The UFC's offerings on Fox network television are starting to look like the pay-per-view cards the company promoted in the old days: chock-full of exciting fights and star power. And rightly so; in order for the promotion to gain more of a mainstream foothold, they need to put their best foot forward in front of as many people as humanly possible.
Next week's UFC on Fox 5 card is just such an event. It's headlined by a lightweight title fight and has two more intriguing fights between name-value fighters.
But the UFC will return in January with another Fox offering, and that's what I'm going to take a look at today. Let's take a look at UFC on Fox 6, the current odds for the main fights and try to determine if there's any value in the numbers.
Demetrious Johnson: -240
John Dodson: +190
This is as good a place as any to explain what I've learned about gambling on fights. I'm not saying that I actually gamble on the fights, because as a journalist, I'm not really allowed to. But what I'm about to explain is still a fantastic way to assess upcoming fights and figure out which way you want to go when picking them.
One way to find value in gambling odds is to convert the odds like the one you see above into percentages. You then compare those percentages assigned by the linesmakers to your own percentages.
I won't bore you with the formulas, but let's look at this fight for an example. Johnson is listed at -240, which converts to a 70.59 percent chance that he'll win the fight. Dodson's odds convert to 34.48 percent.
I typically look for big differences when comparing those percentages to my own, because those are the fights that give us the best value. For this fight, I give Johnson a 60 percent chance to win compared to 40 percent for Dodson; that means that the difference between my own line and the official line on Johnson is just 10.59 percent, while Dodson clocks in at 5.52 percent.
If I gave Dodson a 60 percent chance to win the fight, then the difference would be 25.52 percent. Anything above 20 percent represents decent value, and anything above 25 percent is fantastic value. If I were a gambling man, I'd pull the trigger on that, because the official line wouldn't come close to matching my own.
Of course, my personal odds could be way off, but that's where the "paths to victory" approach comes in.
When you look at an upcoming fight, it's good to determine how many ways each fighter can win, or lose, a fight. There are three ways that any fighter can win: by knockout, by submission or by decision. Of course, there are fluke things like disqualifications, but it's impossible to account for those.
You also want to take negative traits into account. Does a fighter have a glass jaw? Is his ground game severely underdeveloped? These are all things that can help you out when analyzing a fight.
So let's apply that to Johnson vs. Dodson.
Johnson's paths to victory: Decision
Dodson's paths to victory: Decision, knockout
Johnson hasn't shown the kind of knockout power he would need to finish Dodson, so we can't say that he'd win by knockout. If Johnson wins the fight, the most likely way he'll do so is by decision, using his speed to stay away from Dodson's power and continually earn points by countering.
Dodson, meanwhile, can win by decision, but he also has knockout power, so that gives him another path to victory.
You're probably going to ask why Dodson isn't my pick if he has more ways to win. Put simply, Johnson's ability to use his speed and wrestling to stifle his opponents is far greater than anything we've seen from Dodson thus far. This is not to say that Dodson cannot win; I do give him a 40 percent chance, after all.
But we're trying to find value in the gambling odds here, and my own personal percentages are too close to the real percentages to pull the trigger.
My Pick: Demetrious Johnson
Now that we've gotten all of that explanation out of the way, let's take a look at the rest of the fights.
Side note: You can learn more about the paths to victory approach, and other fight analyzing techniques, in Jason Rothman's excellent book Betting on MMA.
Donald Cerrone: -135
Anthony Pettis: +105
Paths to Victory
Cerrone: Knockout, decision, submission
Pettis: Knockout, decision, submission
As you can see, this is a fairly evenly-matched fight. Both fighters can win by all three paths to victory. Both are highly skilled and technical fighters. There's a reason they're fighting for a shot at the lightweight title, after all.
My own personal percentages give Cerrone a 40 percent chance of winning, while Pettis has 60 percent. I believe that while both fighters are evenly matched, Pettis has the more sound overall game, and he tends to have a few surprises up his sleeve.
But the difference between my Pettis percentage and the real odds is just 11.22 percent, and that's not enough for me to pull the trigger on the fight. I wouldn't bet on this fight, but in making a pick off the odds, I would go with Cerrone. If Pettis becomes a bigger underdog as the line changes, my pick would likely shift to his side.
My Pick: Donald Cerrone
Glover Teixeira: -250
Rampage Jackson: +190
Paths to Victory
Teixeira: Knockout, decision, submission
This one isn't an evenly-matched fight at all.
Jackson could be a much more well-rounded fighter if he wanted to; actually, I think he is a well-rounded fighter at his core. He simply refuses to focus on anything besides his striking because he has an outdated notion of what mixed martial arts is.
With that in mind, his one way to win is by knockout. He still has plenty of power and technique in his hands, but too often we've seen him taken advantage of by fighters who simply avoid his lumbering, walking-forward style. I'd look for Teixeira to do that here.
Put simply, Teixeira is a much better fighter than Jackson at this point, and it will show. I give Teixeira an 80 percent chance of winning this fight, which closely aligns with the 71.43 percent chance the oddsmakers are giving him. Again, this is a case where I wouldn't gamble on the fight, but it's also a much easier pick than Cerrone/Pettis.
My Pick: Glover Teixeira
Erik Koch: -150
Ricardo Lamas: +120
Paths to Victory
Koch Knockout, decision, submission
Jackson: Knockout, decision, submission
This is yet another evenly-matched fight, for the most part; there sure are a bunch of those on this card, aren't there? And that's a credit to matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.
But I think there's value to be had on Lamas here. I think he's a much more dangerous and complete fighter than people give him credit for, and I assign him a 70 percent chance to win.
The odds only give him a 45.45 percent chance to win, which means that the difference in the odds and my own percentage is 24.55 percent. That's not a clear value, but it is enough to at least make me think about dropping money on the Lamas side of the table. If I were a gambling man, that is.
My Pick: Ricardo Lamas