Daniel Cormier went from a healthy –150 favorite to a slim +100 underdog before he beat Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at UFC 187. What can we learn from these UFC odds?
Good to have you back at the ranch. So did you get a chance to watch UFC 187 a couple of weeks ago? That was a hell of a card. There were tons of great fights, including the Fight of the Night between heavyweights Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne – arguably the greatest single round in UFC history. Fortunately for us, we had Arlovski in our UFC Picks at a tasty +360 underdog, up from +285 at the open.
Then there was that insane Light Heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. We didn't have a dog in this fight, but once again, the UFC odds were moving in the wrong direction; Cormier went from a –150 favorite to a +100 underdog before choking out Johnson in the third round. What gives?
They say hindsight is 20/20, which actually makes no sense: 20/20 is average vision, not perfect vision. Besides, hindsight can cloud our judgment sometimes. It's an easy trap to look at the way the UFC odds moved for these two fights, and laugh at the “square” betting public for dismissing the older Arlovski, or for falling in love with Johnson's sheer animal power.
So how do you explain the wheelbarrow full of cash that came in on Vitor Belfort just before his Middleweight title challenge against Chris Weidman? Belfort's no spring chicken at age 38, two years older than Arlovski. And he was going into the Octagon against an undefeated and rather fearsome Weidman. Early betting saw Weidman move from –375 to –525, but a late surge on Belfort pushed the line back down around –400. Interesting. Side note: We got that one right, too.
Let's try to retrofit a different explanation on the Belfort surge: Maybe it came from the Brazilian chapter of the betting public. MMA is obviously huge there, and Belfort is one of their favorite sons. Casual bettors can often be counted on to show blind patriotism when they bet on sports. Brazil's national soccer team is often stuck with more chalk than it deserves, for example.
It's a possibility. But look at the betting patterns from the middleweight fight between Brazil's Rafael Natal and Jamaica's Uriah Hall: Natal opened at +160 and soared to +315 by the time they touched gloves. The last time we checked, Jamaica wasn't an MMA hotbed, but we're always open to learning here at the home office. Natal ended up winning that fight in a controversial split decision, by the way. It was the wrong call from where we were standing, but it could have gone in either direction.
We don't have the betting demographics right here at our fingertips, but since we're speculating, let's consider another fight where the UFC odds may have been affected by national pride. South Korea's Dong Hyun Kim opened as a –270 favorite for his welterweight matchup with “The People's Warrior,” Utah's own Josh Burkman. Kim was bet down to –215 by the time he choked Burkman out in the third round. Too much love from the home fans?
This might be a question of style as much as nationality. Aside from fighters making the transition from PRIDE, we've often found plenty of value in guys who bring “unusual” styles to the Octagon. Kim is a 4th dan black belt in judo; Lyoto Machida is a 3rd dan in Shotokan Karate. Outliers like this often shine when thrown into the Octagon against more typical Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners.
Besides, this dynamic isn't restricted to Asian fighters by any means. You might recall the previous Light Heavyweight champion... what was his name again? Oh, right: Jon “Bones” Jones. He employed unorthodox striking as part of his well-rounded moveset and became the best fighter in the world. Come to think of it, the UFC odds were moving away from Jones when he was supposed to fight Johnson. Food for thought.