T.J. Grant vs. Evan Dunham was a barnburner and earned “Fight of the Night” honors. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty
UFC 152 “Jones vs. Belfort” on Saturday belonged to the underdogs. In fact, only four bouts went the way the oddsmakers predicted: Jon Jones-Vitor Belfort, Matt Hamill-Roger Hollett, Michael Bisping-Brian Stann and Seth Baczynski-Simeon Thoresen. In close matchups, defensive wrestling and relentless striking were the biggest keys to unexpected victories at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Six out of the seven underdogs beat the odds in the preliminary bouts on Facebook and FX. The upsets started right from the get go. In the show’s first fight, Kyle Noke was successful in his welterweight debut and put a stop to his contest with Charlie Brenneman in just 45 seconds. Crisp jabs, a right cross that dropped “The Spaniard” and follow-up strikes resulted in the stoppage. Noke entered the cage as a +175 underdog; Brenneman was favored at -215.
The odds were virtually identical going into the next matchup, as Walel Watson was a -215 favorite, with Mitch Gagnon at +175. The affair ended almost as quickly, as it only took Gagnon 69 seconds to dispose of “The Gazelle” with a left hook, some ground-and-pound, a transition to back control and a rear-naked choke.
Aside from Jones, Jim Hettes was the heaviest favorite against Marcus Brimage. The previously unbeaten submission specialist came in at -475, compared to Brimage at +375. However, Hettes had trouble on the feet, eating jabs and crosses throughout the fight. “The Kid” won the second round on all three judges’ scorecards but did not secure the finishing choke for which he was looking. Brimage’s takedown and submission defense allowed him to walk away with the decision victory.
Local product Sean Pierson, a +180 underdog, scored an upset against Lance Benoist (-240) after surviving a brutal third round for a unanimous decision victory. Like Hettes, Benoist is best with his submissions but had limited time to engage on the ground due to Pierson’s takedown defense and stellar striking skills. Benoist went after “The Punisher” with a vengeance in the final stanza, but it proved too little, too late.
Oddsmakers predicted Evan Dunham-T.J. Grant would be a close bout; Dunham was installed as a -150 favorite, with Grant a +120 underdog. The lightweight tilt was a barnburner and earned “Fight of the Night” honors. Both men worked their relentless striking games, with a thudding knee to Dunham’s head serving as the most significant blow of the 15-minute battle. Although Dunham landed some takedowns, he did not manage to capitalize on them, and Grant teed off with kicks, knees and punches in all three rounds to win by unanimous decision.
Igor Pokrajac was a -170 favorite entering his light heavyweight pairing against Vinny Magalhaes (-170), but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt transitioned from a triangle choke attempt to a successful armbar and put a stop to the fight in the second round. The loss snapped Pokrajac’s three-fight winning streak.
While it momentarily looked like Belfort (+605) had secured a fight-ending armbar against Jones (-905), the champion survived and scored a submission of his own, closing the main event via keylock in the fourth round.
There were only two upsets on the main card. Cub Swanson (+210) authored the first, as he defeated Charles Oliveira (-260) via first-round knockout and took “Knockout of the Night” honors. Swanson landed a slick body shot to the liver of “Do Bronx” and followed it up with a brutal overhand right, and it was only a matter of seconds before the Brazilian collapsed to the mat.
Demetrious Johnson was a +200 underdog, with his opponent Joseph Benavidez a -250 favorite. The two fought at a relentless pace for five rounds in the first UFC flyweight title bout. “Mighty Mouse” landed the majority of strikes and takedowns, winning the fight on two judges’ scorecards by 48-47 and 49-46 counts; another judge saw it 48-47 for Benavidez. Johnson survived a guillotine choke attempt by the Team Alpha Male representative in the fourth round.
Anything can happen in MMA. A Belfort victory would have put a huge exclamation point on that oft-spoken adage, but UFC 152 was filled with upsets from start to finish. If a betting man had put down $100 on every underdog in Toronto, he would have earned $1,575 back and lost $400 for a profit of $1,175.
This item was updated Sept. 26 at 11:15 a.m. PT to correct a mathematical error in the final paragraph.