LAS VEGAS – From the outside, it looks like Rich Velez, playing under the contest alias of Monsterloc, coasted to the $119,200 first-place prize in the Ultimate Football Challenge at the Golden Nugget as he went 7-0 in Week 1, took over first place in Week 12 and never gave up the lead.
But it wasn’t quite that easy with some moments of doubt as well as a slew of sharp handicappers putting up impressive records of their own heading down the stretch. The UFC, which costs $1,000 to enter, requires players to make 7 NCAA or NFL picks a week against the contest spread over the course of the 17-week NFL season (and extending through the New Year’s Day bowl games).
Velez, a 53-year-old financial advisor who lives with his partner, Howie Lyon, in San Francisco, finished with a record of 81-36-2 (69.2%) for 82 contest points (1 point for each win, half a point per push), 1.5 points ahead of Schematic Advantage, who collects $59,600. Paul Stone Sports, the alias of (wait for it) Paul Stone, 57, of Tyler, Texas, a regular guest on VSiN and who won this contest in 2013 when it was an invitational called the Friday Football Showdown, finished another half-point back in third to earn $29,800 while Brad Powers was another half-point back and collects $20,860.
All four went 6-1 in the final week of the contest to maintain their positions and continue putting pressure on Velez – and all finished above 67.5% over their 119 contest picks.
But to fully understand Velez’s journey to the title, we have to go back three decades. Velez said he worked for a bookmaker in his early 20’s as his early education in sports betting. He said he even wrote a newsletter for his friends in the mid-1990s using the name “Monsterloc” (a tongue-in-cheek poke at touts that claim they have a “monster game” or a “lock”). However, his career path went in another direction though he maintained his interest in sports betting.
“This was my first tourney,” Velez said. “I had heard of the SuperContest, but that’s just NFL and I prefer college football.”
Velez said he listens to a lot of sports betting podcasts but is pretty sure he learned of the Ultimate Football Challenge on VSiN and decided to give it a try. Out of the 308 entrants, Monsterloc was just one of four to go 7-0 in Week 1. However, Velez stumbled over the next few weeks.
“I was playing too many pro games at first,” he said. “After about three weeks, I decided to go back to all college plays and that’s when I started to make my move.”
Monsterloc was back in the Top 10 by Week 5 and took over sole possession of first place after Week 12 with a record of 57-26-1 (68.7%). But then came another challenge.
“With the college football regular season ending, we had a couple of weeks where you had to play the pros,” Velez said. However, he said he was helped out by learning from watching his competitors and knowing they were playing a lot of the line moves every week. “I was able to use a few of those games along with my best plays on the college bowls, so each week when the selections came out we all had 3 to 5 of the same plays. That kept them from being able to make up a lot of games in one week.”
But, again, Velez wasn’t able to avoid one last scare in Week 16. Two of his NFL plays, Patriots over Bills and Bengals over Browns, lost on back-door covers within minutes of each other. “That’s when it got really nerve-wracking,” said Velez, though he ended up escaping the week with a 4-3 mark and maintaining his 1.5-point lead over Schematic Advantage and the rest.
The Monsterloc entry won Velez’s first six plays over the New Year’s Weekend, officially clinching first place on Dec. 31 when Michigan State covered as a 2.5-point underdog on the GN contest line in a 7-6 loss to Oregon in the RedBox Bowl (originally named – appropriately enough – the San Francisco Bowl).
Velez, who used the Kelly Stewart’s proxy service during the season but put in his own plays the final week as he was in Vegas in case he needed to hedge any bets, said he was relieved his title was secure and he didn’t have to sweat out his final contest play, Ohio State -6.5 vs. Washington in the Rose Bowl. As we all saw, the Buckeyes looked like they were coasting to an easy victory (similar to Velez’s seemingly easy contest win, right?) until Washington scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the final score, 28-23, dealing a bad beat for Ohio State backers.
“That would have been a brutal way to lose the contest,” Velez said.
It’s a good thing for Velez that it was never in doubt.