By Matty Simo
Saturday’s UFC 174 event will mark the first time flyweights headline a Pay-Per-View card, as champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (19-2-1) takes on fourth-ranked contender Ali Bagautinov (13-2) for the 125-pound crown. Johnson has previously defeated the top three contenders and will attempt his fourth title defense as the biggest favorite on the betting board, with MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas from MMAOddsBreaker.com making him -565 (bet $565 to win $100) to keep his belt. The champ has never been this big of a favorite in his MMA career, and he will be appearing on his fourth PPV card overall, including his second straight in Canada, as the UFC 174 main card gets underway at 7 p.m. (PT) from Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.
While Johnson is an extra large favorite against Bagautinov, their championship bout looks to be an anomaly on an otherwise surprisingly balanced card from a betting perspective. Nine of the 11 fights had favorites open at -180 or less, which is extremely rare in today’s age of MMA betting (click here to check the latest UFC 174 lines and get odds on the go with the Don Best Mobile app). For example, the latest event UFC Fight Night 42 last Saturday saw six of 11 bouts close with favorites at -210 or higher according to Kalikas. This has been a fairly common pattern recently, as UFC 173 – the last PPV event on May 24 – had seven of 12 fights close with faves of -215 or higher. In fact, you have to go back to UFC 169 on Feb. 1 to find as many as nine favorites who closed at -200 or less on the same card.
Johnson has reeled off five wins in a row since earning a draw with Ian McCall in the semifinals of the UFC Flyweight Tournament that eventually determined the inaugural champion in the division. The champ later beat McCall in the rematch, then knocked off the top two contenders at 125 in Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson before turning in consecutive impressive stoppage performances against John Moraga (fifth-round armbar submission) and Benavidez (first-round knockout) in his last two bouts.
Meanwhile, Bagautinov is a +435 underdog (bet $100 to win $435) and will enter the Octagon riding an 11-fight winning streak, but only three of those bouts have taken place in the UFC. The Dagestani-born Sambo specialist has been training with Greg Jackson’s MMA camp, and he has earned unanimous-decision wins against Tim Elliott and John Lineker in his past two fights.
“The division’s been pretty consistent in terms of entertaining,” said UFC commentator Jon Anik about the flyweights. “A lot of that’s because of the volume that they throw with and just the footwork across the board is better. I’m excited for Demetrious Johnson always, certainly one of my Top 5 guys to watch in the world. He’s raised the bar every time, he just keeps trying to outdo himself and accomplishing that. This won’t be the guy that will test (Johnson), but we’ll see.
“It’s going to take a special performance to beat this guy, and I just don’t see it this weekend. I think it’s interesting because Bagautinov is a really hard guy to finish. Of course Demetrious Johnson has never been finished either. I think it lends itself to a 25-minute fight, but Johnson never ceases to amaze me, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls out a new trick from his bag. I’m struggling to find ways where Bagautinov might have an advantage. I’m looking for the champion to once again make a statement to Dodson and anyone else who he might be fighting next.”
The co-main event originally looked like it would produce the next challenger for Johny Hendricks’ welterweight title belt, as No. 2 contender Rory MacDonald (16-2) and No. 3 Tyron Woodley (13-2) square off. But since each of them last fought, No. 1 Robbie Lawler and No. 5 Matt Brown have wowed UFC president Dana White enough to set up a No. 1 contender matchup between them at UFC on FOX 12 as Hendricks continues to rehab from bicep surgery.
“To me, it’s just all about this co-main event,” Anik said. “There’s so many guys at welterweight right now. I would say there are four guys you can make a case for as the No. 1 contender to give a title shot to. And two of them are fighting Saturday night. I’m so curious, I have no idea who’s going to win. It’s two guys who I always seem to back and two guys who I think very highly of.”
Woodley opened as a -140 favorite vs. MacDonald (+120) at the LVH SuperBook in Las Vegas, but that line has since shifted the other way. MacDonald has moved to -120 at LVH and will be fighting in his home country for the third time as a member of the UFC roster. He lost to No. 4 Carlos Condit via third-round TKO with seven seconds left in Vancouver four years ago after winning most of the fight and then bounced back with a UD victory vs. Nate Diaz a little more than 10 months later in Toronto. MacDonald’s only other loss came against Lawler at UFC 167. Ironically, Woodley registered a TKO win against Condit in his last bout at UFC 171 in March when his opponent suffered a knee injury and could not continue.
“I feel badly for Woodley in a lot of respects because I think he’s a worthy No. 1 contender. When he fought Condit, he beat the guy, and it’s hard because you get penalized when a guy gets injured in a fight. But he finished Carlos Condit at least on paper, and to me that should count for something. Now he has to fight Rory MacDonald in Canada, which to me is just a huge ask.
“Rory has just had so few bad nights in his career and bad moments. He’s just so consistent. And when he does win, he usually dominates. I think Woodley may be able to take him down, but I can’t see him being able to do it with regularity. Rory’s just so cerebral and so skilled, I think if you can get him at plus-money in Canada, you’ve got to take a look. You can’t convince me it’s not value.”
DBA BEST BETS (14-7 OVERALL RECORD, +5 UNITS)
Rory MacDonald +100 (line at Mirage in Las Vegas on June 12 at 1:15 p.m.)
Ryan Bader -145 (line at William Hill in Las Vegas on June 12 at 1:15 p.m.)
Brendan Schaub -140 (line at William Hill in Las Vegas on June 12 at 1: 15 p.m.)
For complete betting coverage of UFC 174, including previews and picks for every fight, click here.