Desert Dog here with tips and "Smart Bets" for UFC 80: "Rapid Fire" this Saturday, January 19, at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, England.
BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson are set to battle it out once and for all for the vacant lightweight title in the main event of the evening. In addition, Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabricio Werdum will clash to determine who has a leg up in the heavyweight division contender race.
UFC 80 isn't getting that much love from the fans. But that doesn't mean money-hungry bettors shouldn't take a few chances on this card.
In fact, the lower profile events are often the ones that turn out the best in terms of payouts -- especially when the line up is loaded with heavy favorites in the sportsbooks.
Let's get to it.
Here are the "Smart Bets" for UFC 80:
(Note: + = Underdog; - = Favorite)
Main card picks:
BJ Penn -280 (Bet $100 to win $37.71)
Gabriel Gonzaga -225 (Bet $100 to win $41.66)
Marcus Davis -260 (Bet $100 to win $41.66)
Jorge Rivera +275 (Bet $100 to win $275)
Wilson Gouveia -145 (Bet $100 to win $68.96)
Sam Stout -315 (No action)
Antoni Hardonk -340 (No action)
Paul Taylor -220 (No action)
James Lee +140 (Bet $100 to win $140)
Penn, Davis and Gonzaga +141 (Bet $100 to win $141)
As always, if you are going to bet only play with what you are willing to lose.
Most fights on this card are featuring heavy favorites, which is hard to argue against. However, the betting lines on all of the fights look right on except for two:
Jorge Rivera and James Lee.
Rivera is running as the underdog because of inactivity and not being a name that sells. Lee, on the other hand, comes in as an underdog because he is not well known. Out of these two underdogs Lee has the best chance of winning and is my straight pick in this match up.
In a matter of full disclosure, I have to mention that my Gouveia pick is partly an emotional call. Honestly, I despise "sausage tits" Lambert and always bet against him. Therefore, don't let any of my personal views sway you.
The other top three fights should go right down the line and actually make a very nice parlay option with Penn (-280), Gonzaga (-260) and Davis (-350) providing decent parlay odds (+141).
Main card bouts:
Joe Stevenson (+240) vs. BJ Penn (-280)
This should be a great fight but not a huge betting opportunity ... unless you believe Stevenson is going to catch BJ in one of those trademark guillotines.
Not to take too much away from "Daddy," but he has yet to face a top 10 lightweight, his signature move is a guillotine and his stand up is one step above Matt Hughes.
In Joe's last fight with Kurt Pellegrino it was easy to see the holes in his game. Pellegrino opened up the fight picking Stevenson apart from the outside as he continually moved straight forward. Next, Pellegrino took Stevenson down repeatedly to control the first half of the fight.
Of course during that first half Stevenson attempted six guillotines.
In the second half, Pellegrino seemed to gas and Stevenson was able to turn the tide and apply some nice ground and pound. However, even with Pellegrino gassed Stevenson was unable to get close to finishing the fight. Furthermore, on several occasions he left himself wide open for some sloppy sub attempts by Pellegrino.
Make no mistake ... every fight is new. But Stevenson has been very predictable in all of his past UFC fights and there's no reason to think that he's going to change everything that got him this far.
BJ holds the advantage in all aspects of this match up except strength. Typically when two fighters with good ground skills are matched up we'll look to their stand up as a possible decider. Ignoring the standup for now, "The Prodigy" is very dangerous from any position if the fight hits the ground. Stevenson's predictability will really lead into Penn's chances to counter and put Joe into some very bad situations.
Now for the stand up.
With BJ's reach advantage and surprisingly heavy hands, Joe could take some serious damage while trying to figure out how to get "Gumby" Penn on his back. Penn's ground and pound is very good, too. And even though he prefers to use it to soften opponents up for submissions, he can pour it on for a finish as well. BJ's record and the faces of many of his opponents are testament enough to his striking abilities.
The best chance Stevenson has for a win is a decision gained by getting Penn down and controlling him for the last three rounds. Of course there's always the 2 percent chance of being the first fighter to ever knock BJ out. A bet at -280 on Penn win net you a profit of 37.71 percent. It's not that exciting but it's better than investing in the stock market.
Prediction: Penn via submission (of the night)
Gabriel Gonzaga -225 vs. Fabricio Werdum +250
It's always interesting to see rematches when almost every variable has changed.
More than four years ago these two met in Jungle Fight 1. The fight took place in a ring, outside (in very high heat and humidity) and Gonzaga was 20 pounds lighter than Werdum.
To check out the first fight click here.
During the first meeting both fighters put on a good transition clinic for about a round and a half. After that it was a fight of attrition. These guys were toast ... soggy toast.
The rematch should look nothing like that.
With four years of experience, Cro Cop's head on a platter and a shot at the title under his belt, Gonzaga has gained a lot of respect and his odds are showing it. Gonzaga has shown some serious gains in striking ability and power. And if it does stay on the feet for more than one round Werdum is done.
Of course, we must remember that Gonzaga is also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and these two will put on a clinic if the fight hits the ground.
As for Werdum, his last outing against Andrei Arlovski really didn't help his image. Fabricio's greatest strength is his submission game, but he too often relies on others taking him down to get the fight where he wants it. His wrestling is surprisingly weak and if his opponent wants to keep a fight standing it's not too hard to do.
Gonzaga's current betting odds are -225. I would prefer a bet at -200 and this might happen with pre-fight hype and the reminder that Werdum won the first time around. I'll give it until Friday and if the odds don't improve I'll take the bet at -225.
Prediction: Gonzaga via technical knockout
Marcus Davis -320 vs. Jess Liaudin +285
Jess Liaudin has been training with Pancrase folks in England and Dan Henderson's Team Quest in Temecula, Calif. Jess has a very well rounded game with a strong base founded in karate and kickboxing.
His explosiveness and aggressive style have put him on a six-fight win streak. He's also used some interesting techniques to finish his fights, including some heel hooks and a spinning back fist.
His biggest weakness in this match up will be strength and he will also have a slight disadvantage in striking. Liaudin definitely has the skill set and power to finish any fight, I just think he's going to have a very hard time controlling Davis in any position.
Davis -- who trains with the Team Jorge Gurgel -- is often thought of a dangerous striker ... especially after seeing his knockout of Jason Tan.
Ironically, six of his last 10 wins were via submission. And no they weren't all rear naked chokes set up by ground and pound. Everyone who saw his last fight with Paul Taylor where he got nailed with a head kick, looked to be done, and then quickly transitioned into a beautiful arm bar saw the ground skills Davis has worked so hard on.
I believe Marcus' strength will be the deciding factor in this fight. He should be able to use it to gain the advantage wherever the fight goes.
Although both fighters like a fast pace, Jess seems to be more interested in the quick technical knockout finish and he may run the risk of gassing early. Davis is a machine and he's willing to grind for three rounds -- a trait that goes a long way in tough fights.
The only thing I don't like about this fight is the odds.
Marcus has all of the name recognition with bettors, which has translated into some inflated odds. I would prefer a bet in the -250 range, but I'm still putting my bet in on Friday no matter where the odds are. Davis is one of my favorite fighters in this division and should showcase his abilities well this Saturday.
Prediction: Davis via technical knockout
Wilson Gouveia -145 vs. Jason Lambert +155
Gouveia is yet another excellent American Top Team fighter whose been cruising quietly below the radar. He owns the distinction of being only one of two people to beat Jon Fitch -- a large feather in anyone's cap.
Stylewise, he's a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with very heavy hands and vicious kicks. Some might look at this match up and say the last BJJ specialist (Babalu Sobral) didn't do too well with Lambert and your right. But Wilson's style and ability on his feet is much better than Sobral's. His one UFC loss to Keith Jardine showed his ability to take some serious punishment as well as dish it out.
Jason "Sausage Tits" Lambert .. .ah, what can I say. The guy just bugs the shit out of me, so I guess take what I say with a grain of salt. With only one fight in 2007, Lambert wants to get back in the cage and try to make his move toward a contender spot.
That huge knockout over Sobral should have put him much closer to the front of the line, but apparently he bugs the shit out of UFC matchmaker, Joe Silva, as well.
Lambert's squat frame holds a lot of power and is the base of his ground and pound game. It's also his downfall when he's faced with a skilled striker. Jason is going to look to close the distance and put Gouveia in the sausage grinder.
The odds are actually spot on -- this really is a tough fight with Wilson having the overall advantage but Jason can finish any fight he's in. For Wilson it's just a matter of not making any mistakes and being patient. It's an easy pick for me and the price works, too.
Gouveia will likely catch Lambert with a head kick while he's moving inside. I'll finish my beer and smile.
Prediction: Gouveia via technical knockout
Kendall Grove -325 vs. Jorge Rivera +275
It's another The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) alumni scrap with both fighters sharing similar skill sets.
Kendall is a little stronger on the ground and Rivera is a little stronger in the stand up. Both fighters have just come off losses and have each lost to Patrick Cote.
Kendall fell out of his gameplan with Cote and got knocked out for it. He faces a similar threat in Rivera. Not to mention Jorge also boasts a very solid ground game.
Kendall's gameplan should focus on using his reach in the standup and those great knees when it moves to the clinch. Kendall's best shot at finishing this fight is probably with a submission, although in in seven years of MMA Rivera has only been submitted twice.
Rivera is a talented Muay Thai fighter with wins over Travis Lutter, David Loiseau and Dennis Hallman. Nine of Rivera's 14 wins have come by knockout or technical knockout. Obviously, he will want to keep this fight standing and his take down defense is good enough to let him do that for most of the fight. When the fight goes to the mat, Rivera will have two jobs, avoid the chokes and get back to his feet as quick as possible.
Rivera has the advantage in experience, strength and striking in this fight, while Kendall's advantage is in the ground game and overall aggression. Although I really like Kendall and believe he has a lot of potential, this is a very tough fight. The odds, however, are the result of popularity and not ability. This should be a -110/+125 fight with Kendall being a slight favorite, but with Rivera being a nearly 3 to 1 underdog I have to bet on his side.
Prediction: Rivera via decision
Sam Stout -315 vs. Per Eklund +260
Sam's elite level striking, iron chin and aggression should carry him pretty easily through this fight. Eklund has a decent record, but most of his recent wins have come by way of decision. He's got home court advantage but it's a very tough introduction to the UFC. In terms of betting the odds aren't too enticing for another chalk bet so I'll let this one go.
Prediction: Stout via technical knockout
Antoni Hardonk -340 vs. Colin Robinson +280
Hardonk's a very skilled kickboxer with some wicked kicks. His ground game is definitely his weakest area especially in terms of wrestling skills.
Watching Justin McCully lay on him against the fence for three rounds was the most painful thing I've seen in a long time. On the flip side, Colin is a solid boxer with very heavy hands but his gas tank and overall skill set are holding him back.
Hardonk has all the tools and power to win this fight. I'm also avoiding a bet here because of fairly heavy odds.
Prediction: Hardonk via decision
Paul Kelly +180 vs. Paul Taylor -220
Taylor looked very good against Crocota, relentlessly pushing the pace and finally finishing with the technical knockout in the third round. He also looked great against Marcus Davis in his last fight ... right up until he lost.
In short, Taylor is a very well rounded fighter and needs another solid win to secure more fights in the UFC.
Paul Kelly is unbeaten in his six professional fights, but beyond his record I don't know much about him. I like Taylor as the favorite in this fight, but without any knowledge of his opponent, I can't make any bet recommendations.
Prediction: Taylor via technical knockout
Alessio Sakara -150 vs. James Lee +140
In this one we have Alessio Sakara -- the highly touted striker who has lost three of his last five fights via technical knockout or submission. Alessio has also stated this is his last fight at 205 lbs. and will be moving to middleweight next.
That's not the picture of a confident fighter going in for a great battle.
This is the first UFC fight for James Lee but his overall record of 11-2 is full of impressive submission victories primarily in the King of the Cage (KOTC) promotion. Lee has never gone to decision, never been TKO'd, and has not lost since 2003.
This just looks like a very bad match up for Sakara and a great betting opportunity for us. These are the quiet little match ups I love to find. This is definitely a step up in competition for Lee but he has all the skills to win this fight.
Prediction: Lee via submission
That about does it for this installment of betting tips and advice for "Rapid Fire." Remember to bet smart. Betting is not for everyone. But if you want to take a stab at it head over to BetUs.com (Get a FREE $75 play with a deposit of $200 or more) or to compare competitive MMA lines visit Bodog.com. Enjoy the fights and good luck. Feel free to leave UFC 80 predictions and other thoughts in the comments section below.