The UFC returns to Las Vegas for the second time in three months with a familiar headliner: women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who defended her title against Miesha Tate at December's UFC 168 just up the road at the MGM Grand.
This is perhaps the most intriguing fight of Rousey's short career. Sara McMann is a true world-class wrestler and, like Rousey, also an Olympic medalist. The odds for the fight are closer than Rousey's fights usually are, but the champion is still a significant favorite.
Is there any betting value in the main event? What about the rest of the card?
Those are the questions I'm attempting to answer here. At the same time, I'm going to try and steer you away from lines where I feel there is no value. Managing your money properly, after all, is one of the biggest assets for any wise bettor.
If you're the type who is looking for a bit of risk, stay tuned for my "Just For Fun and $5 Parlay" on the final slide. For the rest of you, let's take a look at the fights on the main card.
"Sara McMann is the toughest opponent of Ronda Rousey's career."
It is a variation on a regular tagline used by the UFC to promote championship fights, especially when the general public isn't giving the challenger much chance of actually winning the fight. Sometimes it is true, but more often than not, it's just a marketing line.
This is one of the instances where it is absolutely true.
McMann is the most difficult stylistic matchup of Rousey's career, and it's all because McMann's wrestling is the same world-class level as Rousey's judo game. Ideally, we will get the answer to an intriguing question: What happens when Olympic-caliber judokas and wrestlers face off in the Octagon?
The answer: Well, it's a little more complicated. McMann is an animal of a wrestler, and I expect her to stop at least two of Rousey's takedown attempts. I wouldn't be surprised to see her put the champion on her back, if only for a limited amount of time. She has the skills and the strength to do so.
The problem, as I suspect McMann will find out, is keeping Rousey where you want her. It has been impossible for the champ's seven previous professional opponents to keep her in a position where she is not immediately dangerous.
Miesha Tate thought she had Rousey in an advantageous position against the cage in their UFC 168 bout in December. Moments later, Tate was on her back with Rousey in full mount, seeking an armbar.
That's what makes the champion so dangerous. She's as finely tuned an athlete as we have in mixed martial arts, and the same obsessive-compulsive nature that led her to become one of the best judokas in the world has also given her an accelerated learning curve in mixed martial arts.
So while it may sound strange to claim that McMann is not ready for Rousey—the champion has just one more professional fight on her record than the challenger, after all—the simple truth is that she probably is not ready. Not at all. She'll avoid a few takedowns, and she might even get a few of her own. But at the end of the night, she'll face the same fate that eight other women have.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey by submission
The Play: The market (82.14 percent) hews fairly close to my own line (75 percent), so we'll stay away from a play on the money line. Instead, look at Rousey by submission (-160) in the prop department. If Rousey is winning this fight—and I believe she is—there's a good chance she will do so by submission, and -160 is a great value line.
I'll state the obvious up front: Cormier is a massive favorite here and for good reason.
He is one of the world's best mixed martial artists, and he is facing a man who is making his UFC debut with a 4-0 professional record. Those four Cummins opponents combined for a losing record.
Needless to say, this is a big step up in competition for Cummins. But all is not lost. Though he is not on Cormier's level, he is a very good wrestler. And I've seen Cummins train in the gym with other UFC-level stars. He is very good and has a bright future.
Unfortunately for him, that future begins with Cormier, who is dropping from heavyweight for the first time. In reality, that weight cut is the only issue that may cause Cormier issues, and I do not believe it will. When I spoke with him last week, he was only nine pounds away from the light heavyweight limit and anticipated zero problems making his way to 206.
Cormier is a better wrestler than Cummins. He's a better striker. He's stronger. And most importantly, he has more experience in the cage. He's been in front of the bright lights before, while Cummins is famously stepping from his former job as a coffee-shop barista into the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
I do anticipate better days ahead for Cummins, and he'll make this more of a fight than many think he will. But in the end, Cormier will be too much, too soon.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier by TKO
The Play: Stay away from the money line. Instead, look at the "Cormier wins in Round 1" prop bet. It's currently trading at +175, and that's great value.
This is one of the most intriguing fights on the entire UFC 170 card, and it's also the fight with the most potential to turn sour and bore viewers to tears.
Rory MacDonald's ascension to the throne that was formerly held by teammate Georges St-Pierre was stopped by Robbie Lawler last year, but make no mistake about it: "Ares" is still one of the best prospects in the welterweight division.
He's young, strong and skilled in all areas of fighting. He began training every aspect of mixed martial arts at the same time from a young age, and he's continued to sharpen those skills as he's gotten older and advanced up the ladder.
But he's facing a tough task here. Demian Maia is still one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners on the planet. There was a time when he fancied himself a striker, and that spell did not go too well for the Brazilian. But since moving down to welterweight, he has returned to his jiu-jitsu roots with success; he lost a close fight to Jake Shields the last time out, but outside of that, he has been perfect at welterweight.
MacDonald is the favorite here, but I think the line is off. Way off, actually. Maia should be the slight favorite, so long as he focuses on grabbing MacDonald and controlling him. If he's able to do that, this fight will look at lot like his bout against Jon Fitch.
Prediction: Demian Maia by decision
The Play: Heavy underdog play on Maia
Before losing to Matt Brown in August, Mike Pyle had quietly racked up four consecutive wins at welterweight, including what may have been his biggest career win over Rick Story last May. Pyle is a fighter whom many forget about when considering the best in the welterweight division, mostly because he lacks the kind of hallmark win that can propel him to the upper tier in the rankings.
Beating T.J. Waldburger won't be that hallmark win, either. He is not a bad fighter, but when your most memorable career moment came courtesy of a knockout at the hands of Adlan Amagov, well, you're in trouble.
Pyle should be more of a favorite than he is, as I believe he's better in just about every area of mixed martial arts than Waldburger. I'll recommend a small play on him here.
Prediction: Mike Pyle by submission
The Play: Small play on Pyle
Every so often, a fight comes along that just looks fun on paper. That's what Thompson vs. Whittaker is: an interesting stylistic fight that should provide fireworks and be a great choice to open a pay-per-view.
Both men have stumbled once since making their UFC debuts—Thompson to Matt Brown and Whittaker to Court McGee. Thompson rebounded by racking up two more wins, while Whittaker hasn't competed since his loss.
This line is accurate. Thompson deserves to be the slight favorite, but if Whittaker pulls off the upset, it would not be a surprise at all. With no real value to be found, I'll urge you to stay away from this one and look elsewhere for your money-making opportunities.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson by KO
The Play: Stay away
The Just For Fun and $5 Parlay: Ronda Rousey + Demian Maia + Mike Pyle + Stephen Thompson + Alexis Davis ($5 to win $87.50)