UFC betting, odds: Will Mackenzie Dern get back on track in classic grappler vs. striker battle?

The UFC recently announced some huge fights for the pay-per-view cards coming our way in July and August. But, before we get to this summer’s fireworks, we have to work our way through some less exciting events in the Apex. Saturday’s card might look like the most lackluster of them all, headlined by Mackenzie Dern and Angela Hill in a five-round main event.

Dern (12-3, 7-3 UFC), now in her fifth year with the promotion, is one of the most dangerous BJJ practitioners on the roster. There aren’t many fighters in the division that can survive rolling on the mat with the eighth-ranked Dern. However, as Kron Gracie showed us at UFC 288, the sport has evolved to the point where you need multiple disciplines to set up your greatest strengths. The evolution from submission specialist to true title contender is still an ongoing process for Dern. Her inability to complement her game with effective striking or technically solid wrestling to secure takedowns has put her career at a bit of a crossroads. She's lost two of her last three fights and would likely fall out of the top 10 with a loss to the 14th-ranked Hill.

Hill (15-12, 10-12 UFC) is a savvy veteran who will provide a stiff test for Dern. She is coming off consecutive decision wins over Emily Ducote and Lupita Godinez. Hill is a Muay Thai striker who likes to pressure and accumulate points with the judges by throwing volume. She will have to balance her aggression with caution against Dern, as one step out of the position could lead to an inescapable sequence that ends in her tapping. If Hill’s discipline and experience doesn’t let her down, she could be on her way to a third straight victory.

Striker vs. grappler is always a difficult fight to bet, because the winner always looks like they should have been priced at -1000 when it ends. This is truly a fight that could go either way, which makes Dern listed as a favorite of this size (-175) a significant factor when considering the possible outcomes. It implies a 63% probability Dern comes away with a win, which is a steep number for a fighter that is reliant on submissions. Here are a few valuable betting options that I like, and why the duration of the fight is a significant factor in the main event.

Mackenzie Dern poses on the scale during a UFC weigh-in on Sept. 30, 2022. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Mackenzie Dern poses on the scale during a UFC weigh-in on Sept. 30, 2022. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Mackenzie Dern (-175) vs. Angela Hill (+145)

This is a very unique fight from a pricing perspective since both fighters have a very specific path to victory. Dern is going to be chasing down her opponent, setting traps to initiate grappling exchanges in order to latch onto a submission.

Hill’s win condition is rooted heavily in surviving five rounds, using her distance striking to keep Dern off-balance, and very far away from her limbs. If Amanda Hill is standing after the final bell, it should be an easy decision win for the eight-year veteran.

Those two distinct outcomes required for each fighter's success is why I’d rather bet the method-of-victory prop than play either on the moneyline. You can bet Angela Hill by decision +200 at BetMGM. Hill doesn’t have a history of finishing fights. Eighty percent of her wins in the UFC have been by decision, including her last four dating back to 2020. Add in that she’s up against a fighter who’s grappling acumen forces her to limit her aggression, and Hill winning inside the distance becomes even more improbable. If you like Hill, consider the decision prop for a 2-to-1 return. My money will be on the other side.

I see Dern winning this fight, but it’s also a bad bet at -175. Both can be true. If I was forced to bet to the moneyline, I’d rather take a shot with Hill at +145 (41% implied) than lay -175 with Dern.

There are some concerns with backing Dern stemming from both inside and outside the Octagon. She has been very candid publicly about her recent challenges working through a divorce, switching fight camps and replacing her management. It’s reasonable to question whether these challenges impacted her focus and preparation for this fight. That’s a lot for a fighter who is trying to make serious improvement as a striker to round out her game, amidst the pressure of avoiding her third loss in four fights. I just couldn’t get comfortable with playing Dern at -175 considering those factors.

Angela Hill reacts after the conclusion of her strawweight fight against Emily Ducote at a UFC Fight Night event on Dec. 03, 2022. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Angela Hill reacts after the conclusion of her strawweight fight against Emily Ducote at a UFC Fight Night event on Dec. 03, 2022. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The bet I made was Mackenzie Dern by submission at +150. By playing Dern’s submission prop, I am getting a much better return on what I believe is the most likely result. The two key factors that led me to this bet were the five-round duration of the fight and the smaller Octagon at the Apex. Two out of Dern’s last three victories have been via decision, but they have been three-round fights. She is winless in her two previous five-round fights (both decision losses). Against a volume fighter like Hill, Dern is not winning a decision. She is going to get out-pointed over the course of five rounds.

Dern only needs one takedown to end this fight. Her poor takedown accuracy has been a talking point throughout the week, but Angela Hill has been taken down in five of her last seven fights. The smaller cage will help Dern close the distance by restricting Hill’s biggest advantage (her footwork) and providing her less space to operate and use her range. More importantly, the extra two rounds also gives Dern more time to solve Hill's stand-up and find a way to drag her to the mat where she can end the fight. That’s exactly what I see happening. If this was a three-round fight, I might be more inclined to bet on Hill to fend off Dern’s grappling, but an extra 10 minutes makes it far less likely. The red flags regarding her camp are still significant, but I am more confident inheriting that risk on a +150 wager where the implied odds are reduced 23% from the money line. The bet: Mackenzie Dern by submission +150