UFC on ESPN 31 Preliminary Card Betting Preview, Odds and Picks

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UFC-Prelims-Apex-Center

On Saturday, December 4th, the UFC returns to action live from their Apex center in Las Vegas for UFC on ESPN 31: Font vs. Aldo. Before we examine the main card action, we must first dive into this deep preliminary card.

As of this writing, there are nine bouts scheduled for this portion of the event with a 7pm ET start time live on ESPN and ESPN+.

The featured bout of the Prelims is a middleweight attraction between two rising competitors in Maki Pitolo and Dusko Todorovic. This prelim lineup is loaded with notable names, but only one female fight.

Let’s step inside the betting octagon to examine the latest betting odds courtesy of the best UFC betting sites and TKO these UFC on ESPN 31 preliminary card predictions with a flying knee.

Louis Smolka vs. Vincent Morales

  • Louis Smolka (-150)
  • Vincent Morales (+130)
  • Over (-155)/Under (+125) 2.5 rounds

The opening bout of the night should be a good one as we have two men with big advantages in this matchup.

Louis Smolka comes in as the favorite and has the grappling advantage while Vincent Morales has the advantage on the feet.

Smolka is currently in his second stint with the promotion after departing in the beginning of 2018. His first UFC stint ended with four straight losses and a 5-5 record.

Since his return in late 2018, Smolka has gone 3-2 as he’s alternated between wins and losses. His last bout came one year ago where he beat Jose Alberto Quinonez via 2nd round TKO.

15 of his 17 pro wins have come via stoppage with eight by way of TKO/KO. He’s 2-4 when going the distance and also has three submission losses.

Smolka commented on this bout and initially didn’t want to take the booking because Morales is the cousin of Ricky Simon who is Smolka’s training partner:

“Yeah, I didn’t want the fight initially but this is what we are doing. It’s kind of weird. I was teasing him, I was telling him he’s a double-agent. I just think I’m a little better everywhere, honestly… I want to finish him, I think I only have two decisions in my 17 wins. I’m trying to finish the fight all the time and I’m hoping to get the finish.”

Morales started off his MMA career going 7-1 and appearing on DWCS in July 2018 where he lost via 2nd round submission to Domingo Pilarte. He went back to Bellator for a win, which is the second of his career, before UFC came calling.

Since joining the promotion in November 2018, Morales has gone 2-3 inside the octagon. His last bout came in August 2021 where he beat Drako Rodriguez via decision.

Seven of his 10 pro wins have come via stoppage with five by way of TKO/KO. He’s 3-2 when going the distance.

Morales is excited for this matchup and thinks it will be a good fight:

“I think it will be a dog fight, I’m durable and hard to finish just like him. I want to step forward and I know he will be right there willing to step forward as well. It’s going to be a good fight, I’m looking forward to it. If anything, I think I will start well on the feet, he will try and take me down and I look for a submission and surprise some people with that.”

I like for this contest to go the full 15 minutes as I believe both men will survive the areas that they are inferior in. So, take this bout to go Over 2.5 rounds (-155) and to go the distance (-135).

As for the winner, I like Smolka to edge out Morales. However, I must say, this fight is a lot closer than what the betting odds indicate.

Louis Smolka vs. Vincent Morales –Smolka (-150)

Over 2.5 rounds (-155)

Fight goes the distance (-135)

Smolka wins via decision (+200)

Alex Morono vs. Mickey Gall

  • Alex Morono (-210)
  • Mickey Gall (+180)
  • Over (-180)/Under (+150) 2.5 rounds

Mickey Gall has gone 6-3 inside the octagon, but has alternated between wins and losses since going 3-0 to start off his UFC career.

He last fought in July 2021 and defeated Jordan Williams via 1st round submission. It was a nice bounce back win after gall lost to Mike Perry in June 2020 via decision.

Six of his seven pro wins have come via submission. He’s 1-2 when going the distance.

Alex Morono is 9-4 inside the octagon, which is surprising considering we never really hear his name mentioned outside of his big win over Donald Cerrone in May 2021 via 1st round TKO. He followed that up with a decision victory over David Zawada in September.

Prior to this two fight winning streak Morono had lost to Anthony Pettis via decision. He’s 3-1 in his last four fights that have spanned the last 13 months.

12 of his 20 pro wins have come via stoppage with six apiece for submission and TKO/KO. He’s 7-5 when going the distance.

Morono is in trouble if he stays on the matt with Gall for too long. Fortunately, Alex hasn’t suffered a submission loss in his career and has a decent takedown defense.

On the feet, Gall is underrated but should still find trouble with Morono’s big looping shots. In the end, I expect Morono to take the decision win as he outstrikes Gall for the victory. Take the Over 2.5 rounds (-180) and for the fight to go the full 15 minutes (-160).

Alex Morono vs. Mickey Gall –Morono (-210)

Over 2.5 rounds (-180)

Fight goes the distance (-160)

Morono wins via decision (+110)

Jared Vanderaa vs. Azamat Murzakanov

  • Jared Vanderaa (+180)
  • Azamat Murzakanov (-220)
  • Over (-125)/Under (+105) 1.5 rounds

This bout was originally scheduled for Philipe Lins to take on Azamat Murzakanov, but Lins withdrew from the fight and Jared Vanderaa agreed to fill in on one week’s notice.

For Jared, this will be his 4th fight in 2021 with all of them coming in the UFC. He debuted with the promotion in February, but lost to Sergey Spivak via 2nd round TKO.

“The Mountain” got into the win column with a decision victory over Justin Tafa, but then lost again via 2nd round TKO. This time it was to Alexander Romanov in October.

10 of his 12 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of TKO/KO. He’s 2-2 when going the distance.

Following his recent loss, Vanderaa commented on where he’s at as a fighter:

“I’m past all that now. Not saying I can’t get beat, because I’m playing with the guys that are top level – there’s no one above these guys. But I just don’t want people thinking I’m a slouch.”

Azamat Murzakanov has earned his way into the UFC after a 1st round TKO win on DWCS in August. He’s looked impressive in his 10-fight career and could end up finding a lot of success inside the octagon.

Although he’s giving up a lot of weight, six inches in height, and nearly nine inches in reach, I still like Murzakanov in this matchup.

Both men have comparable striking skills which makes it even on the feet. But, Murzakanov has the better ground game and will exploit any opening to take down Vanderaa and beat him via ground and pound.

I see this bout going Over 1.5 rounds (-125), but it should end before the conclusion of the 3rd and final round. Take Murzakanov to win via TKO.

Jared Vanderaa vs. Azamat Murzakanov –Murzakanov (-220)

Over 1.5 rounds (-125)

Fight ends inside the distance (-235)

Murzakanov wins inside the distance (-120)

Claudio Puelles vs. Chris Gruetzemacher

  • Claudio Puelles (-110)
  • Chris Gruetzemacher (-110)
  • Over (-190)/Under (+150) 2.5 rounds

MMA betting sites have had a difficult time picking a winner for this matchup as it has the closest odds for the entire UFC on ESPN 31 card.

Claudio Puelles started off his MMA career going 7-1 before joining the UFC in November 2016 where he lost his debut via 2nd round TKO. Since then, Claudio has won three straight fights, but has only competed four times in the last five years.

His last bout came in June 2021 where he beat Jordan Leavitt via unanimous decision. Seven of his 10 pro wins have come via stoppage with five by way of submission. He’s 3-1 when going the distance.

Puelles talked about how he’s improved as a fighter in 2021 after moving to the United States:

“I started seeing people here who didn’t stop training. They’re at the gym like the whole year almost like they don’t miss a day, they barely miss a day ever. I started seeing that, and I’m like, ‘OK, I got to become a better athlete.’ I started training areas which I didn’t train before, I started taking my condition more seriously, I started not missing a day of sparring because I felt a little lazy in the morning. Things like that that started making me think more as an athlete.”

Chris Gruetzemacher has been with the UFC for six years and has compiled a record of 3-3 inside the octagon. He’s 2-1 in his last three bouts with wins over Joe Lauzon via 2nd round TKO and most recently he beat Rafa Garcia in July via decision.

The lone defeat over that stretch was a 1st round TKO to Alexander Hernandez. 10 of his 15 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of TKO/KO. He’s 5-0 when going the distance.

If Puelles can get this fight to the mat and remain in good position, “El Nino” can certainly win via submission considering that Gruetzemacher has three submission defeats.

However, I see this bout going a different way. I believe that “Gritz” will push a pace that Puelles can’t keep up with, while defending the takedown attempts.

Ultimately, Gruetzemacher will wear down his opponent and finish him off with a TKO victory in the latter portions of this contest. Take the Over 2.5 rounds (-290), but go with this fight ending inside the distance (+130).

Claudio Puelles vs. Chris Gruetzemacher –Gruetzemacher (-110)

Over 2.5 rounds (-290)

Fight ends inside the distance (+130)

Gruetzemacher wins inside the distance (+300)

Gruetzemacher wins via TKO/KO (+425)

Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight

  • Alonzo Menifield (-170)
  • William Knight (+145)
  • Over (-165)/Under (+135) 1.5 rounds

Here we go as this is the third time the UFC has booked this matchup. The first booking came in February and then again in March. Both of those bouts were cancelled due to covid. Now, the UFC is hoping that the two men will finally be able to settle which one is truly better.

An interesting aspect to this pairing is that both men have fought twice since then. And, those two bouts for each man have definitely factored in with my decision on the outcome.

William Knight earned a shot with the UFC after a 1st round TKO victory on DWCS in September 2020. He was successful in his debut the same month as he beat Aleksa Camur via decision.

Unfortunately, Knight’s second trip into the octagon resulted in a decision loss to Da Un Jung as he fell victim to his opponent’s wrestling skills. Fortunately, “Knightmare” got back into the win column four months ago with a 1st round KO victory over Fabio Cherant.

Nine of his 10 pro wins have come via TKO/KO. He’s 1-1 when going the distance and also has one TKO/KO defeat.

Alonzo Menifield also had an impressive DWCS appearance where he won via 1st round TKO in eight seconds back in July 2018. He then got off to a quick start inside the octagon with two straight wins.

However, those victories gave way to consecutive defeats as he lost to Devin Clark and Ovince St. Preux in 2020. Menifield bounced back in 2021 with two straight wins.

In addition to beating Fabio Cherant, like Knight did, Menifield picked up his biggest UFC victory by defeating Ed Herman via decision in August.

10 of his 11 pro wins have come via stoppage with eight by way of TKO/KO. He’s 1-1 when going the distance.

Both men have the firepower to end this fight early, but I believe Menifield will fight a smart fight this weekend as he employs a similar approach like he did in the Herman fight where Alonzo fought from a distance.

Menifield will get out to a lead, frustrate Knight, and eventually catch the hard charging “Knightmare” with something powerful that knocks him out or to the mat for a looming TKO win (+185).

Take the Over 1.5 rounds (-165) and for the fight to end within the 15 minute time limit (-200).

Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight –Menifield (-170)

Over 1.5 rounds (-165)

Fight ends inside the distance (-200)

Menifield wins inside the distance (+130)

Menifield wins via TKO/KO (+185)

Cheyanne Buys vs. Mallory Martin

  • Cheyanne Buys (-175)
  • Mallory Martin (+150)
  • Over (-275)/Under (+215) 2.5 rounds

This contest was originally booked for Montserrat Ruiz to take on Mallory Martin. However, Ruiz withdrew for undisclosed reasons and Cheyanne Buys agreed to fill in on two weeks’ notice.

Cheyanne Buys, was set to face Loma Lookboonmee at UFC Fight Night 198, but was forced to withdraw after testing positive for covid.

Despite taking this fight, Buys is still not 100% following her bout with covid earlier this month:

“I’m still not 100 percent. My fight is now two weeks away. It’s attacked my lungs pretty good. So basically I’m taking this fight, just trying to heal up, and go out there and do my thing. Luckily, the UFC is working with me. I’m going to go see a doctor on Monday. I’m going to get an inhaler, taking all the breathing treatments I can do. This is definitely one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in my life, but I have all the confidence in myself to go out there and just beat her ass and go home.”

Buys is 1-1 with the UFC after debuting in March. She actually lost to the woman she replaced for this weekend’s bout when Cheyanne dropped a decision to Montserrat Ruiz. However, she bounced back in July with a 1st round TKO win over Gloria de Paula in just 60 seconds.

Two of her six pro wins have come via TKO/KO. She’s 4-2 when going the distance.

Martin enters this fight having lost 10 months ago to Polyana Viana via 1st round submission. He also lost to Virna Jandiroba in her octagon debut two years ago via submission.

Mallory is 1-2 inside the octagon with the lone win coming via 2nd round submission over Hannah Cifers 16 months ago.

Four of her seven pro wins have come via stoppage with two apiece for submission and TKO/KO. She’s 3-2 when going the distance and has never been stopped via TKO/KO.

I believe this bout will go Over 2.5 rounds (-275) and the full 15 minutes (-240). Buys has gone the distance in six of her eight pro fights.

As for the winner, I like Cheyanne in this contest. “The Warrior Princess” will defend the takedowns and pick apart Martin on the feet to cruise to a unanimous decision victory and pick up her second win inside the octagon.

Cheyanne Buys vs. Mallory Martin –Buys (-175)

Over 2.5 rounds (-275)

Fight goes the distance (-240)

Buys wins via decision (+115)

Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells

  • Jake Matthews (-175)
  • Jeremiah Wells (+150)
  • Over (-140)/Under (+110) 2.5 rounds

After a lengthy run with CFFC, Jeremiah Wells made his way to the UFC this summer and pulled off a surprising win by defeating Warlley Alves via 2nd round KO. The victory extended his winning streak to three straight fights.

Seven of his nine pro wins have come via stoppage with four by way of TKO/KO. He’s 2-2-1 when going the distance.

Jake Matthews might be “The Celtic Kid,” but he’s not a kid anymore as the 27-year-old has grown up in the UFC after debuting with the promotion 7 ½ years ago. He’s now 10-5 inside the octagon and last fought in March 2021 where he lost via 3rd round submission to Sean Brady.

The loss snapped a three fight winning streak. Matthews is 6-2 in his last eight UFC fights. 11 of his 17 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of submission. He’s 6-1 when going the distance.

Wells definitely has potential especially in a striking contest, but Matthews is more battle tested inside the octagon and I expect the Australian to pull out the victory.

With that said, I see Matthews picking up a decision win as this bout should go Over 2.5 rounds (-140 and the full 15 minutes (-125).

Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells –Matthews (-175)

Over 2.5 rounds (-140)

Fight goes the distance (-125)

Matthews wins via decision (+145)

Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Manel Kape

  • Zhalgas Zhumagulov (+190)
  • Manel Kape (-225)
  • Over (-170)/Under (+140) 2.5 rounds

Zhalgas Zhumagulov parlayed a 7-1 stretch with FNG into a shot with the UFC when he debuted in July 2020. Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well for Zhumagulov as he lost his first two trips inside the octagon.

Zhalgas lost to Raulian Paiva and Amir Albazi by unanimous decision. He was able to snap that losing streak with a 1st round submission win over Jerome Rivera in July 2020.

Eight of his 14 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of TKO/KO. He’s 6-4 when going the distance.

Manel Kape is a former Rizin champ who vacated his belt when he came to the UFC. Currently, Kape is 1-2 inside the octagon, but many of us feel that he beat Matheus Nicolau and shouldn’t have lost via split decision.

Kape’s UFC debut was against Alexander Pantoja in February 2021, one month prior to the Nicolau fight. Manel last competed in August and beat Ode Osbourne via 1st round KO.

15 of his 16 pro wins have come via stoppage with 10 by way of TKO/KO. He’s 1-4 when going the distance.

I enjoy Manel Kape’s fights and looking forward to this one on Saturday. I see the bout going Over 2.5 rounds (-170) and the full 15 minutes (-145).

As for the winner, I’m taking Kape. I believe his striking skills are a notch above Zhumagulov and it will be evident as the fight goes on. However, I do feel that the Kazakhstani will hold on and make it the distance. Kape wins via unanimous decision.

Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Manel Kape –Kape (-225)

Over 2.5 rounds (-170)

Fight goes the distance (-145)

Kape wins via decision (+160)

Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic

  • Maki Pitolo (+130)
  • Dusko Todorovic (-150)
  • Over (-185)/Under (+155) 1.5 rounds

Both men enter this featured Prelim bout coming off losses and looking to get back into the win column.

Make Pitolo has lost three in a row and is now 1-4 inside the octagon. Yet, he’s faced a tough slate of opponents over the last three bouts: Darren Stewart, Impa Kasanganay and Julian Marquez.

He earned a UFC contract with a 1st round TKO win on DWCS in July 2019. His debut was in October where he lost via decision to Callan Potter.

10 of his 13 pro wins have come via stoppage with seven by way of TKO/KO. He’s 3-2 when going the distance.

Dusko Todorovic started off his MMA career going 8-0 before appearing on DWCS in August 2019 where he beat Teddy Ash via decision. He then debuted in October 2020 and beat Dequan Townsend via 2nd round TKO.

However, he comes into this weekend’s bout having dropped two straight fights. Following the Townsend win, Dusko lost to Punahele Soriano via 1st round TKO in January 2021. He then lost to Gregory Rodrigues in June 2021 via decision.

Nine of his 10 pro wins have come via stoppage with six by way of TKO/KO. He’s 1-1 when going the distance.

This should be a competitive matchup for as long as it lasts. I see it going Over 1.5 rounds (-185), but ending before the 15 minute time limit (-155).

I like Todorovic in this matchup. I believe he will handle his own in the standup department before dragging or knocking Pitolo down to the mat where he then picks up a submission win. Pitolo has four submission losses including two in his last three fights.

Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic –Todorovic (-150)

Over 1.5 rounds (-185)

Fight doesn’t go the distance (-155)

Todorovic wins inside the distance (+170)

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. ...

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