The UFC ‘Fight Night’ series returns this coming Saturday as the organization plays a key role in launching the Fox network’s new sports channel, Fox Sports 1. A total of six hours of live UFC fights will air in an effort to bring attention to the new station.
The card will be headlined by a group of UFC fighters who are no stranger to the spotlight, and should succeed in creating some buzz for the event. While former WEC champion Urijah Faber and former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem will certainly bring in some viewers, the real heavy hitters on this card are the two men in the main event, former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua and multiple time middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen. Those two will square off in a five round light heavyweight fight, still a relatively new phenomenon for the UFC when it comes to non-title bouts.
Since the organization made the decision to start putting on five round main events when a title wasn’t on the line, there have only been 22 fights contested as such. Not the largest sample size, but certainly worth a deeper look. Check out the figure below for the closing odds and results from these bouts.
UFC 5 Round Non-Title
The basics read as follows:
- Favorites have won 13 of 22 fights.
- Underdogs have won 8 of 22 fights.
- One fight (Vitor Belfort vs. Luke Rockhold) was a pick em as the lines closed.
- Only four of these bouts have gone to decision, the other 18 have all finished inside the distance.
- Of the 18 finishes, only three (Chan Sung Jung over Dustin Poirier, Mauricio Rua over Brandon Vera, and Urijah Faber over Scott Jorgensen) have occurred in the extra rounds.
The numbers go further than that, however. When examining the closing lines at 5Dimes Sportsbooks for each of these fights, favorites were expected to win 14.13 fights compared to their actual number of 13 showing a slight under-performance. Underdogs have been expected to only win 7.28 bouts, which means the 8 plus-money victories have been slightly more than the market has expected. Still, the actual wins being so close to the expected number indicates that both oddsmakers and the public have a pretty good read on these five rounders.
What that means as far as the moneyline goes for Sonnen and Shogun on Saturday night is that the fight truly can go either way. Sonnen can win with his brand of wrestling and high volume ground and pound. Conversely, Shogun could add yet another stoppage to his long list of finishes. Interestingly, despite his finishing prowess, Shogun is one of the few fighters who has seen the final bell in a five round non-title, and chances are if he goes 25 minutes again here, he’ll probably end up on the wrong end of the scorecards.
Speaking of scorecards, or a lack thereof, that’s really where the intriguing trends come in to play. As mentioned earlier, only four of 22 five round non-title bouts have gone to decision, a mere 18%. Unfortunately, archived odds are only available for fights going the distance back to UFC on Fox 3 (Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller). That spans the most recent 16 fights, only two of which have gone to decision.
Looking at the odds for those fights to go the distance, and 5.67 were expected to see the scorecards, while 11.19 were expected to be stopped. Clearly, fans and oddsmakers alike are undervaluing the effect those two extra rounds have on fights being finished. In fact, more fights have been finished in the extra rounds (3) than have gone to decision (2) since odds have been available to track such things.
How this effects Sonnen/Rua is far more interesting that trying to examine the moneyline. Currently the line sits at -120 for the fight to go the distance (54.55% chance) and -110 to be finished (52.38% chance). There have only been two other instances where a five round non-title bout has been favored to go to decision, and both of those bouts were finished in the second round. As far as these competitors go: in 28 career fights, Rua has only gone to decision five times (including three times in seven defeats). Meanwhile, Sonnen has seen 18 decisions in 41 career bouts, but only once in a losing effort.
The trend would seem obvious. If Sonnen wins, he is most likely going to do it by decision, whereas a Rua win likely comes by stoppage. The only problem for Sonnen in that line of thinking, is that he has already competed in four bouts scheduled for five rounds in his career, and he has been stopped before the final bell each time. For a fighter like Chael Sonnen, who has a tendency to implode, 25 minutes is an extremely long time to survive against an opponent the caliber of Mauricio Rua, even with his well-documented cardio issues.
Given the history of fights similar to this one, as well as the track record of the individuals involved, this is actually a difficult fight to bet. A case can be made for either fighter from a style perspective, and it could end early with a Shogun KO or go to decision with Sonnen using his wrestling effectively for the duration. Even the props for each fighter by their likely method of victory don’t offer a whole lot of value. Unless you have an extremely strong lean in this fight, it could be one to stay away from entirely.