In case you didn’t catch my column at UFCMania.com, here are my “Desert Dog Bets” for UFC 68 and matchup analysis for each fight.

Randy Couture +240: 1 point to win 2.40 points......BetCRIS
Jason MacDonald +400: 1 point to win 4 points.......Bet US
Matt Hughes -500: 5 points to win 1 point ...............Bet US
Martin Kampmann –250: 2.5 points to win 1 point BetCRIS
Renato Sobral –350: 3.5 points to win 1 point..........Bet US
Jon fitch –335: 3.35 points to win 1 point..................BetCRIS
Jason Gilliam +325: 0.31 points to win 1 point.........BetCRIS

There are never any “locks” in MMA. That’s because anything can and sometimes does happen. However, if I had to pick the safest bet out of the bunch it would be Hughes.

In addition, the best odds for an underdog payoff is a toss up, but I‘d lean toward Couture. There are four solid “chalk” bets here that I use to offset the two underdog plays.

Main card bouts:

Tim Sylvia (-315) vs. Randy Couture (+240)
As expected, Tim Sylvia came in as the favorite in this match up at -275 and his price has drifted higher to -315. In my opinion, anything more than -170 is too much. On the flip side, anything over +200 is a good deal on Couture.

“The Maine-iac” is what you might call BIG. At 6′8,” and cutting to weight to meet the 265-pound UFC heavyweight limit, Sylvia probably enters the Octagon at 270-75 or more. Tim’s reach is reported at 84,” which is huge. However, in fighting terms reach should be measured shoulder to knuckles because that is the true gap an opponent has to close. Couture, on the other hand, has a reach of 76.” That sounds like an 8″ disadvantage, but the real reach advantage is 3-4″ for Sylvia.

Put simply, reach will be an issue, but not insurmountable as many believe.

The biggest difference in this fight is weight. Timmay could easily outweigh Randy by 40-50 pounds — a lot for anyone. If Couture can close the gap and takedown Sylvia, he’ll have to be very precise and technical. This may not be too hard in rounds one or two; however, if he doesn’t get something done before then it’s going to feel like trying to uproot an Oak tree as the fight goes on.

Couture’s biggest advantages will be speed, experience and a wider array of weapons than most of Sylvia’s previous opponents. Sylvia is going to play the game he always plays: sprawl and brawl, stay outside and let the long limbs fly.

Plain and simple, Couture should win this fight at least 40 percent of the time. However, the odds say he only has about a 31 percent chance. That’s a big betting edge and a bet I have to take. Couture by — and I hate to say it — decision.

Rich Franklin (-500) vs. Jason MacDonald (+400)
Everyone seems to be looking past this fight … DON’T. This has the potential to be a shocker on the main card and a definite +EV betting on this dog. If this bet makes you nervous, then knock it down to a half-bet.

The match up is the classic power/standup vs. technical ground game. One of Franklin’s biggest strengths is his size for a 185-pound fighter. MacDonald, however, is just as big (one inch taller actually), has a slight reach advantage and a technically superior ground game. Without question, Franklin will have a distinct advantage in the standup.

It will be interesting to see how Franklin responds to the second loss of his career … and a devastating one at that. It’s one of those mental intangibles that doesn’t show up anywhere in the stats. Not taking anything away from the former champion, but something tells me he is also coming into this fight with little respect for his opponent, which is always dangerous.

MacDonald has some impressive wins over Chris Leben, Ed Herman, Joe Doerkson and Gideon Ray. However, he also has some bad losses to Patrick Cote and Kalib Starnes. Put simply, this fight will show us who is the real Jason Macdonald.

In betting terms, +400 on McDonald means sportsbooks are only giving him a 20 percent chance to win. I believe his odds are closer to 30 percent, which is a significant edge that I am willing to put money on. That’s right, time to give the dog a bone — MacDonald by submission in the second round.

Matt Hughes (-500) vs. Chris Lytle (+400)
I’m just going to touch on this fight quickly because Matt Hughes (40-5) — nine-time champion, Miletich prodigy and perhaps the most dominant welterweight ever — is up against top welterweight contender … Chris Lytle (22-13-5)? In his first bout since losing the 170-pound crown, it seems as though the true top contenders in the division only want to fight Hughes if the belt is involved.

This fight should be a very one-sided version of the Lytle vs. Matt Serra fight. The difference here is Hughes’ explosive takedowns and his power on the ground. In Lytle’s last fight, he was unable to utilize his stand up game against the smaller Serra. In addition, he was not doing too much damage in the clinch.

Hughes should have no problem overpowering Lytle en route to a second-round technical knockout. Hughes will not make the same mistake in this fight like he did in his loss to Georges St. Pierre, believing that he’s a boxer.

Current polls have Hughes as a 9:1 favorite and so far the betting line is holding steady at -500. This makes Hughes an excellent chalk bet. In fact, BetUs.com beat the other books on this fight by 150, so get it while it’s hot!

Renato “Babalu” Sobral (-350) vs. Jason Lambert (+275)
Look for some fast-paced action in the match up between Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Jason “Sausage Tits” Lambert. Lambert’s record (22-6) was looking pretty strong at 5-0 in the UFC with wins over Brandon Lee Hinkle (the unconscious guy in the Monson highlights) and an out-of-shape Terry Martin.

However, his brights were dimmed in his last fight against Rashad Evens at UFC 63. Lambert was dominated in all facets of the fight. However, Lambert possesses heavy hands, as well as good strength and technique on the ground. Unfortunately, match up wise this fight sucks for Lambert.

That’s because “Sausage Tits” likes a tight fight in which he can get control on the ground and pound out a technical knockout or sink-in a submission. He’s not going to control Babalu on the ground and he doesn’t have the reach or speed to make it a fight standing up.

Babalu has a long and impressive record (27 -6). He was on a 10-win streak until his rematch with Chuck Liddell. In the last six years, he has only lost to three fighters: Liddell, UFC light heavyweight champ; Fedor Emelianenko, PRIDE FC heavyweight champ (by decision); and the monster Kevin Randelman.

Sobral is a submission specialist with surprisingly slick speed. His movement against most standup fighters has been very good and, other than the fight with Liddell, he has been able to get the fight to the ground where he can take over. A solid chalk bet here for Babalu by submission … lets say an ankle lock.

Martin Kampmann (-220) vs. Drew McFedries (+280)
Martin “Hitman” Kampman (14-2) of Denmark was a relative unknown until fight fans got to see his relentless stand up as he dismantled Thales Lietes at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 4 Finale. His record is well rounded with victories evenly split between TKOs and submissions. His last loss was a stoppage because of a cut. And, since then he has won his last seven fights.

Drew McFedries (5-1) fights out of the Miletich camp (yes, another one), and has shown that he prefers to strike. His UFC debut against Allesio Sakara at UFC 65 showed everyone just how heavy his hands can be. Hopefully, he has trained on his speed and conditioning. Otherwise, the well rounded and technically better Kampmann will run circles around him.

With this fight on the main card look for both fighters to step up the pace and try to impress. However, the more polished and experienced Kampmann should prevail. I see a flurry of precision punches transitioned surprisingly into a rear naked choke submission in the second round.

Preliminary bouts:

Jon Fitch (-340) vs. Luigi Fioravanti (+280)
Jon Fitch is a top level welterweight contender on an 11-fight win streak. His only two losses were back in 2002. Fitch is a well rounded fighter, taking his fights with an even mix of TKOs, submissions and decisions. This fight will be his fifth bout inside the Octagon. And, with impressive wins last year over Josh Burkman (rear naked choke) and Thiago Alves (TKO), the UFC will have to shine a brighter light on him soon.

This showdown was originally scheduled as a main bout, but was moved down to a preliminary fight. Fitch — who was publicly upset — will look to win convincingly and remind the UFC of his potential.

Fioravanti — fighting with American Top Team (ATT) — was very active in 2006 with six pro fights, three of which were in the UFC. Unfortunately for Fioravanti, 2006 also brought his first loss — a unanimous decision in his brawl with Leben. Primarily a stand up fighter, Fioravanti has good movement and a solid chin. In the dominant position on the ground, he’s a “ground ‘n pounder,” but when he’s on his back his best move is scrambling.

There’s little chance of a decent fighter being submitted by Fioravanti. His other weaknesses are his height/reach and he holds his hands way too low for a 5’8” fighter. His move down to 170 puts him in the right weight class, but doesn’t make him any taller.

Look for Fitch to use his reach advantage and keep this a standup fight. If it does go to the ground, Fitch should control the action. Fitch should win this fight 90 percent of the time. However, Fioravanti has a 10 percent puncher’s chance.

Overall, the odds are in our favor to make the chalk bet on Fitch.

Matt Hamill (-280) vs. Rex Holman (+220)
Whoooo! Two top level wrestlers prepare to throw marshmallows.

Matt Hamill (2-0) has been training with Team Punishment and is still looking to turn his superior takedown skills into a serious ground and pound game. So far nothing impressive, with his last win over Seth Petruzelli showing he can get a fight to the ground and control it, but nothing says finisher yet.

Rex Holman (4-1), who is also a national champion wrestler, has actually won three of his fights with strikes, but his competition in those fights is questionable. I’ve only seen one video of him fighting and he looked very awkward in trying to finish. In that fight, Holman was eventually beaten with a rear naked choke.

Hamill should have an edge here both in strength and in training. Holman, who wrestled for Ohio State, will be making his UFC debut in front of a hometown crowd. Crowds don’t win fights, however — strength and training do.

Therefore, Hamill by technical knockout G’n’P style. When Hamill finally faces a fighter with real striking skills it will be over quickly, but Saturday is not the night.

Gleison Tibau (-240) vs. Jason Dent (+200)
These two fighters actually have a lot in common:
Both have more than 10 fights in smaller organizations, have won the majority of their fights by submission and lost their UFC debuts (Dent lost to Huerta and Tibau lost to Diaz).

The big differences are style and size.

Tibau is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who now trains with ATT. He’s been in the 170-pound division most of his career. This move to lightweight should really add to his strength and speed advantage.

Dent is a Muay Thai fighter with good technical stand up skills and a very strong ground game. If this fight stays on the ground it will be a snoozer with Tibau getting the decision for control. However, if they spend more time on their feet Dent gets the decision.

In the end, I think Tibau wins by decision, but it’s too tight for me to put any money on this one.

Jamie Varner (-320) vs. Jason Gilliam (+260)
Jamie “The Worm” Varner (5’8”) has been cutting his teeth impressively in smaller venues, racking up an 11-1 record before his UFC debut last August. Unfortunately for Varner, his first UFC fight was against Hermes Franca. The fast-paced bout was up and down until the third round, during which Franca made Varner tapout via armbar. Varner is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter with eight of his 11 victories coming by way of submission.

Jason “The Gizzard” Gilliam (6’0”) is undefeated in his MMA career (9-0). This will be Gizzards UFC debut … what’s up with that name? Anyway, he’s finished most of his fights quickly (four in 30 seconds or less) with punches, although his last win was a 29-second submission by rear naked choke. Gilliam is moving down from 170 for this fight and should have significant reach and height advantages. I’ve seen some of his fights and he reminds me a lot of Josh Neer.

The early polls were close to 90 percent for Varner, which made Gilliam a solid bet at anything over +300. I feel that Gilliam will win this fight in the first round via technical knockout.

You wanna make a bet....
Desert Dog

I have followed the UFC for over 10 years, written as a handicapper, and spent my spare time as an online poker grinder. Unfortunately, I ran out of legal wagering options...Thank god for Daily Fantasy Sports and the much needed addition of MMA drafts. I offer my insight into MMA fight handicapping and fight analysis for the purpose of making some dough at DFS!

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