There has been a recent run of upsets in the UFC, but that won’t necessarily influence what happens when favourite Robbie Lawler defends his welterweight title against Tyron Woodley in the main event at UFC 201 in Atlanta on Saturday.
So far in 2016, underdogs have prevailed in 91 of 242 fights in the promotion, at 37.6 per cent – within a percentage point of the 38.5 per cent upset rate in 2015. The underdog has also won four of the last six title fights. That probably matters less than the contrast in styles between Lawler, the -185 betting favourite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, and Woodley, a +150 underdog.
Lawler’s biggest advantage, of course, is a lack of rust. Woodley has not fought in more than 18 months and there is no substitute for the real thing. Lawler also has a strong enough base of the wrestling techniques to cancel out Woodley’s strength in that area. Lawler is listed at +140 to win by technical knockout and +220 to take a decision, while Woodley’s corresponding props are +350 and +525.
In the co-main event, +180 underdog Karolina Kowalkiewicz faces -230 favourite Rose Namajunas, with the winner likely to get a title shot against strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Namajunas is on a three-fight winning streak as she vies for a second shot at the belt — she fought Carla Esparza for the inaugural 115-pound title after The Ultimate Fighter 20. One concern with Namajunas is that the 24-year-old’s willingness to trade strikes could work to her detriment against Kowalkiewicz, who typically lands far more blows than her opponents.
In a bantamweight bout, 26-year-old Erik Perez is a slight -140 favourite on the UFC 201 betting lines against heavy-punching 35-year-old Francisco Rivera, who is listed at -110. Perez has never lost by TKO, which attests to the stamina he can bring to bear against Rivera, who has eight career knockout wins. The longer the fights last, the better the opportunity for Perez.
The matchup between Matt Brown (-315) and Jake Ellenberger (+245) is intriguing since both veteran welterweights are desperate for a win. Ten of Brown’s 14 career losses have come via submission, and Ellenberger might be focused more on the ground-and-pound game in order to make up for a lack of lethal striking power. That said, it’s understandable if bettors are skittish about backing Ellenberger, who is 1-5 in his last six fights.