Among the other lessons we learned that night was: bet against a Brazilian in Brazil, and you'd better be prepared never to see that money again.
Of the eight foreigners who faced Brazilians at UFC 134, only one -- Stanislav Nedkov -- left Rio a winner. Granted, it's a small sample size from which to form broad conclusions, but it does give us something to think about heading into UFC 142 on Saturday night. All four foreigners on the main card come in as underdogs to one degree or another. Surely there must be at least one Stanislav Nedkov in the bunch, but who's it going to be?
Jose Aldo (-250) vs. Chad Mendes (+200)
The tough part about analyzing two fighters who have 32 fights and only one loss between them is that there's not much of a blueprint for defeat on either man. Mendes has about half as many fights, but he's never been beaten. Aldo's lost once, but I think we can all agree that he's come a long way since "Jungle Fight 5," which was more than six years ago. While it's possible that Mendes could be knocked out or Aldo could be totally outwrestled, we haven't seen either scenario play out in the cage before. So why do oddsmakers favor Aldo so heavily?
For starters, Aldo's been tested. He's beaten the likes of Kenny Florian, Mark Hominick, and Urijah Faber, which, let's be honest, is far more impressive than Mendes' list of victims. Aldo's win over Faber alone -- who seems like a more experienced and well-rounded version of Mendes -- is probably enough to justify the line all by itself. You factor in the home country advantage, which could really make a difference in the very likely event that the fight goes the distance, and suddenly the numbers start to make a lot of sense. It's not at all far-fetched to think that Mendes could wear Aldo out over the course of five rounds. After all, we saw how Aldo faded in the Hominick fight. But if Aldo is of sound mind and body here, it seems more likely that he'll purée Mendes' legs with kicks the same way he did to Faber's.
My pick: Aldo. I'll admit that I had to talk myself down from the underdog pick, and I still think Mendes might be worth small action if the line creeps past +250. But it's hard for me to go against the champ in his own backyard.
Vitor Belfort (-120) vs. Anthony Johnson (-110)
This one is basically a pick-em that oddsmakers have cleverly skewed in their favor, and why not? It's the kind of fight that derelict sports gamblers love, because you can talk yourself into believing almost anything about it. Belfort fans will convince themselves that this is another blitzkrieg knockout in the making, while "Rumble" supporters can be certain that their man will be an unstoppable juggernaut in his new weight class. So who's right? I'd put my money on the Johnson camp, but not by much. Belfort is always a danger in the first few minutes of any fight, but the threat-level diminishes significantly as soon as he hears the words 'round two.' Johnson's never been knocked out in his MMA career, and you have to think he'll only be better at tiring out and breaking down opponents now that he's gone up a weight class. Both these guys hit hard enough to reduce any reasoned analysis to an unpredictable game of drunken rock-paper-scissors in the end, but Johnson has more ways to win and fewer ways to lose.
My pick: Johnson. Who knows if he'll make it out of the arena in one piece if he beats a Brazilian MMA icon like Belfort, but I like his chances to take this into the later rounds and win a decision or a late stoppage.
Rousimar Palhares (-485) vs. Mike Massenzio (+385)
On skill alone, sure, Palhares deserves to be this big of a favorite. But as we've seen in the past, when Palhares fights it's not always that simple. To put it gently, the guy's a bit of a head case. Remember when he decided to try and call a mid-fight timeout against Nate Marquardt? How about when he leapt on top of the cage in celebration of a victory that he hadn't yet achieved in his fight with Dan Miller? Then there's the other end of the spectrum, like when he refused to release Tomasz Drwal from a heel hook even after the fight was clearly over. One bizarre incident might be a fluke, but Palhares has established a habit of weirdo happenings. Is it worth the risk that one such mental mishap could hand a victory to the major underdog Massenzio? If Massenzio were just a little better, and maybe not so dependent on his wrestling, I might say yes. Against Palhares, however, I fear he has the exact wrong style to take advantage of a guy whose brain isn't always operating in perfect harmony with his body.
My pick: Palhares. But you know what? He's so mercurial I don't even want him in my parlay. There's just too great a chance that he'll screw everything up by deciding to quit in the middle of the fight and go work a concession stand instead.
Erick Silva (-485) vs. Carlo Prater (+385)
We still haven't seen enough of Erick Silva to have a great handle on what he's capable of, but what we have seen has been pretty impressive. He starched Luis Ramos in his Octagon debut the last time the UFC was in Rio. This time he'll get a tougher opponent, but not necessarily an overwhelming one. Prater's a replacement for Siyar Bahadurzada, who would have likely been a much stiffer test for the young Brazilian. Not that Prater's an easy mark, mind you. He's been around, has fought some recognizable names, but doesn't have much to show for it. His willingness to step up here will earn him a UFC roster spot for the first time in a nearly ten-year career, but I don't even like his odds to hang on to that for very long, much less pull out a win on relatively short notice.
My pick: Silva. I still think he's overvalued at almost 5-1, but I'm willing to take the bait and put it in my parlay out of a lack of better ideas.
Edson Barboza (-280) vs. Terry Etim (+220)
Can we cut the crap and be real with each other for a minute, fellow derelicts? Don't tell anyone, but I'm starting to suspect that Barboza might be just the tiniest bit overrated. I know, I know: he looked great in his UFC debut against Mike Lullo. And he also looked sharp against Anthony Njokuani. And then he did just enough to get a decision over Ross Pearson. But have you noticed that as the competition gets better, he seems to stay more or less the same? It makes me wonder if he's like one of those pitchers who strikes out everyone when he first gets called up to the majors, but gets steadily shelled as hitters start to figure him out. Granted, Barboza's still undefeated, so it's not like he's giving up grand slams (to stick with this already troublesome mixed sports metaphor), but I can't help but feel like this line is a reflection of his hype more than his skills. Etim is better than many people realize, and this style match-up is right in his wheelhouse. I understand why he's the underdog, but he could surprise some people. I just wouldn't want to go to the judges in this fight if I were him.
My pick: Etim. Is this another instance of me talking myself into an underdog pick just to avoid looking like a jerk who takes all the favorites? Maybe. But still...
- Michihiro Omigawa (+110) over Yuri Alcantara (-140). I'm not sold on Alcantara, and Omigawa is better than his record in the UFC reflects.
- Ednaldo Oliveira (+120) over Gabriel Gonzaga (-150). Most have never heard his name, but word is that Oliveira has acquitted himself well as Junior dos Santos' sparring partner. Meanwhile, Gonzaga hasn't had a truly significant win since 2007.
The 'For Entertainment Purposes Only' Parlay: Aldo + Johnson + Silva + Omigawa.