Fight on: UFC, boxing cards provide hard-hitting opportunities to cash in

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a worse handicapper than the clown who normally pens this column—and that’s saying something. Wanna know the only person in Vegas to have a crappier March Madness than Matt Jacob? This guy. I literally won one bet, when my alma mater, Kansas, beat shorthanded North Carolina.

Things haven’t gotten better with baseball, either. For instance, I decided to give my new-look Royals a go in their opening home stand. With all of Kansas City’s young bats facing a somewhat suspect Cleveland team—and favorable odds for all three games—what’s the worst that could happen? How ’bout the Royals’ pitchers looking like the slow-pitch-softball staff of the past two decades, allowing a combined 18 extra-base hits and 32 runs! (Yes, K.C. got swept.)

So why should you trust my wagering advice? You probably shouldn’t—unless it involves the fight game, which, unlike baseball and basketball, I cover intensely. And with Jacob once again in hiding after yet another losing week and the monkey holding out for a raise after his stellar debut two weeks ago (he offered a futures play on the Dodgers to win the National League, and L.A. opened the season a Major League-best 9-1), we had to fill this space somehow.

On to the fights …

UFC 145, Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans (April 21 in Atlanta): You’re going to pay a premium to back Jones, the UFC’s 205-pound champ who’s a minus-500 favorite at LVH’s Superbook. Jones’ only setback in 16 fights came on a disqualification for illegal elbows against Matt Hamill in 2009. Since then, “Bones” has finished six straight fights, including three in a row against former champs Maurício “Shogun” Rua, Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida. So it’s hard to see the 24-year-old losing to his former Greg Jackson-coached teammate in what has turned into one of the bigger grudge matches in UFC history.

But this is MMA, where one strike can end a night (just YouTube Matt Serra’s upset of Georges St-Pierre for a reminder), and Evans has created fireworks in Philips Arena before with his 2008 Knockout of the Year against Chuck Liddell. Like Jones, Evans has only one loss. Considering Evans’ strength as a wrestler, quick hands and pent-up anger against his former friend, the 4-to-1 underdog price is enticing.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Miguel Cotto (May 5 at MGM Grand): The outspoken Mayweather will likely do his part to build interest in this Cinco de Mayo bout, even though it’s not the mega fight with Manny Pacquiao the world wanted.

Cotto (37-2) is quite capable of making this an interesting fight, but I don’t see him handing Mayweather his first loss. And the oddsmakers agree, as the seven-time world champ is a minus-650 to minus-750 favorite (probably the only person with a bankroll thick enough to get rich betting on Pretty Boy Floyd would be his pal, 50 Cent). That said, this is only the second time that the 35-year-old Mayweather—normally a welterweight (140-147 pounds)—will fight at 154 pounds.

Given Cotto’s heart—not to mention Mayweather’s calculated, deliberate, defense-first style—this one figures to end up in the judges’ hands. Look to play the “will go 10 rounds” prop at minus-230, or Mayweather by decision at minus-250.

UFC 146, Alistair Overeem vs. Junior dos Santos (May 26 at MGM Grand): The most interesting bet is whether this fight will happen, because Overeem recently tested positive for high levels of testosterone. UFC President Dana White is on record as saying he won’t pull Las Vegan Frank Mir from his co-main-event bout against Cain Velasquez, but it’s hard to believe that Mir won’t end up fighting dos Santos if Overeem gets booted.

Either way, it’s going to be hard for anyone to survive against dos Santos, a big Brazilian who possesses incredible power. Still, if Overeem (plus-150 at the LVH) gets the green light to fight, he is an intriguing underdog; as a former K-1 kickboxing champ, he can deliver strikes that dos Santos isn’t used to. And if Mir fills in and can get the bout to the ground, he’s fully capable of winning by submission.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley (June 9 at MGM Grand): Pacquiao (54-3-2) returns to the ring for the first time since earning a controversial majority decision over Juan Manuel Márquez in November. Other than his three fights against Márquez, Pacquiao has crushed every opponent put in front of him the last six years, winning 15 straight fights. Fellow Top Rank stablemate Bradley (28-0) is undefeated, but none of his victories were against anyone with Pacquiao’s ring savvy and power.

Wagering on Pacquiao (a minus-400 favorite at MGM Resorts) to win is risky, so you’re better off taking him by knockout (even money) or decision (minus-160).