As UFC ring anouncer Bruce Buffer would say, “It’s Time”...and this Saturday night, live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the highly anticipated UFC 168 takes center stage.
The main and co-main events feature two rematches for UFC gold as the face of women’s MMA Ronda Rousey (7-0) looks to defend her bantamweight strap against Miesha Tate (13-4), then newly crowned UFC title holder Chris Weidman (10-0) faces Anderson Silva (33-5), who aims to avenge his 4th of July loss.
Rousey is currently listed as a -800 betting favorite, with the take-back on Tate as high as +600. Many including myself and Rousey herself, believe the price should drop as bettors expect a much more competetive bout than their first, when Tate got caught in an arm-bar and was submitted towards the end of Round 1. In fact, Rousey was quoted as saying, “I was expecting the odds actually to be closer because I went to do all that movie stuff and I thought maybe more people would doubt me because of that. To see I’m up that much is kind of cool but no so great for friends.”
The reason Rousey pays attention to the betting line according to her is because the undefeated champion’s corner isn’t shy when it comes to backing their fighter. Just the opposite, Rousey claims her corner has stepped up to the window willing to throw down money on her in previous bouts. And why not, “ROI” (return on investment) has been extremely high thus far when you take into account none of Rousey’s opponents have survived the first round, meaning she’s turned a profit for supporters in less than 5 minutes every single time she’s stepped into the cage.
Bottom line, Rousey continues to improve every time she’s stepped inside the Octagon and the titlist has become an extremely well rounded fighter. There was never any question about her ability to grapple, possessing the sport’s most skilled Judo, even amongst the men. Coupled with her Brazilian Jui Jitsu game, and that patented arm-bar that Tate actually got out of the first time Rousey applied it when they fought in March 2012, it’s in the stand-up where the champion’s tried to evolve.
Having worked with the likes of the Diaz brothers and the “Scrap Pack” has undoubtedly done exactly that and it’s reflected in the fact she’s outlanded her opponents in her last two title defenses. But with that said, most would argue Tate’s got the advantage when the two are standing and striking. Personally I disagree, having seen Rousey continue to improve defensively and the numbers back it up. She’s been able to avoid 61% of her opponent’s strikes, compared to only 41% for the challenger. And she’s even more accurate, connecting on 56% of strikes while Tate lands only 4 of 10 on average.
The price on Tate may be very attractive at +600, I just don’t see anywhere this fight can go where she’ll have any type of advantage over Rousey. Granted, Tate may push the champion more than she did in their first meeting, but even if she is the first to survive to round 2, that’s not enough to cash a ticket. So either look to bet some props on Rousey or tie her up in some parlays with other match-ups to avoid laying all that chalk...or grab a tall glasss of water and swallow all that chalk knowing that a 12.5% ROI isn’t bad at all when it could be had in less than 25 minutes max.
PICK: ROUSEY by submission or stoppage
In the main-event oddsmakers sent the challenger Silva out as a -130 favorite and he’s since been bet up to as high as -165. In their first fight, Silva was around a 2 to 1 favorite so there has been an adjustment in support of Weidman. Even so, it’s obvious by looking at the betting line which reflects the challenger’s favored over the champion, that the betting market does not give Weidman credit for his second round TKO/KO win back in July.
I was in attendance for that card and happened to be on the side where Weidman took Silva down just 30 seconds into Round 1. I can attest Silva was able to avoid suffering any significant blows and wasn’t in any real danger even though Weidman attempted 2 submissions. But what did impress me was how easily Weidman passed Silva’s guard, which reminded me of the way Sonnen had in his first fight with “The Spider”.
Eventually Silva got back to his feet and until his arrogance cost him by allowing Weidman to land flush, he was beginning to outclass the much younger and less experienced challenger. Silva was also able to stuff a couple of take-down attempts, which comes as no surprise since he’s successfully defended 70% throughout his career. Even so, how the fight would have unfolded had Silva not been caught, we’ll never know.
The rematch has the makings of a chess match as both men try to dictate where the fight takes place. Silva has the edge in experience as Weidman has had only 10 professional MMA bouts and has fought only 7 rounds the last 2+ years. But Weidman is 9 years younger, and many question whether one fighter is peaking, while the other, older fighter is on the decline.
It really is a legitimate question when you add the fact Silva didn’t even want to fight Weidman the first time and was even contemplating retirement. With that said, I do believe the way he lost to Weidman and not having the title is more than reason enough to expect a motivated Silva on Saturday night.
Finally, there’s a side of me that believes Silva is the better MMA practitioner at this time and until we actually see the decline due to age, we shouldn’t automatically assume it’s here. And it would be a great ending to a Hall of Fame career, winning back his title and ultimately retiring on his own terms and with UFC gold around his waist.
But then there’s also a side of me that thinks Weidman may just be that opponent who has Silva’s number and we know that styles make fights. That side of me also sees a ton of line value by being able to get “plus money” on a fighter who’s already beaten the same guy in devastating fashion. And it’s also that side of me that can see Weidman not as intimidated this time around and not as overwhelmed by facing the so-called “top pound for pound” fighter on the planet. I believe the ticket in my pocket when I enter the arena to watch UFC 168 will be on the champion.
PICK: Chris Weidman
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @vegasrunner, at Pregame.com and on AM 1100 ESPN (also FM 98.9) on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. when he co-hosts First Preview. Contact Vegas Runner at [email protected].