MMA has seen exponential growth in recent years which has led to the increased popularity of MMA betting. But what factors must be considered to make an informed bet? Read on to learn vital considerations and how to avoid MMA betting pitfalls.
1. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) rules
Most MMA organisations, such as UFC and Bellator, use the unified rules of MMA, a ruleset that sees groin shots and eye pokes illegal, as well as other offences. Fights are also scored using the 10-point must system, where each individual round sees the winner given 10 points and their opponent nine or fewer, a system derived from boxing.
The scores from each round are combined to determine the winner, should the fight go the distance. The only notable exception to this scoring system can be seen with Singaporean MMA promotion, One Championship, which instead scores the fight in its entirety, rather than as individual rounds, as well as allowing knees to the head of a grounded opponent in their rules.
Whilst this shouldn’t be a huge consideration, former UFC champion Demetrious Johnson recently lost via KO in a One Championship fight due to a knee to the head whilst grounded, so it is worth knowing the ruleset for any organisation you bet on.
2. Why can MMA betting be profitable?Unlike soccer or basketball, MMA is still a game of imperfect and incomplete information. Given that fighters only compete two or three times per year, rather than, for example, 38 times in soccer or 82 in basketball, it is much harder to build up significant historical data, meaning it is harder for bookmakers to price fights accurately. As a result, you can often find inefficient prices, meaning there is good value to be found. Consequently, MMA betting lines often see more movement from opening to close than more established sports do. As a general rule, the further from the event you bet, the less likely that the odds are an accurate reflection of true probabilities; however, the max betting limits are also likely lower. This allows for different betting strategies – either one where you look to pick weak lines for smaller amounts or another where you look for smaller edges but bet bigger amounts. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t still inefficient lines closer to the date of the fight, where betting limits can be much higher.
Whilst it is important to not fall prey to hindsight bias, two notable examples of this are Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2 and Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes. In both fights, the popular name closed at far shorter odds (1.33 and 1.58) than an unbiased analysis of their respective skills going into the fight would suggest they should. McGregor was known to have cardio issues and was facing a resilient, hard-to-finish opponent and Rousey was facing a better, more powerful striker - only one fight after Holly Holm showed her to have significant flaws in her stand-up fighting performance - yet both closed as significant favourites.
3. A basis for how to form your opinions on a fight
In combat sports, you will often hear the saying that styles make fights, with very good reason. In the very early days of MMA, you would see fights between two different disciplines, e.g. boxing vs. wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu vs. taekwondo, where fighters excelled in one area at the expense of every other aspect of the sport. Nowadays though, it is incredibly rare for a fighter to compete in an elite promotion without being well-rounded in all facets of the game.
However, that does not mean that fighters don’t have strong/weak areas of their game. When looking to make bets on MMA, you want to analyse how these strengths and weaknesses compare, and how they impact the potential paths to victory. For example, Khabib Nurmagomedov had potentially the best wrestling skills the sport had ever seen. At UFC 254, he defeated former collegiate wrestler Justin Gaethje. Whilst Justin had incredibly good defensive skills, Nurmagomedov's offensive wrestling was so good that he was able to take down and quickly submit Justin. If you are able to accurately assess a fighter’s skills and forecast their path to victory, then you should have success betting on MMA.
Whilst a very useful point for analysis, using stats alone could lead you to bad outcomes when betting on MMA.Much like all sports, MMA has a whole host of relevant statistics covering striking, grappling, and submission attempts/defence. A useful source is UFCSTATS, where you can see all the relevant information for the entirety of a fighter's UFC career, in both their entirety and broken down fight by fight.
However, as a result of small sample sizes, it is fair to say that not all statistics are of equal value. Whilst a very useful point for analysis, using stats alone could lead you to bad outcomes when betting on MMA. For example, the aforementioned Nurmagomedov had only 48% takedown accuracy in his UFC career. This number is deceptively low, considering the sheer unrelenting and never-ending volume of his takedown attempts.
Similarly, Edson Barboza had a 77% takedown defence rate but was taken down and dominated by Nurmagomedov when they fought, an outcome that many MMA fans considered a very likely probability, reflected in Khabib’s 1.26 closing price.
Similarly, not all records convey equal amounts of information. In one 2021 UFC fight, two relative newcomers, Nicolae Negumereanu and Aleksa Camur, each had similar records of 9-1 and 6-1 respectively. However, Negumereanu’s previous opponents had a combined record of 40-70, versus 32-6 for Camur's previous opponents.
Without digging deeper into the fighters’ form, it would have been easy to miss the fact that Camur had faced a significantly higher level of competition throughout his career, leading to a higher level of experience. However, digging deeper enabled a more accurate assessment of his true skill level. These examples show the danger of placing too much emphasis on the raw numbers and statistics in MMA.
4. Avoid MMA betting pitfalls
This brings us to the next topic: what to avoid doing when betting on MMA. The number one thing to avoid is betting based on what you want to happen rather than what you think will happen. As mentioned above, McGregor closed at 1.33 for his rematch with Poirier. However, he opened at 1.57, making for an 11.5% move in implied probability (63.6% to 75.1%) from the opening to closing line.
Savvy bettors may have predicted this to happen due to a large influx of casual fans betting on the superstar during fight week, allowing those who may have wanted to back Poirier to do so closer to the event at higher odds with higher limits. Similarly, savvy McGregor bettors may have placed bets earlier on, before the price decreased, accepting lower limits in return for better odds.
This movement was no doubt in part a result of the Irishman’s brash, confident personality and bold predictions of a second-round KO at the fight-week press conferences. This makes for a good example of another MMA betting sin, which is believing the noise.
The number one thing to avoid is betting based on what you want to happen rather than what you think will happen.
Whilst McGregor is an extreme example, every single fighter going into a fight says that they are in the best shape of their life, had the best training camp ever, and have never been more confident. This is simply not true. In a sport as difficult and strenuous as MMA, fighters often enter fights with undisclosed injuries that impact their performance to varying degrees.
The final thing you want to avoid when betting on MMA is blindly backing the favourite. MMA is an incredibly volatile sport; a fighter can win 99% of the fight and lose via KO or submission in the final seconds. This, combined with the often inaccurate pricing, makes blindly backing the favourite a losing proposition.
Unlike boxing, high-level MMA rarely sees lopsided matchmaking as the value of being undefeated is so much lower. At the time of writing, the current UFC champions have an average of 3.46 losses, with Charles Oliveira and Glover Teixeira having seven and eight respectively. This is no doubt in part due to the relatively even matchmaking in MMA and in the UFC in particular.
As a result of this, in nearly every matchup, both fighters have a realistic chance of victory which makes backing every favourite, simply because they’re the favourite, a poor idea.
5. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) betting strategies
Earlier on, we mentioned how betting line accuracies and limits change the closer it gets to the fight taking place, allowing for different betting strategies. This is only one example of the different approaches you can take when betting on MMA. Prop markets, such as Over/Under on rounds as well as the Method of Victory markets allow you to place a variety of bets beyond the simple Money Line. Method of Victory markets can be especially valuable to you if you think a fighter only has one realistic path to victory, e.g. a KO/TKO.
For example, at UFC 265 Derrick Lewis and Cyril Gane fought for the interim heavyweight title. Whilst Gane was acknowledged to be much more talented and widely skilled, Lewis had incredible one-punch KO power. Because of this, Lewis was very unlikely to win via decision/submission, meaning those who wanted to bet on him were able to do so at a much better price on the prop markets.
Whilst ‘Lewis by KO/TKO’ may have been the best value bet in the above instance, in other fights it will be the Over/Under line or a bet on whether the fight goes the distance. For example, in a sample of 210 women’s strawweight fights (115lb), a decision was needed 140 times - a whopping 67% of the time.
Method of Victory markets can be especially valuable to you if you think a fighter only has one realistic path to victory.
However, across 739 heavyweight fights, a decision was reached only 192 times - 25.9% of the time - with KO/TKO being the most likely outcome. Knowing this, bettors could look to bet on their chosen fighter to win via decision in a women’s strawweight fight, or their chosen heavyweight via a KO/TKO, rather than the shorter-priced Money Line offerings. Similarly, if you don’t have a strong belief in either fighter, then betting on whether the fight will go the distance can also be an attractive proposition.Whilst we've been talking entirely about pre-game MMA betting thus far, MMA is also available to bet in-play. This allows you to assess what is going on in the fight before placing your bet, as well as allowing you to take advantage of the often large movements in the betting lines before placing your bet. An example of this would be waiting till the end of Round 1 to bet on a fighter when you expect them to finish the fight strong, perhaps betting on them winning in Round 2 or 3, or via a late stoppage.
If Round 1 goes as you predict it to, you would be able to get a higher price on the live betting line than you would have for that outcome in pre-game betting. If a fighter is exceeding your expectations, or is noticeably more tired than they should be, you can use this information to make more informed bets in-play, as the fight takes place.
However, whilst the volatility of MMA leads to large fluctuations in price, it also means that you have to be very quick to react, betting quickly and decisively when you believe you see value.
More MMA insights
More insights, information, and articles relating to MMA can be found in our Betting Resources, including detailed previews of upcoming UFC fights.
If you’d like to take what you’ve learned today and put it into action, you can check out the latest odds for all upcoming MMA fights at Pinnacle.
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