Zhang Weili and Marlon Vera among top picks to consider this weekend

Two titles are on the line at UFC 292 in Boston on Saturday night. In the night’s main event, Aljamain Sterling defends his bantamweight championship against Sean O’Malley. Meanwhile, Zhang Weili will put her women’s strawweight belt on the line against Amanda Lemos in the co-main event.

Sterling has hinted that the fight with O’Malley is the end of his time at 135 pounds and he’s looking to close out that period of his career with a big title defense.

O’Malley, meanwhile, has built up a cult following with his brash style and flair for the dramatic, walk-off KO. Of his 10 UFC appearances, seven have ended in KO/TKO. One of those includes a no contest due to an eye poke. “Suga” has finished the likes of Raulian Paiva, Thomas Almeida, Eddie Wineland and Jose Alberto Quinonez. He’s coming off the biggest win of his career when he outpointed former titleholder Petr Yan by split decision in October.

In addition to the pair of title fights, there is plenty of action worth watching. The next Irish star on the rise gets his chance in the spotlight in front of a raucous Boston crowd when Ian Machado Garry takes on Neil Magny. Garry, 25, is undefeated at 5-0 so far in his UFC career with three knockouts. He’s coming off a brutal quick finish of Daniel Rodriguez in May and now gets his toughest test to date in the veteran Magny, who is getting the call on short notice after Geoff Neal was forced to withdraw.

With so many intriguing fights on the UFC 292 card, 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 1-3 result at UFC 291, our record for the year now stands at 21-21.

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Let’s take a look at what we’ve identified as our choices for the best bets on the UFC 292 pay-per-view main card.

Marlon Vera vs. Pedro Munhoz
Marlon Vera to win via decision/technical decision (+100)

This is a tough, fairly evenly-matched bantamweight clash. It certainly is possible for Munhoz to take advantage of Vera’s tendency to get off to slow starts to edge out a win. That depends on Vera not stepping it up in Round 2, however, and he’s slightly more technically sound and does have the better power. While taking the Vera moneyline may be slightly safer, Munhoz is very durable and should be able to last the distance. As long as Vera doesn’t let Munhoz outwork him over the first two rounds, things should go Vera’s way on the final scorecards.

Mario Bautista vs. Da’Mon Blackshear
Mario Bautista moneyline (-210)

While it may not look like it provides a ton of inherent value, this fight is totally slanted in one direction. Blackshear scored a rare twister submission on last week’s card and now is stepping in for former champion Cody Garbrandt. While Blackshear deserves admiration for taking a tough opponent on short notice, this is probably a step too far at this point in his career. Bautista is coming into this fight on a full camp and ready to peak this weekend, while Blackshear is having to reset quickly. Bautista should get the job done, one way or another.

Ian Machado Garry vs. Neil Magny
Total rounds: Under 2.5 (-130)

Garry has been confident to the point of cocky in his young UFC run. While three of Garry’s five UFC bouts have gone over 2.5 rounds, it’s hard to not notice how faded Magny has looked from his peak years in the UFC. He barely escaped his most recent fight with a win, edging Philip Rowe by split decision. Garry is peaking while Magny is fading. Garry can likely find the finish before the final 2:30 against the 2023 version of Magny and the under 2.5 rounds leaves a bit of space if Garry happens to get his chin checked by Magny.

Zhang Weili vs. Amanda Lemos
Zhang Weili via KO/TKO/DQ (+110)

Lemos is a very inconsistent fighter. At times she is very impressive and overwhelms her opponents, other times she gets outworked and struggles on the feet against fighters you’d expect her to clearly defeat. Weili, on the other hand is very consistent. Lemos has been stopped before and Weili has stopped some of the best the division has to offer. Ultimately, just look at how Lemos struggled on the feet against Michelle Waterson and Angela Hill to see why Weili getting the knockout is an enticing bet.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Sean O’Malley
Under 3.5 rounds (-150)

Sterling’s bantamweight title defense against O’Malley feels like the kind of fight that will become clear very shortly after the opening bell. Either Sterling is going to use striking to find an opening and put O’Malley on the canvas with a takedown, or O’Malley is going to blast Sterling in the stand-up and show he can stay standing. Either way, once one man begins imposing his will, this fight likely ends quickly. O’Malley hasn’t consistently stopped opponents, but Sterling’s desperation if he can’t get takedowns will open him up more. And, if Sterling can put O’Malley down with any regularity, he’s likely to either score a submission or use ground and pound to end the fight.

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