Alas, we'll just have to make do with the odds on the fights themselves. Fortunately, there's plenty of material here to sort through.
B.J. Penn (-125) vs. Nick Diaz (-105)
It was a borderline brilliant move by Cesar Gracie to try and get this changed to a five-round fight. As we've seen in the past, Penn is not always the same person at the end of round three that he is in the beginning of round one, and an extra two frames to take advantage of that would have helped the tireless Diaz immensely. But Penn's no dummy. He played that attempt off with all the veteran savvy you'd expect, and his chances of winning went up in the process. That is, if the right B.J. Penn shows up, and if Diaz consents to let him have the kind of fight he wants.
Therein lies the problem for both those guys. Penn is inconsistent, while Diaz is almost comically hard-headed. Penn might, at any given point, look up at the clock and sigh like a teenager waiting out the last few minutes of Geometry class. Diaz might be able to take advantage of that if he were Jon Fitch of Georges St-Pierre, but he's not. He just wants to scrap, and he'll do so wherever Penn decides to take the fight. If Penn wants to box, they'll box. If he wants to grapple, that's fine too. It's hard to wear a guy out when you let him decide where and how to fight. And if you can't tire Penn out, you're giving up the most reliable way of beating him. That could still work...if you're the better all-around fighter. And if three rounds is enough time for you to prove it.
My pick: Diaz. The odds here don't give us much of a push in either direction. With Penn, you wonder how hard he's trained and how much he wants it. With Diaz, you never do. In a fight this close, that's enough for me.
Cheick Kongo (+120) vs. Matt Mitrione (-150)
If this were a Rick Rude-style posedown, Mitrione would be in big trouble. Kongo looks the part of a terrifying heavyweight, and if you didn't know better you might be forgiven for assuming that he was the superior athlete in this match-up. Big mistake. Don't get me wrong, Kongo can do a few things well. He just can't do enough things and he can't do them well enough. Mitrione, on the other hand, is an agile, athletic big man who improves so much between each fight that it's almost not worth watching film of his last few bouts to prepare for his next one. On paper, this should be Mitrione's fight all the way. Instead of betting on who will win, a more interesting wager might be how many times Kongo will manage to knee him in the groin. I'll set the over/under at two, and let you go from there.
My pick: Mitrione. At these odds I'll toss it straight into the parlay bin and leave it there, but at least it's one I can feel reasonably confident in.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (+190) vs. Roy Nelson (-240)
Here's where, before doing anything, you need to check your emotions at the door. Don't let sentimentality make you a poor man just because you wanted to believe that Cro Cop had one more headkick KO left in him. Would that be an awesome finish to his UFC career? Sure it would. Is it likely to happen? Nope. Not only can Nelson take it, he can dish it out. There was a time when we could say the same about Cro Cop, but the years and the physical damage have piled up on him now, and he goes down easier and easier. Nelson is a slugger on the feet who could probably also beat Cro Cop on the ground if he wanted to. Cro Cop is still a legend of the sport, but he's also a shadow of his former self. Don't let it get you down, but don't bet on a miraculous resurrection either. Those days are gone, my friend. At least the two of you will always have Tokyo.
My pick: Nelson. It's another one for the parlay, and another meager gain that breaks my heart just a little more than it's worth.
Scott Jorgensen (-450) vs. Jeff Curran (+325)
While Curran is a likable guy and a real student of the game, if we're being honest we also have to admit that he's the MMA equivalent of an old car that's held together by bailing wire and hope. He's been beat up and broken down over the years, and has hung together reasonably well, all things considered. Still, when you look at his career record you see a man who's been beaten by nearly every high-level opponent he's faced. Jorgensen might be inexperienced by comparison, but not so much that he's likely to get caught in a dumb submission or try to get too far away from his strengths. He'll show up looking to ground-and-pound Curran into a bloody mess, and he'll probably succeed.
My pick: Jorgensen. The odds are a bit more lopsided than I expected, but they favor the right man.
Hatsu Hioki (-350) vs. George Roop (+250)
Regular readers of this column will know that I simply must find at least one crazy underdog on every fight card, and when no obvious choice presents itself I am not above talking myself into one. So here goes: on paper, Hioki is the better fighter with the more established resume. He's also spent almost his entire career fighting in Japan, and the UFC's Octagon has not proved to be a very welcoming environment for many of his countrymen. Roop is a bigger fighter who is at home in the cage, and who, here and there, has shown flashes of real ability. He's not championship material and probably never will be, but does he have what it takes to shock Hioki in his UFC debut in front of the friendly Las Vegas crowd? I think just maybe he does.
My pick: Roop. It's a tasty line that I just can't resist under these circumstances. Some oddsmakers even have him as high as +325, so look around for a bargain if you feel like taking the leap with me.
- Dennis Siver (+215) over Donald Cerrone (-275). Cerrone is tough, but Siver is a different class of opponent than what he's been up against lately. In a pick-em I'd take "Cowboy," but at these odds Siver is worth a small risk.
- Danny Downes (+155) over Ramsey Nijem (-185). You won't get rich off it, but Downes is the smart play against a guy who's probably not quite at this level just yet.
The 'For Entertainment Purposes Only' Parlay: Matt Mitrione + Roy Nelson + Scott Jorgensen + Brandon Vera