UFC 121: By the Odds

If the time it took me to get out of the Honda Center parking lot after this afternoon's UFC 121 weigh-ins was any indicator, a vast and enthusiastic mob is about to descend on Anaheim for Saturday night's event. Expect no shortage of Mexican flags when Cain Velasquez enters, and the requisite boos when Brock Lesnar strolls in.

In other words, get ready to see the exact fan response you'd expect after the way the "Primetime" series framed the main event bout.

Now that the match-ups are set and the fighters are hunkered down in their hotel rooms until fight time, let's take a look at how oddsmakers see things playing out on Saturday.

Brock Lesnar (-160) vs. Cain Velasquez (+130)

You know what I love about a main event title fight between two guys who have only 14 combined fights in their pro careers? We don't really know what to expect. We think we do, of course, because that's just how people are, but we're only guessing. Velasquez has never been outwrestled, but then he's never faced Lesnar. And Lesnar has displayed some holes in his striking game, but he's also shown that he can improve drastically from one fight to the next. Lesnar is the favorite here mainly because he's so much bigger and stronger than Velasquez. That is one knowable, quantifiable fact in this match-up, and it could easily be the one that makes all the difference.
My pick: If the line on Velasquez were just a little higher, say +180 or more, he'd be worth the risk. As it is, I have to admit that I don't like his chances quite that much.

Jake Shields (-220) vs. Martin Kampmann (+180)

At this point, we all know what Shields does. He takes people down, keeps them there, and hits them just enough as he looks for a submission. Who knows, maybe the addition of elbow strikes to his game will turn him into an unholy ground-and-pound terror, but I doubt it. Kampmann has to stay off his back if he wants to have any hope in this fight, and he knows it. Then again, just knowing what he has to do won't be good enough. He's not a huge welterweight, and isn't exactly known for his one-punch power. If Shields can get him down without absorbing any punishment early on, it'll probably be a long night for Kampmann.
My pick: If the line on Kampmann gets to 2-1 or above, I'd consider him a decent underdog. At -220 Shields isn't even close to a good value.

Matt Hamill (-170) vs. Tito Ortiz (+140)

Give Ortiz some credit, for a guy who's 0-3-1 in his last four fights, he's somehow managed to stay semi-relevant in the UFC's light heavyweight division. One wonders whether that will still be the case if he can't beat Hamill. Ortiz says he's completely healthy now for the first time in a long time, though expect to hear differently if he loses. Even if he is 100%, he's fought so infrequently in the last couple years that he's probably not as sharp as he needs to be. Hamill can wrestle along the same level, and he can take a shot. Ortiz says he sees himself finishing Hamill, but when you remind yourself that the last time he finished someone not named Ken Shamrock was in 2001, it's hard not to wonder, how?
My pick: Hamill. He might be better saved for a parlay at these odds, but this fight is his to lose.

Paulo Thiago (-125) vs. Diego Sanchez (-105)

Had this fight taken place before Sanchez proved unable to outwrestle John Hathaway, he likely would have been the clear favorite. That lackluster performance sowed some doubt, however, and with good reason. Every second that Thiago stays upright in this fight, he's a serious threat to even the notoriously hard-headed Sanchez.
My pick: Thiago. The line is reasonable enough to make him a good value, but don't go crazy.

Gabriel Gonzaga (-160) vs. Brendan Schaub (+130)

I'm told by Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that some sportsbooks are putting the over/under on the length of this fight at 7 ½ minutes. If you can find such a sportsbook, get your wallet out and take the under. These are two big heavyweights who like to come straight forward, so I'd be surprised to see it get out of the first round. These guys will most likely collide in the center of the cage before too long, and either has the power to end it with one punch.
My pick: Schaub. I think he's a little better athlete than Gonzaga, which might make up for what he lacks in experience. He's not a huge underdog at the moment, but still one worth taking a look at.

Patrick Cote (-175) vs. Tom Lawlor (+145)

I realize I'm going to take some heat from our Canadian readers for this, but I don't see why Cote is favored so heavily here. Yes, Lawlor has been known to try for exciting fights instead of smart ones at times, but with his job on the line he won't do that here. Cote can certainly punch, but this is only his third fight in the last two years. When you take that into consideration, it's hard to be too optimistic about his chances against a guy who knows he needs to get this one to the mat and keep it there if he wants to be employed by the UFC this time next week.
My pick: Lawlor. He could very well be the best underdog pick on the card. Sorry, Canadians. You'll always have GSP.

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