The Ultimate Fighting Championship will present an 11-fight card Saturday night at Key Arena in Seattle for UFC on Fox 5. The main event will feature Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson defending his lightweight belt against No. 1 contender, Nate Diaz.
As of early Friday morning, most betting shops were listing Henderson as a minus-160 favorite. Gamblers can take Diaz for a plus-130 return (risk $100 to win $130).
The oddsmakers feel as if this title bout will go the distance. Most books have minus-180 odds for the fight to go the five-round distance (risk $180 to win $100), while the number is plus-150 for either man to produce a finish.
Henderson (17-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC) won the 155-pound strap by capturing a unanimous-decision victory over Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan. VegasInsider.com scored the bout 49-46 in favor of Henderson.
In the rematch at UFC 150 in Denver, Henderson prevailed by split decision in a controversial scoring by the judges. VegasInsider.com had Edgar as the clear-cut winner by a 49-46 count.
Henderson hasn’t tasted defeat since losing his World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight title to Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis at WEC 53 in December of 2010. ‘Smooth’ has won five in a row in the Octagon with additional victories over Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Clay Guida.
For bettors looking at the total, we should point out that each of Henderson’s last six fights have gone to the judges and three of those were five-round affairs.
Diaz (16-7 MMA, 11-5 UFC) has been on a roll since returning to the lightweight loop following a humbling decision loss to welterweight contender Rory McDonald at UFC 129 in Toronto. The younger Diaz brother has produced the three best performances of his career in wins over Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller.
Diaz garnered Submission of the Night honors with his finishes of both Gomi and Miller, and the Stockton, Calif., native earned a Fight of the Night bonus with his unanimous-decision win over ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone.
Like his brother Nick Diaz, Nate fights with flash and a brash attitude. Although Nate Diaz is more humble than Nick and certainly handles the media much more comfortably, there’s little difference between the two inside the cage.
Nate often taunts his opponent, raising his hands in the air before dealing out ‘Stockton Slaps’ either to himself or his foe. He is undoubtedly the most technical striker in the lightweight division.
In short, this matchup has greatness written all over it.
Jason Floyd of The MMA Report told VI, "With all of his fights in the UFC having gone to a decision and coming off two close wins over Edgar, Henderson has something to prove in this fight. Diaz is a dangerous submission fighter, so I expect for him to keep this fight standing. On the other side, look for Diaz to attempt to get into the head of Henderson with trash talking since Henderson has openly talked about he has been working on this in his training camp."
Prediction: I love both of these fighters, but I’m all over Diaz as an underdog in this bout. Both men have incredible cardio and Henderson will have a strength advantage, but I think Diaz’s boxing will be the difference. Diaz owns the second-most submissions in UFC history with nine, but Henderson has some of the best submission defense in all of mixed martial arts.
Perhaps all the credit should go to Edgar, but there was just something about Henderson’s last performance that seemed troubling. The champ had previously been looking sharper with each UFC outing, but he certainly wasn’t as impressive in the Mile High City. (I still have ZERO idea how Henderson won the decision over ‘The Answer!’)
Maybe it’s just a hunch here, but this feels like Diaz’s time to me. His last three performances have been flawless, mistake-free outings. I think Diaz wins a decision by a 49-46 score, leaving Henderson’s face battered and bruised unlike we’ve seen in his prior Octagon appearances.
The co-main event will pit former light heavyweight champ Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua against rising star Alexander Gustafsson. Just like the B.J. Penn-Rory McDonald bout we’ll discuss in a moment, this is a matchup of a proven warrior looking to get back to the top colliding with an up-and-comer with a title shot within reach.
Most spots are listing Gustafsson as a minus-240 ‘chalk’ with Rua available at plus-190 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $190).
Gustafsson (14-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) has won five consecutive fights since suffering his lone career loss to Phil Davis by anaconda choke late in the first round at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi. The six-foot, five-inch Swede is coming off a unanimous-decision victory over veteran Thiago Silva at UFC on FUEL TV 2.
‘The Mauler’ also owns wins over James Te-Huna, Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko.
Rua (21-6 MMA, 5-4 UFC) is one of the most accomplished 205-pounders in MMA history. Even though the vicious Brazilian striker is only 31 years old, he has delivered and taken loads of punishment throughout his career.
His last two fights have been extremely grueling. Rua’s unanimous-decision loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 139 less than 13 months ago earned 2011 Fight of the Year honors and is one of the best back-and-forth wars in the history of the sport.
Rua’s last time out, he captured a fourth-round knockout victory over a game Brandon Vera, who gave Rua all he wanted and more. Both fighters had the other in trouble multiple times, but Rua was able to score the KO late in the next-to-last stanza.
Prediction: This is a big step up in competition for Gustafsson, who is similar to 205-pound kingpin Jon Jones in terms of size and length. And we all saw how badly that went for Shogun.
Nevertheless, I can’t resist the opportunity to back Rua at such a generous underdog rate. Diaz is my favorite play of the night, but I also recommend taking Rua for the lucrative payout.
You know a card is stacked when a welterweight showdown between Rory MacDonald and B.J. Penn isn’t the main event, much less the co-main event. Most books have the 23-year-old MacDonald installed as a minus-300 ‘chalk’ with Penn available for a plus-240 payout (risk $100 to win $240).
MacDonald (13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is the future of the 170-pound division. Barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, I can’t fathom him without a belt around his waist in the next 2-3 years, if not sooner.
The only blemish on MacDonald’s impressive resume is a knockout loss to Carlos Condit with only seven seconds remaining in the fight. MacDonald dominated the first two rounds, but Condit was able to rally in the third and get the finish at UFC 115 in Vancouver.
MacDonald would have a muscle advantage over any welterweight in the world not named Georges St. Pierre. He can strike, too, but his plan against Penn will be to use his wrestling to get top position and deliver ground-and-pound punishment.
Penn (16-8-2 MMA, 12-7-2 UFC) is one of only two fighters in UFC history to have held belts in two different divisions. Without question, he’s one of the greatest to ever step foot in the Octagon.
However, the Hawaiian has a 1-3-1 record in his last five bouts dating back to April of 2010. Conventional wisdom tells us that Penn basically got bored with his utter domination of the lightweight loop for years.
Penn simply lacked the endurance to defeat Edgar in their two fights. After bouncing back with a 21-second KO of Matt Hughes to win their trilogy, Penn fought Jon Fitch to a draw at UFC 127. But his last outing was a humbling experience.
Nick Diaz picked Penn apart with his boxing, especially in the later rounds. Only GSP in his second fight against ‘The Prodigy’ has dealt out such punishment. Diaz won by unanimous decision, prompting a swollen Penn to tell Joe Rogan that he was done.
But Penn’s retirement didn’t even last a year. In true warrior fashion, Penn isn’t getting any semblance of a warm-up fight to brush off the rust. He is facing one of the organization’s most promising prospects.
Floyd said, "MacDonald will have a huge size advantage in the fight, but he is taking on a motivated Penn who appears to be in the best shape of his career. If Penn can keep the fight standing, he has a chance to win. However, if the fight goes to the ground, he is in trouble."
Prediction: Penn certainly has a puncher’s chance and I have no doubt that the first round will be very competitive. With that said, I think MacDonald is the worst possible matchup for Penn at this point in his career. Nobody wants to see it, but I believe MacDonald is going to get a takedown as Penn begins to tire at some point in the second round. From there, it’s going to be brutal ground-and-pound treatment. MacDonald will get a KO finish in the third round or win a unanimous decision. To be clear, however, I don’t recommend laying the huge price on the favorite because Penn could make something happen in the early going before cardio becomes a factor.
The first fight to kick off the FOX card at 8:10 p.m. Eastern will be between Matt Brown and Mike ‘Quick’ Swick. Most spots have Quick as a minus-170 ‘chalk,’ while Brown is a plus-140 underdog.
In a featherweight match, I like the chances for Nam Phan (18-10 MMA, 2-3 UFC) to pull an upset as a generous underdog (+240ish) against Dennis Siver. The German kickboxer has won five of his last six fights, but this is only his second appearance in the 145-pound division.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--On Thursday in Seattle, Dana White announced Ronda Rousey as the UFC’s first woman champion. Rousey, who has become one of the most famous female athletes of all-time the last 18 months, will grace the Octagon for the first time in the main event at UFC 157 on Feb. 23 in Anaheim. 5Dimes has installed Rousey as a -1500 ‘chalk’ vs. Liz Carmouche, who is plus-700 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $700).
--In other developments at yesterday’s presser, White indicated that Nick Diaz, not Johny Hendricks, will face GSP for the welterweight belt in early 2013.
--I was extremely disappointed when Lavar ‘Big’ Johnson had to pull out of his heavyweight showdown with Brendan ‘The Hybrid’ Schaub due to a groin injury last week. Schaub was taken off the card altogether. This was going to be a stand-up slugfest. Floyd told VI, “This was going to be KO of the Night guaranteed.” Let’s hope we get the same matchup ASAP. During Tuesday’s edition of ‘UFC Tonight’ on FUEL TV, Ariel Helwani reported that Schaub still wants Johnson but if he’s not healthy enough soon, Schaub would like to fight Cheick Kongo.
--The UFC announced this week that heavyweights Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt will face each other at UFC on FUEL TV 8.
--Dominick Cruz’s return from ACL surgery hit a big speed bump the day before Thanksgiving. The UFC’s bantamweight champ re-injured his knee and had to undergo another surgery that will keep him out another 6-9 months. Therefore, Renan Barao will defend his interim 135-pound belt against Michael McDonald at a to-be-determined date and venue.
--Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone will finally face Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis at UFC on Fox 6 in Chicago on Jan. 26. Most books are listing Cerrone as a minus-130 favorite with Pettis available at an even-money price.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.