UFC 68: The Uprising Saturday, March 3, 10 PM ET Columbus, Ohio
Weigh-in: Friday, March 2, 4 PM, NBCsports.com
The UFC is coming off an absolutely forgettable 67th edition of their Ultimate Fighting Championship. It may have been one of the most boring events in UFC history, and the UFC needs to bounce back this weekend to hold on to the public fan base it has worked so hard to cultivate. While not a knockout lineup on paper, Saturday's card certainly has the potential for a few exciting fights.
UFC betting has often been dominated by the favorites. Over the past 101 matches (dating back to Nov. 19, 2005), the chalk is an overwhelming 76-25. Although the average favorite over this period was -310, straight betting the favorites in each of the last 101 fights would have returned an overall profit of 2.1 units, whereas betting every underdogs would have left you about 17 units in the hole. The chalk bias may come even more strongly into play this weekend, as last Saturday's PRIDE 33 saw upsets in about half of the fights, maybe putting a scare into those players who usually back the favorites.
If betting the chalk, try to get to it early. When the line has moved 30 cents or more in the past year, the "steam" side has been 21-12 overall, and 17-8 when it is the favorite with the betting support. Also keep an eye on the weigh-in on Friday. You can see large swings in the odds if anything goes awry there. Finally, remember to shop around for the best odds, as examination of closing lines from Don Best shows scalpable numbers sometimes still present at fight time. With MMA representing a smaller (and less efficient) betting market, you can often see a big increase in your bottom line simply by having access to the best lines available.
Here's a preview of Saturday night's fights, with lines from WSEX.
Jason "The Gizzard" Gilliam (11-0-0) vs. Jamie "The Worm" Varner (9-1-0) Current Line: Gilliam +330, Varner -450
Kicking off this UFC card is a battle between the two fighters with the worst nicknames of the evening. Gilliam is 34 years old and has an undistinguished fighting career. Varner is a fresh face at 22 years old, but he has only fought once in the past 12 months, a loss to Hermes Franca in UFC 62. Varner may be worth keeping an eye on, but at this time, wagering on this fight is probably best avoided. Prediction: Varner, 1st round submission.
Gleison Tibau (23-3-0) vs. Jason "Dynamite" Dent (12-7-0) Current Line: Tibau -270; Dent +210
Tibau primarily utilizes Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and while having 26 fights to his record, he has not really fought anyone in the upper echelon of MMA. His last fight was a loss in November to Nick Diaz at 170 lbs, and he will be dropping to 155 for this fight. Dent is also a submission fighter and is coming off his first UFC match, a loss by decision to Roger Huerta in UFC 63. I think this fight will be closer than predicted with Dent having a chance at the upset, so I will lean towards the underdog at better than 2-1. Prediction: Dent, 3rd round submission.
Jon Fitch (17-2-0) vs. Luigi Fioravanti (11-1-0) Current Line: Fitch -360; Fioravanti +280
Fitch is undefeated since December 2002, though against lower caliber opponents. He is an experienced wrestler and kickboxer and is highly regarded as an up-and-coming MMA talent. Fioravanti is more of a striker with 6 of his 10 wins coming by KO or TKO. I think the style matchup greatly favors Fitch, but I have no interest in a wager at the current line. Prediction: Fitch, 2nd round submission.
Rex "Big Dog" Holman (4-1-0) vs. Matt "The Hammer" Hamill (4-0-0) Current Line: Holman +250; Hamill -300
Holman looks to be more raw meat for Hamill to pound on. This is Rex Holman's first UFC bout, though he has accumulated a 4-1 record in smaller events and has respected wrestling skills. This is Holman's 4th fight in 6 months, as he fought in October, November, and December of last year. Holman is nearing the end of his career, and at age 37, he is giving up 7 years to his opponent. While Hamill looked impressive in his early fights, he really hasn't been challenged at all, so we still don't know what he's capable of. This fight should quickly end up on the ground, as neither are great strikers, and Hamill should be able to ground-and-pound out a win. With the line coming down from an opener of -500, Hamill is worth a shot. Prediction: Hamill, 1st round TKO.
Jason "The Punisher" Lambert (22-6-0) vs. Renato "Babalu" Sobral (27-6-0) Current Line: Lambert +330; Sobral -450
We last saw Sobral losing to Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell in UFC 62. He is certainly the more experienced fighter in this contest, as he has faced many well-known UFC veterans. Lambert is coming off a loss to Rashad Evans, but really hasn't had any other significant matches in the UFC. Sobral is a deserving favorite, but the line is a bit too high to make this a bet. Prediction: Sobral, 1st round submission.
Jason "The Athlete" MacDonald (19-7-0) vs. Rich "Ace" Franklin (22-2-0) Current Line: MacDonald +350; Franklin -500
This should prove to be one of the more interesting fights of the night. Jason MacDonald made his first UFC appearance on the Ortiz vs. Shamrock 3 card in October, and has cruised to two easy victories, although neither Ed Herman nor Chris Leben should be considered opponents on the same level as Rich Franklin. Franklin is coming off a Middleweight Title loss to Anderson Silva. Dana White announced that the winner of this fight would be in line for a title shot, so there is plenty on the line. Linesmakers installed Rich Franklin as a 5-to-1 favorite. Considering Franklin is coming off a huge loss and Jason MacDonald may be better than we think, MacDonald looks to be an excellent fighter to back this week and I wouldn't be surprised to see the upset. Obviously I am not alone, as this line has come down from +420 earlier in the week, although I still think the line is too generous. Expect this to be the most exciting fight of the night. Prediction: MacDonald, 3rd round TKO.
Drew McFedries (5-1-0) vs. Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann (11-1-0) Current Line: McFedries +220; Kampmann -280
Another match between virtual UFC newcomers. Kampmann has fought on two Spike TV UFC undercards and won both; McFedries won on the UFC 65 undercard. Too little known on these two fighters to think about wagering on this fight, but the winner may have some upward mobility in the UFC. Prediction: Kampmann, 2nd round TKO.
Chris "Lights Out" Lytle (32-13-4) vs. Matt Hughes (42-5-0) Current Line: Lytle +500; Hughes -750
The second match featuring a recently fallen champion has Matt Hughes as a big favorite over Chris Lytle, and deservingly so. Lytle, while experienced, has lost his last three UFC matches, with his last win coming all the way back in UFC 49. The past few years have seen him fight primarily with smaller promoters. He was somewhat impressive in The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale, in an almost-too-close-to-call loss to Matt Serra (who is now in line for a Welterweight Championship bout). While primarily a submission fighter, Lytle does have some professional boxing experience (13-1-1) and is the Indiana State Boxing Champion.
But Matt Hughes is a completely different story. A "ground and pound" submission fighter, Hughes has dominated the welterweight division, holding the title for almost 2 years before losing to Georges St. Pierre in November. Hughes is an overwhelming favorite in this match, and deservingly so. But you do have to wonder about the motivational factor for Hughes, who doesn't really have anything left to prove. This, coupled with coming off a loss, is enough to keep me from backing Hughes. I can't see any reason to back Lytle either, so this fight is a pass. In a pinch, I would lean towards Lytle at the big odds, more because "anything can happen" in the Octagon. Prediction: Hughes, 1st round submission.
Tim "Maine-iac" Sylvia (25-2-0) vs. Randy "The Natural" Couture (14-8-0) Current Line: Sylvia -300; Couture +250
Randy Couture is exiting a short-lived retirement to challenge Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight crown in the main event. Sylvia has only 2 losses as a heavyweight, one to Frank Mir in 2004 that was stopped due to Sylvia receiving multiple arm fractures during a submission attempt. The other loss was a quick Achilles lock submission to Andre Arlovski in 2005. Sylvia has about 6 inches, 35 pounds, and 13 years advantage on Couture. Couture has not fought at heavyweight since 2002, a weight at which he lost his last 2 fights.
Sylvia is a big hitter, with 16 of his 23 wins coming by KO or TKO. Likewise, Couture is vulnerable to strikes, losing by KO or TKO in 4 of his 8 losses. Tim has also shown some ability to at least keep wrestlers at bay in his last bout against Jeff Monson. Couture will certainly struggle in a stand-up fight, and while it may get boring, Sylvia will look to prevent takedown attempts while peppering Couture and wearing him down.
Motivation is a key factor here - Couture is coming out of retirement - does he really have the killer instinct anymore? His 4-fight, 2-year contract seems more about the money than it does about Randy trying to prove himself. Let's not forget Sylvia's 2004 bout with Mir, where Sylvia's arm was broken - he pleaded with referee Herb Dean to let the fight continue. If this comes down to a battle of wills, my money's on the broken-arm guy.
While Couture has only fought 5 times since 2004 (with a record of 2-3), he is coming out of a 12-month retirement for this fight. In the meantime, Sylvia has kept very busy, fighting 9 times for a record of 7-2 in that same span. One only need look back a few months to see what happened to fellow hall-of-famer Ken Shamrock, a star fighting past his prime, who likely ended his fighting career with four straight first-round TKO losses. This fight seems more like an attempt to give the current champ some credibility than a real challenge by Couture. Sylvia is the better bet in this fight, but there is a good possibility the line comes down a little from public action on Couture on fight night. Prediction: Sylvia, 3nd round knockout.
Picks: Matt Hamill -300 Jason MacDonald +350 (Best) Tim Sylvia -300
Opinions: Jamie Varner -450 Jason Dent +210 Jon Fitch -360 Martin Kampmann -280 Renato Sobral -450 Chris Lytle +500