Welcome to my betting breakdown for UFC Vegas 38: Santos vs. Walker. After an awesome night of fights at the T-Mobile Arena last weekend for UFC 266, the MMA leader is headed back to their Apex facility in Las Vegas for a card featuring 12 fights.
In the headliner this weekend, former title challenger Thiago Santos will look to stop a three-fight losing streak as he takes on the always-exciting Johnny Walker, who will be in his first main event this weekend and has won four of his six UFC fights by first round knockout. The rest of the card isn’t great, but there are some notable names in Kevin Holland, Alex Oliveira, and Niko Price on the main card.
After cleaning up last weekend with my most action on a single card in the history of my MMA betting career, this week has been much slower in terms of trying to find edges on the sportsbooks. As of now, I’ve only made two official bets, but that number is guaranteed to rise tomorrow morning as I’m just waiting to time a market entry for a wager on the co-main event that I’ll be writing about in this article.
You can find all my plays for free in the FTN Bets Tracker. I’ll be writing this best bets article weekly with extended breakdowns for up to three of my best bets and occasionally some leans if I don’t have three plays. I will be in the FTNBets Discord for about two hours before the early prelims this weekend to answer any questions that readers have. We'd love to continue building the community through Discord.
If you’re interested in DFS and betting takes for every fight on this card, you can check out The Undisputed MMA Show with Jon Kelly and me.
UFC Vegas 38
Casey O’Neill vs. Antonina Shevchenko betting odds
Odds: O’Neill -220 vs. Shevchenko +180 , DraftKings Sportsbook
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t super high on Casey O’Neill as a prospect prior to her UFC debut this past February. She was a 23-year-old prospect coming from the Oceania regional scene with only five professional fights on her record. However, she has gone 2-0 inside the UFC over the last eight months with both of her victories coming inside the distance. While I haven’t changed my short-term view on O’Neill too much, I do acknowledge that she has the ability to win fights at the lower/mid levels of 125 right now and has a potential high ceiling in the future. A lot of that upside is based on her style, which is essentially purely based on aggression and willingness to push a pace on her opponents. Although her offensive striking is fine, I do worry a bit about O’Neill’s defensive striking, as she has a tendency to keep her head on the center line. Despite her striking, O’Neill has shown a nice ability to close the distance on her opponents and force clinch and fence positions, which leads her to single leg takedowns and trip takedowns. O’Neill has landed upwards of a takedown per round inside the UFC and has also shown outstanding cardio, which makes her an exciting prospect.
Shevchenko has alternated wins and losses inside the UFC to the tune of a 3-3 record since debuting in 2018. Antonina, the older sister of flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, is one of the most binary fighters to handicap inside the UFC. What I mean by that is her fights are extremely easy to predict: if somebody is going to engage in a kickboxing match against Shevchenko, it will be an uphill battle as the fighter from Kyrgyzstan has great standup skills. However, nearly every fighter who has tried to take Shevchenko down and force her into an all-around MMA match has had success. In her three UFC losses Shevchenko has been taken down a whopping 11 times by Roxanne Modafferi, Katlyn Chookagian, and Andrea Lee. All in all, I would grade Shevchenko as a borderline elite striker in this shallow division, but her grappling is an absolute deterrent to her ever reaching the top 10.
Now that we understand how Shevchenko fights operate with her succeeding in standup affairs and struggling against grapplers, the only thing left to determine is if Casey O’Neill is able to land takedowns in this spot. Although O’Neill doesn’t have fantastic takedown entries, she is extremely aggressive in her pursuit of opponents, and I think that will be enough in this spot. One area where O’Neill really excels is once she gets in top control on top of her opponents, and I think she’ll be able to get to those positions against Shevchenko and do lots of damage. I understand that this is a massive step up in competition for the Australian fighter, but she carries the exact type of style that I want to fade Shevchenko with.
Bet: Casey O’Neill -210 1x until -215 (Placed Friday)
Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus betting odds
Odds: Holland -165 vs. Daukaus +145, DraftKings Sportsbook
Holland is somebody who quickly rose to UFC fame due to his likable personality and willingness to step in the octagon frequently, oftentimes on short notice. After not being signed on Contender Series in June of 2018, it didn’t take long for Holland to step in against Thiago Santos for his UFC debut in August of 2018, and he has fought a whopping twelve times since then, including two main events. Holland went 5-0 in 2020 and found himself in Fighter ff the Year discussions (more on that later) but he was thoroughly beaten in both of his 2021 main events by Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori, both of who used a grappling heavy approach. Holland is a borderline elite striker in terms of output at 185, as he uses his length and a high-volume strategy to see lots of success on the feet. However, his achilles heel has very clearly been his grappling. He has defended takedowns at just 47% inside of his UFC career and while that data is certainly a bit skewed due to Vettori and Brunson (who are two of the best grapplers in this weight class) taking Holland down 17 times in 50 minutes, it’s important to note that Holland’s ground game has been an issue against Brendan Allen and Darren Stewart.
Daukaus drew an extremely tough assignment in Brendan Allen for his UFC debut back in June of 2020, but the Philadelphia-based fighter actually saw a decent amount of success in that fight, although he ultimately lost. Since then, he has gone 1-1 inside the UFC and I’ve bet him in both fights. Stylistically, Daukaus is primarily a grappler, unlike his brother Chris who scored a knockout at UFC 266 last weekend. Kyle is a black belt in BJJ and has landed nearly two takedowns per fifteen minutes inside the UFC. Daukaus also has underrated striking in my opinion. Although it’s not what he’s known for, I like Daukaus’ approach on the feet and think he has solid punches, albeit a fairly basic arsenal of strikes.
While Holland isn’t quite as binary a fighter as Antonina Shevchenko is earlier on the card, this is still a fighter who I think is fairly easy to handicap. Holland has really struggled against most everybody who made a point to take him down, and Daukaus should be no different. I mentioned how I think Daukaus’ striking is underrated, but Holland should have a nice advantage on the feet in this one. However, Daukaus is a legitimate black belt and should he get Holland down in this spot like I expect, I think a submission or top control clinic is quite live. I could understand Holland being a small favorite due to his experience, athleticism, and striking edge, but this price is too wide against somebody who is very reliable to try and expose Holland’s weakness.
Bet: Have not yet placed an official wager. Daukaus at at +140 or better is worth 1x, if the line hits +160 it will be worth 1.5x.
Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker betting odds
Odds: Santos -150 vs. Walker +130 , DraftKings Sportsbook
Santos debuted in the UFC all the way back in 2013 and has had a solid career inside the promotion, with the highlight of his career being a competitive five round fight against Jon Jones in 2019. Santos lost that fight by split decision and suffered serious injuries to both of his legs, leading to a significant layoff. Since coming back, Santos has dropped fights to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. Although he’s been fighting the best in the world, Santos clearly hasn’t looked like a prime version of himself lately. Part of that may just be due to his style which thrives on big moments and hurting opponents on the feet. It’s hard to look like the best version of yourself as a big-moment-reliant fighter if you aren’t having big moments in fights.
Walker entered the UFC with a quite a bang in 2018 as he won his first three fights inside the promotion in a combined 2:50, with all three wins coming via vicious knockout. However, Walker was quickly humbled by Corey Anderson when he was on the receiving end of a knockout at UFC 244 in November of 2019. Since then, Walker struggled in a grappling-heavy fight against Nikita Krylov and then had a nice comeback victory over Ryan Spann in his most recent fight 13 months ago. Walker is an absolute freak of an athlete, standing at 6-foot-5 with insane athleticism allowing him to throw jumping knees and other explosive strikes with ease. However, that raw athleticism is pretty much all Walker brings to the table, as we’ve seen his defensive grappling, durability, and cardio all exposed to some extent in his career. He was unable to defend takedowns in a fight where he gassed out against Nikita Krylov, and he has been knocked out by Corey Anderson but also was knocked down twice against Spann before coming away with a comeback win.
When looking at the moneylines for this fight, I do think there’s a solid case to be made that Santos’ price is short considering his experience and technical skills compared to a guy like Walker who has shown zero ability to win fights at the UFC level outside of flashy first round finishes. However, 205 pounds is a volatile weight class and it’s possible Santos may really be over the hill, so I’m instead electing to play a total in this matchup. I found Fight Does Not Start Round 4 at -174 on FanDuel Sportsbook earlier this week, and that was a must-bet for me. These two fighters have combined to have their UFC fights finish inside of three rounds at a 77% clip, and this is a stylistic matchup that should feature a ton of striking. I think we see an early finish in this matchup.
Bet: Thiago Santos/Johnny Walker Fight Does NOT Start Round 4 -174 2x until -185, 1.5x until -215, 1x until -240. (Placed Sept. 28 at FanDuel)