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Betting on UFC 126: A search for the right underdog

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Justin M. Bowen

Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort face off at Mandalay Bay on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, during the UFC 126 press conference.

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The hype and anticipation among fight fans for this weekend’s UFC 126 card easily surpasses last month’s UFC 125.

Behind some of mixed martial art’s most notable names like Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin, UFC 126 is hailed as one of the can’t-miss events of the year with fights supposedly more intriguing than those at UFC 125.

The betting odds tell a different story. According to the MGM Resorts International sports books closing numbers, none of the fights on the UFC 125 main card featured a favorite of more than -160 (risking $1.60 to win $1).

It’s the polar opposite this weekend at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Each of the five favorites on the Main Card comes in as at least -200 (risking $2 to win $1), according to MGM.

Those kinds of figures make it a difficult night to reel in any profit unless you can extract value by finding the most overpriced underdog. So let’s give it a try.

In the Main Event of the evening, Vitor Belfort’s price is at +230 against Silva, who is a -280 favorite. Seems fair. Silva is the best mixed martial artist in the world and no one should be running out to take a stand against him unless offered outlandish odds.

It’s also hard to label the co-Main Event numbers as vulnerable. Forrest Griffin is a +160 ‘dog against Rich Franklin, a -200 favorite. Griffin is coming off of a 13-month layoff and hasn’t looked particularly impressive in any of his last three fights — two losses and a split decision win against Tito Ortiz. If anything, laying the vig with Franklin as a 2-to-1 favorite seems advisable.

Jon Jones, a -400 favorite, and Ryan Bader, a +300 underdog, meet in the third banner event of the evening. The number is worth grabbing for anyone who thinks Bader has a chance. That would take a braver soul than myself. I think Jones is downright dominant and should be undefeated if the referee would have stopped his fight against Matt Hamill at the proper time. The referee disqualified Jones for illegal elbows after Hamill was already injured severely.

Another -400 favorite vs. -300 underdog scenario occurs in the bantamweight fight between Miguel Torres and Antonio Banuelos. This might be the biggest mismatch of the night. Torres should have no problems with Banuelos. Parlaying Torres with Jones and/or Silva is a legitimate option.

That brings us to the final fight on the main card, a welterweight matchup between Jake Ellenberger and Eduardo Carlos Rocha that will take place directly before the co-Main Event and Main Event. Ellenberger is a -320 favorite over Rocha, who is +250 underdog.

Bingo. That’s too high. Ellenberger has more name recognition and has fought more notable fighters — guys like Mike Pyle and Carlos Condit. That’s the only reasoning I can come up with for why he is such a heavy favorite.

Rocha, who is undefeated at 9-0, will have an advantage if the fight goes to the ground. He’s submitted eight opponents and is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Ellenberger is only a blue belt, three ranks lower.

If Ellenberger makes one costly mistake or ill-fated maneuver, Rocha can capitalize. On a night with not much to like betting-wise, Rocha sticks out as a solid play.

Then again, you could just opt to save that money for an extra prop on the Super Bowl Sunday.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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