UFC Cage Locks: Can underdogs bring any bite to exciting Mexico City card?

Sportsnet's Aaron Bronsteter catches up with UFC's No. 4 ranked Featherweight Brian "T-City" Ortega to discuss his reaction to Ilia Topuria knocking off Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 298, his upcoming re-match against No. 3 Yair Rodriguez and more.

Ahead of each UFC event in 2024, UFC reporter Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter), producer Dan Fernandes (@DanFernandes__) and writer/editor Mike Johnston (@MikeyJ_MMA) will attempt to beat the odds by perusing various sportsbooks and making four betting predictions: one lock each to combine for a three-leg parlay, plus one additional favourite, underdog and dart throw wager.

The UFC returns to Mexico City this weekend for a fan-friendly Fight Night card featuring a main event between former men’s flyweight champion Brandon Moreno and the division’s most recent title challenger Brandon Royval, plus a co-main event between past featherweight title challengers Yair Rodriguez and Brian Ortega.

Last weekend saw betting favourites go 11-1 at UFC 298 with new featherweight champion Ilia Topuria, a near tossup on the moneyline, the only underdog to get his hand raised.

All but two of the 26 fighters scheduled to compete at Saturday’s event made weight successfully on Friday. 

Edgar Chairez and Daniel Lacerda both missed ahead of their scheduled flyweight bout on the preliminary card. Lacerda stepped on the scale first at 127 pounds, one pound over the non-title flyweight limit before Chairez weighed in four pounds heavier than his opponent at 131 pounds.

This matchup will proceed at a catchweight and the UFC is expected to fine both athletes a percentage of their purse for missing weight. Chairez and Lacerda fought to a no-contest in September when the bout was stopped prematurely. The bout was originally rescheduled for October but fell through.

Complete UFC Fight Night: Moreno vs. Royval fight card and predictions below:

— Brandon Moreno vs. Brandon Royval
— Yair Rodriguez vs. Brian Ortega
— Daniel Zellhuber vs. Francisco Prado
— Raul Rosas Jr. vs. Ricky Turcios
— Yazmin Jauregui vs. Sam Hughes
— Manuel Torres vs. Chris Duncan

— Cristian Quiñonez vs. Raoni Barcelos
— Jesús Santos Aguilar vs. Mateus Mendonça
— Edgar Chairez vs. Daniel Lacerda
— Claudio Puelles vs. Farès Ziam
— Luis Rodriguez vs. Denys Bondar
— Victor Altamirano vs. Felipe dos Santos
— Erik Silva vs. Muhammad Naimov


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Which outcome do we think is the absolute safest bet on the card? Each will pick our “lock” of the week to put together a “three-headed monster parlay.”

Aaron: Chairez vs. Lacerda Doesn’t go the Distance -600 (Bovada)

Their first fight was stopped prematurely in the first round, but you could see the direction that it was headed. Lacerda is allergic to the scorecards and I expect this fight to be no exception.

Dan: Felipe Dos Santos to win outright -298 (DraftKings)

This guy has all the makings of a star. Yes, he is coming off a decision loss to Manel Kape, but let’s chalk that up to inexperience and his unwavering commitment to put on a show. Expect him to take the lessons learned from a narrow defeat to Star Boy and unleash hell for three rounds. I also expect the moneyline to move as of time of writing, so pounce on this while you can.

Mike: Yazmin Jauregui to win outright -575 (DraftKings)

This is low-hanging fruit with the Tijuana native being the biggest betting favourite on the card, but she’s chalky for a reason and I agree with the bookmakers who are seemingly giving her a mulligan for her debut loss to Denis Gomes last July when she was knocked out in just 20 seconds despite being a highly touted prospect who was heavily favoured in that fight. Her opponent this weekend, Sam Hughes, has won three of her past four although none of those wins inspire too much confidence.

Three-headed Monster Parlay Odds: -121 (to win $81.92)
2024 Record: 1-4
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: -$301.65


Which favourite with odds shorter than -200 are we most confident in? 

Aaron: Luis Rodriguez -113 (FanDuel)

This pick is undoubtedly a risk given that it is nearly a pick’em fight, but I have been thoroughly unimpressed with Denys Bondar’s UFC run. Rodriguez has done well on the Mexican regional scene, albeit against some suspect opponents, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in his debut.

Dan: Raoni Barcelos -184 (FanDuel)

There are a number of Brazilian fighters on this card that could get the winners share of the purse money in Mexico on Saturday night and Barcelos should be one of them. Expect the crafty BJJ specialist to dictate the tempo of the bout from start to finish as he looks to smother Christian Quiñonez on the mat and get one back in the win column.

Mike: Yair Rodriguez -138 (Bet365)

He was beaten from pillar to post by the former champ Old Man Volk in his last outing but Rodriguez has been more active than Ortega and I think he should have a pronounced advantage when this fight takes place at striking distance. If Ortega can get this fight to the ground as easily as Volkanovski did to Rodriguez in September when he landed seven of his 12 takedown attempts then we may very well see Rodrigues get submitted for the first time in his MMA career. If not, I see the Mexican star getting his hand raised and calling out the new champ Ilia Topuria.

Aaron’s favourite record: 3-2
Total 2024 winnings on $100 bets: -$11.55

Dan’s favourite record: 4-1
Total 2024 winnings on $100 bets: $162.45

Mike’s favourite record: 3-2
Total 2024 winnings on $100 bets: -$1.46

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Which underdog on the card are we most confident will get their hand raised in victory?

Aaron: Claudio Puelles +180 (DraftKings)

This fight screams of recency bias to me. Puelles was considered a big-time prospect before falling to a ranked, seasoned veteran in Dan Hooker and now he’s suddenly a near two-to-one underdog against Fares Ziam, who is coming off wins against guys who are barely clinging onto a roster spot?

Dan: Denys Bondar +100 (BetRivers)

There are a few bookmakers that have Bodnar as the favourite in this one, but there is still some plus money as well. The lines will keep moving on this one, lean the underdog in Denys Bondar vs Luis Rodriguez because it should be a close fight with scorecards deciding the outcome.

Mike: Chris Duncan +160 (BetRivers)

Manuel Torres is coming off a highlight KO of Nikolas Motta and fighting in front of the Mexican crowd. I like the value on the Scotsman here if he can avoid getting caught within the first few minutes of the opening round. Lots of potential prop value on both guys here, too, if this one lasts longer than five minutes.

Aaron’s underdog record: 2-3
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: -$15

Dan’s underdog record: 1-4
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: -$295

Mike’s underdog record: 3-2
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: $152


What’s a longshot play with odds of +500 or longer that we like? 

Aaron: Zellhuber wins by submission +600 (Fanduel)

I am overdue for a dart and am hoping that Zellhuber answers the call. I was impressed by Zellhuber’s tenacity in his win over Cristos Giagos and while I think that Prado has solid power, I think he gets outclassed by Zellhuber here. His best path is to take Prado down and look for a finish on the ground.

Dan: Edgar Chairez wins by decision +500 (BetWay)

Both fighters missed weight, so this should be very interesting. Prior to the weigh-in I expected Daniel Lacerda to do enough to hang around with Edgar Chairez and go the distance. Both competitors have been in the cage with each other before and will have learned a few things prior to the premature stoppage the last time out. Chairez will do more than Lacerda in this one to get the win on cards and will be lifted by the home crowd, especially towards the end of the bout.

Mike: Ricky Turcios to win by KO/TKO in Rounds 2 or 3 + 1200 (FanDuel)

Since it’s a card taking place at altitude, I’ll be targeting second- and third-round finishes throughout the night, assuming it’ll be common to see fighters gas the longer these bouts go. Rosas Jr. vs. Turcios is one projected to go the distance but I see value on a late finish for either fighter. Turcios is being overlooked since he’s going up against a teen phenom with a marketing push behind him, so there’s added value on the more experienced fighter’s side.

Aaron’s dart throw record: 0-4-1
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: -$400

Dan’s dart throw record: 0-5
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: -$500

Mike’s dart throw record: 2-3
Total 2024 Winnings on $100 bets: $1,000

(Listed betting odds as of Thursday/Friday and subject to change prior to fights)

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