Mixed Martial Arts Betting

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has grown rapidly since the Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) was established in 1993. The sport is now considerably more popular than boxing, which is particularly astounding due to boxing’s longevity.

MMA’s ascension to the mainstream has not been unnoticed by betting markets. Today, the sport is growing faster than any other on the planet and shows no signs of slowing down. Though the biggest fights still take place on Pay Per View, many cable networks have begun to broadcast MMA fights nearly every night a week.

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History and Rise

Mixed Martial Arts dates back to the days of the ancient Greeks, where an ancient Olympic sport, Pankration, was frequently played. It involved grappling and striking, similar to modern day MMA contests. It was also a frequent event in the Roman Colosseum.

In the late 1880s, some hybrid martial arts began to take hold in a number of areas throughout the world, including Bartitsu, which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle memorialized in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

In the 1960s and 70s, famed movie star and martial artist, Bruce Lee popularized mixed martial arts elements through his films and his own fighting system of “Jeet Kune Do.” Dana White, the current president of UFC, stated in 2004 that he would call Lee, the “father of mixed martial arts.”

The term “mixed martial arts” was first used by television critic Howard Rosenberg in a review of UFC 1, the first MMA Pay-Per-View in history. It was held at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. The event was broadcasted live, but eventually sold on home video.

Mixed martial arts didn’t immediately become an international hit. It took quite a bit of time, about 13 years. By 2006, MMA was firmly in the mainstream media. They merged with rivals WEC and Strikeforce, eliminating significant competition and making them the top dog by a large margin.

Aside from UFC, other top MMA organizations include Bellator MMA, ONE Championship, and the World Series of Fighting. Hundreds more MMA organizations are operating worldwide.

Betting Markets

UFC BetOnline Odds

The above market is typical MMA betting market between two fighters. The odds are listed in moneyline format. These two fighters are closely matched according to the oddsmakers, unlike many fights where there is a large favorite garnering most of the betting action.

The odds are from BetOnline and are listed in traditional moneyline format. There are ties in UFC, but they are rare due to their scoring system and the nature of Mixed Martial Arts. If you bet on a fighter and the match is a draw, the bet will be graded as a push and all stakes returned.

The over/under is listed on the right, which is a market that allows bettors to bet the number of rounds a fight will go.

MMA fights vary in length depending on the fighters and the promotion. UFC fights vary in length with Championship bouts having five rounds but other fights have a maximum of three. Each round lasts five minutes.

For big ticket matches, there will also be a decent number of proposition bets. These bets will center on aspects such as the fight going the distance (fight goes all rounds and no knockouts), the round the fight finishes in, if the winner will KO, etc. Many sites also offer live MMA odds for live betting markets.

MMA has also shown up in the daily fantasy sports market. DraftKings.com offers DFS MMA contests where the player must field a lineup of different fighters. Each fighter earns points for strikes, advances, takedowns, reversals, sweeps and knockdowns. They also award fighters points for rounds won and decision wins. Each roster consists of five fighters.

Wagering Limits

The wagering limits on MMA at most sportsbooks are quite small compared to other sports. For instance, BetOnline.ag will take up to $10,000 on NBA point spreads and $25,000 on NFL spreads, but just up to $1,000 on MMA markets.

The bookies aren’t as experienced with handicapping MMA compared to other sports. They receive just a fraction of the betting action to larger market sports. MMA easily falls into the small market sports betting category.

For those that are knowledgeable about MMA, now is an excellent time to bet. The market is likely one of the least efficient, on the whole, and there is a lot of public influence on the betting line. By using multiple sportsbooks, and ones with higher betting limits, it won’t be too difficult to get five figures down on a fight.

Target Underdogs, Not Favorites

Similar to boxing, MMA fights often have a larger difference in pricing between the underdog and the favorite. It’s not uncommon to see a fight with a -500 favorite and a +385 underdog.

The main reason for this is due to the public’s infatuation with betting favorites. The betting public bets more underdogs than favorites when it comes to sports betting in general, but this is often implied in MMA due high profile fighters, who are typically favorites.

The oddsmakers simply aren’t able to balance their books (or come close to) when taking bets on an MMA fight, hence the significant differences between the underdog and the favorite. This increases the price on the favorite substantially. The line is often shaded heavily due to the public’s betting patterns, making it inefficient.

Remember, betting on large favorites is already not a favorite tactic of successful sports bettors. Using the example above, the breakeven percentage on a -500 wager is about 83%. That means you must win your bet at least 83% of the time just to make your money back.

This is a frightening prospect particularly regarding MMA favorites, where the odds are often artificially higher than they should be due to the square action. This doesn’t mean you should avoid all heavy favorites, but it’s vital to be selective when you’re laying a hefty price on a line that is heavily influenced by the public.

Besides, let’s remember that all of these huge favorites were once underdogs trying to take down a champion. Upsets are much more common those most think.

Few predicted that Ronda Rousey would be upset by Holly Holm at UFC 193 in November 2014. Rousey was a massive favorite, going at -1000 or more at some sportsbooks. Holm was a +600 underdog.

Rousey had the betting public behind her in a huge way but went down in the second round to Holm via knockout. Fast-forward to March 2016 and Holm is facing off against Tate for women’s bantamweight belt.

The fight was close, and Holm would have likely won if it went to the judges, but Tate didn’t allow that to happen. She finished off Holm with just 90 seconds left in the final round via rear naked choke.

Tate was once again a large favorite. Most sportsbooks closing odds had her at -400 to win the fight.

The moral here is that any fighter can lose. All it takes is one punch or kick at the right time or a poor effort from a champion and the fight is lost. When you couple that with the public’s love for betting favorites, targeting underdogs makes a ton of sense.

Line Shopping

As mentioned above, betting action in MMA markets is often extremely one-sided. This causes a lot of differences in the odds between sportsbooks. This isn’t like NFL odds, where every bookmaker rushes to change their odds after a market leader moves their lines.

The difference in odds can be substantial if you line shop. Anyone serious MMA bettor needs to use multiple sportsbooks. One of the best sites to look for odds on MMA without having to log into every sportsbook is BestFightOdds.com.

They also have archived betting odds with the opening and closing lines.

Proposition Betting

Proposition betting can be a gold mine for some sports, but bettors need to be careful of the juice sometimes charged to these markets that make them unbeatable. However, those who know the sport well, and more specifically, how fighters match up with one another, should consider betting propositions.

Predicting a knockout or what round the fight may end is tough, but if you can study past fights and techniques, there may be some +EV opportunities out there. Line shopping also comes into play hugely here, as proposition markets and odds vary quite a bit depending on the sportsbook.