UFC 286: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman Betting Preview, Expert Picks & Analysis

UFC 286 is upon us and there are some mouth watering matchups on tap at the O2 Arena in London, England on Saturday March 18th. Our UFC betting expert has been called in to provide his most profitable UFC 286 best bets for the big card. Kamaru Usman will be looking to reclaim his UFC Welterweight title after suffering his first career UFC loss last time out. Leon Edwards will be looking to prove his head kick knockout over Usman was no fluke, and he has what it takes to stay atop the Welterweight mountain for the foreseeable future.

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UFC 288 Betting Preview, Expert Picks & Analysis

Bryan Barberena vs. Gunnar Nelson

Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena (18-9) is facing the toughest test of his career at UFC 286, getting the main card slot for his bout against Gunnar Nelson (18-5-1). Barberena is a pure entertainer, which explains why someone coming off a loss is getting such a marquee matchup. He’s gotten five ‘Fight of the Night’ awards throughout his UFC tenure, and is always ready to stand and trade. 

Barberena made his UFC debut back in 2014, and has remained consistent, but not outstanding. He’s 9-7 in the UFC, but has faced tough competition in Colby Covington, Robbie Lawler, Vicente Luque, and champion Leon Edwards. He should be able to use that experience to keep Nelson upright, and put his heavy hands to work.

Unlike Barberena, Gunnar Nelson’s top priority is to win. Of course, he wants to put on an entertaining show and get Barberena out of the cage early, but Nelson knows that at 34 years old, his chance to earn a ranking next to his name is dwindling. Nelson made his UFC debut in 2012, sporting an undefeated record. He won his first 4 UFC fights, 3 of which were by submission, but has failed to string together consistent performances since then. He’s gone 5-5 since that streak, and has only fought once in the last 4 years. Nelson has a very clear path to victory here; get Barberena to the ground and tap him out. Of Nelson’s last 13 wins, 11 have come via submission, 10 of which were a neck crank or a choke. 

This is a classic grappler vs striker matchup, and in the UFC the grappler usually comes out on top. The UFC is a mixed martial arts competition, and if there is a massive hole in someone’s game, such as Barberena’s takedown defense, it can usually be exploited. Barberena’s opponents have gone 21/38 on their takedowns over his last 5 fights, averaging a takedown every 3 minutes. Nelson will be eager to get this fight to the ground, and while I do think he emerges victorious, I can’t get behind the betting odds for this matchup. 

Nelson is coming in as a -425 favorite while Barberena is bouncing back as a +340 underdog. I can agree that Nelson deserves to be the favored, but not this heavily. He’s gone 5-5 over his last 10 fights, and has been inactive over the last 4 years. Of course, his takedown game can always carry him to a victory, but he hasn’t been hit square in the face in a while, and his 34 year old jaw may crack. This fight will likely finish quickly either way, but at +340 I have to take a shot on Barberena. He certainly wins this fight at least 25% of the time, and his high activity striking approach may be enough to stun Nelson, and make him rethink his actions. One clean punch is all it takes, and I’ll take a flyer on the big underdog for a chance at a big payout.

PICK: Bryan Barberena to win (+340)


Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev

Justin Gaethje (23-4) is one of the most entertaining fighters in the history of the UFC. He’s participated in 4 fights that have won ‘Fight of the Year’ awards from various sources, and is constantly trying to knock his opponent out from bell to bell. He debuted in the UFC in 2017, and beat Michael Johnson in one of the aforementioned ‘Fights of the Year.’ He was later able to capture the interim UFC Lightweight Championship, but tapped to Khabib Nurmagomedov during the Russian legend’s final UFC fight in 2020. Gaethje has only fought once a year for the last 3 years, and there are serious doubts surrounding the health of the 34 year olds chin. While he didn’t get knocked out against Michael Chandler in 2021, he was on the verge of losing consciousness multiple times throughout the bout. His wrestling background allows him to keep the fight upright for long stretches, and his ‘never say die’ attitude has resulted in highly entertaining bouts. 

Across the octagon is Rafael Fiziev (12-1), who knows a Gaethje victory would propel him into the title picture. Fiziev lost his UFC debut in 2019, but has rattled off 6 straight wins (3 knockouts) since, most recently knocking out Rafael Dos Anjos in July of last year. Fiziev is certainly capable of ending the fight early, and while he’s on a 6 fight win streak they haven’t all been convincing. It took him until the 5th round to get 38 year old Dos Anjos out of the cage, and all 6 of his wins have been razor close. Fiziev relies on crisp, powerful striking to succeed, and has fantastic takedown defense, stuffing 35 of the last 38 takedowns attempted on him. It’s unlikely Gaethje will be shooting for the mat, but if Fiziev rocks him it’s reassuring for the Azerbaijani fighter that the fight will stay upright. 

This is going to be a good one. Both of these fighters like to stay on their feet, and are not afraid to engage in a firefight. Gaethje has proven himself in high profile events that he will not wilt under the spotlight, and will continue to do what Justin Gaethje does. Fiziev is ready to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of the Lightweight division, and is eager for his first main card PPV appearance.
In all honesty, I have to take the underdog again. Justin Gaethje is coming in as a +190 underdog while Fiziev is a -225 favorite. Gaethje has proven himself as a worthy UFC fighter, while Fiziev still has questions to answer. In Gaethje’s fight with Chandler, 99% of UFC fighters would’ve been dropped by Chandler’s punches, but Gaethje held on. Fiziev has not faced competition anywhere near Gaethje’s level, and while he is 4 years younger, I’m much more confident in the chin that survived a Chandler onslaught.

I expect Gaethje to find a home and finish this fight early. He will not slow down and while Fiziev is on a 6 fight win streak, he has actually been out struck by 13 strikes combined in those 6 wins. If he lets Gaethje touch him, he’ll have his lights turned out. Once you factor in that Gaethje is a near +200 underdog, something he’s only been once in his career (against Khabib) this fight instantly becomes a must bet unless you put Fiziev on Nurmagomedov’s level, which I don’t.

PICK: Justin Gaethje to win (+190) 


Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman

The former No. 1 pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman (20-2) will look to reclaim his Welterweight title against champion Leon Edwards (20-3). These two first fought in December 2015, and Usman put on an absolute clinic, outstriking Edwards 126-36 and landing 6 takedowns en route to a unanimous decision win. Edwards rebounded from that loss to string together 9 straight wins to earn a chance at redemption against Usman with the Welterweight title on the line in August of last year. Edwards didn’t waste that chance, landing a devastating head kick and knocking Usman out in the final minute of the final round. Despite losing the fight by a significant margin, Edwards proved he will never give up, and has the potential to land a devastating blow at a moment’s notice. 

Leon Edwards came into his first career title fight as a big underdog, despite his 9 fight win streak. This was likely due to the fact that Usman appeared unbeatable heading into their fight, but that doesn’t take away from Edwards’ monstrous win streak. He took down Vicente Luque, Donald Cerrone (when he was good), Nate Diaz, and now Kamaru Usman. Edwards is still coming in as a massive underdog, and rightfully so. While his knockout win over Usman was fantastic, the reality is that he was outstruck 189-64, and Usman landed 5 takedowns to Edwards’ one. Edwards relies on consistent, accurate striking to succeed, and is very agile on his feet. He may not have the biggest figure, or the heaviest hands, but Edwards has outworked, and outscored all 10 of his most recent opponents, and won 10 straight fights. 

Kamaru Usman was in the conversation to be the MMA G.O.A.T. prior to his Edwards loss. He won his first 15 UFC fights, 6 of which were Welterweight titles. He’s proven he’s at the very top in all aspects of mixed martial arts, employing his wrestling when he needs to, such as against Rafael Dos Anjos and Tyron Woodley, and has put on fantastic striking displays against Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal. There are really no holes in Usman’s game, and he was less than one minute away from another title before Edwards rocked his world with a remarkable head kick. 

This is a tough one to call. After losing in a similar fashion to countryman Israel Adesanya, it’s difficult to predict how Usman will look in his rematch. There is no doubt he would have won the fight if he survived a few seconds longer, but now that Edwards has proven he can knock out the former champ, who’s to say he can’t do it again? I am. Kamaru Usman is still one of the best MMA fighters of all time, and while he failed to protect himself at all times, he won’t make the same mistake in the rematch. Edwards won the first round after giving Usman his first takedown of his career, and will not have the same fortune this time out. I’m expecting Usman to dominate Edwards from bell to bell, and reclaim his Welterweight title. 

Usman is coming into this fight with -245 odds attached to his victory, while Edwards is coming back at +200. While betting on a heavy favorite is not always the best option, there is no doubt in my mind Usman will finish Saturday night with his arm raised. He is better than Edwards in every aspect, and will prove it at UFC 286.

PICK: Kamaru Usman to win (-245) 

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