Is this where everything falls apart for Jon “Bones” Jones? The Light Heavyweight champion is favored against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at UFC 187, but the MMA odds are moving toward the challenger.
Is this the Year of the Underdog in mixed martial arts? We just saw Rafael dos Anjos take the UFC Lightweight strap from Anthony Pettis at UFC 185 in Dallas, dominating all five rounds and cashing in at +400 on the MMA odds board. Winning the title was one thing – we were on dos Anjos, figuring he had value at this price. But we didn’t expect the fight to be so lopsided. Dos Anjos was all over Pettis like ants on a pic-a-nic basket.
That’ll make up for the last time we got burned by the underdog. Two months ago at UFC on Fox 14, we recommended Alexander Gustafsson in his Light Heavyweight main event fight against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (+260). Not only did Johnson beat Gustafsson like a drum, knocking him out in the first round, he did it in front of 30,000 very disappointed fans in Gustafsson’s native Sweden.
Which sets up one of the most intriguing title fights we’ve had in some time. Johnson will get his shot on May 23 at UFC 187 against Jon “Bones” Jones, the No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world at Sherdog. Jones has successfully defended his Light Heavyweight title eight times, against everyone from Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (+435) to Gustafsson (+660) to Daniel Cormier (+185). But after opening as high as –400 for his title defense against Johnson at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the UFC Odds have slipped as low as –265 for the champion.
From a betting perspective, we may have walked right into the perfect storm, where “buyer fatigue” over Jones intersects with public awe over Johnson’s recent path of destruction. Jones has never been as disliked as he is today; the champion has turned into something of a brandbot, especially in contrast to the outspoken Cormier. And Jones ended up testing positive for a cocaine metabolite before their fight at UFC 182. He spent one night in rehab and was fined $25,000.
Johnson is no stranger to controversy, though. The UFC released him three years ago after he failed to make weight for his fight against Vitor Belfort at UFC 142 – Johnson was 11 pounds over the Middleweight limit of 185 pounds. It was the third time that Johnson had missed weight in the UFC. Then it happened again for his next fight in Titan FC against David Branch.
Wisely, Johnson moved up to Light Heavyweight and got his career back on track. He put together five straight victories on the indie circuit – four of them by knockout – to earn another shot at the Ocatgon. Then Johnson dominated Phil Davis (–240) in a unanimous decision before knocking out both Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (+480) and Gustafsson in the first round. There was a brief suspension in between over a domestic violence case, but the case and the suspension were dropped.
You don’t hear too much about Johnson’s past indiscretions. People are more impressed by the sheer punching power he brings to the Octagon; Jones, on the other hand, is the LeBron James of mixed martial arts. Everything he does is dissected in the public eye, partly because of his sponsorship and branding efforts, and partly because he might be the best fighter in MMA history.
So how much of the movement in these UFC odds is due to public bias, and how much of it reflects Johnson’s actual chances in this fight? We don’t have any advanced metrics for that. But if you like Johnson in this matchup, you might want to put him in your UFC Picks right now, before he loses any more value. We’re more inclined to wait and see how low Jones can get, and if anything else noteworthy happens between now and May 23 to affect our decision.