UFC 149 has seen its share of reshuffling, but we still have some interesting match-ups and tantalizing betting lines to sort through. Where should you put your money on Saturday night? Well, probably in a bank, if you want to be responsible about it, but that’s no fun. Instead, let’s take a look at some great opportunities to get rich or cry trying.
Urijah Faber (+160) vs. Renan Barao (-200)
Surprised to see a permanent contender like Faber as an underdog, even to "a monster" like Barao? You aren’t alone. As my podcast co-host Chad Dundas declared upon hearing the juicy line on Faber: "I take that walking away." Yeah, I’m still not entirely sure what that means. What I do know is that on one hand you’ve got Faber, whose only losses in the last two years have come against Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz. On the other hand you’ve got Barao, whose biggest win so far was against Brad Pickett. True, Barao showed off some decent defensive wrestling skills in his decision win over Scott Jorgensen, but it’s going to take more than a good sprawl to get through five rounds with Faber, who’s among the best in MMA when it comes to mid-fight adjustments. Barao has finishing power, and maybe even some Jose Aldo-inspired leg kicks to bother Faber with, but Faber has tons of high-level experience and a deep toolbox to draw from. And, at 33 years old, this could very well be Faber’s last chance to fight his way into a (real) UFC title bout. He has to win. As a young scamp of 25, Barao has other options.
My pick: Faber. The line is too good for me not to take a chance on a crafty vet like "The California Kid." Even though he’s rapidly approaching the point where he'll have to change his nickname to "The California Middle-Aged Man."
Hector Lombard (-310) vs. Tim Boetsch (+240)
Clearly, this is a fight that most people are expecting Lombard to win. And he should, when you think about it. He’s supposed to be the judo-infused knockout artist coming over to make his mark in the UFC. And Boetsch? He’s the mid-level light heavyweight who became a mid-level middleweight, and who just won’t go away no matter what the UFC throws at him. But that’s what gives me pause when picking this one. Or at least, that’s one of the things. Boetsch isn’t flashy and often isn’t even all that exciting. But even when you think you’ve got him beat, as Yushin Okami did, he can surprise you. Nothing is easy with this guy. You factor in the possibility of Octagon jitters for Lombard, and you might be looking at an upset in the making. Or you might be looking at a guy who is too slow and too predictable to be anything other than knockout bait for the UFC newcomer.
My pick: Lombard. If we’re making straight picks, he’s the guy who should win. With these odds, Boetsch becomes considerably more attractive, but let’s be honest that we’re really betting that Lombard will be diminished by the pressure of his first fight in the UFC. That’s worth small action with a line like this, but I’d tread softly if I were you.
Cheick Kongo (+105) vs. Shawn Jordan (-135)
Jordan is one of those six-footers who almost looks like he might be better off at light heavyweight, but who might lose his speed advantage (and the ability to eat what he pleases) if he made the move. He took this one on relatively short notice after Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira decided his arm wasn’t battle ready after all, and now he steps in as a favorite against an opponent who’ll have nearly a half a foot on him in height. When you look at Kongo’s recent record, however, it’s not so hard to understand. He got knocked out by Mark Hunt, won a very forgettable staring contest against Matt Mitrione, and somehow came back from the brink of unconsciousness to KO Pat Barry. On paper, that’s a respectable 2-1 run, but no one who actually saw those fights came away feeling like Kongo was finally putting it all together. Jordan has the power to put him out and the athleticism to keep from being Kongo’d up against the fence for three rounds. The only question is whether he’s really ready for this bout, and whether he had enough time to prepare for it.
My pick: Jordan. My guess is you might be able to find better odds if you look around some, but regardless, nothing Kongo has done lately should inspire a lot of confidence in a betting man.
Brian Ebersole (-400) vs. James Head (+300)
Remember when Ebersole was all, ‘Hey, I’m going to drop to lightweight and fight a big name and beat him when I wake up the next morning they'll be throwing title shots at me and the world will be a beautiful place’? I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point. Turns out that didn’t happen, or at least it hasn’t happened yet, and instead he gets the chance to fill in as a welterweight for the injured Claude Patrick. The good news? This is a very, very winnable fight for Ebersole, as the odds suggest, and a chance to make some quick coin against a fighter who has yet to distinguish himself against anyone who matters in the UFC. The bad news? If you lose a fight like that, it knocks you way down the ranks way too quickly. There’s more to lose than gain here for Ebersole, in other words, but few reasons to think he won’t win just as convincingly as expected.
My pick: Ebersole. I’ll throw him in my parlay just for fun, but that’s all.
Chris Clements (+120) vs. Matt Riddle (-150)
Riddle took this fight after Siyar Bahadurzada pulled out (a move that may have saved Clements’s life, or at least his face) and is now somehow the favorite despite a UFC career that has been, to put it gently, unspectacular. He’s big for the division, though not terribly quick for it, and his wins have often left much to be desired. He’s a nice guy, and a thoroughly likable one, but he’s starting to seem like one of those fighters who we want to be better than he is. Clements may not have set the MMA world on fire lately, but he does have a decent win streak going against a series of mid-level fighters. It’s likely that his Canadian-ness is what’s mostly responsible for his placement on this card, but it’s also not unreasonable to think that he could deliver a win over the American for his countrymen on Saturday night, based on his striking and Riddle's complete willingness to be struck.
My pick: Clements. Why not? He already caught one stroke of good luck with Bahadurzada being pulled. Maybe it’s a sign that someone up there likes him.
Crazy Internet Prop Bet That Could Make You Rich: Faber wins in round five (+2000)
You like Faber’s chances to wear the Brazilian down and put him away at the last minute? Then consider small action for a big payoff.
The ‘For Entertainment Purposes Only Parlay’: Faber + Jordan + Ebersole + Clements