This is about as good as it gets from a gambling standpoint. By the odds, UFC 96 features toss-ups in eight of the 10 fights. Cage Writer broke even the last time out at UFC 95 with a 1-1 mark on our premium selections. We're still a very solid 25-6 and +1815 dating back to September on MMA cards (UFC 88, UFN 15, UFC 89, UFC 90, UFC 91, TUF 8, UFC 92, UFC 93, Affliction 2, UFC 94, UFN 17, UFC 95).
Watch Dave Farra from RawVegas.tv break down the top of the card with Cage Writer.
Sports betting on MMA is simple to understand. When you see a minus number that is the amount you need to bet to win $100. The favorite is always a minus number. So the bigger the minus number, the bigger favorite. Anything over -300 is a huge favorite. The plus number is what you get if you a bet a dog for $100
UFC 96 Odds (Venetian Resort Hotel Casino):
Official plays in BOLD
Keith Jardine (+240) v. Quinton Jackson (-320) - Light heavyweight
This is a huge fight for Jackson and the UFC. The pressure is on, a loss by Jackson and it screws up the UFC's plan to match light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans against Jackson during the summer. It also pushes Rampage back down the ladder in the muddled light heavy title chase. Jackson should be a big favorite but the number may be too big considering Jardine's propensity for pulling the upset and his trump card, the Greg Jackson gameplan. The biggest key for Jardine is spacing. When he does it well, he uses leg kicks to brutalize his opponent. When he does it poorly, he gets knocked out like he did against Wanderlei Silva and Houston Alexander. Jackson's hands seem to get better with each fight and it looks like he's on the right path with his nutrition and conditioning now that he's working with The Wolfslair in the U.K. Hopefully, the distractions are gone. Jardine is a live dog, but I still like the finishing prowess that Rampage brings to the Octagon.
PICK: JACKSON -320
Shane Carwin (+150) v. Gabriel Gonzaga (-180) - Heavyweight
Is Carwin ready for this kind of step up? He's been impressive in two UFC fights but it would've been nice to see him a little more active since his debut at UFC 84. The wins over Christian Wellisch (now a light heavy) and Neil Wain don't exactly tell us a whole lot. That said, he does have the game to give Gonzaga, one of the most well-rounded guys in the heavyweight ranks, some trouble. Gonzaga has had difficulty operating with little space. He's been bullied and had his spirit broken by both Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum. Can Carwin, who should have a 15 pound weight advantage on fight night, do the same? He has the game. His grappling resume, which includes a Div. II NCAA title, could allow him to put Gonzaga on his back. If it turns into a stand-up battle, a slight advantage goes to Gonzaga. Either way, this one should end violently.
PICK: CARWIN +150
Pete Sell (Even) v. Matt Brown (-130) - Welterweight
This one should be dynamite. Both guys love to throw and seem to fight harder once they get smashed. Brown would be wise to take it to the ground and work his superior submission game. Will he do it? Probably not. Sell's finishing power and some extra value make him the pick. The only hesitation is "Drago's" conditioning. He faded a bit in his first fight at 170 pounds against Josh Burkman. He should be okay in this second go around, but you never know.
PICK: SELL EVEN
Mark Munoz (+135) v. Matt Hamill (-165) - Light Heavyweight
I'm really looking forward to see what Munoz, who is stepping up from WEC, has against better competition. Hamill hasn't met a wrestler that he couldn't throw around easily. Can he do it to Munoz, who was the 2001 NCAA Div. 1 champ at 197 pounds at Oklahoma State? Maybe the better question is, will he try? We point it out before each fight, Hamill could be a dominant fighter if he just played to his strengths - grapple then ground and pound. He too often tries to slug, then his his hands drop and he can be hit. That said, only one guy has really pounded Hamill on the feet and that was the very saavy Rich Franklin. Munoz has good striking for a guy only five fights into his MMA career but is it good enough to make Hamill pay? UPDATE: Being on the ground in Columbus and talking to some of the people around the fights has convinced me to shoot for Munoz.
HAMILL -165 MUNOZ +135
Gray Maynard (+110) v. Jim Miller (-140) - Lightweight
We're going to get some answers about Maynard in this one. "The Bully" has been pushed by some into the lightweight top 10 and is No. 15 in the Bloody Elbow meta-rankings. Miller, an IFL import, has opened eyes in his two UFC fights and deserves respect. He's got a well-rounded game with plenty of ways to win the fight. Can the same be said about Maynard? A top level wrestler at Michigan State, Maynard is a like a mini-Brock Lesnar. He has scored takedowns whenever he's wanted and crushed people on the ground. His hands are heavy but I worry about him in a boxing match against Miller and I don't know if he can submit Miller on the ground. They do have one common opponent in Frankie Edgar. Maynard ran through Edgar while Miller lost to the "Answer". Slight edge to Maynard based on value.
PICK: MAYNARD +110
Ryan Madigan (+150) v. Tamdan McCrory (-180) -Welterweight
Both guys here are replacements for the original bout that was to feature Dustin Hazelett and Ben Saunders. It should be your classic stand-up fighter v. submission practioner. Madigan, a kickboxer, makes his UFC debut after going 5-0 since 2006 in MMA. When you think kickboxer it generally means one-dimensional but Madigan has a little jiu-jitsu with his last two wins coming by triangle choke. I still worry about "The Lion" if it goes to the ground. McCrory, 22, is an experienced and dangerous guy on the floor who presents a lot of trouble at 6-foot-4.
PICK: MCCRORY -180
Jason Day (+140) v. Kendall Grove (-170) - Middleweight
Grove makes me nervous. At 6-6, he presents a lot of problems with his reach and kicks. But he's also had trouble when the fight moves to the clinch. He did look better from a strength standpoint in his last fight against Evan Tanner, but who knows how much Tanner had left at that point. Day was impressive in his upset win over Alan Belcher but then looked totally outclassed against Michael Bisping. I'll make the call thinking both fighters will be at their best.
PICK: GROVE -170
Jason Brilz (-115) v. Tim Boetsch (-115) - Light Heavyweight
Boetsch has dominated two opponents in the UFC, David Heath and Mike Patt, with his brute strength. He also got some of his own medicine against Matt Hamill in a loss. Brilz looks to be somewhere between Heath/Patt and Hamill. He may be closer to Hamill but after one fight in the UFC, it's tough to tell. Brilz (16-1-1) completely shredded Brad Morris (video) on the ground in his UFC debut. The former Nebraska-Omaha fighter is no joke with wins over Jason MacDonald, Mike Patt, Alex Schoenauer and a draw against the late Justin Eilers. This one may be a chess match after both realize they can't dominate with ground work. I'll shoot for the slight upset.
PICK: BRILZ -115
Michael Patt (+350) v. Brandon Vera (-500) - Light Heavyweight
Patt's resume as a black belt under Jorge Gurgel looks impressive but he didn't have much on the feet against Boetsch at UFC 88. It looks like he might be a sitting duck for Vera who's got a height advantage and nasty kicks. Vera has to be motivated after being relegated to the non-televised undercard and fighting a lesser name opponent after facing guys like Tim Sylvia, Frank Mir and Keith Jardine.
PICK: VERA -500
Shane Nelson (+140) v. Aaron Riley (-170) - Lightweight
The UFC sneaks in some damn good fights at the beginning of its cards. The Paul Kelly-Troy Mandaloniz fight at UFC 95 was a barn-burner and this one has a chance to be too. Who dictates pace? Nelson wants to get it to the ground while Riley will try to stand and bang. Riley was able to stay off the ground against Gurgel last time out and I'll think he'll do it again here. Nelson looks to be a bit small for the weight. This a big step up facing a guy with 38 fights? Riley has 10 losses but they include Spencer Fisher, Yves Edwards (2x), Robbie Lawler (middleweight!), Chris Lytle, Eddie Alvarez (top 5 lightweight) and Ryan Schultz. The guy has only been submitted twice in his career. Nelson, a TUF 8 alum, could be in trouble on the feet.
PICK: RILEY -170
Cage Writer is on the scene with a live fight blog on Saturday night. Check back after the fights for the only live UFC 96 postfight show from Nationwide Arena starting at 1:30 a.m. ET. You can listen here.