After the Nevada sports books twice lost big on Mike Tyson in the '90s, the large odds that were once so prevalent became a thing of the past.
Tyson lost to Buster Douglas as a 42-1 underdog in 1990 and then lost as a 24-1 underdog to Evander Holyfield in 1996. After that, it was rare to see those kinds of lines out on title fights involving big-named fighters.
A UFC title fight has never seen the kind of odds involved with the Douglas and Holyfield upsets, but that's only because of an excess of caution by the sports book directors.
When Georges St-Pierre defended his title against Matt Serra at UFC 69 in 2007, he went off as a minus-950 favorite. Serra was plus-575.
"Everybody thought that Serra was going to get killed," UFC president Dana White said. "The books weren't putting those kinds of crazy odds up any more, but if they were, Serra would have been 25-1 or more, just like those guys were against Tyson."
Chael Sonnen will go into his light heavyweight title bout against Jon Jones Saturday in the main event of UFC 159 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as the UFC's biggest title fight underdog since Serra.
At the MGM Grand sports book, Jones is minus-900, with Sonnen at plus-550.
Everything in the fight seems to massively favor Jones. Sonnen hasn't fought at light heavyweight since 2005, and in Jones, he'll be facing a guy who has been destroying Hall of Fame-caliber fighters.
Jones is 17-1 and is not undefeated only because of a referee's mistake. He's got three inches in height and a whopping 10 inches in reach on Sonnen and seems almost an unbeatable fighter.
"How does Chael beat Jon Jones?" White asked, repeating what he was asked. "Wow. That's a good question. How does anyone beat Jon Jones? I don't care who he's fighting, that would be a hard question because no one has ever come close to beating him. I mean, don't let that one loss fool you.The referee totally [expletive] it up on his only loss and disqualified him [against Matt Hamill] when he shouldn't have been.
"You can say, 'Well, what can Chael Sonnen do to beat Jonny "Bones" Jones?' but I would answer by saying, 'What could anyone do?' He's never lost, truthfully."
The one weapon Sonnen has going for him is his wrestling skill. An All-American at Oregon and an Olympic alternate, Sonnen used his wrestling to nearly upset middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Silva, though, has no wrestling background. Jones was an elite collegiate wrestler, even winning a national junior college title. He ended up leaving school when his girlfriend had a child and thus did not wrestle at an NCAA Division I program.
Still, Jones is a high-level wrestler and there are many who question whether Sonnen is going to be able to do to Jones what he did to Silva. Particularly at UFC 117 in 2010, Sonnen took Silva down repeatedly and pounded on him, winning each of the first four rounds.
Sonnen repeated that formula in the first round of their rematch at UFC 148 in July, but Silva turned things around in the second.
"And look at how Anderson's face came out of those fights," Jones said to Yahoo! Sports. "Yeah, Chael took him down a lot, but it's not like he was busting Anderson's face up. Anderson had very little damage."
Sonnen is unlikely to be able to win a kickboxing match from a distance with Jones, given Jones' reach and range.
It would seem his best bet will be to somehow find a way to get Jones off his feet, and keep him off his feet.
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That, though, has proven to be a difficult task. Jones has beaten high-level wrestlers such as Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans without much trouble.
"Every time I get asked these questions, they're hard, because Chael's my friend, but I like to be honest," UFC heavyweight Daniel Cormier said."This is not a very good fight for [Sonnen]. He can wrestle, yes; but Jon can wrestle. He was a junior college champion. … He was one of the best kids in the country out of high school. He beat a guy who was an NCAA champion. He would have been a very successful wrestler himself.
"Chael can wrestle, but it's going to be a very difficult fight for him. The reach is [a problem], but the wrestling, too. Jon can wrestle. I don't anticipate Chael going out there and double-legging him. And then Jon may go and take him down."
Sonnen, though, will show up despite all the dire predictions.
"I'm not about gameplans," he said. "I'm about fights. This is a fist fight between me and Jon Jones, not a wrestling match. I understand that I'm beatable. I get that. But I also understand where I'm at. Whether it's in practice or in the ring, I've fought a lot of champions. Outside of [UFC Hall of Famer] Randy Couture, I've beaten every one of them.
"They've beaten me, too, but I've gotten the jump on every single guy I've fought, at one point or another, with the exception of Couture. ... Jon Jones is an unbelievable fighter. He's incredibly good and can do things in there that will blow your mind. But I've been around this business for a long time and I know there's a way to beat everyone."
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