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Understanding the Logic in Betting UFC Underdogs

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Announcer Michael Bisping looks on during UFC Fight Night at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 16, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images/AFP

MMA is slowly becoming one of the most popular sports to place bets on, a vast community of enthusiasts make their weekly predictions and hope to have more correct selections than their peers. But the main problem in martial arts betting is when the underdogs become a neglected factor.

MMA betting and the UFC, in particular, have projected some random numbers over the small number of years we’ve seen its involvement with the sports betting market. Sample sizes dating back over more than a decade have shown that the unpredictability has made it difficult for algorithms and your fashionable betting models used by sports handicappers to gauge a precise reading. Main event favorites dating back to 2005 have an impressive win rate of 68% which would still return a loss. Your typical MLB or NBA spread betting market would be highly profitable; unfortunately for MMA fans, sportsbooks are more than aware of a superstar in the octagon and will match the talent with a hefty price tag.

Darren Elkins of the United States looks on after being defeated by Nate Landwehr (not pictured) of the United States. Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images/AFP

Accepting Defeat

MMA is the most volatile sport to bet on in the world, handicappers can argue their favorite sports cause and why it’s more challenging to predict but all you have to do is take a look at the numbers and compare the risk factors between sports.

Let’s take some of the most considerable odds at either end of the scale; -900 (90% win probability) versus +900 (10% win probability) – from a sample size dating back to June 2013, fighters with odds of -900 have competed twenty-two times and won twenty-one of those encounters. A 10$ bet on each twenty-one successes would’ve returned a $10 profit with an ROI% (return of investment) of 5%.

When comparing odds at +900, there have been seven fighters labeled with that price tag, six of those lost and one won. A 10$ bet on all seven of those underdogs would’ve only returned one winning bet, but in terms of ROI% and profit, a comfortable $58 and 80% ROI ultimately trumps its counterpart… the favorite!

Finding the value amongst the underdog is imperative, but not so much with +900 range of odds, which is quite extreme; but more so with the slight/moderate value range. Since 2013, underdogs priced +150 to +186 have competed in 412 contests with 178 of those bouts ending with an upset. With a 16% ROI in this particular price range, it’s one of the most reliable fields that bettors have been able to capitalize on their investments.

Moral of the story, while the “experts” can post an 8-2 winning record, it makes no relevance to how successful they are as a long-term MMA bettor. If their competitor has a 2-8 losing record, but his two successes were massive underdogs, all that matters is the handicapper with the investment returned, more so than the casual MMA bettor who does a great job at selecting the favored fighters.

China’s first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion Zhang Weili attends a training session at the UFC performance institute in Shanghai on June 15, 2020. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

Transform the Favorites Into Underdogs

While betting the underdog is a path to long term success, it’s still essential to implement substantial research and background checks before having the confidence in your plus priced fighter, and sometimes you might find significant interest in the favorite and agree on the odds accuracy.

Favorites priced -233 to -400 have a 9% ROI across 500 plus fights since 2013 and finding the perfect pairing of favorites can accumulate to plus money rewards. When moderate/high favorites are winning at a rate of 75-80%, it’s hard to ignore comparing two of the best and finding yourself with even money, ultimately raising your risk to an underdog value with a higher caliber of fighter.

If fighter a and fighter b combined give you UFC odds of +110, a probability of 46% could potentially give less risk than placing wagers on a single +110 underdog – this, of course, is entirely subjective.

Your judgment made on the fighters and price tags next to them will ultimately dictate your results.