The UFC brings its action back to network TV this Saturday night, as UFC on FOX 4 promises a light heavyweight title sweepstakes among four 205-pounders who have all been finished by the reigning champ. How do oddsmakers see it shaking out, where’s the hot action on the undercard, and what’s the best/craziest main event prop bet currently available on the internet? Answers to those questions and more await you.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (-365) vs. Brandon Vera (+275)
Once again Vera would have us believe that he is a changed man. The underachieving years, the disappointing results after such early promise? That’s all over and done with, he says. Now he’s finally ready to put it all together. No offense, but we’ve heard this before. Seems like we hear it before just about every Vera fight. Then, as he did against Eliot Marshall, he steps in the cage and looks more or less the same as he has for the past few years, which is to say, he looks like nothing special. Is there any reason to believe that he can finally make good on his pre-fight promises against Rua? Not particularly. On paper, Rua wins this fight every time, as long as he’s not coming off one of the surgeries that seem to magically turn him from a world-class fighter into a guy who could barely get through a pickup basketball game without vomiting on his shoes. A healthy Rua most likely demolishes every version of Vera who’s ever entered the cage. Then again, if Vera is ever going to get desperate enough to be truly dangerous, it's pretty much now or never.
My pick: Rua. The underdog line here is nowhere near tempting enough, considering how unimpressive Vera has been in his last few fights.
Lyoto Machida (-335) vs. Ryan Bader (+255)
If it’s underdogs you’re after, this is the fight to take a closer look at. On one hand, you’ve got the elusive karate master who’s been victorious in just one of his last four bouts, and that against a 47-year-old fighter who was on his way out the door. On the other, you’ve got a wrestler with one-punch power whose only defeats came via 1) total domination at the hands of the division’s best fighter, and 2) a somewhat flukish-looking loss in the bout that followed #1. We’ve seen Machida get his world turned upside-down by a single blow, and we’ve seen Bader administer just such a blow to past opponents. So why do oddsmakers seem to think it so far-fetched that we might see both happen here? I suspect that Machida’s stock is bolstered by how well he did early on against Jon Jones (whereas Bader was soundly thrashed by him), but I also suspect that it won’t mean much in this very different style match-up.
My pick: Bader. These odds are too good to pass up. As long as Bader doesn’t fall too in love with the idea of an "impressive" knockout, he has plenty with which to threaten the former champ.
Joe Lauzon (-130) vs. Jamie Varner (+100)
Before Varner’s surprising TKO win over Edson Barboza at UFC 146, I would have told you there was no reason to think he’d beat a guy like Lauzon. I might have even told you that there was no way he belonged in the UFC. Funny how much can change with one fight. Varner’s big win after years of struggle makes it difficult and maybe even impossible to know what to expect out of him here. Was that one great night for Varner coupled with a bad night for Barboza? Was it a sign that he’s really changed for the better, and in some lasting way? I have no idea, but I am eager to find out. On the flip side, we know more or less what to expect out of Lauzon. He’s not spectacular, but he doesn’t do anything stupid and he can make you pay dearly for it if you do. Against some opponents that’s enough. Six months ago I would have told you it would be enough against Varner, too. Now I’m not so sure.
My pick: Varner. Facing this many unknowns, I’m just going to throw my hands up and take the slight underdog, if only because it seems like a slightly better idea than the alternative.
Mike Swick (-230) vs. DaMarques Johnson (+180)
When I asked Swick about his time away from the cage, he informed me that when he returns to action on Saturday night it will have been 910 days since the last time he fought. As a general rule, anybody who can tell you the number of days since the last time they did something is a person who has been thinking about it a lot, maybe even too much. We don’t know what all that time off will do to his skills, and neither does Swick. It’s not like he’s just been sitting on the couch. It’s not like he hasn’t still been training and sparring with one of the best fight camps in the world. Still, there are some aspects of fight night that you can’t possibly simulate in the gym. We’ve seen evidence of this too many times to discount it entirely. That’s why I’m a little surprised to see Swick as this heavy a favorite over Johnson, who’s fought six times while Swick has been away. I agree that, overall, Swick is the better fighter. But will he be better on this one night?
My pick: Swick, but not at these odds. There are too many variables for not enough profit here. I’m putting my money toward lottery tickets instead.
Crazy Internet Prop Bet That Could Make You Rich: Rua by submission (+900)
Okay, so the only fighter he ever submitted was Kevin Randleman, and that was in 2006. But hey, at least Dana White still remembers that one.
The ‘For Entertainment Purposes Only’ Parlay: Rua + Phil Davis (-600) + Cole Miller (-130) + Ulysses Gomez (-185)