There’s been one big theme so far this year when it comes to betting on the UFC, and that is: favorites have been dominating. Aside from UFC Fight Night 38 — which saw underdogs go 9-1-1 — favorites have been winning close to 75% of the time in 2014, which is well above the historical average. UFC Fight Night 40 saw some regression to the mean in that sense, as betting underdogs had their second-most successful card all year, going 8-5, including five of six on the main card (all of the closing odds can be seen here). With so many upsets, and nearly as many brutal finishes, the UFC’s latest trip to Cincinnati was definitely one to be remembered. Speaking of memorable bouts, Matt Brown (19-11) and Erick Silva (16-5, 1 NC) put on exactly that in the main event, as Silva nearly finished Brown early in the first round with body strikes and then some rear-naked choke attempts, but the Ohio native survived the initial barrage and — aside from being slowed by some body shots on a few separate occasions — dominated the remainder of a definite fight of the year candidate. Brown’s relentless pressure was simply too much for the Brazilian, who ended up earning loads of respect by hanging in the fight as long as he did, and this seemed like a foregone conclusion from the moment Brown escaped the early back control.
There is no doubt that Brown is one of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC, but he has still yet to beat anyone of real substance in the welterweight division. So even though a seven-fight win streak is something that jumps off the page, Brown shouldn’t be in store for a title shot. Instead, he should face a fighter who fits two criteria. First, that fighter should be in (or near) the top five at welterweight, and second, they should be able to wrestle. Hector Lombard is currently without an opponent, so that seems to be a natural bout to make and one of the few Brown might be able to win against a top fighter at 170, if he can outlast Lombard. The co-main event saw a resurgence of sorts for Costas Philippou (13-4, 1 NC). We’ve heard for years about Philippou’s “massive” punching power, with no real fruit to back up the claim. On Saturday night, that changed. Lorenz Larkin (14-3, 1 NC) had only previously been knocked out by Mo Lawal (on steroids) at light heavyweight, but the Cypriot cracked him with a straight right as he pursued and the Strikeforce vet couldn’t hold up. The win broke a two-fight losing streak for Philippou, and with hindsight being what it is, losses to Luke Rockhold and Francis Carmont don’t look so bad. Thales Leites has been on a bit of a tear since returning to the UFC and is in need of a step up in competition, something that I think Philippou could provide.
Daron Cruickshank (15-4) is a fighter who likes to win in stylish fashion, so while it was a bit of a surprise that he knocked Erik Koch (14-4) out in the first round of their bout, it was no shock that it came on the heels of a combination featuring two head kicks nearly in succession. Referee Gary Copeland let this fight go on way longer than it should have, as Cruickshank never gave his opponent a chance to get back in the fight following the kick. Koch is clearly not the fighter we all thought a couple of years ago, and it will be interesting to see where he goes after this loss. I would be quite interested in a match between Cruickshank and the re-invigorated Ramsey Nijem that we saw in Abu Dhabi. Nijem’s newly aggressive striking and ever-present grappling would provide solid challenges to see how Cruickshank is really developing. The upsets just kept rolling on the main card, as the seemingly always underrated Neil Magny (10-3) took home a unanimous decision over Tim Means (20-6, 1 NC) in a good, competitive fight. The difference for Magny was the ability to take Means to the ground and control position, as has always been the case when the ‘Dirty Bird’ is defeated in the UFC. It’s clear at this point that Means simply doesn’t have the grappling to compete in the UFC, so if he sticks around it will have to be with careful matchmaking. For Magny, I feel as though he’s in a similar spot to Igor Araujo. Both are winning fights and improving, but get very little publicity or respect from the betting public. It wouldn’t be a match that lights the world on fire, but it would make sense. You can always count on heavyweight MMA when you need things to go exactly as planned. Wait, what? Soa Palelei (21-3) was one of the few fighters on the night who stuck to the script, as he escaped a couple early guillotine attempts from Ruan Potts (8-2) and then showed off the brutal power in his ground and pound once again, knocking Potts clean out with a sneaky left hook on the ground. This makes it 3-0 for Palelei in his second UFC stint, and 11 consecutive victories — all coming by (T)KO — which to me means that it’s time for a step up. The only problem with that is this being the heavyweight division, there aren’t a ton of options. If Palelei looks up the ladder, he has to go all the way up to Gabriel Gonzaga or Rodrigo Nogueira to find an opponent with no scheduled fight, and the only “relevant” upcoming bout is between Brendan Schaub and Andrei Arlovski, another pair of heavyweights well above Palelei’s current standing. I suppose one of those four will do, but if Fabio Maldonado replacing Junior dos Santos earlier this week didn’t tip you off, the cupboard is pretty bare at heavyweight. In the opening bout of the Fox Sports 1 card, flyweight Chris Cariaso (17-5) continued to show that he is another perennially underrated fighter as he took a split decision over Louis Smolka (7-1) that most onlookers had a wider margin on. While Smolka’s massive size advantage kept the fight competitive because it allowed him to push Cariaso up against the fence, it’s clear the Hawaiian has a great deal of work to do from a technical perspective, as Cariaso was the better striker and grappler in this bout. Cariaso is now 7-3 in the UFC, with the only losses coming to former title challengers Michael McDonald (at bantamweight) and John Moraga, as well as former #1 ranked flyweight Jussier Formiga. The flyweight division is going to be a busy place over the next few months, as every top 10 125er aside from Joseph Benavidez, Tim Elliott and potentially Kyoji Horiguchi have bouts booked. With that in mind, I say let Cariaso have a shot at another former title challenger in Benavidez to see if he can finally get over that hump. Benavidez would be a wide favorite in that bout, but if he chooses to strike with Cariaso it would get very interesting. The undercard was no safer for betting favorites, as the two biggest numerical upsets of the night took place on the Fox Sports 2 portion of the card. Johnny Eduardo (27-9) was a +735 underdog (bet $100 to win $735) at 5Dimes Sportsbook, but proceeded to knock out Eddie Wineland (21-10-1) in the first round regardless. The win made Eduardo the second biggest underdog to cash in UFC history (regardless of what you read elsewhere, he was not the biggest), behind only Matt Serra. Only slightly to be outdone, Zak Cummings (17-3) handed Yan Cabral (11-1) his first career loss as a +475 underdog. With many bettors licking their wounds after a shocking set of results last night, the MMA scene will shift away from the UFC for a week as Bellator puts on their newly reconstructed PPV card next Saturday, while Titan FC takes over Friday night MMA duties for a week. The UFC returns the following week with a PPV of their own, as UFC 173 sports a bantamweight title defense as well as two remarkable feature bouts. Until then, keep it locked to MMAOddsBreaker.com for all of the latest odds and analysis.