Heavyweight Ciryl Gane steps into the Octagon this weekend at UFC Paris for the first time since coming up short in dethroning current champion Francis Ngannou. It was Gane's first loss, adding an element of the unknown to Saturday's main event. However, the odds tell a different story, with Gane as a hefty -550 favorite against the No. 3-ranked Tai Tuivasa at BetMGM. Even the sharpest bettors can't deny Tuivasa has a puncher's chance as a long shot. He is coming off five straight knockout wins, the last a second-round finish of Derrick Lewis.
Is Tuivasa worth the long odds, or will Gane get back on the winning track in front of his home crowd? After going back and forth and mentally simulating this fight over and over, the best way for me to approach it became obvious. So here are my best bets for the top two fights for UFC Paris.
Ciryl Gane (-550) vs. Tai Tuivasa (+400)
Tuivasa is fun. The knockouts, the post-fight shoeys, and the whole experience of betting on Tuivasa during his rise has been a ride. Now take those memories and juice it up with +400 odds, and it's easy to talk yourself into capitalizing on odds that are set surprisingly wide. However, there is no value in a bet that loses at the end of the night. And that's why I decided against putting my money down on the big underdog.
If your only true path to victory is a knockout, then Gane is not the fighter you want to see across from you. Not only did he survive five rounds with Ngannou, but he landed 20 more significant strikes in the contest. Gane is a high-level technical striker who is confident enough in his ability to trade without putting himself in danger. Tuivasa will force the action out of desperation, but Gane's Muay Thai background will help him keep the Australian at range.
I see the fight dictated by Gane's ability to win early rounds by picking Tuivasa apart from the outside. Then, as Tuivasa gets more desperate, Gane will punish him with counters and start pulling away late. Whether the fight hits the scorecards will depend on how aggressively Tuivasa wants to die on his sword. And that's just not something I am comfortable betting.
Gane's game plan should extend the fight, knowing his opponent's most favorable win condition relies on an early finish. That's what convinced me the best bet is taking the fight to go over 2.5 rounds. It should be available close to -120 odds once the markets open at BetMGM. It's a solid approach that puts your money on the fight going Gane's way, without having to bet into the high moneyline price. Tuivasa is +850 to win by KO. Based on those odds there is a 90% probability Gane avoids that unlikely outcome, putting us well on our way to cashing our bet midway through Round 3.
The bet: Over 2.5 rounds (-120)
Robert Whittaker (-225) vs. Marvin Vettori (+185)
There is only one man to beat Whittaker over the past eight years. That's the current middleweight king, Israel Adesanya. Whittaker seems stuck as the second-best fighter in the division, but that could change Saturday night. The co-main event will look like an old-fashioned game of cat and mouse, as Bobby Knuckles uses his boxing and footwork to snap off combinations at the less mobile Vettori. But Vettori has never shied away from eating some big shots, and I see him walking forward and risking his chin to get his hands on Whittaker. If Vettori can use his size to slow down Whittaker and keep him at close quarters, that will give him a solid chance at pulling the upset. If Vettori spends the fight following Whittaker around the cage, we can start tearing up our tickets early. But I like Vettori's chances to stay competitive.
Let's split our stake with half on the Vettori moneyline (+185) and half on Vettori by decision (+330). I will take a shot that it hits the scorecards with Vettori grinding out a decision win.
The bet: 0.5 unit each — Marvin Vettori (+185) & Marvin Vettori by decision (+330)
Stats provided by ufcstats.com.