by Jim Murphy, The Savage Science
This is part of a larger article that you can find at The Savage Science that explains a lot of theoretical considerations that come into play when handicapping MMA or, for that matter, any other sporting event. You really should head over and give it a read—you might actually learn something: UFC 98 Betting Preview @ The Savage Science.
Since we know that a lot of you Epic Carnival types just want our picks, here they are. Lines are from the highly respected Internet sports book
SEAN SHERK (-300) vs. FRANK EDGAR (+240)
This looks to be the biggest mismatch on the main card, and the line accurately reflects this. Edgar is a hard working young fighter from New Jersey—he's a tough guy with some decent punching power and a charming personality that has quickly made him a fan favorite. In theory, he's the kind of fighter we'd look to back as an underdog but this is a bad matchup for him. Sean 'The Muscle Shark' Sherk is simply a freak of nature. His workouts would be labeled 'torture' if held at Guantanamo Bay, and are even painful to watch on video. In a sport full of well conditioned badasses, Sherk may be the most insanely in shape badass of them all. Sherk's age (35) would give us pause was it not for his insane conditioning regimen, and his experience gives him a huge edge. His only three losses are to Matt Hughes (in his prime), Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn. His last four wins are against Tyson Griffin, Kenny Florian, Hermes Franca and Nick Diaz. Also of concern are Edgar’s comments that 'he doesn't know what kind of fight to expect'. You can be sure that Sherk knows what to expect.
Edgar is a nice kid who always has the proverbial 'puncher’s chance' but he's in here against a fighter who has only been knocked out by BJ Penn and GSP. Sherk is just the tightly wound type of guy who'd you'd expect to roll with a nickname like 'The Muscle Shark' and almost certainly 'impose his will' on Edgar. Look for Sherk to take Edgar down early and often and maul his way to an easy decision. At the high price, however, I'm not really interested in getting involved from a wagering standpoint.
DAN MILLER (-200) vs. CHAEL SONNEN (+160)
We'll take the dog price on our Portland, OR homeboy and Team Quest member Chael Sonnen. Biggest concern is the large amount of weight (36 pounds) that Sonnen had to lose to take this fight in a short amount of time. He was a late replacement for Yushin Okami, who was injured in training. Unless Sonnen looks like a walking dead man at the weigh in, we'll gladly take the price with a tough veteran. All of the Team Quest guys—from Matt Lindland on down—are just freaks of nature, double tough and technically proficient. Like someone asked me at the Affliction: Day of Reckoning show "I'd ask Matt Lindland if he puts milk on the nails he eats for breakfast in the morning, but I'm afraid he’d think that I was calling him a pussy by suggesting that he just doesn’t eat them plain." That's the kind of environment Sonnen trains in. Sonnen lost his last fight to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu god Demien Maia, and there's no shame in that as Maia may end up being the most formidable BJJ fighter in the sport's history. Sonnen once KO'd SAVSCI favorite Tim Credeur on a BoDog Fight event, and you’ve got to be a tough dude to do that. Miller is a solid fighter, but he's never faced anyone of Sonnen’s class.
CHAEL SONNEN +160 OVER DAN MILLER
DREW MCFEDRIES (+145) VS. XAVIER FOUPA-POKAM (-175)
Foupa-Pokam, who does have the cool nickname 'Professor X' was a late replacement for James Irvin. McFedries could be fighting for his UFC career, with two straight losses and four in his last six fights. Foupa-Pokam hasn’t shown much when he's stepped up in class, and is off a loss to Denis Kang. Were the price higher, might have some interest in McFedries in a matchup of journeymen fighters but as it stands we'll PASS.
MATT HUGHES (-260) VS. MATT SERRA (+210)
This matchup of aging fighters in the twilight of their career is interesting due to the personal animosity between the two. You can read more about that in 'The MMA Professor' Grady Roy's preview of the matchup at SAVSCI. Hughes has lost two straight and three of his last four, though they were to opponents at the very top of the MMA foodchain—as in GSP twice and Thiago Alves. After each of his previous two losses, Hughes has seriously considered hanging it up and win or lose this is all but certain to be his last fight. That's a good thing since he looked awful in losing to Thiago Alves, and reportedly suffered a torn MCL and a partially torn PCL in the loss. He never had surgery, but that might not be a good thing—Frank Shamrock suffered a similar injury awhile back, didn’t get surgery and it's almost completely destroyed his ability to 'shoot' for takedowns. For a fighter like Hughes who needs to control his opponent on the ground to win, that can be a problem.
Serra, meanwhile, has had his own injury issues. He's only fought once since his upset win over GSP in April 2007, that being a rematch loss to the French Canadian fighting machine a year later. He was destroyed by GSP in that fight, but given the reigning UFC welterweight champion's ungodly form since losing the belt there's no shame in that.
So let's go back to the sports gambling theory lesson from the beginning of this article—at -260, theoretical break even is 72.2%. To put it another way, think of a hypothetical circumstance in which Hughes and Serra fight 100 times. Would Hughes prevail in 3/4 of those meetings? At this point in his career, it's very doubtful. That's a lot of money to lay against an aging, physically broken down fighter who has already been thinking of retirement.
Oddly, Serra's injuries may have worked in his favor here—he's likely in better shape physically simply because he hasn't been fighting. He was pounded in his loss to GSP, but didn't suffer any serious physical damage or reinjure his back. And as a BJJ specialist who earned his black belt under the legendary Renzo Gracie, there's a lot of ways for him to win this fight. Should Hughes try to take him down and be unable to control Serra on the ground, it could be a made to order set up for a submission.
Ultimately, the crux of this handicap is that Hughes simply doesn't justify his -260 price and you've got to take the dog based on the value alone. In this case, you're getting a pretty good fighter in a decent situation for him to get the win.
MATT SERRA +210 OVER MATT HUGHES
LYOTO MACHIDA (-210) VS. RASHAD EVANS (+170)
This is a tough match to handicap, and serves as a good example of why just 'picking the winner' isn't a sufficient reason to make a bet. From a value standpoint alone, you’ve got to look at the reigning UFC light heavyweight champ Evans. He's undefeated, and has serious KO power as he demonstrated in beating Chuck Liddell to earn his title shot and in stopping Forrest Griffin to win the title. He's got underrated wrestling skills, and is a very well rounded fighter. In theory, he's the epitome of the 'live dog'.
Machida, on the other hand, is a freak of nature. He possesses surprising power, and most significantly has so far proved to be impossible to hit. His unorthodox Shotokan karate based style is almost impossible to replicate in sparring, meaning that if Evans is to be the first to 'figure him out' it'll be an uphill battle. It's a similar situation to fighting Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in boxing—his opponents have repeatedly said that there's simply no one they can spar with to prepare properly for his skill set. Machida is very likely the same type of opponent.
Long story short, the value suggests a play on Evans but I can't pull the trigger on it because my analysis of the fight suggests that Machida will win. In other words, there's no option but to PASS.
The best bet of the whole event is very likely on the undercard, but you'll have to head over to The Savage Science to get it! (UFC 98 Betting Preview @ The Savage Science)
And don't miss our LIVE UFC 98 ROUND BY ROUND on Saturday night! It's the best live fight narrative on the planet and only at The Savage Science.