As MMA fans we love to discuss every nuance of our favorite fi ghts and fi ghters. One of the most heated discussion topics we see revisited time and again on the Junkie Forums are people discussing if a fi ghter is “overrated” or “underrated.” While these discussions can often turn in to unproductive (and unacceptable) “fi ghter bashing,” there is actually signifi cant value in examining the concept of a fi ghter as “overrated” or “underrated” from a gambling perspective.
For this installment, I will be looking at two main reasons fi ghters are usually overvalued in betting lines, and provide a detailed example of each. For the next strategy-focused article (in November’s issue) we will look at fi ghters who are traditionally undervalued.
The very word “overrated” can have negative connotations, and I think it’s important to make it perfectly clear that when I speak of overrated in this column, I’m purely speaking to a habitual mispricing of a betting line for that fi ghter. Examining if a fi ghter is considered overrated is not a judgment on the fi ghter’s skills, and it is defi nitely not a condemnation on the fi ghter as a person. “Overrated,” as used in this column, is from a gambling perspective only.
The main reason that fi ghters are overvalued in betting lines is simple. Fighters who are heavily favored by fans are consistently overvalued by oddsmakers. Many fans will place a bet on their favorite fi ghters no matter what the odds. A perfect example is none other than one of the most popular and polarizing fi gures in MMA history: The Huntington Beach Bad Boy, Tito Ortiz.
Despite losses in his last three fi ghts (15-6-1), Ortiz is still one of MMA’s biggest names. Equipped with a solid grappling pedigree and one of MMA’s most recognizable names, Ortiz is the defi nition of a fi ghter who has recently been, and likely will continue to be, overrated from a gambling perspective.
Ortiz’s latest wins against top competition were defeating Wanderlei Silva by a fi ve-round decision back at UFC 25 in April 2000, and then Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 33 in September 2001. Fast forwarding through Ortiz’s fi ghts since that win over Matyushenko, we have a win over an aging Ken Shamrock, losses to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, a unanimous decision win over a young and undersized Patrick Cote (who now fi ghts at 185), a split-decision win over Vitor Belfort (part of a string of fi ve-out-of-seven losses by Belfort), a controversial split -decision victory over a very green Forrest Griffi n, two more wins over Shamrock, a loss to Liddell, a controversial draw with Evans, and a loss to Lyoto Machida that was one of the most dominant decision fi ghts in UFC history. That is almost seven years without a legitimate win against top competition.
None of this is meant to criticize Ortiz. If he is your favorite fi ghter, then the last thing I am trying to do is change your personal preference. I merely point out that Ortiz’s reputation as a fi ghter, and his popularity with the fans, has outpaced the quality of his wins. As a result, he has been overrated from a gambling perspective several times in his career, including in his last three fi ghts. And, assuming Ortiz returns to the cage (or the ring) sometime soon, expect his line to be artifi cially infl ated due to his popularity with the fans.
The second major reason a fi ghter can be overrated is because public perception of their past fi ghts, i.e. their infl ated record. For this example, let’s look at Roger Huerta.
After losing to Kenny Florian at UFC 87, Huerta holds a 20-2-1 MMA record and is 6-1 in the UFC. Huerta’s notable wins include — well, therein lies the problem. Huerta had amassed a perfect record in the UFC and an impressive overall record, but he has not faced or beaten anyone I would call “notable” in his entire career. Again, this is not a personal attack against a fi ghter — it is simply an acknowledgement that Huerta’s record of 20-2-1 MMA and 6-1 UFC are deceiving. The general public looks at the record and the win streaks without looking at WHO he beat along the way (combined 4-13 UFC record prior to Florian).
Most of Huerta’s fi ghts in the UFC have come against rookies entering the UFC for the fi rst time, such Jason Dent, John Halverson, Leonard Garcia and Alberto Crane. In fact, Huerta’s only win against a non-UFC rookie was Clay Guida at the TUF 6 Finale. When you put these six wins in that perspective, they tell a much different story.
Most recently, Huerta was defi nitely overrated as only a slight underdog to Ken Florian at UFC 87. Florian should have been a much larger favorite. For those of you thinking I might just be jumping on the Florian bandwagon in light of the victory at UFC 87, I actually covered this exact topic in “Performify’s Picks for UFC 87” which you can see archived on MMAjunkie.com. There was a reason that Florian was one of my largest recommended plays on the night’s card — it was easy to identify that Huerta’s line was over-infl ated due to public perception.