At least oddsmakers still care enough to handicap the action, and at least I still care enough to see if I can't make them pay for it.
Jim Miller (-180) vs. Melvin Guillard (+150)
When you talk about this fight, you're going to end up comparing losses. There's just no way around it. You take two lightweight contenders who had their respective rises suddenly and violently halted, and it's only natural that we'd go back and try to sort through whose loss was worse, and what it means now. Miller had a pretty thorough beating put him on by Ben Henderson, but now that Henderson's getting set to challenge for the lightweight title that doesn't look so bad. Guillard, on the other hand, lost a shocker to Joe Lauzon after getting dropped and then choked early in the first round. It's a longer fall, quality of opponent-wise, but it does have a bit of a fluke-ish quality to it, which you can attribute to Guillard's reckless overconfidence. You know, if you really want to.
This is what makes picking a winner in this fight so difficult. You can kind of talk yourself into anything. It's a little surprising to see Miller this much of a favorite, but then you think about his ground game, his seven-fight win streak prior to the Henderson loss, and it makes sense. And Guillard? Guillard has the allure of pure ability. The promise of speed and power and an athletic ability that even he can't help but overestimate at times. Guillard seems like the kind of guy who can beat anybody when things fall his way, but also like the kind of guy who could lose to anybody and at any given moment. It's not hard to imagine him knocking Miller out with a flying knee, nor is it difficult to picture him missing that same flying knee, landing on his end, and getting submitted seconds later. It all depends on what you want to tell yourself.
My pick: Miller. Unlike Guillard, he never beats himself. In a fight like this, don't be surprised if that turns out to be enough.
Duane Ludwig (-115) vs Josh Neer (-115)
Right off I'll say it: I'm surprised at this line. I would have thought that Ludwig would have been the clear favorite and Neer the obvious underdog. That's not meant as a knock on Neer, who still does a few things very well and for whom toughness is never a question. But Ludwig seems to be undergoing a sort of mini-Renaissance lately. He seems more at home in the welterweight division than he ever was in the lightweight class, and he's sharpened his defensive wrestling skills to the point where his kickboxing is even more of a problem for opponents. As long as he's fully healthy, it's hard for me to see how Neer wins this. At one point, oddsmakers agreed. He was up in the +120 range until the money started to flow in, but it's not like his chances have really improved since then. He still deserves to be a slight underdog against Ludwig. It's just that, if you jump on it now, you won't get anywhere near the value out of him.
My pick: Ludwig. I wouldn't say it's a lock, but I would say this is his fight to lose. If he plays it smart, he ought to pick Neer apart on the feet for as long as it takes.
Mike Easton (-400) vs. Jared Papazian (+300)
You can always tell that the odds are going to be heavily in one guy's favor when his opponent doesn't even have a Wikipedia page yet. Maybe it was Wednesday's Wikipedia protest blackout, or maybe the denizens of the internet just don't care enough about a UFC newcomer until he actually does something in the Octagon. Either way we're looking at another bantamweight bout that oddsmakers expect Mike Easton to win and win easily. That makes sense. Easton's had a pretty charmed career up until this point, while Papazian has been up and down, winning some and losing some against the knowns and unknowns alike. Papazian does have a three-fight win streak going, which has to count for something. Then again, those are three wins over guys most fans probably never heard of. The UFC must have seen something in him, even if that something was a warm body for Easton to throttle on a card so lacking in big names, Christian Morecraft appears on the poster. Hey, somebody had to say it.
My pick: Easton. It's a parlay pick for sure, but I can't think of a single reason to think that Dominick Cruz's personal hype man won't swarm all over Papazian.
Pat Barry (-175) vs. Christian Morecraft (+145)
You never know exactly what you're going to get with Barry. On paper, he looks like a mediocre heavyweight who's just barely holding on to a UFC roster spot. But those who've actually seen him in the cage know that he's probably the best 6-4 fighter in all of MMA. It's just that, lately, none of the breaks have gone his way. Morecraft is another of the big, hulking heavyweights that seem to have popped up like weeds in the UFC recently. He's in the same mold as guys like Travis Browne and Ben Rothwell, all towering heavyweights who look like they'd make great extras in a Viking movie. Morecraft will obviously have a size advantage, but that's nothing new for Barry. It would probably throw him off more to fight someone his own height at this point. On a pure skill level, Barry's on another planet. Morecraft has to know he can't win a kickboxing match against him. What he has to do is treat this like a bar fight and take technique out of the equation. He's the bigger, stronger man, with an edge on the mat. Again though, if Barry isn't used to that by now, he never will be.
My pick: Barry. I know, this is usually the point where I talk myself into taking an underdog, but I can't do it here. Eventually Barry has to catch a break. He just has to.
- Jorge Rivera (+115) over Eric Schafer (-146). If I have to choose between two fighters down on their luck, I'll take the guy who got that way by facing superior opponents.
- Khabib Nurmagomedov (even) over Kamal Shalorus (-130). First of all, Nurmagomedov needs a nickname in a bad, bad way. Secondly, I have yet to be impressed with a full performance by Shalorus, who tends to look good only in short bursts.
The 'For Entertainment Purposes Only' Parlay: Ludwig + Easton + Barry. Also throw in Charlie Brenneman, who's at -300 over Daniel Roberts. Because why not?