The 2024 UFC pay-per-view calendar kicks off on Saturday night with UFC 297 from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The card is headlined by Sean Strickland making the first defense of the middleweight title he won with a shock upset of Israel Adesanya in September. Standing across from Strickland will be Dricus du Plessis, who pulled off his own big 2023 upset when he knocked out Robert Whittaker to cement himself as the top contender at 185 pounds.
That isn’t the only title fight on the card, as Raquel Pennington will clash with Mayra Bueno Silva for the vacant women’s bantamweight championship. The belt was vacated by UFC legend Amanda Nunes after Nunes retired from the sport. Now, longtime MMA veteran Pennington gets her second shot at UFC gold when she faces a recently-dominant Silva.
The rest of the card features some familiar names, though may not be as stacked as fans have come to expect from big UFC pay-per-view cards.
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As with every UFC pay-per-view event, there will be plenty of action at sportsbooks around the country. As always, we are looking at each main card fight to identify the “best bet” for each bout. After a 4-0 result at UFC 296, we closed out 2023 with a 35-30 record.
Let’s take a look at what we’ve identified as our choices for the best bets on the UFC 297 pay-per-view main card and as we look to start the year on a high note.
Arnold Allen vs. Movsar Evloev
Pick: Arnold Allen moneyline (+160)
Were we not focused on providing a pick for every main card fight, I would stay away from this fight entirely. In 18 combined UFC fights, these two have four stoppage victories (Evloev has zero of those stoppages). With that in mind, the -350 price for the fight to go the distance isn’t that bad but is above the range we usually give as picks for Best Bets. This is a close fight on paper and both men tend to end up making life a bit harder on themselves than is necessary. Given that both can fall into the trap of not totally outpacing their opponents, it’s worth a small bet on the underdog as Allen is also the more likely of the two to score a finish.
Chris Curtis vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
Pick: Chris Curtis via KO, TKO or DQ (+250)
Barriault doesn’t really have the tools of men like Kelvin Gastelum and Jack Hermansson, who both gave Curtis fits. Barriault is there to be hit much more often than those opponents Crutis has struggled against. Curtis can feast off of fighters who fight with a face-first style and has the ability to absorb a lot of incoming offense. Assuming Curtis survives the first few barrages from Barriault, he should quickly take over the fight and force Barriault into taking more risks, which could lead to a stoppage sometime in the second half of the fight.
Neil Magny vs. Mike Malott
Pick: Fight to go the distance: Yes (+200)
Malott has only gone to decision once in his professional career and all but two of his fights have ended in the first round. That said, he has never fought anyone on Magny’s level. Magny has done a fine job of playing spoiler in his career. I don’t know that I would trust a bet on Magny to win outright but I do think he has enough tricks up his sleeve to force Malott to go 15 full minutes to earn the victory and I don’t know that Malott, even with his skills, should be counted on to finish Magny the same way as elite fighters like Gilbert Burns and Shavkat Rakhmonov were able to.
Raquel Pennington vs. Mayra Bueno Silva
Pick: Mayra Bueno Silva moneyline (-165)
Silva simply has more paths to victory. Pennington has a bit more reach and does have decent boxing skills but also can fall into lulls of low offensive output. Both women land strikes at roughly the same rate per minute with some defensive holes. Pennington is a solid wrestler who defends takedowns well, but expect Silva to put a lot of pressure on and initiate clinches as often as possible to try and force the fight to the ground where she has been dominant, with seven submissions in 10 career victories. In a five-round fight, Silva’s activity and pressure should be too much for Pennington, especially if Pennington falls into fits of passivity.
Sean Strickland vs. Dricus du Plessis
Dricus du Pessis moneyline (+100)
A lot of picking this fight comes down to your read of Strickland’s title-winning performance against Israel Adesanya. Was this a new evolution of Strickland as becoming one of the elite fighters in the sport? Or was that fight Strickland turning in the best performance of his career at the exact moment Adesanya had the worst night of his own career? I tend to lean toward the latter and that isn’t to take any credit away from Strickland but rather to say that he was perfectly ready to take advantage of Adesanya failing to show up in the fight.
I don’t think there’s much chance du Plessis isn’t ready for Saturday night. He certainly showed up against Robert Whittaker, who didn’t look “off” so much as shocked by du Plessis’ skills. A lot has been made of du Plessis possibly having cardio issues, which led to the whole ordeal with du Plessis explaining he needed surgery on his nose to fix his breathing.
What we saw against Whittaker was a man who knows how to use his strength to control a fight and who showed some real improvements in his technical striking. I don’t trust in Strickland to be able to deal with all the tools du Plessis brings to the table, nor do I expect du Plessis to be passive enough to let Strickland settle into a rhythm.