MMA Wagering

Some clichés showing up in both conversation and MMA forums are worth repeating: “styles make fi ghts” and “never count out Randy Couture” are two of my favorites. But there are three classics that can cost you money if you let them inappropriately affect your betting habits.


This is a simple case of overemphasizing recent behavior and ignoring a fi ghter’s full results history. It works in two directions, causing fi ghters coming off big wins to be overvalued, and undervaluing fi ghters coming off big losses.

Fighters can certainly be positively affected by a big win. The power of a winning streak in any sport can’t be ignored. Fighters can also be negatively affected by a big loss, especially a knockout loss. But the problem is that when applied to MMA wagering, it’s given much more weight than it actually deserves. Ultimately, this results in an artifi cial infl ation of the betting line, due to overvaluing recent wins or losses.

Most of the time, a fi ghter receiving a lot of publicity and coming off a big win or two will be overvalued by the betting public in subsequent fi ghts. To provide a real world example, take a look at Houston Alexander’s betting lines. After knockout victories over Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara, Alexander came in to UFC 78 as a heavy favorite over the well-rounded and dangerous Thiago Silva. Alexander’s recent success and heavy publicity made him a huge favorite in the fi ght, but based on the actual abilities of the two fi ghters, the line should have been much closer.

It is important to note that I’m in no way trying to judge Alexander’s merit as a fi ghter. I personally think he‘s a very skilled, exiting fi ghter as well as a fantastic role model. I’m purely speaking in terms of the betting line for this specifi c fi ght. Alexander’s next fi ght may illustrate the other side of the cliché. With his last two fi ghts resulting in knockout losses, he very well may swing from being overvalued to undervalued in only three fi ghts.


Usually this cliché, meaning that anything can happen during a fi ght, is used as an excuse for placing a bet on a heavy underdog, or avoiding a bet on a heavy favorite. Certainly, a puncher’s chance exists in MMA and should be factored into your wagering. More often than not, however, the puncher’s chance factor is overrated. A fi ghter with heavy hands and solid striking technique might have a legitimate puncher’s chance even as a heavy underdog, especially against an opponent who isn’t at a signifi cantly higher skill level.

Many handicappers identifi ed James Irvin as having a solid puncher’s chance in his last fi ght as a 2:1 underdog. He is a terrifi c striker, so placing value on him beyond the odds made sense. But in numerous fi ghts, the betting line has signifi cantly overestimated the puncher’s chance factor. Look at Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz in their second and third matches. I recommended Tito Ortiz as a huge bet for UFC 61 because I felt the line on Ortiz was signifi cantly off. Despite being a heavy underdog, Shamrock was overvalued, primarily because he was being assigned too great of a puncher’s chance by the casual public. This resulted in a nice payday for those who knew that Shamrock’s chance in this fi ght was much less than the chance assigned by the betting line.


Trying to use fi ghter histories and common opponents to evaluate a matchup between people who’ve never fought makes sense. However, going so far as to say that because Fighter A beat Fighter B who beat Fighter C means that Fighter A should always beat Fighter C is taking it too far. MMA Math just isn’t that reliable. Common opponents can and should be evaluated, but it can’t be boiled down to an arithmetic problem.

An example of bad MMA Math would be Forrest Griffi n’s upset of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 76. Shogun holds a previous victory over current UFC 205-pound champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Does this mean that Griffi n should be a favorite over Jackson in their fi ght at UFC 86? Certainly not. As of this writing, Jackson is a -285 favorite – almost three to one. That’s not to say Griffi n is a bad bet, but he should not be a favorite over Jackson based on his victory against Shogun.

If you really want to confuse things, Griffi n lost to Tito Ortiz at UFC 59. Does that mean Tito Ortiz should be a favorite over Jackson or Shogun? Certainly not! Ortiz is currently a two to one underdog to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84. He would also be an underdog if he were to face Jackson, regardless of what the MMA Math says.

Whatever you do, don’t let these three classic MMA clichés get the best of you.

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