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Finding the betting edge for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier at UFC 242

As UFC 242 and its main event — the lightweight title showdown between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Dustin Poirier — draw near, the odds have shifted hard toward Nurmagomedov. And it’s not hard to see why gamblers favor the Dagestani champion in the fight, set to go down at The Arena in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, Sept. 7.

Nurmagomedov is a takedown machine, as evidenced by his record-setting 21 takedowns in a three-round fight against Abel Trujilo in 2013. “The Eagle” scores an average of 5.09 takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon.

While Poirier has decent takedown defense — stopping 69 percent of attempts — he has been matted three or more times in a UFC or WEC fight twice, losing both times.

Finding such edges in skill matchups is where profit can be earned at the betting window, as explained by Kyle Marley, MMA expert for SportsLine and one of the top handicappers in the business.

“In general, I always look at style vs. style and skill vs. skill when picking fights,” Marley said while discussing the upcoming UFC 242 bout. “A fighter with a dominant wrestling game like Khabib is usually the best style to bet on because they control where the fight takes place. I highly doubt Khabib looks to strike with Poirier for five rounds, so I have to think Poirier spends a lot of time on his back and that’s why the odds are where they are. I also don’t think Poirier will get a submission off his back or be able to win a decision, so it’s probably KO or bust for him.”

In a recent interview with MMA Junkie, Poirier said he planned to score the finish. He also knows Nurmagomedov’s takedown game can steal the fight away from him.

“Of course, it’s a huge danger,” Poirier said. “I don’t want this guy to get on top of me and start pulling away with rounds. We only have five of them. If you let a guy lay on you for three, you need a finish. That’s not what I’m trying to do in there.

“I’m not worried about his takedowns so much. I need to hurt this guy. That’s a huge part of this training camp. Putting myself in good positions to win the rounds and win the fight. Staying off the fence. Getting up off the ground. But at the same time, I need to do what I do.”

A large part of how professional gamblers assess whom to bet on — or if they’re going to bet at all — comes down to looking at how the styles and skills of the fighters match up and comparing the probability of victory implied by the odds against their own feelings on the likelihood of an outcome. Sometimes that edge doesn’t exist because the odds are in line with their view of the fight.

“Right now, Poirier’s +295 odds show an implied probability of 25 percent,” Marley explained. “If I was going to cap the fight, I would probably say he has about a 25 percent chance of winning, so there is no value there. I would want to have a 5 percent edge or more to place a bet, personally.

“If I was going to bet Poirier, I’d probably just take his KO prop since I think that is the way he would win, and I would get much better odds on that. On the Khabib side, he has an implied probability of 78 percent, so if I’m giving him a 75 percent chance, then I can’t take that bet, either. So it’s all about the line and how much value I can get against the line I would have created.”

Poirier winning by knockout currently sits at +500 at William Hill.

For casual bettors who simply want to get in on the action of having money on the fight and feel they want to ride with the style advantage of Nurmagomedov, Marley — whose bets are up over 260 units ($26,000+) in the last 16 months — had a suggestion.

“I don’t care to straight bet a fighter with -300 or higher odds,” Marley said. “I’d try to find a parlay leg if the line is higher than that. So, if I was going to bet Khabib, I’d want to find another fighter I think will win and parlay them to get better odds.

“I also would limit bets to the plays you are most confident in and not bet half or more of the fights on a card because it’s just too hard to find an edge in that many fights.”

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