First, here's my standard introduction for this series:
Gambling on mixed martial arts, like anything else in life, is about assuming risks.
But we have the ability to negate those risks, or at least minimize them, by carefully selecting our plays. It's about the long haul and not instant success, unless you're in Vegas for a few days and you have a hole burning in your pocket. If that's the case, go right ahead and do a 12-teamer and lose your money. You'll have fun and you won't win money, but you'll have the memories.
But if you're a careful bettor looking to maximize your investment, you know that you can't just jump in and bet on every single fight. You want to look for your own inefficiencies, where the market odds do not match up with your own. And when you find that opportunity, you jump all over it.
If you're expecting this guide to tell you who to bet on for every single fight, you're wasting your time. That will never happen. I'll give you my own percentage and the market percentage by the odds, and when there is an opportunity where I believe you can make money, I'll make a recommendation. But when there isn't, I'll tell you so; after all, saving your money and not blowing it on flights of fancy is just as important as placing wagers.
And now, with all that out of the way, it's time to take a look at the UFC's 20th anniversary event in Las Vegas.
The actual 20th anniversary of UFC 1 was actually on Tuesday (November 11), but the promotion is pulling out all the stops for a celebration-themed fight week. The usual fan events will be available, but the true appeal of this week is seeing 4 excellent, competitive fights between fantastic, well-rounded athletes.
You know, nothing like UFC 1.
All joking aside, this is an event worth keeping your eye on, mostly because welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre may finally have an opponent who can end his second title run.
Let's get into it, shall we?
Georges St-Pierre stepping in the Octagon feels like a rare occurrence, at least over the last few years. Injuries have taken their toll on the welterweight champion, costing him plenty of time in the prime of his life that should have been spent competing against the best his division has to offer.
Since March 2010, St-Pierre has fought just 5 times. That's an incredible statistic, when you think about it. Since the retirement of Brock Lesnar, St-Pierre is arguably the UFC's biggest star and best box office draw, and yet he's spend far more time on the shelf than competing in the cage.
And I think that lack of visibility is what leads me and many others to assign St-Pierre's opponents more value against the champion than they should have. I've picked against St-Pierre numerous times over the years, and he consistently makes me look like a fool. I finally came to my senses when St-Pierre faced Nick Diaz, and his performance against the Stockton native bore out that newly-discovered faith.
And now, along comes Johny Hendricks. I once again find myself thinking that Hendricks has a pretty good chance of beating the champion. After all, Hendricks is an excellent wrestler who might have the ability to keep St-Pierre from executing his usual takedown into top control game plan. And if Hendricks can keep the fight standing, doesn't he stand a good chance of landing that monstrous left hand of his?
Any time my brain starts to tell me that hey, we're talking about Georges St-Pierre here, I hear a little voice in my head: what about the left hand? Doesn't that count for something?
It does. But realistically, that left hand represents Hendricks' only chance to win the fight. He'll never outpoint the champion, because St-Pierre is an absolute master at stifling his opponents, both on the feet and on the ground. He might be able to put St-Pierre on his back once or twice, but he's not going to keep him there.
On the feet, St-Pierre is far too smart to play into Hendricks' strengths. The champ has a 75% striking defense rate. He has outstanding head movement, and his takedown defense stands at 86% for his UFC career. It also goes without saying that St-Pierre's takedown accuracy and ground control numbers are off the charts.
I'd love to be able to predict an upset. I was wavering on my pick for this fight right up to the moment I started writing this preview. But once I step back and take a look at the bigger picture, I begin to realize that St-Pierre is a special fighter. He's not the most exciting champion to watch, but he is a once-in-a-lifetime talent with incredible skills and the athletic pedigree to use those skills to his advantage in the cage.
If you agree with me, there's good news; St-Pierre is currently sitting at -220, which is his lowest number in a long time. Despite all the preaching I do about looking for inefficiencies in gambling odds—and I still believe that is the best way to make safe investments when gambling on fights—I'm willing to make an exemption here.
Getting St-Pierre at anything up to -300 has value, and that's the play I'm recommending today.
If you're looking for something a little juicier, I'd recommend taking a look at the prop bets available for this one. St-Pierre inside the distance is +450, and while history tells us that he's far more likely to work for a decision rather than take any risks to finish his opponent, that number is high enough to be more than a little intriguing.
If you're going to make a play on St-Pierre, I'd recommend doing so sooner than later. St-Pierre always has a ton of late money coming in, and I suspect this number will be much different come Saturday night.
Some may consider UFC 167's main event to be a foregone conclusion. If that's the case, there's a good chance you're anticipating this battle between two friends and UFC Tonight hosts more than anything else on the card.
Chael Sonnen's days as a top competitor seemed over after he lost to Jon Jones in April. Rumors swirled that Sonnen would be retiring and focusing his efforts on his various duties at Fox Sports. In the end, Sonnen decided to stick around, and it's a good thing he did; his submission win over Mauricio Rua in August completely revitalized his career, at least for the time being.
And now Sonnen steps into the cage with Rashad Evans, who hasn't had the best stretch of his career over the past two years. Evans has fought three times in that time period, losing to Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira before squeaking out a split decision win over Dan Henderson. Many questioned if Evans had the motivation to stick around and compete with the best his division has to offer; that's a question we still don't have the answer to.
From a stylistic perspective, this is an engrossing fight. We know what Sonnen is going to do, because he does the same thing in every fight; he'll run across the cage and immediately try to put Evans on his back. Once he does so, Sonnen switches to a grinding, smothering style that leaves even the most in-shape opponents exhausted.
Sonnen's chances of getting Evans to the ground are quite good; "Suga" has a takedown defense of 66%, which isn't terrible but also isn't great. And if there's one thing we know about Sonnen, it's that he will continually push through his opponent's offensive attack in order to put himself in the best position for a takedown.
Evans hits hard at times, but Sonnen has a durable chin; a knockout win for the former light heavyweight champion is not likely. That leads me to favor Sonnen in this fight, largely because I think he'll be successful at taking Evans to the canvas and keeping him there. It likely won't be exciting, but Sonnen will get the job done.
This one feels like Joe Silva took a long, hard look at Rory MacDonald's last few fights and said "okay, so you want to be the next Georges St-Pierre and be all tactical and whatnot? Here, have some Robbie Lawler."
The conversation probably didn't go like that, but you have to assume that's what Silva is thinking. To say MacDonald has not been lighting the world on fire might be an understatement, though I totally dig that he's mowed through five tough fighters without really breaking a sweat.
And that's why I think the UFC's best intentions here are going to backfire, and backfire badly. Lawler is not going to beat MacDonald. Just isn't going to happen. Lawler will consistently look for that knockout punch that has served him so well, and he'll never find it because MacDonald just won't show him enough chin. MacDonald is crafty, quick and strong enough to take Lawler down when he feels comfortable doing so.
In short, this one is going to be one-sided, and you should probably prepare yourself for a fight that is not so very exciting. You should also keep your money as far from this one as you can, because it's a very accurate line and not worth the investment.
And now, we come to our secondary play of the UFC 167 fight card: I'm recommending Tyron Woodley over Josh Koscheck, especially if Woodley continues to be the underdog heading into Saturday night.
Simply put, I have serious questions about Koscheck's ability to withstand a clean punch from a power puncher as he advances in age and competes with less regularity in the Octagon. I also have not been impressed with Koscheck since his decision to move away from American Kickboxing Academy; becoming your own boss is one thing, but becoming your own mixed martial arts coach almost always yields poor results.
I like Woodley to win this, and likely by knockout, which means I can recommend a small play on two things: Woodley at +100 and a prop bet on Woodley by KO/TKO.