and experienced sports bettor, Rick Rockwell has risen up the ranks at GamblingSites.org to become the self-professed “King of the Blog” in his first year with the site. …