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UFC 286 best bets: Back a brawler to bounce back

Mike Roach / UFC / Getty

Saturday's UFC 286 features a trilogy bout between welterweight champion Leon Edwards and former champ Kamaru Usman.

Also on the card, Justin Gaethje takes on Rafael Fiziev in a pivotal lightweight bout.

Usman is favored to regain the 170-pound throne in the main event, sitting at -240 on theScore Bet. While he might be the safe pick to win, it's hard to forget the visual of Edwards knocking him stiff last summer. This is a 'dog-or-pass fight.

Before the action gets underway at The O2 Arena in London, here are the two best bets for the event.

Justin Gaethje (+200) vs. Rafael Fiziev

It makes sense that Fiziev is the betting favorite. He's been on the rise for a while. He's won six in a row, including back-to-back finishes of former champion Rafael dos Anjos and Brad Riddell. He's younger than Gaethje. And he's still improving.

But I'm going out on a limb and backing Gaethje to be too much to handle for Fiziev, who'll suffer his first setback in a long time.

Yes, Gaethje is 1-2 in his last three fights, but don't forget who he is: one of the hardest and most aggressive strikers in the division, one of the most violent and exciting fighters in UFC history, and still one of the best lightweights in the world.

Stylistically, this is a very winnable matchup for Gaethje. His only losses in the last five years have been submissions - against the very best grapplers in Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira - and Fiziev is a striker like Gaethje. The last time Gaethje lost a fight in the stand-up department was against Dustin Poirier in 2018. He doesn't lose on the feet often at all.

Many believe Gaethje-Fiziev will be a Fight of the Year candidate, which means it's going to be competitive. That checks out - don't expect Gaethje to run over Fiziev. Both men are going to have their moments, and it may be a complete brawl, which is exactly why Gaethje is a good bet. He thrives in back-and-forth fights. Fiziev may be faster and a bit sharper on the feet, but as talented as he is, Gaethje always seems to come out on top in this kind of a fight. His volume is going to be the difference-maker.

Casey O'Neill (-160) vs. Jennifer Maia

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

O'Neill is one of the brightest prospects in the women's flyweight division and is set to take her biggest step up in competition yet as she takes on a former title challenger in Maia.

At 25 years old, O'Neill is only getting better. She's a buzz saw on the ground and has a strong ability to control her opponents and get them in dangerous positions. Three of her last five wins ended with ground-and-pound, and another was a standing rear-naked choke.

Maia's veteran savvy could come into play - if she's able to keep O'Neill on the feet for long stretches, she could outpoint her less experienced opponent in that area. But it's become clear in recent years that she's a gatekeeper. She loses to the top contenders and beats everyone else. If O'Neill is as good as I think she is, she'll get past Maia. It'll probably be a tough fight compared to her other UFC appearances, but expect O'Neill to remain undefeated and continue her trek to the top of the division.

Here are the full odds for UFC 286 on March 18:

Main card

  • Kamaru Usman (-240) vs. Leon Edwards (+195)
  • Rafael Fiziev (-245) vs. Justin Gaethje (+200)
  • Gunnar Nelson (-380) vs. Bryan Barberena (+290)
  • Casey O'Neill (-160) vs. Jennifer Maia (+135)
  • Marvin Vettori (-270) vs. Roman Dolidze (+220)

Preliminary card

  • Jack Shore (-600) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (+400)
  • Chris Duncan (-118) vs. Omar Morales (-107)
  • Sam Patterson (-290) vs. Yanal Ashmoz (+235)
  • Muhammad Mokaev (-1000) vs. Jafel Filho (+600)

Early preliminary card

  • Lerone Murphy (-180) vs. Gabriel Santos (+150)
  • Christian Leroy Duncan (-225) vs. Dusko Todorovic (+185)
  • Jake Hadley (-425) vs. Malcolm Gordon (+320)
  • Joanne Wood (-180) vs. Luana Carolina (+150)
  • Ludovit Klein (-195) vs. Jai Herbert (+165)
  • Juliana Miller (-475) vs. Veronica Hardy (+350)

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