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UFC on ESPN 2: Barboza vs Gaethje Betting Preview, Odds and Picks

On Saturday, March 30th, the UFC will be live from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA, for UFC on ESPN 2: Barboza vs Gaethje. Also known as UFC Philadelphia and UFC on ESPN, the main event for the evening is a lightweight fight between Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje. In total, there are 13 fights scheduled on the night.

The early preliminary card will feature three fights and air on ESPN+. The second round of preliminary fights will be seen on ESPN before the main card begins at 7 PM ET on the same stations.

MMA betting sites see the main event as a very close fight, but the rest of the card has a mixture of close betting odds to big betting favorites. Let’s step inside the betting octagon to take a look at the UFC odds, find possible betting value and KO our picks.

UFC on ESPN 2 Early Prelims

The early prelims portion of the card features three fights that are set to begin at 3:30 PM ET and can be seen on ESPN+. Betting odds are courtesy of BetOnline.

Alex Perez (21-5) vs Mark de La Rosa (11-1)

  • Alex Perez (-275)
  • Mark de La Rosa (+235)

I’m a bit surprised that Perez is stuck this low on the card considering he was a highly touted prospect after winning his DWTNCS in August 2017. He then won three straight fights before losing to Joseph Benavidez last November. Even with a TKO loss to a divisional legend, he’s still more accomplished than some of the other fighters higher up on the card. Perez has gone to the judges in 11 of his 21 wins.

Mark was thrown into the fire for his UFC debut in December 2017. It was a short notice fight that saw him lose via submission. Fortunately, he was able to bounce back and win his next two fights in 2018. De La Rosa has won 6 of his 11 fights via submission, with 5 coming via rear naked choke, and looks to keep his winning streak going.

Perez is three years older than his opponent and I also think he’s slightly better as a fighter right now in their respective careers. I believe Perez has the advantage of standing up and he can hold his own on the mat. The only question is whether or not Perez will stop De La Rosa before going the distance.

UFC Bet: Alex Perez (-275)

Sabina Mazo (6-0) vs Maryna Moroz (8-3)

  • Sabina Mazo (-170)
  • Maryna Moroz (+145)

In the first of three women’s fights on the night, the undefeated Sabina Mazo makes her UFC debut on Saturday evening. Mazo, dubbed the “Colombian Queen,” is a former LFA flyweight champion and has won 4 of her 6 pro fights via Decision. When she’s aggressive, she tends to have more success.

Moroz has had a rocky few years in the UFC. She debuted in April 2015 and won via first-round submission. However, she would then lose three of her next five fights including the last two in a row. It’s been 2½ years since she’s last won inside the octagon and most pundits feel she’s already reached her ceiling within the promotion.

Mazo is clearly the more talented prospect at just 22 years old, 5 years younger than her opponent. However, Moroz will be a step up in competition and just the right opportunity to prove that she belongs in the UFC. I believe Mazo will outwork Moroz in this fight and win via UD.

UFC Bet: Sabina Mazo (-170)

Ray Borg (11-3) vs Case Kenney (11-1-1)

  • Ray Borg (-310)
  • Case Kenney (+255)

Case Kenney is stepping in for Kyler Phillips, who was a huge underdog in this fight. Additionally, Phillips was replacing Pingyuan Liu who was originally scheduled to take on Borg. The UFC betting odds have changed as Borg’s opponents have changed. Borg was a huge favorite over Phillips, but his -460 betting odds have come down some against Kenney. Borg was the biggest betting favorite of the night when he was to take on Phillips.

Kenney holds two titles in the LFA, albeit both are interim titles in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions. However, his last fight earned him the bantamweight belt after he won via 1st round KO. Case has won 4 straight fights after dropping the only contest in his career 19 months ago. That loss came via Split Decision.

Ray Borg is a former title contender in the flyweight division, but hasn’t fought since October 2017, due to injuries. He lost that fight to the champ Demetrious Johnson via 5th round submission. Borg has been with the UFC for 5 years and has a 5-3 record inside the octagon with losses to Johnson, Ortiz, and Scoggins.

As mentioned, Phillips was a huge underdog against Borg, but I don’t believe Kenney is as big of one. In fact, he has a puncher’s chance. With that said, Borg is a step up in competition and Kenney is fighting on short notice. Additionally, he just fought last week. It would be incredible if he could win two fights in 8 days for two different promotions. Unfortunately, he’s going up against a really tough opponent.

UFC Bet: Ray Borg (N/A)

UFC on ESPN 2 Prelims

The second round of preliminary fights is set to begin at 5 PM ET and will be televised on ESPN. All betting odds are courtesy of BetOnline.

Kevin Holland (13-4) vs Gerald Meerschaert (28-10)

  • Kevin Holland (-190)
  • Gerald Meerschaert (+165)

This fight features two combatants who both had their momentum derailed by losses to Thiago Santos. In the case of Kevin Holland, his UFC debut match was against Santos and he lost via UD in August 2018. Holland would fight 3 months later and defeat a tough John Phillips via submission. It was a solid win that put Holland back on the right track. Nicknamed “the Trailblazer,” Holland has won 5 of his last 6 fights.

Gerald Meerschaert has been with the UFC since December 2016, and has gone 4-2 inside the octagon. His two losses have come to respectable opponents in Santos and Jack Hermansson who’s in the co-main event of this card. In his 28 pro fights, Meerschaert has 20 wins via submission. He will be giving up 2 inches in height and 3.5 inches in reach to his opponent.

I believe Holland has the style to make Meerschaert’s life miserable inside the octagon. He can strike from range and rack up the points while picking apart Gerald’s defense. With the reach advantage, I imagine Gerald will try to get this fight to the ground to look for a submission, but that will be easier said than done. Holland has a ground game that should bode well against Meerschaert as well. I like Holland in this matchup. I think the two fighters’ styles give Holland the advantage.

UFC Bet: Kevin Holland (-190)

Enrique Barzola (15-3-1) vs Kevin Aguilar (16-1)

  • Enrique Barzola (-103)
  • Kevin Aguilar (-117)

This is probably the closest fight on the card not only with the oddsmakers, but also with the matchup. Aguilar comes into this fight having won 8 straight contests. He scored a victory on the DWTNCS last July, but didn’t earn an immediate fight. It took him 4½ months later before he could step into the octagon and win last November via UD. Kevin has been a wrecking ball in the LFA and he’s hoping to continue that trend in the UFC. Aguilar has won 10 of his 16 pro fights via KO/TKO.

Barzola is on a 4 fight win streak and has improved his overall UFC record to 5-1. His lone loss was 2 ½ years ago via Split Decision to Kyle Bochniak. Enrique has gone to the scorecards in 6 straight fights and has 7 wins via Decision. He last fought 10 months ago against Davis and won via UD.

Barzola is superior in takedown skills over Aguilar. And, he’s going to have to use that part of his game to have a shot at winning. Aguilar has a staggering 7 inch reach advantage and is a superior striker. Both fighters are adequate in their opponent’s areas of strength, but it’s not something either man wants to test out.

If Aguilar can stuff a few takedowns then I think he’s going to end up far ahead on the scorecards due to his striking. However, if Barzola can control the fight from the ground then he will win. This is a tough fight and both men offer betting value. I’m going with Aguilar to win via UD because of his reach, his striking skills, and all he needs is to fight at a distance to win. I think he has more avenues to victory than Barzola.

UFC Bet: Kevin Aguilar (-117)

Ross Pearson (20-15) vs Desmond Green (21-8)

  • Ross Pearson (+345)
  • Desmond Green (-415)

Desmond Green comes into this bout as a huge betting favorite. In fact, he’s the largest favorite of the night. It’s a bit surprising that Green is such a big betting favorite considering that both men have been losing more than winning over the last few years.

Green comes into this contest having lost 3 of his last 4 fights. He’s also gone to the scorecards in 8 straight contests. Desmond is a solid wrestler, but doesn’t use it enough to his advantage.

Pearson is fighting for his UFC career. Ross has lost 5 of his last 6 fights and has fought a string of tough opponents like Masvidal and Hooker. Pearson has been with the UFC since 2009. However, he’s on borrowed time in my opinion. Over that span, Ross has compiled a 12-12-1 record inside the octagon.

For this fight, unless Pearson can score a KO early in the fight, I don’t see him beating Green. I believe Desmond Green can do enough damage in the stand-up game to set up his takedowns and control the fight on the ground. 9 of Pearson’s last 10 fights have gone the distance as has Green’s. I’m taking Desmond Green to win this fight via UD.

UFC Bet: Desmond Green (-415)

Marina Rodriguez (10-0-1) vs Jessica Aguilar (20-7)

  • Marina Rodriguez (-310)
  • Jessica Aguilar (+260)

In the second of three women’s fights on the night, Marina Rodriguez comes in as a big betting favorite over her opponent. That’s largely due to her undefeated record and her opponent’s struggles as of late. Not to mention, Aguilar is stepping in on short notice. Rodriguez will have a two inch reach and a four inch height advantage over Aguilar. Additionally, Marina is a superior striker over her opponent.

Aguilar comes into this bout having lost 3 of her last 4 fights. She was last inside the octagon in November and suffered a 1st round submission defeat. Aguilar entered the UFC in 2015 on a 10 fight win streak. Since then, she’s gone 1-3.

Aguilar’s inability to wrestle or even defend the takedowns has become a liability for her and I expect Jessica to succumb to takedowns in this fight as well. I believe Roidriguez has shown a better overall fight game, fight plan, and versatility.

As long as Rodriguez doesn’t repeat her performance from the 1st round of her last fight against Markos then I believe she’s going to cruise to a UD win in this contest.

UFC Bet: Marina Rodriguez (-310)

UFC on ESPN 2 Main Card

The main card of the night is scheduled to begin at 7 PM ET on ESPN and will feature six fights. All betting odds are courtesy of BetOnline:

Sheymon Moraes (11-2) vs Sodiq Yusuff (8-1)

  • Sheymon Moraes (+129)
  • Sodiq Yusuff (-149)

Moraes comes into this contest having won his last two fights after losing in his UFC debut to Zabit Magomedsharipov. His only other career loss was to Marlon Moraes in the WSOF. Moraes is in line for a UFC title shot this year. And, Zabit is one of the most highly touted prospects in all of the UFC. With that said, those two losses for Sheymon aren’t as bad as they appear on the surface. For Sheymon Moraes, he’s either winning via KO/TKO or going to the scorecards in his fights.

Yusuff comes into this bout on a three-fight win streak. He earned a UFC contract last July when he won on DWTNCS. His octagon debut came in December and he won via TKO in the 1st round. He has a smaller sample size in the UFC, so it’s harder to predict his success against a more experienced fighter.

Yussuf appears to be the more athletic and explosive fighter, but Moraes is a more accomplished striker. I believe Sheymon can apply enough pressure on Sodiq to throw him off his rhythm. With that said, I’m taking Moraes in the upset as I believe he has the edge in this fight, provided that he doesn’t eat a KO early in the fight.

UFC Bet: Sheymon Moraes (+129)

Paul Craig (10-3) vs Kennedy Nzechukwu (6-0)

  • Paul Craig (+175)
  • Kennedy Nzechukwu (-205)

Paul Craig has had a rough 2 years as he’s gone 1-3 in his last 4 UFC fights. That’s dropped his overall UFC record to 2-3. Craig has fought some rising prospects at the time of their bouts like Khalil Rountree and last December against Jim Crute. 9 of Craig’s 10 wins have come via submission.

Nzechukwu won his DWTNCS appearance last August and is undefeated in his 6 professional fights. At 26, Kennedy is an intriguing prospect with what limited footage available online. He does have explosive athleticism and should have the speed advantage over Craig.

Oddsmakers have made Nzechukwu the large betting favorite despite not knowing what he can really do against a step up in competition. He appears to have all of the athletic advantages, but how will he handle Craig’s attempts to get this to the mat?

I think Craig could pull off the upset in this fight. I’m not 100% sold on Nzechukwu as of yet. With that said, the smart play is on Nzechukwu, but Craig does offer value and is probably fighting for his UFC contract.

UFC Bet: Kennedy Nzechukwu (-205)

Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-3) vs Michelle Waterson (16-6)

  • Karolina Kowalkiewicz (-132)
  • Michelle Waterson (+112)

In the third and final women’s fight of the night, we have a tightly contested strawweight battle that could see the winner move up in line for a bigger fight or a possible title shot. Kowalkiewicz is the betting favorite, but is coming off a brutal KO loss to Andrade last September. It’s the kind of crushing defeat that could change a fighter for the worse. Kowalkiewicz lost 3 of her last 5 fights and desperately needs a win to right the ship.

Waterson, nicknamed “The Karate Hottie,” is on a two fight win streak and 4-2 inside the octagon since joining about 4 years ago. Waterson has a nice blend of striking and submission skills to make things hard on Kowalkiewicz in this fight. 9 of Waterson’s 16 wins have come via Decision.

Kowalkiewicz is a very proficient striker and loves to get inside to do her damage. Waterson is also a proficient striker, but likes to do it from a distance with her kicks. Both fighters have no problem throwing combos and exchanging strikes. However, the one major difference I see between these two fighters is that Waterson is better on the ground than Kowalkiewicz.

Waterson’s first two wins in the UFC have come via submission. And she defeated Casey via Decision largely due to her groundwork. Kowalkiewicz seems to be a fish out of water on the ground and this is where I expect Waterson to win the fight. The only thing is whether or not she stops Kowalkiewicz before going the distance. The odds favor this fight going to the judges, so I’m taking “the Karate Hottie” to win via UD.

UFC Bet: Michelle Waterson (+112)

Josh Emmett (13-2) vs Michael Johnson (19-13)

  • Josh Emmett (-105)
  • Michael Johnson (-115)

In another highly contested, close betting odds fight, Josh Emmett returns to the octagon after a 13-month absence largely due to his devastating loss to Jeremy Stephens. Emmett is 4-2 inside the octagon and is hoping to get back on track with a win in the featherweight division.

Johnson made a move to the featherweight division and is looking to go 3-1 in the division after spiraling down the lightweight division. Johnson has won his last two fights but went 1-5 in the previous stretch. He’s lost to some of the top fighters in the lightweight division like Gaethje, Nurmagomedov, and Nate Diaz. Johnson has been with the UFC since late 2010 and has an overall record of 11-9.

Emmett also dropped down to featherweight from lightweight in 2017. He’s a solid wrestler and a straightforward fighter. However, he could struggle with Johnson’s striking skills. Emmett will need to close the gap and try to get the fight to the ground to really control it and earn points. But, it’s hard for me to see that happening. Johnson is more athletic and a better striker. He also has decent takedown defense.

I believe that Johnson is going to outpoint and outwork Emmett in this fight, but I don’t see him stopping Josh. This one will go to the scorecards and Johnson should get the decision victory.

UFC Bet: Michael Johnson (-115)

David Branch (22-5) vs Jack Hermansson (18-4)

  • David Branch (+105)
  • Jack Hermansson (-125)

This is Branch’s second stint with the UFC. His first stint was from 2010 to 2011, and he went 2-2. Prior to his second sting, Branch won 10 straight fights in the WSOF. In total, Branch went 12-1 between UFC stints and has an overall record of 4-4 inside the octagon. His biggest win came against Thiago Santos when he won via 1st round TKO 11 months ago. Unfortunately, he turned around 7 months later and lost via TKO.

Jack “The Joker” Hermansson has won two straight fights and 4 of his last 5. He’s 5-2 inside the octagon and last fought in December when he defeated Gerald Meerschaert. Unlike his opponent, Hermansson lost to Santos in October 2017.

This is another tough matchup because both fighters are very close in skills. Although I love Jack’s nickname, I just don’t see him winning this fight. Branch is just as good of a striker as Hermansson, but he has a longer reach. Branch is a better grappler. In fact, this could be the toughest grappler that The Joker has faced in the UFC.

With Branch’s ability to stand and strike, Hermansson might try to take this fight to the mat. However, Branch is more than capable of winning the fight there too. I’m going with Branch to win this one via TKO. I believe Hermansson will try to win the fight standing and ultimately, end up losing.

UFC Bet: David Branch (+105)

Edson Barboza (20-6) vs Justin Gaethje (19-2)

  • Edson Barboza (-129)
  • Justin Gaethje (+109)

In the main event of the night, two Top 7 lightweights battle it out with a potential big fight next time they step inside the octagon. The winner will be squarely in the Top 5 and a potential title contender. At the very least, he would be one fight away from a title shot.

Barboza is only 3 years older than his counterpart, but he has been with the UFC since November 2010. He’s fought 20 times over that span and has gone 14-6. However, he has already lost to the top guys like Tony Ferguson, Donald Cerrone, Kevin Lee and the champ Khabib Nurmagomedov. So, he would actually need at least one more win after this fight to be considered for a title shot.

For Gaethje, he’s 2-2 inside the octagon, but lost to Poirier and Alvarez. He did beat Michael Johnson who’s on this card. He last fought in August and beat James Vick via 1st round KO. Gaethje has no fear inside the cage as he will push forward, apply the pressure and eat shots on his way to delivering punishment. 16 of his 19 pro wins have come via KO/TKO.

I believe that Gaethje has what it takes to beat a veteran like Barboza. Justin is tough, can take a beating, has a solid chin, and attacks with pressure. Barboza hasn’t fared as well with pressure over the last few years and it’s hard to imagine he will perform better at this stage of his career. Lee, Ferguson, and Nurmagomedov all put on the pressure and won. Gaethje will do the same and win this fight. I don’t believe he will put Barboza to sleep, but I do think he can win in convincing fashion by UD.

UFC Bet: Justin Gaethje (+109)

Best UFC on ESPN 2 Betting Value

The following fighters offer betting value based on their UFC on ESPN 2 matchups, betting odds and career success:

  • Kevin Aguilar (-117) will take on Enrique Barzola (-103) in what could be the “Fight of the Night” based on the closeness in skills for both fighters. We could see a 3 round war between these two men. I believe whichever fighter you pick, offers betting value. I’m picking Aguilar.
  • Sheymon Moraes (+129) is the underdog in his fight against Sodiq Yusuff. However, I believe that Moraes is a slightly better fighter with more skills than Yusuff. Sheymon offers a great return due to being the underdog.
  • Paul Craig (+175) s going up against a fighter making his UFC debut and who is stepping up in the level of competition. Craig could win this fight if he gets his opponent to the mat and controls the action from down there. The concern is whether or not Craig can survive the standup fight until he gets Kennedy to the mat. I believe Craig has value, but he’s definitely more of a risky play for the daredevil UFC bettors out there.
  • Michelle Waterson (+112) comes into this contest as the underdog, but she’s definitely capable of winning. In fact, I’m picking her in an upset as Waterson is just as skilled as her opponent in striking, but has a major advantage on the mat.
  • Michael Johnson (-115) is a slight favorite over Josh Emmett (-105). I believe both men offer solid betting value, but I like Johnson’s striking skills to be the difference in this fight. Emmett doesn’t have the standup game to really outwork Johnson or put him into trouble unless he can get Michael pinned against a cage or on the mat.
  • David Branch (+105) is the slight underdog to Jack Hermansson (-125), but he’s the better all-around and overall fighter. Branch should be able to win this fight whether it’s standing or on the mat. However, if you believe Hermansson will win, his odds are also appealing and offer value.
  • Justin Gaethje (+109) is the slight underdog, but could come away with the biggest win of his UFC career. And, I think he will. I believe his pressure will be the difference in this fight and he will light up Barboza because of it. I don’t see Edson being stopped, but I do see him losing this fight via UD due to Gaethje’s pressure and power.

Final Thoughts for UFC on ESPN 2

Although there are no championship fights, or #1 contender’s bouts, this event card is still loaded with action fighters. Additionally, there are numerous close contests that will definitely provide octagon drama and get the fight fans excited. Furthermore, this UFC event has numerous bouts that offer betting value, which is great for the UFC bettors looking to make some money. I believe this is going to be an entertaining fight card and there will be fighters that shoot up into the Top 5 within their divisions if they win this Saturday.

UFC on ESPN 2 Betting Recap

  • Alex Perez (-275)
  • Sabina Mazo (-170)
  • Ray Borg (-310)
  • Kevin Holland (-190)
  • Kevin Aguilar (-117)
  • Desmond Green (-415)
  • Marina Rodriguez (-310)
  • Sheymon Moraes (+129)
  • Kennedy Nzechukwu (-205)
  • Michelle Waterson (+112)
  • Michael Johnson (-115)
  • David Branch (+105)
  • Justin Gaethje (+109)
Rick Rockwell :As a longtime freelance writer, avid sports fan, former athlete, and experienced sports bettor, Rick Rockwell has risen up the ranks at GamblingSites.org to become the self-professed "King of the Blog" in his first year with the site.