What's more exciting than hearing Bruce Buffer deliver those two words before a marquee fight in the UFC? As far as I'm concerned, the answer is absolutely nothing in sports. And that becomes particularly true when there's some money riding on the fight.
Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing, fastest evolving sport on the planet. Fighters have gone from a combination of tough guys and one-dimensional martial artists to professional athletes with well-rounded skills in every facet of fighting. Everyone can fight standing, and everyone can at least defend themselves on the ground.
Regardless, fighters still have tendencies and styles like any other sport, and if you know what to examine and what to take into account, there is still a ton of value to be had in betting MMA. Betting on Mixed Martial Arts is similar to betting other sports in the sense that there isn't one strategy or system that will guarantee victory.
There are several options when looking to bet on MMA. Daily Fantasy Sites allow you to attempt to pick the entire card and play tournaments. You can bet over/unders on the number of rounds the fight will last. And you can make typical moneyline bets or parlays with online and/or brick and mortar sports book.
As always, the name of the game is finding value relative to the odds set by the sports books. But thanks to a widely uninformed betting public and a few fighters with insanely faithful fans, those valuable lines present themselves fairly regularly. Remember, handicap each match up yourself and then compare your odds to the sports book's to determine where you think they've got it wrong.
Because we are discussing MMA as a whole, and not just the UFC, the first thing you need to determine is what environment the fights are taking place in. In overseas promotions such as Rizin or One FC, traditional boxing rings are used. This tends to benefit stand-up oriented fighters.
If you hadn't noticed already, the primary difference between a traditional ring and an octagon are the corners. In a ring, the corners are 90-degree angles. These are easier to trap an opposing fighter in. They also benefit athletes that like to walk their opponent down and keep coming forward.
When Mirko Cro Cop was the most feared stand up fighter in the world, in the now defunct Pride FC organization, he was fighting in a ring. While still dangerous, his skill set never fully transferred over to the UFC and their caged octagon.
In a cage, things tend to benefit wrestlers and fighters that prefer to grapple more. First, the cage itself is a barrier to push an opponent against to limit movement. This allows wrestlers to avoid being hit with strikes as well as helping them set up takedowns.
And as with the ring, the corners of the octagon are important strategically. The inner corner of an octagon is 135 degrees. It's much easier to escape these wider angled corners and harder to trap a fighter there for the aggressor. These become major factors in determining what kind of fight will be contended.
You may be noticing a theme by now. The environment in which the fight will be taking place is hugely important. The smaller the area of the cage, the more likely the fight will end in a stoppage. The fighters are forced to engage more.
The UFC utilizes two different sized cages. The smaller cage is roughly 518 square feet, while the larger of the two is 746 square feet. Meanwhile, Bellator uses a large circular cage with no corners at all that is much bigger than them both. Their cage is 1018 square feet.
Finding out which cage is going to be used is an important bit of information to have when handicapping your fights. In a smaller space, you may want to bet that underdog slugger with knock out power and a punchers chance. Whereas in a large cage you are looking for more movement oriented, rangier fighters.
For the reasons mentioned above I also tend to prioritize cardio less in the smaller cage. In a large cage, you need fighters that can go the distance. But in the small cage, the likelihood of the fight going to a decision or later rounds is less likely.
In the last two sections, I discussed the environments that the fight will be taking place, and how they affect your handicapping. But when I say "where" will the fight take place, it means something else. We are trying to determine which fighter will be able to dictate the style of the fight.
For example, Damian Maia just challenged Tyron Woodley for the Welterweight title. Damian Maia is the best pure Jiu Jitsu fighter in the UFC, but Tyrone Woodley has better stand up fighting and wrestling. The only way for Maia to win was to get the fight to the floor where he could work his grappling. However, Woodley's wrestling takedown defense was too good, and the fight stayed standing where he had an advantage.
Being able to control what kind of fight will be taking place is hugely important. It didn't matter how great Damian Maia's ground game was because the fight never once went to the ground. It won't always be easy to predict where a fight is going to take place. But you can try by pondering things like foot work, skill sets, and takedown defense.
Due to the grueling nature of the sport, injuries frequently occur during training camps. Then factor in missed weigh-ins and failed drug tests, and the fact of the matter is, lots of fights are canceled on short notice. When this happens, organizations will look for a late replacement. For the most part, these fighters are at a significant disadvantage.
One fighter has gone through an entire fight camp to prepare for an athletic contest. On the other hand, most of the time the short notice opponent has not, and won't be in the same shape. There are outliers like Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor 1, but I tend to bet against anyone stepping in on short notice.
If you are going to bet on MMA, you need to watch the weigh-ins. They can tell you an incredible amount about how prepared the fighters are and how they will perform. A fighter that struggles to make weight is at a disadvantage.
Some fighters will attempt to gain an advantage by being larger than their opponents on fight night. They do this by dehydrating themselves to extreme levels, cutting up to 25 pounds at times. However, this dehydration can also be to their detriment.
For fights in the United States, fighters are no longer allowed to utilize IV's after weigh-ins to rehydrate. This makes it harder to rehydrate completely. Fighters that cut too much weight often run out of gas faster and in extreme cases are knocked out easier.
There are also times that a fighter will miss weight altogether. This gives you some decent insight into the type of training camp they had. If they weren't even able to get down to the weight they needed, what are the odds they are actually prepared? This is why I bet against Johny Hendricks every chance I get.
There are times when a fight is scheduled as a way to show off one fighter, rather than an even match-up. Organizations will occasionally do this to pump up a promising young fighter that they think will sell a lot of tickets. They also will give these fights to veteran fighters that are coming off a loss but are still very marketable.
The odds for these fights are typically heavily skewed towards the favorite, but they can still be valuable. For instance, when Conor McGregor fought Dennis Siver, nobody thought Dennis Siver had a chance to win. I typically stay away from these fights. The underdog has little to no chance, and the favorite doesn't get odds worth betting. The only exception is when the odds are so lopsided that tons of people bet on the underdog, hoping for a lottery ticket miracle. When that happens, bet the favorite!
"Tier 1b Guys" is a term that I made up, so let me explain. These are the guys that seem to be able to beat everyone in their division, except for the champion. At any given time there are usually 3-4 of these guys across multiple weight classes.
Daniel Cormier, for example, is the very best Light Heavyweight in the world, as long as Jon Jones is suspended. He is probably the very best of the Tier 1b guys, and might even be too good to be considered that way. He's just unlucky in that his rival is the greatest MMA fighter anyone has ever seen.
But there are other divisions with better examples, such as Damian Maia at Welterweight, or Chad Mendes when he was in his prime at Featherweight. A lot of the time these guys will come off losses vying for the championship and thus be counted out for their next fight. No sport suffers from recency bias quite like the fight game.
A fighter can be the greatest thing since sliced bread until they lose. Then suddenly you hear how they never really beat anybody and were overrated the whole time. When people start talking about the Tier 1b guys this way after they're coming off a loss, I bet them heavily.
Legitimately spectacular fighters come around once every decade or so that just take their division by storm. They typically clean out their division, defeating all challengers, and seem to have a skill set nobody knows how to deal with.
Early 2000's Matt Hughes with his crazy strength and wrestling, comes to mind. Anderson Silva in the late 2000's with his pinpoint accurate striking and elusive counter-punching comes to mind. Jon Jones' insane reach advantage and perfect use of range right now, comes to mind.
These types of fighters are special, and they usually take some time to slow down and be defeated. While you can get decent odds betting against them, I tend to stay away until they finally look old. Father time is undefeated after all.
There are countless ways to win and lose in Mixed Martial Arts, and so as bettors there is a lot to keep in mind. I believe that the environment that the fight is taking place in is of the utmost importance. Additionally, things like dehydration, head movement, footwork, and fighting styles are significant indications of how a fight will play out.
It just takes some time to refine what characteristics you are looking for. Once you get decent at handicapping the fights yourself, you can see where the sports books go wrong. Remember, they don't set the odds based on who will win. The odds are set based on what numbers they believe will bring in lots of bets for each fighter. Take advantage of the casual fans and uneducated bettors to find good value, and you'll be screaming right along with Bruce Buffer's golden voice in no time.