UFC on ESPN 3: Gambling Odds on a Heavyweight Main Event

Ngannou vs Dos Santos
Prize-fighting is the only sport in which the perceived “ultimate” champions are the slowest-paced competitors. Just imagine if NBA teams ran slower up-and-down than Division 2 teams, or if Manchester City lacked the team speed of Huddersfield.

Yet when we talk about “weight classes” in other sports, it’s an indirect metaphor. Everyone knows that the Women’s Bantamweight division of UFC has been populated by some of the greatest pound-for-pound competitors in the world. No massive heavyweight can fire-off a right hand with the speed of Ronda Rousey. The heavyweight delivers a much, much more crushing blow on average. Which one is the better fighter? It depends on whether you think the Octagon is a science or a war.

Fascination with heavyweights goes beyond the knowledge that a champion of the division could knock-out any lightweight or flyweight. I believe – and I haven’t read any other bloggers who are saying this – that fans have a natural tendency to enjoy a slug-fest in slow motion as opposed to light-speed.

Did you ever see 2 tiny fighters with all the quickness in the world, throwing punches (and kicks, if it was a UFC fight) like a pair of avatars getting button-mashed in a video game?

It’s not always that interesting or fun to watch because the eye can’t follow the action in real time. People often laugh “look at those ladies go!” and then change the channel.

If we judged speed to be the foremost crucial skill and claim-to-fame of any boxer or MMA combatant, as we do in American football, baseball, track & field and other genres, then guys like Ryan Garcia might be among the most celebrated athletes in the world:

Heavyweights can win with speed. But they don’t necessarily need it. Consider what happened in Las Vegas prior to the George Foreman vs Michael Moorer time bout in 1994.

Foreman was a tank in his early 40s, knocking-out opponents with deliberate wood-chopping punches backed up by an iron chin and fast feet. By the time he met Michael Moorer at age 46, Foreman couldn’t even get around the ring quickly, let alone throw punches with any kind of speed.

Bookmakers thought that the public was a giant sucker before the fight, taking action on 2-to-1 markets for Big George even though most expert-prognosticators (most of them obsessed with speed, tactics, stats, and trends) gave Foreman little chance to win due to his advanced age and slowness.

Turned out that the bettors were on to something. George actually used his slow feet as a weapon, luring Michael Moorer into trying for a knockout while putting his own chin in tasty range.

Why would a deliberate old man’s knock-out punch become more iconic in America than a million 15-punch combinations from agile lightweights? Foreman’s popularity, of course, and the romance of the Heavyweight title played a huge role in the TV ratings. But another reason is because it’s easy to watch and see Moorer falling into a trap before getting his lights punched-out. It’s not so easy to watch flyweight competitors twist into a 2-man pretzel and then unload 50 strikes in 20 seconds.

What did Americans fall in love with more, Hulk Hogan staring at Andre the Giant in fear and anger before unloading a cobblestone right, a single kick, and a body slam? Or a generation of “work-rate” TV wrestlers who came later, flying and flipping at such a rapid beat as to make the Golden State Warrior cheer squad look like a stoner metal band? I rest my case.

UFC betting sites don’t tend to go to sleep on aging combatants too often, and they’re certainly attuned to the popularity of slow, suspenseful Heavyweight division battles in the Octagon. But there’s a potential downside to heavyweight fights as well.

What happens when there’s no speed, no agility – and no drama?

When flyweights have a cautious bout, their fans generally have no qualms analyzing every subtle bob, weave, and armbar, and adding-up armchair scorecards to see what a 3-round or 5-round decision might be. Such fanatics are usually purists about their prize-fighting anyway, having already seen enough blood and carnage for a lifetime.

But when 2 revered heavyweights are expected to clobber each other, and the bout turns into a slow jab-fest instead?

Now that’s gonna provoke some long faces in the front row…and in bars around the world.

Francis Ngannou Headlines UFC on ESPN 3

Francis Ngannou will take on 35-year-old Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC on ESPN 3 on Saturday night 6/29. Like most premier free-cable MMA broadcasts, the fight is highly-anticipated as dreams of a slug-fest and a KO for either fighter drive exact-outcome betting markets and moneyline action from Syracuse to San Diego.

But it’s far from certain that the main event will end in a vicious bloodbath. The telecast could be just as likely to end with a whimper as with a bang.

That’s true, of course, for any bout in any weight class. But it’s impossible to bring up Ngannou and not think of the bizarre, disappointing rounds that occurred in his bout with Derrick Lewis last July.

It’s not as if the combatants betrayed any intentions to phone-it-in for the battle in pre-fight interviews and remarks. Ngannou and his fearsome opponent spoke in terms of “standing up” to each other’s power and retaliating with shots of their own.

This handicapper, among others, predicted a short bout that would end in a TKO.

Instead, the outcome was one of the most inexplicably boring results in UFC history.

Perhaps Ngannou felt challenged by the overwhelmingly negative fan response to the fight, or perhaps he felt nothing at all about losing what had turned into essentially a sparring partners’ workout last summer. But he’s come back into form with a vengeance, scoring a pair of 1st-round KOs heading into the ESPN bout next Saturday night.

Reviewing Ngannou’s fight in February, Joe Rogan mentioned that it could be hard for aging strikers to learn the mat-grappling skills necessary to take down opponents who can punch and kick as hard as they can. Ngannou is considered the foremost power-puncher in MMA, but perhaps it was his reluctance to go to the mat that kept him from feeling confident against Lewis.

That, however, doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess the skills. Until 2016, Ngannou was submitting fellow combatants with a variety of holds. It is only in recent years that his striking power has become the sole topic of conversation.

Meanwhile, the other main event combatant on the ESPN card appeared to be over the hill to some spectators when losing to Cain and 2 other fighters while getting-by with decision victories to tread water in the W/L column in his early 30s. Junior dos Santos is now 35 years old, but an improved heavyweight brawler who is displaying some of the best form of his career.

Dos Santos has scored 2 KO wins in a row, including a quick dismissal of Lewis in March.

Like the Foreman-Gerry Cooney fight that set up Big George’s comeback title bids in Heavyweight boxing, it could be easy to disregard the dos Santos KO of Lewis as a big, old fighter knocking-out another big, old fighter.

But take a step back and look at the skill set and aggression that Cigano has displayed in his last 2 trips to the Octagon – and realize that Francis Ngannou might not have the option to play it safe on ESPN.

What do bookmakers think as action begins to ramp-up on the Ngannou-Dos Santos main event?

UFC on ESPN 3: Betting Odds on the Main Event

Bovada Sportsbook has (-260) on Ngannou to win the fight, with a (+200) line on dos Santos to prevail.

Since we’re publishing our preview 10 days before the bout there are not yet any “prop” odds at Bovada to speak of – on exact-round outcomes or anything else.

But the moneyline is fascinating on its own. Ngannou wins the Tale of the Tape by a slim margin, possessing a longer reach and a few more pounds of muscle. That shouldn’t add up to a 2-to-1 line on a combatant who, like Foreman, is clearly improving fight-after-fight in his 30s.

Also it’s not as if Francis Ngannou is a spring chicken. Either fighter could be susceptible to injury at this point – given the way UFC cards tend to go it’s not even a sure thing that the battle will take place as scheduled. I just would have forecasted at least (+140) or (+160) on a hot underdog taking-on an inconsistent favorite in a perhaps-final bid to earn a Heavyweight title shot.

Is there a longer line on dos Santos-to-win anywhere on the web?

Not at MyBookie, where the odds are identical.

But at BetOnline, there’s a (+210) market on the underdog to prevail in an “upset” over Ngannou.

That’s our ticket to ride.

Handicap and Best Moneyline Pick for Ngannou-Dos Santos

Sometimes, an underdog pick is based on a forecast of the team or athlete as a “true favorite,” someone more prepared, healthy, and determined to win.

It’s too early to say whose preparation is going to pay off in the Ngannou-Dos Santos fight on ESPN. I can’t tell you whether the favorite will dance and parry for 5 rounds again or step inside and try to pound and grapple the slightly-smaller combatant.

But what I can tell you about are the betting odds. The moneylines are far too long on Junior dos Santos to win the fight, making the underdog the correct pick as it always is in evenly-matched scenarios with wildly disparate odds on each side.

ODDS+210

MY PICK:

Take Junior dos Santos (+210) to beat Francis Ngannou on 6/29.

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