For some mismatched cards, the numbers get gaudy in a hurry. For UFC 125, there's not a single 2-1 favorite on the entire main card. In fact, the biggest favorite on the pay-per-view portion is Chris Leben, who's going off a fairly tame -170.
What does that tell us about UFC 125? That matchmaker Joe Silva has lined up an evening of fights where almost anything can happen, as well as one where all our picks could very easily turn out to be wrong. But because admitting the limit of our own knowledge is no fun, let's go ahead and see where the smart money ought to be on Saturday night.
Frankie Edgar (+115) vs. Gray Maynard (-145)
At this rate, Edgar is shaping up to be the only UFC champion who is a consistent underdog in every title defense. Not that it doesn't make sense, mind you. Against Penn, many people felt he didn't deserve to win the first decision. No such complaints the second time, however. Against Maynard he finds himself facing the only man to ever beat him, and while they're both different fighters now and blah, blah, blah, it's still a fundamentally similar question: Can Edgar's mongoose-like quickness overcome Maynard's strength and wrestling ability? The first time they met, the answer was no. How about now?
My pick: At these odds, Edgar's worth a small bet. The good news for him is that he's already felt what Maynard has to offer. It's going to be perfunctory boxing followed by takedowns all night long. If he hasn't developed a plan to deal with that, it's his own fault.
Chris Leben (-170) vs. Brian Stann (+140)
If not for Leben's recent legal troubles and his flippant (and probably overly optimistic) attitude toward their root cause, I'd say this was an easy call. Stann just doesn't seem like a guy who has a whole lot to threaten Leben with, and at the same time he does seem like a guy who could easily be baited into the kind of brawl that favors "The Crippler." The only thing holding me back here is that, after hearing him compare himself to George W. Bush while brushing off his second DUI, I harbor a lingering concern that maybe Leben's personal life isn't completely together. Then again, that's never stopped him before.
My pick: Leben, but these odds practically beg to be saved for a parlay.
Brandon Vera (+115) vs. Thiago Silva (-145)
Picking this fight boils down to one essential question: when Vera says that his head is finally on straight and he's ready to get back to doing the things that made people excited about him four or five years ago, do you believe him? If you do, then he's a strong, albeit slight underdog pick. If you don't, then Silva is going to eat him for dinner with a side of acai.
My pick: Vera. If he wasn't humbled by Jon Jones rearranging the bones in his face, then he never will be. He has to weather the early storm from Silva, but if he makes it out of the first round I like his chances.
Nate Diaz (-105) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (-125)
Maybe if I knew exactly what area code Kim hails from, I could make a more informed assessment of this fight. Diaz has done his part to make that information public, and no one can say otherwise (at least not without getting hit in the mouth). Makes you wonder, what's Kim hiding? So far, all we know about him is that he can and will smother you on the ground if you're not careful, which, judging by Diaz's loss to Clay Guida last year, is a little worrisome. Especially at welterweight, does Diaz have the strength to keep from getting suffocated on the bottom?
My pick: Kim. It's tough to pick against Diaz, who's been on a roll lately. But something about Kim's style just seems like a nightmare for him.
Clay Guida (-150) vs. Takanori Gomi (+120)
It's easy to get carried away by the sheer fervor of the whole 'Gomi is back!!' meme. Not only does it appeal to the short memories so prevalent in this sport, but it's the kind of thing we'd all like to believe, wouldn't we? Gomi was so exciting in his Pride heyday, and it'd be great to see him revive that in the UFC. At the same time, dude won one fight. Yes, he won it via brain-scrambling knockout, but still, how much stock can we put in that one well-placed punch? Guida has never been knocked out, and after some of the shots he took from Diego Sanchez, that's saying something. You're probably going to have to submit him or take him the distance, neither of which particularly favors Gomi's strengths.
My pick: Guida. I see it going the distance, and I see Guida winning it with superior pressure and pace. Not until he has to walk through a couple of Gomi's bombs, though.
Surest bet: Antonio McKee (-250) over Jacob Volkmann (+190). It won't be pretty and it will probably be very not-pretty for the full fifteen minutes, but I don't see Volkmann out-wrestling McKee.
Best crazy underdog pick: Phil Baroni (+170) over Brad Tavares (-210). Baroni has a new training camp, plus an edge in experience. Both could still wind up being useless, but to paraphrase a scene from HBO's "Rome," Baroni has to win; Tavares has other options.
Certified, for-entertainment-purposes-only parlay: Leben + Kim + Guida + McKee