MMA Wagering Explained
The exciting sport of mixed-martial arts is exploding in popularity, and so is interest in wagering on the fights. Until you try it, you have no idea how much having “action” on a fight can enhance the event – even if it’s only a few dollars at risk.
While it is surprisingly easy to start betting on MMA, there are some things you need to know to become a successful MMA bettor.
GAMBLING NOMENCLATURE: A QUICK PRIMER
Everything starts with the betting line. For example, take a line for Anderson Silva vs. Nate Marquardt at UFC 73:
Anderson Silva -185
Nate Marquardt +150
The numbers I listed next to a fighter’s name are known in gambling parlance as a moneyline. Moneyline bets are straight bets on the winner of an event, and are often referred to simply as “the line.” Moneyline bets are available in almost every major sport, including football and basketball.
There are two sections to a moneyline. The fighter is listed with a negative number is the favorite and is being predicted to win the fight. The fighter listed with a positive number is the underdog.
The amount listed as a negative number is the amount you must wager on the favored fighter to win $100. Silva (-185) means you risk $185 to win $100. A winning bet also returns your original betting stake, for a total return of $285.
The number listed with a plus sign is the amount you would if you wagered $100 on the underdog. Nat Marquardt (+150) means you risk $100 to win $150. Again, a winning bet returns your original stake for a total return of $250.
You don’t have to wager $100, you simply use this ratio to determine your payout for a larger or smaller wager according to the limits of the sportsbook where you are placing your bet. For example with Marquardt (+150), you could risk as little as $5 to win $7.50 at most online sites.
CONVERTING A LINE TO A PERCENTAGE
Converting allows us to establish the exact percentage chance a fighter is being given to win the fight. Converting a line requires only a simple math formula. However, it is a slightly different calculation for the favorite vs. the underdog.
For the Favorite: Amount to win $1 / (Amount to $1 + $1) = Favorite %.
Take BJ Penn (-500) vs. Jens Plover (+400) for The Ultimate Fighter 5 finale. With Penn at -500, you would wager $500 to win $100, so $5 to win $1.
Plugged into the formula: $5 / ($5 + $1) is 5/6 = .83 or 83%.
For the Underdog: 1 / (Amount won when wagering $1 + $1) = Underdog %.
For Plover, you win $400 wagering $100. Applying that same ratio, you win $4 wagering $1.
Plugged into the underdog formula: 1 / $4 + $1 is 1 / 5 = .20 or 20%.
You will notice the two percentages add up to more than 100$. This gap is the moneyline is how the sports book makes its commission.
There are a number of free calculators that you can use to do the conversion. An internet search for “moneyline converter” will offer several options.
STARTING TO USE A PERCENTAGE TO IDENTIFY VALUE
Identifying value is ultimately a complex process and will be the subject of future articles. To get started, understand that being a winning sports bettor is ultimately about identifying and pushing small edges for a long-term profit.
To identify these edges, start by setting your own winning percentage for a fighter and compare it against the percentage from the moneyline conversion. By identifying and betting significant differences, we build value in the long run.
If we believe a fighter should have a 25% chance of winning (+300) and we find a line offering (+400), we have identified an edge. It may seem like a lot, but it is actually very significant – more than enough to bet.
With the line of +400, we could be $100 to win $400. If the “true” odds winning were 25% and you were offered this bet four times – say four fights on a card, all +400 underdogs, each with true odds of 25% – probability dictates you would lose three times and win once. You would profit $400 form the win but lose a total of $300 from three losses, for a net profit of $100. Expressed another way, you would have a positive expected value of $25 on the $100 wager.
You obviously won’t win every time you identify an edge, especially an edge in an underdog. In the example above, even with the large edge identified, you still expect to lose that bet three times out of four. The idea of the “long run” means the one time profit of four you do win will show a profit on the series.
A REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE
For a real-world example let’s start with my UFC 71 predictions from UFCjunkie.com (click on Perromify’s Picks). Late replacement Houston Alexander came in as a big +450 underdog to Keith Jardine; this just an 18% chance of winning.
I was able to identify clear value in the line for Alexander, writing “I do expect this fight will be more competitive than most expect.” I went on to recommend a play on Alexander as the underdog. This line should be closer to -600 for someone with Houston’s ability and experience.”
While there were many factors that went in to the pick, ultimately I assigned my own probability to Alexander winning the fight, and compared my percentage with the 18% chance he was being given by the line. I had the fight as much closer and as such felt that Alexander represented a good bet.
Few people had done their homework on Houston Alexander prior to UFC 71. A search online showed Alexander with a 6-1 professional MMA record, spread across seven years. With significant gaps between fights, many questioned Alexander’s qualifications for the fight.
Before UFC 71, UFCjunkie.com posted an interview with Alexander in which we revealed that Alexander had been fighting continuously for those seven years, and had more than 200 total fights, most of them amateur matches not listed in his “professional” record. We found out Alexander was athletic and strong, a well-rounded striker with heavy hands. We also discovered that Alexander had excellent trainers, including former world champion kickboxer Mick Doyle (MickDoyle.com)
This combination of factors meant we had found a fighter who was being significantly underrated by the odds-makers. In short, we knew what much of the rest of the world didn’t, and we were able to capitalize on a that for a very nice payday.
While developing a winning strategy will take time, these basics should be enough to get started in the exciting world of MMA wagering. Good Luck!
PERFORMIFY’S PROFIT POINTS
- Know as much as you can about both fighters. Study!
- Evaluate public perception. Who is overrated or underrated?
- Shop for the best available betting line.
- Trust your instincts. Your first reaction is usually right.
- Read discussions from winning handicappers and experts.
- Need help? See the MMA Wagering Guide at UFCjunkie.com