In the history of organised competition, few sports and leagues have seen the kind of meteoric rise enjoyed over the last 20 years by Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC.
Founded in the early nineties in an attempt to answer the “which fighting style works best?” question, or perhaps the “Who would win a fight between Bruce Lee and Mike Tyson?” question, the UFC has reigned supreme, with a near-monopoly leading to the kind of association with the sport enjoyed by the NBA in basketball.
There are other MMA organisations, and we’ll touch on those a bit further down; unless otherwise stated though, for the purposes of this article, the UFC is MMA and vice versa.
Until the mid-2000s, MMA was very much a niche sport, but surging popularity and resulting mass-media deals locked it in as the most popular combat sport in the world. It’s surging appeal, surpassing boxing, was easy enough to pinpoint; in every country in the world, there have been schoolyard fights. Everyone wants to know who the toughest kid is.
The good news for bettors who haven’t hopped on board until now is that despite the popularity, you haven’t missed the MMA train. As betting markets go, MMA is extremely young and under-developed, and while so many sports are now being dominated by analysis-heavy betting, MMA is still largely being bet upon based on gut feel or rooting interest.
Below, we’re going to furnish you with everything you need to know to get started. Picking a side can still offer fun in the form of a coin flip opportunity while you build up your knowledge of fighters and tactics; but once you have done that, you’ll have an edge on most MMA bettors, with the vast majority of bets coming in on fight night as casual bettors seek a rooting interest in the pay-per-view they’re investing in.
Once you have this info in hand, watch a few fights, relate them to what we have to say here and get ready to bet. If nothing else, you’re in for one hell of an adrenaline-fuelled ride.
Here are the basic things you need to know to get started.
As mentioned, the UFC reigns supreme, inspiring far broader attention than other organisations. They have the biggest media deals and therefore, the best fighters; their world champions can rightly be recognised as such.
There are betting opportunities for those willing to downgrade the quality of competition they’re betting upon; far fewer fans know Bellator, the top UFC “Competitor” (the quotes are because even Bellator recognises it is not truly competition for the UFC. Think North American soccer to the UFC’s European leagues).
We will occasionally offer other circuits as well; knowing them can give you a massive edge on those markets.
A few basic UFC rules have been adopted as standard by all major organisations. Unless otherwise specified, you can take these as gospel:
Fights are held in Octagons, eight-sided cages, with a nine-meter diameter.
Fights are held in five-minute rounds.
Typical fights are three rounds long. Main events and co-main events (the final two fights of the evening and typically, the ones viewers are tuning in for) are five rounds.
Fights can be won by knocking an opponent out, making them give up (referred to as a submission) or, if neither happens, by judges’ decision. Typically, judge panels are comprised of three judges and majority wins. Fighters can also be disqualified and occasionally, they lose due to failure to answer the call for the start of a round.
Fights take place between fighters of roughly-even size. Most fighters fight below their “walking around weight” by cutting water weight for weigh-in the day prior to the fight. Fights are generally held in the following divisions, each of which has a reigning champion:
Women’s divisions are still a relatively new development in the UFC (which was slow to adopt them) but are increasing in popularity.
As mentioned previously, the original UFC concept was to pit fighting styles against one another (more specifically, it was a way to promote Brazilian jiu-jitsu as the world’s premiere hand-to-hand martial art) to see which one was superior; disciples of boxing, kickboxing, American wrestling, judo, karate, Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, and other styles were pitted against one another whilst relying on their extensive experience within those disciplines. Since that time, with the world’s learning curve what it is, fighters have become better-rounded in their fighting styles; they now mix and match styles to cover up weaknesses.
While there are variations on these themes, most fighters have a striking-based martial art (boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, karate, krav maga) and a grappling martial art (American wrestling, judo) along with an understanding of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the most popular style of submission-based fighting.
One popular refrain about MMA as a sport says, “styles make fights” and that’s absolutely true. In part, this is because strategic differences often lead to disparate approaches to fights. If, for example, a strong striker has shown they are susceptible to submissions, an opponent who usually looks to strike might look to submit instead. This is the essence of what often feels like a chess match in the ring.
When betting on MMA, you’re making one of two bet types: Either a moneyline bet on which fighter is going to win, or an over/under bet on the length of the fight. With the former, dominant fighters can see their odds get awfully short, leaving bettors with some interesting risks. With the latter, it’s important to keep in mind the length of the fight and that old “styles make fights” adage as understanding the way the two fighters will approach one another’s’ skill sets can give you a substantial advantage.
A few factors to consider
A few ideas of the kind of information you should be incorporating into your betting:
You’ve probably heard of a glass jaw; the idea behind that is that once a fighter has been knocked out, they’re more susceptible to knockouts.
The UFC has always had a bonus system that incentivises action. These bonuses can often be bigger than a fighter’s payout and can therefore affect a fighter’s approach. Some fighters make their living off of earning those bonuses, so be sure to incorporate their likelier aggression into your calculations.
Harsh weight cuts
With most fighters competing at 15-30 pounds below their walking around weight, cutting can be a gruelling process that’s difficult to recover from. It can be worth watching weigh-ins to see how guys are looking.
Length of camp
Training camps usually run eight weeks, but injuries happen and with them come substitutions. Keep in mind a late sub won’t have much opportunity to train, especially in a main or co-main event where press tours must be completed; remember also that when a new fighter comes in, their opponent won’t have as much time to come up with a solid game plan for them.
A puncher’s chance
No matter how tactical, the reality is that one punch really can end a fight. Keep that in mind when you’re looking at those long odds against dominant champions.
More than any other league, the UFC has incentivised social media use as a means for their fighters to connect with fans. Sometimes emotions will spill over or fighters will drop hint on how they’re feeling. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
Believe it or not, you’re ready to bet. Be sure to check our MMA markets to see which fights are coming up and enjoy the rooting interest. You’re going to have a lot of fun finally figuring out who the toughest kids in the schoolyard are.