It's a fight card that has perhaps one of the most intriguing debuts/match ups in recent history: The true MMA introduction of former WWE star Brock Lesnar as he prepares to take on former heavyweight champion, Frank Mir.
In addition, we have the interim heavyweight title on the line in the main event as another former division champion, Tim Sylvia, takes on former Pride FC heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Other veterans such as Jeremy Horn and Ricardo Almeida will also make their returns to the Octagon after lengthy layoffs during the SuperBowl weekend pay-per-view (PPV) event.
It's a solid card in terms of match ups. Now it's time to see if it's a solid card in terms on money-making betting possibilities.
Let's get to it.
Here are the "Smart Bets" for UFC 81:
(Note: + = Underdog; - = Favorite)
Main card picks:
Frank Mir +120 (Bet $100 to win $120)
Tim Sylvia +160 (Bet $100 to win $160)
Ricardo Almeida N/A (No action)
Nate Marquardt -225 (Bet $100 to win $45.45)
Tyson Griffin -350 (No action)
Under card picks:
Kyle Bradley +500 (Bet $100 to win $500)
Rob Emerson +220 (No action)
David Heath -270 (No action)
Terry Martin -220 (No action)
NOTE: MMAmania.com recommends BetUS.com to place wagers (FREE $75 play with a deposit of $200 and FREE $175 play with a deposit of $500 or more ... you actually make money). However, Bodog.com is also a good place to bet and compare odds.)Just a quick glance back over the picks and you'll see I'm planning a five dog night with bets on four of those dogs. The nod for Emerson is a gut feeling that I'm not willing to back up with any cash.
The best bet and value of the night is taking the ridiculous odds on Kyle Bradley. In fact, if I only made one bet on the night that would be it. The rest of the main card fights are very hard to pick, and the heavyweight bouts in particular have a lot of us scratching our heads.
Whatever your bets are for UFC 81, make sure you look at the realistic outcomes and use solid bets to cover your bigger risks. You don't have to bet on them all, just stick to the fighters you know and match ups that give that best probability on a return.
Now onto a more detailed breakdown of the fights for those bettors who require a little more reassurance.
Main card bouts:
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (-180) vs. Tim Sylvia (+160)
As much as I like to crack on "Timmay," we have to all respect his chances in this fight.
Tim's biggest weakness is his ground game, which is a bit troublesome because he's in against the true heavyweight submission master. That's more than likely the biggest reason he's the underdog in this fight. The weakness in his ground game, however, is really a lack of ground offense. His submission defense is very respectable and his takedown defense is really good.
Of course, the big lug has strikes that can take out anyone in the division. And when he wisely puts his sprawl and brawl game plan into full effect it's a very dangerous combination.
Nogueira is one of the best heavyweights of all time and has only lost to Fedor Emelianenko (twice), Dan Henderson and Josh Barnett (he later avenged his losses to Hendo and Barnett). His submissions are a level above anyone else and he's constantly working for the finish.
What's surprising is that his takedowns are not that impressive. Typically, he gets to the ground by pushing opponents into the ropes and working into the clinch. On his feet he has respectable hands but will be at a serious disadvantage in this fight because of reach and speed (no, Tim's not fast, but his hands are). It should be noted that "Big Nog" has never been finished, although he was out in his last fight with Herring.
Overall, Tim has the right style and physical advantage to keep Nog standing and pick him apart. I don't see this being a very exciting fight, but it could be a good finish. Randy Couture also thinks Sylvia is going to finish this one and if there's one lesson to remember it's never bet against Couture.
Prediction: Sylvia via technical knockout
Brock Lesnar (-140) vs. Frank Mir (+120)
In the beginning of January Lesnar was coming in as a fairly heavy favorite (-200). At that time I suggested that because of experience and the match up of skills, Mir should not be the underdog in this fight and it was a great opportunity to bet on Mir (+160) . Now that some time has past and bettors with more MMA experience have started bringing in their money, the lines have evened up a fair bit.
Mir -- the former heavyweight champ -- has been slowly working his way back into top form since his motorcycle accident in 2004. Just as he was looking most confident and fit, he was quickly stopped by Brandon Vera at UFC 65. Nine months later he returned to face another very strong striker in Antonio Hardonk, finishing him with a kimura in just over a minute.
Mir has been in the cage with many larger and stronger opponents, but what we've never seen is how Mir deals with a great wrestler. Most of his opponents have not been trying to take him down, pass his guard and pound him out. Ideally, this style will feed into his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game -- something that Mir is fantastic at taking advantage of any mistake. On the other hand, perhaps Brock will fit the mold of Matt Hughes or Randy Couture who used great wrestling and athleticism to overwhelm fighters of many styles.
Brock Lesnar as an MMA fighter is pretty much a complete unknown. His debut fight did not provide a ton of insight. He did show he can still wrestle and is extremely strong, but his competition was quite weak and provided no test of any kind. A few fighters he trained with (Tim Sylvia) say he doesn't deal well with strikes or kicks and predicted an easy win for Mir. Of course, from Tim's perspective, he's remembering the Mir of old and his broken arm.
Lesnar's best shot at a win is simple game plan ... take down, control, pound, control, pound. He will likely bring the heat early and Mir will look to stay outside, weather the storm and search for errors and openings. Eventually, Brock will get Mir on his back and then the show will be on. Brock will have a very hard time passing the guard of Frank and while he is working for that control his arms, legs, and neck will all be in danger. Mir will likely take some significant damage on his back, but during one of the many scrambles, Lesnar will likely offer up a limb for the taking and Frank will capitalize.
In short, Frank should be the favorite in this fight because of experience alone, but in terms of a match up he has slight advantage with the combination of his stand up and jiu-jitsu, meaning he's a good value at any odds that have him as an underdog.
Prediction: Mir via submission
Nathan Marquardt (-225) vs. Jeremy Horn (+200)
Jeremy "I'm Gumby Damn it" Horn is more experienced than Jenna Jameson and probably just as good on the ground. However, Horn hasn't been seen in the UFC since 2006 he has kept busy fighting in the IFL and UAFC, as well as training fighters in Utah.
Horn is definitely an all or nothing fighter if he wins he finishes and if he loses he gets finished -- although only one of 100 fighters has stopped him via technical knockout! Also of interest, Jeremy has come down from 205. He's not the prototypical looking fighter, but his conditioning is never in question and the move down in weight will put him on better footing in terms of strength against most fighters.
Nate is a true athlete and also very experienced. His real advantage in this fight will primarily speed and to some extent strength. Technically on the ground and on the feet this fight is pretty even. Nate's best chances here are to work takedowns and grind out a decision. There is a chance that early on Nate might be able to pull off a submission, but most likely we'll just see a lot of working for position and scrambling.
Another big advantage for Nate is coaches like Greg Jackson and Mike VanArsdale, as well as training partners like Keith Jardine, Georges St. Pierre, Rashad Evans and so on. That kind of competition in training is invaluable.
Prediction: Marquardt via decision
Rob Yundt (No Odds) vs. Ricardo Almeida ( NO Odds)
With Alan Belcher out because of "severe bronchitis," he's being replaced by Rob Yundt out of Alaska. Yundt -- a very solid wrestler with an aggressive ground and pound -- trains with Doug Evans and the rest of the Wolfpack. There's not much on Yundt other than some YouTube video highlights -- feel free to check them out to get a feel for his style.
Ricardo Almeida is an extremely good jiu-jitsu fighter with big wins over guys like Marquardt and Ryo Chonan in Pancrase and Pride. However, that was in back in 2003-04 and a lot has changed since then. If you look back six and half years to his UFC days he went 1-2. UFC losses aside, the majority of his wins have come by way of decision and in a fight against an aggressive fighter he won't want the judges involved.
I don't usually like a fighters chances when they've been out for three years, but considering his experience and a new opponent who's coming in on less than a weeks notice, I have to think Ricardo will handle Yundt. With Yundt's aggression it could be an exciting fight though. Having said that, win or lose Rob will very happy to be in the UFC and have a shot at stepping up his career.
No odds are available but unless they're really good I won't be betting with this much uncertainty.
Prediction: Almeida via submission
Tyson Griffin (-350) vs. Gleison Tibau (+300)
Tyson has propelled himself into to the upper ranks with his recent wins over Clay Guida and Thiago Tavares. In fact, if he didn't have the one loss against Frankie Edgar he'd more than likely be second in line for a title shot.
One other note on his record: He's the only guy to beat WEC Featherweight Champion, Urijah Faber (2005).
Griffin laid the match up out pretty well in interviews leading up to this lightweight tilt, saying Gleison is very similar in style and strengths to his last opponent, Tavares. It takes sharp striking and very slick wrestling to have any shot at controlling Griffin and chances are very low for pulling out any submission on him.
Gleison was welcomed to the UFC by being TKO'd by NickDiaz. Since then, however, he's had some easier competition and built a solid record. Training with American Top Team he's develop a very well rounded game that is centered on his jiu-jitsu. Now he has to put that game to the test against his best competition to date. His weakness in past fights has been leaving himself open to strikes down the pipe. In addition, he'll have to defend against the wrestling skills of Tyson as well as his inside striking and ground and pound.
Both fighters are very dynamic and this should be a very exciting fight. Tyson holds the advantage in wrestling and ground control, Gleison holds a slight advantage in the stand up, but either fighter could finish with their hands. If Gleison can gain top control he could score some important points, but even with strong jiu-jitsu I don't see him finishing the fight on the ground.
By the end of three rounds I think Griffin will have outworked Tibau, missing the technical knockout he wants but securing another important win on his road to a title shot.
Unfortunately, the odds don't show how close this match up is and there's no real value in a bet.
Prediction: Griffin via decision
Under card bouts:
Chris Lytle (-600) vs. Kyle Bradley (+500)
No need to look at fight styles for this one ... let's go straight to the numbers.
Overall, Chris Lytle has only won 54 percent of his fights. And in the UFC he's only won 30 percent! His opponent, on the other hand, Kyle Bradley, has won 76 percent of his fights and of those wins 92 percent were finishes.
Therefore, there's no need to crack out the abacus because the odds just don't add up. Lytle should never be a 6 to 1 favorite against anyone in the UFC ... period. The odds the books are offering are purely a byproduct of name recognition.
In short, this is a betting opportunity everyone should consider.
Prediction: Bradley via technical knockout.
Terry Martin (-220) vs. Marvin Eastman (+190)
It's good to see Eastman giving it a shot in a new weight class, but I'd be even happier to see him working on his ground game. Although Marvin is a very confident fighter, his game is still limited to his stand up. And in this match up I think Martin holds the advantage there because of his power. On the ground Martin has an even bigger advantage.
Terry is much smoother and technically sound in all aspects of the game and should eventually find his opening. I'm avoiding betting on this one only because I see more value in the Lytle fight and most of the main card bouts.
Prediction: Martin via knockout
Keita Nakamura (-265) vs. Rob Emerson (+220)
K-Taro was an unbeaten fighter (14-0) before he arrived in the stacked UFC welterweight division. He quickly dropped two decisions to Drew Fickett and Brock Larson before realizing, "hmm ... I need to cut weight to be competitive in the UFC."
Now in his first lightweight fight he gets the mildly skilled and unconfident Rob Emerson. Most of Nakamura's wins have come by way of submission and oddly every last one of those (eight) were rear naked chokes.
Therefore has Emerson been practicing his choke defense?
He says he's changed everything about his training, diet and life in general. He says he's running over the guys at the gym and ready to show everyone the real fighter he's always known he was. OK, let's see it! He's got heart and pretty solid stand up. Rob's problem was always mental.
I'm not putting any money on Rob, but I will give him the chance to prove himself. Based on past performances Nakamura is an easy call but something tells me to give Rob the nod here.
Prediction: Emerson via decision
David Heath (-270) vs. Tim Boetsch (+210)
I'm tired of writing and David Heath bores me.
Boetsch is a wrestler and apparently an aggressive fighter. I don't know anything about him, but I hope he lights a fire under Heath's ass. Heath dropped two fights to very solid opponents. Now it's do or die for his UFC career. As much as I'd like to say die, Heath has all the skills need to control a wrestler and grind out a snoozefest decision.
My vote is that his one is least likely to make it on the PPV broadcast.
Prediction: Heath via decision
That about does it for this installment of betting tips and advice. Remember to bet smart.
Enjoy the fights and good luck. Feel free to leave predictions and other thoughts in the comments section below.