Unlike most sports, fans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship can dictate who fights for a title and who doesn’t.
That muscle is being flexed heading into Saturday’s UFC on Fox 4, where fight fans wouldn’t accept Brandon Vera as a true challenger to the light heavyweight crown after UFC president Dana White stated the winner of the Vera vs. Maurício Rua bout would get a shot at the 205-pound belt holder.
Vera, who is just 1-2-1 in his last four bouts and never really lived up to the hype in the UFC, is seen as an unfit challenger who shouldn’t even be in the conversation for the light heavyweight strap. So, like any smart business, the UFC implemented “The customer is always right” philosophy and back peddled.
White changed his tone and included Saturday’s 205-pound matchup between former title holder Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader into the contender mix, stating “Whoever wins the most impressively on Saturday night gets the shot at the title.”
That dangling carrot has spiced up the cable TV card and presented quite a conundrum for MMA bettors looking to wager on the dual main events. Vera and Bader both enter their respective fights as similarly priced underdogs, with Vera at +280 versus Rua (-370) and Bader set at +260 against Machida (-345).
Renowned MMA oddsmaker, Joey Oddessa, doesn’t like either man’s chances but believes if one underdog has a better shot at shocking the sport at UFC on Fox 4, it’s Bader. The American enters the weekend with a 14-2 record, with those two losses coming against elite-level fighters in reigning light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and UFC legend Tito Ortiz.
“Bader is my logical choice if there would be an upset because he is a wrestler and a very good one while Vera isn't particularly outstanding at anything,” Oddessa told Covers. “On the flip side, you wonder how serious Rua is taking Vera considering Vera hasn't looked good in ages.”
Bader’s opponent, Machida, was once the most feared striker in the UFC but hasn’t been the same fighter since winning a controversial decision over Rua at UFC 104 then getting knocked out cold in the rematch at UFC 113.
“Only Machida knows what’s going on in his head,” says Oddessa. “He has all the talent in the world but figuring out what's in his head is tougher than solving the offensive riddle he presented in years past.”
The former champ is just 1-3 in his last four bouts. Following the loss to Rua, Machida dropped a decision to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and scored a KO victory over sacrificial-lamb Randy Couture before giving Jones a run for his money, losing via submission at UFC 140 in December.
The promise of a rematch with Jones – if Jones defeats veteran Dan Henderson at UFC 150 – is more than enough motivation for “The Dragon”. But will the pressure put on Machida and the other light heavyweight contenders to impress the crowd skew their game plans and force them to take bigger risks?
“The time for pressure and worrying is over. It's fight day focus time,” says Oddessa. “Looking ahead and losing focus usually results in a loss in any sport. As professionals in the UFC, I don't think or see why it will change up at all if they have common sense.”
UFC on Fox 4 leans
Maurício Rua (-370) vs. Brandon Vera (+280)
Oddessa says the lines on the favorites will come down on fight night, which has us waiting and watching for the good price on Rua. Shogun is a changed man after the loss to Henderson, but for the good.
Lyoto Machida (-345) vs. Ryan Bader (+260)
Machida is so slick it’s going to be tough for a wrestler like Bader to get to him. However, Bader has shown some KO pop and could get Machida on his heels if he lands early and often.
Joe Lauzon (-125) vs. Jamie Varner (+100)
Varner comes in as a late replacement, throwing a curveball at Lauzon who was preparing to face Terry Etim. Varner is more of a brawler and holds solid value as a underdog.
Mike Swick (-240) vs. DaMarques Johnson (+185)
Swick has been out of the octagon for two years and has a loyal following thanks to his stint on the original TUF, which makes me feel like he’s overvalued for this bout with an unpredictable brawler.
Odds provided by Sportsbook.com.