MMA Betting Strategies
For the sports gamblers out there that love wagering on fight sports, the emergence of mixed martial arts has been a real godsend. While there are only a few major boxing bouts per year worth putting some action on, there are always great MMA cards coming up, especially in the most significant MMA organization on the planet—the UFC.
Furthermore, unlike its pugilistic counterpart, MMA/UFC cards typically have numerous fights per card worth wagering on, not just a single high-profile main event.
This provides knowledgeable gamblers with the opportunity to be discerning, only betting on the matches that present the most value. This means that two or three times a month, there are several fights that can be accurately handicapped and bet on by those willing to do the research.
Mixed martial arts has evolved dramatically from how it was only fifteen years ago. Back then, fighters had more specialized backgrounds.
The grapplers were typically novices when standing and the strikers were just as helpless on the ground, and because of this, fights were relatively simple to predict.
Nowadays, every fighter is well rounded, but they do still possess tendencies and specialties within this more well-rounded skill set.
We will examine locations, which can pertain to the fighting environment size, ring or cage, or even the altitude of the city hosting the competitions.
We will also look at attributes such as reach, the distance a fighter prefers to engage in, their range, and even their age.
MMA is a highly volatile sport. Even with a fight perfectly handicapped, enormous upsets do tend to happen, and for this reason, no system will help you predict the correct outcome 100% of the time.
But by paying attention to the most critical factors and learning which factors to ignore, you may significantly improve your odds when betting on this hugely profitable sport.
Pay Close Attention to the Weigh-Ins
For most MMA organizations, the weigh-ins for the fight take place the day before the bout. The promotion you will likely be betting on the most is the Ultimate Fighting Championships, or UFC, which currently weighs their competitors on the morning of the day before the event.
This is not enough time for fighters with too large a weight cut to properly rehydrate, and so watching the weigh-ins gives us great insight into how an athlete will perform the next night.
Weight cutting is common in MMA, as well as in amateur wrestling and boxing, although boxers utilize the practice less extreme than those in the other two sports.
Essentially, athletes will use hot baths, dry saunas, and other means to excessively sweat out their body weight. This leaves the competitor extremely dehydrated in order to weigh in at their agreed-upon weight.
Post-weigh-in, the fighter does all they can to replenish their fluids, giving them a size and strength advantage on the night of the fight.
However, the use of IVs to rehydrate has recently been banned, making the task of regaining ideal hydration levels more difficult. Furthermore, extreme dehydration lessens the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, causing the brain to bounce around the skull more and making a fighter more susceptible to a knock-out.
You will typically hear about a fighter’s weight cut going poorly before the weigh-ins. The MMA news media will begin mentioning last-minute efforts to lose the last few pounds before they hit the official scale.
But nothing will tell you the story as much as when they walk onto the weigh-in stage.
It is immediately evident if a fighter struggled through a problematic cut when you see their face. It will look entirely drawn out, sometimes with dark rings under the athlete’s eyes. Sometimes they even require help walking the stairs onto the stage.
If you see a fighter moving sluggishly, needing assistance to stand up, and with a distant, blank look in their eye, you can bet they struggled to cut the weight.
Occasionally the fighter will even miss weight but will knock off the necessary pounds during the allotted extra time. These are great fighters to identify and bet against. Not only does the missed weight tell you that they weren’t adequately prepared, but they also now have less time to rehydrate.
Additionally, there is the psychological impact of already failing at one aspect of the competition.
Competitors that are forced to spend more of their time getting in shape and cutting last-minute pounds have less time to prepare tactically for their opponents.
For that reason, fighters that tend to keep their weight consistent with their fighting weight between bouts typically experience better performances and longer careers.
Remember, a dehydrated fighter is more likely to gas early and is more prone to being knocked out. So make sure to focus on how well each opponent looks when they weigh in, and also keep aware of how their dieting and conditioning is going in camp. These can be immense identifiers of both performances and the how the “over/under number of rounds” bets will play out.
One recent example that would have netted the observant bettor a nice return was Joanna Jedrzejczyk (a -550 favorite) fighting Rose Namajunas for the Strawweight Championship. Joanna, the former champion, used a new dietician team and struggled to make the 115-pound weight limit and looked horrible on the scale.
She was uncharacteristically knocked out in the first round of the fight by a five-to-one underdog in a sluggish showing that saw her reaction time and chin fail her.
Ring or Cage?
These days, most of the premier mixed martial arts promotions use a cage of some kind, although that’s not always the case. For example, Rizin in Japan still uses the ring, as do many of the amateur and more regional-level events.
It’s important to know which environment a match will be taking place in because they each benefit different fighting styles and have a significant influence on the outcome.
A ring has four 90-degree angle corners, while an octagon has eight 135-degree corners, and some of the rounded cages have none.
Another difference when fighting in a ring is the ropes that are present, rather than a chain-linked fence wall.
Due to the two reasons above, rings tend to benefit stand-up or striking-based fighters more. It is much easier to walk an opponent down, trapping them in the corner when said corner is 90 degrees, which gives the stand-up competitor the opportunity to trap their opponent in front of them and press their advantage on the feet.
The lack of a wall makes the striker more challenging to take down by removing the ability to string together multiple takedown attempts while pressing the stand-up fighter against the wall.
Related to the points above, the cage environment tends to benefit the wrestlers and submission grappling fighters more. Not only are the corners wider, allowing the grappler to prevent being cornered, but the walls hugely assist with takedowns.
Rarely does one see a clean double-leg takedown in the middle of the cage these days.
Instead, fighters shoot for the double, but when the opponent sprawls, the wrestler continues pushing until the opponent’s back is against the fence. Then the ground specialist can press them against the surface while landing short punches, or regroup for another takedown now that the opponent doesn’t have the space to adequately sprawl and stuff the takedown.
Again, if you are betting UFC, the fights will always take place in the Octagon, but even then there is still research to be done.
Size of the Cage
One factor that few mixed martial arts handicappers consider is the size of the cage or ring that the fight will be taking place in.
The larger and more commonly used cage has 746 square feet of fighting surface, while the other is only 518 square feet.
The smaller cage provides less space for movement-based fighters and historically leads to more finishes. Once you determine which environment the fighters will be facing off in, there are a few likelihoods you can deduce about how things will play out.
First, there are going to be more exchanges between combatants. More exchanges means a higher probability that the fight will end early, so this is helpful information when betting on the number of rounds or whether a match will end in a decision.
Next, it also increases the possibility of upsets for certain types of fighters.
The more massive cage is the domain of choice for the rangy, movement-based cardio machines that like staying in motion and waiting for the perfect opportunity for the ideal attack.
Fighters like Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, Lyoto Machida, or Alistair Overeem thrive in this space. The bigger the fighting surface, the more likely more fights end in a decision as well.
Avoid Betting Heavy Favorites
There’s a betting strategy in college football where bettors will look for 20-30 point favorites and bet thousands of dollars on the moneyline for those teams to win straight up.
The individual payouts are abysmal, but the teams win over 97% of the time, so over the course of a season, someone with a large bankroll can make a 12.5% profit, which is competitive with an investment account.
This will entirely not work in the world of mixed martial arts. With every limb in play, and an unlimited amount of techniques and possibilities throughout multiple facets of fighting, upsets occur regularly.
As mentioned earlier, Joanna Jedrzejczyk was a -550 favorite when she fought Rose Namajunas. It would hardly be worth betting on Joanna at those odds. And if you did, you were in for a miserable night, as she only lasted one round before being TKO’d.
So, you are much better off long-term betting sensible underdogs in the +250 – 500 range, which win commonly enough to collect some decent profits.
If you insist on betting heavy favorites, you are best off pairing them into parlay bets.
and can still pocket a decent return.
Age of the Fighters
Age is one of the most important factors to consider when attempting to predict a contest’s outcome. The pay in MMA pales in comparison to the paychecks athletes receive at the highest level of other sports, and for this reason, many athletes continue taking fights well past their prime.
While this is an unfortunate situation for the participants, it does provide more value for bettors to seek out.
The damage fighters sustain during their career accumulates, and chins that were once unbreakable become the most prominent liability just a few years later.
Look at Chuck Liddell—for years, he was able to march forward, sustaining damage in order to deal his own. It worked remarkably well for years, until it didn’t, at which point he began to rack up knock-out losses.
But this information isn’t only valuable when an older fighter is facing someone younger. Many times, aging fighters will be paired with opponents at a similar stage in their career.
In such a case, age may not help a gambler choose a winner, but it may certainly help them bet the under for number of rounds, or bet against a decision happening.
Consider Pace, Reach, and Stance
Once you’ve researched all of the details regarding what kind of environment the fight will be in, how the weight cutting went, and the size of the fighting surface, it’s time to look at each competitor’s approach to fighting.
Three of the most vital aspects of fighting to consider are the pace that each athlete likes to fight at, the reach that they are working with, and their stance.
First, look at each fighter’s stance.
(In combat sports, “south-paw” means left-handed.) South-paw combatants tend to have an advantage when competing against right-handed, or orthodox, fighters.
This is due to familiarity; as athletes develop their skills early on, most of the sparring and training they do will be against other orthodox fighters. Left-handed opponents present different angles and tendencies, and while lefties come up facing plenty of right-handed competition, the reverse is rarely true.
Pace is another important metric, and something you will want to pair in consideration with the cage size. A higher-paced competitor will look to utilize their cardiovascular advantage by pressuring their opponent into numerous exchanges in an effort to tire them out and wear them down.
They will look to accumulate damage on their adversary over time, finishing them late in the fight or capturing a decision.
These competitors wait for the opponent to come to them, creating an opening during their attack for the counter-puncher to capitalize on. Things like altitude, cage size, and age will factor into which fighter will be able to fight at their pace.
Reach will also play an essential role in most fights, although this depends on how capable each individual is at utilizing it.
Jon Jones built a Hall of Fame (if not for the out-of-the-ring issues) career on expertly using his length and range to make himself nearly impossible to hit, while always being able to touch his opponents. Stefan Struve, on the other hand, has struggled to keep fighters at a distance, despite being seven feet tall.
When a fighter is adept at using their reach, it can become an incredible advantage. The ability to hit without being hit is a core tenant of winning any fight, after all.
Don’t Bet Based on Fond Memories/Personal Favorites
In MMA, we see those few special fighters on the rise, showing promise early in their careers. We see them reach the tops of their divisions and watch them expertly clean out divisions. They look unbeatable, and dominate in the prime.
We’re talking about the Jose Aldos, the Anderson Silvas, and the Georges St-Pierres of the world.
It can be challenging to know when a legendary fighter no longer has that “it” factor that carried them for so many years. Memories of past triumphs and remarkable performances stay in a fan’s mind and can make a bout tough to handicap without bias.
The same can be true when betting on one’s favorite fighters. It is important to remember not to bet on what you want to happen; you should bet on the most probable outcome being offered at the most valuable odds.
When judging whether a legendary combatant still has it, there are a few metrics worth researching.
- First, have they been finished recently, even if the loss seemed like a fluke?
As we have pointed out, accumulated damage plays a huge role in this sport.
Once the chin has been broken, the vast majority of fighters do not get it back. They are always more susceptible to flash knock-outs.
Also, look at their most recent three or four fights.
- Even when the legend won, were they beginning to get hit more?
If you look at the tail end of GSP’s prime, you’ll notice that half of the damage he received in his entire career happened in the last handful of fights.
Once this begins occurring, you must start looking into impending upsets, because they are coming soon. Don’t let their highlights taint your vision.
Styles Make Fights
Mixed martial artists have unique tendencies and approaches to their fights, even beyond just pace, reach, and dominant hand. There are competitors like T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz that enjoy bouncing in and out of range and setting up attacks from strange angles while staying elusive on defense.
Meanwhile, the Diaz brothers will walk their opponents down, utilizing a boxing stance and throwing a high volume of punches without much attention to blocking leg kicks or throwing their own.
Others still will fight out of a karate stance, throwing probing sidekicks and dangerous round houses while leaping in and out of range. It’s not enough to know whether a fighter is a “ground guy” or “striker” anymore.
There are habits within those descriptions that are important. Let’s look at a recent title fight for an example.
Demian Maia is the best jiu-jitsu practitioner fighting in the UFC. He is a decorated black belt, and when a fight enters his domain, he is nearly impossible to beat. If he is able to take an opponent’s back, the battle is all but over.
However, his skill set requires the match get to the ground to be successful. He has worked on his boxing over the years, and while he has improved tremendously, it will never be as potent a weapon as his grappling.
Tyron Woodley is the current Welterweight champion. He is a powerful wrestler that also possesses knockout power in his hands. Few fighters possess his one-punch knockout power, and his wrestling base affords him the ability to dictate where most fights will take place. This came into play against Maia.
Wrestlers are more often than not superior to jiu-jitsu practitioners when it comes to takedowns and takedown defense. When training jiu-jitsu, more emphasis is placed on securing submission holds and progressing positions while on the ground, but wrestlers get more experience shooting for takedowns and sprawling to stop them.
Woodley, possessing the better boxing of the two fighters, was able to keep their championship bout standing, robbing Maia of the opportunity to apply his craft. Instead, it became a boxing match, which Woodley soundly won.
“It’s All Over!”
For the aspiring MMA handicappers out there, the first action to take is to begin watching as many fights as possible. While there is a ton to be gleaned from researching results and looking at statistics, understanding the feel and rhythm of the sport and its unique fighters is tantamount to success.
In a sport where upsets are commonplace and nobody’s spot at the top is assured, every single morsel of information can be the difference between winning and losing.
While there is never a sure thing in MMA, there are still many factors to consider that will improve the accuracy of one’s predictions.
How a fight plays out is dependent upon which environment (ring or cage) will contain the contest, the altitude the event will take place at, and how much square footage is available to the athletes within its confines.
The age of the competitors also plays a crucial role, as does their accumulated damage. Fighters only have so much damage they can take in a career before performances begin to decline, and once a chin goes, it’s gone.
It is then vital to determine which combatant will dictate the kind of fight that will take place.
Every competitor has two hands, elbows, knees, and feet at their disposal, and in the chaos that is fighting, anyone can lose on any given night.
But if you focus on the strategies shared here, you can significantly improve your chances of gambling success by paying attention to the dynamics that genuinely make a difference.