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How to bet on MMA and a few bets to watch

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There is no offseason when betting on mixed martial arts. With the UFC putting on close to 40 events each calendar year, there are always several upcoming cards with betting lines available.

Often, the UFC will announce fights about six weeks before the bout is scheduled to take place, with sportsbooks posting lines for future fights about four weeks in advance of a scheduled card. These early lines are moneylines only, typically with small-to-medium limits depending on your unit sizing. As fight week approaches, betting limits grow steadily and then fully open about one week before a card takes place.

During fight week, props such as round over/unders and other exotics will come out sometime between Sunday and Monday, so roughly five or six days prior to fight night. Most UFC fight cards contain 10-12 scheduled fights, so there is always an abundance of bets and angles to look at as we approach the card on Saturday night.

Betting early in MMA

Most sports betting markets become more efficient as the scheduled event approaches, and in no sport is that truer than in MMA. MMA is unique because of its subjectivity. There are statistics that matter of course, but a lot of what goes into a fight handicap is subjective observations about the different styles and tendencies of each fighter that may not present themselves in a quantitative format. Because of this, an MMA “opener” — the first line that a sportsbook will post — can be very far off from my personal opinions.

Each MMA fight is matchup-dependent, making it difficult for an oddsmaker to have some sort of formula or model that is able to line fights efficiently from the get-go. For example, when betting on Major League Baseball, we know Gerrit Cole is one of the best pitchers in the game no matter who he’s facing. Are the Dodgers a considerably more difficult opponent to face than the Orioles? Of course. But no matter the opponent, there are several statistics that lead us to believe Cole is at an advantage against any opponent. The UFC has its own fighter rankings that are supposed to rank the fighters in each weight class by skill, but they’re so inaccurate that sometimes we see the 12th-ranked fighter as a -300 favorite over the No. 5. MMA is very different because styles make fights, and there are very few fighters (if any) who would be considerable favorites no matter who they were facing.

Let’s set up an example using three hypothetical fighters:

Kyle is the best stand-up fighter in a division, with very poor grappling defense.
Jon is a decent stand-up fighter, with a solid grappling game.
Elliot is non-threatening while striking, but is the best grappler in a division.

A bout between Kyle and Jon is likely a pick ‘em. Both fighters have their strengths, but neither will be able to capitalize on the weakness of the other.

A bout between Jon and Elliot would likely have Jon as the favorite. Jon is able to defend against Elliot’s grappling strength to some extent while winning striking exchanges.

Often, false logic would tell us that if Jon is a pick ‘em against Kyle and a favorite against Elliot, then Kyle must also be a favorite against Elliot. However, that is not the case in MMA. Elliot would likely be the largest favorite against Kyle out of any of the three hypothetical fights. This is because Kyle has no answer for the strengths of Elliot. If Kyle can’t stop a takedown, Elliot will be able to use his strength for the duration of the fight while avoiding his own weakness, which is striking.

Because of scenarios like this, oddsmakers have a lot of trouble creating accurate early lines in MMA. The transitive property of math simply doesn’t work in this sport. If we as bettors are aware of the styles and strengths of each fighter in an upcoming bout, we can use that information to bet on a fight early, before other bettors see the same things we do. Being ahead of the market moving will save us a ton of money in the long run. For example, I bet Dustin Poirier a few weeks ago as a -175 favorite, and he got to -225 come fight day. A $100/unit bettor would have lost $225 with a Poirier loss. With me betting Poirier at -175, I would instead have lost only $175 if he had lost. I made the same $100 with his win no matter when I bet it, but I saved $50 of value in the event he had lost. Obviously you want your bet to win regardless, but getting in early got me 50 cents ahead, meaning I had a positive expected value bet.

My pending future bets

7/11: Volkan Oezdemir (-160) 1x vs. Ji?í Procházka (placed 6/27)

A highly touted prospect coming into the UFC, Oezdemir put together a quick winning streak and found himself in a UFC Light Heavyweight Title fight against Cormier just four fights into his time with the promotion. Volkan lost that fight, and then his next two bouts as well, but he has rallied to put together a small two-fight win streak in his last two appearances. Nicknamed “No Time,” Oezdemir is known for his power punching that is able to put his opponents to sleep quickly. Don’t let that fool you — Volkan is a well-polished striker with a wide arsenal of attacks that he can use to damage his opponents.

While I think Oezdemir is a decent contender at light heavyweight, this bet is mostly a fade of Procházka. Procházka will be making his UFC debut on Fight Island and enters this contest with a 26-3-1 professional record. While that looks impressive, it’s important to note that Procházka has faced very poor competition while padding his record. He brings a high-octane offensive kickboxing game to the table but leaves a lot to be desired with both his striking defense and grappling skills.

Procházka has not faced anybody on Oezdemir’s level so far in his career, and I expect the UFC veteran with title fight experience will be able to capitalize on the glaring holes in Procházka’s game. We’ve seen Jiri beat up on a bunch of lower-level fighters, but I don’t think he will look so invincible when he faces a guy who will hit him back. Expect Volkan to frustrate Jiri with leg kicks, and then turn his attention to exposing the lackadaisical, hands-down defensive approach from his opponent. There will also be a grappling advantage for Volkan in this fight if he chooses to go that route. Given my analysis and market knowledge, I give Oezdemir between a 70-75% chance of winning this fight, and would therefore bet Oezdemir to win 1x up to -208 (67.5% implied probability)

7/18: Deiveson Figueiredo (-220) 2x vs. Joseph Benavidez (placed 6/24)

This fight requires less of a writeup than the previous two, in part because we already saw this fight play out once. Figgy knocked out Benavidez in the second round of their bout on Feb. 29, but the fight came with some slight controversies that led the UFC to schedule a rematch. Firstly, Figueiredo missed weight for their previous fight, meaning only Benavidez was able to capture UFC gold with a victory. Because of the weight miss, the flyweight title remained vacant following the fight. Hopefully, the weight cut for Figueiredo is easier this time around, but I’m not too considered with whether he makes weight as long as he’s hydrated and healthy come fight night. The other “controversy” from their first fight was that there was a clash of heads that opened a gash on Benavidez’s forehead prior to the knockout blow.

Prior to the inadvertent headbutt, the first fight was a competitive battle, but one where Figueiredo had the advantages everywhere the fight went. Going into fight week a lot of people thought Benavidez could be able to use his wrestling and scrambling skills to tire Figueiredo, but those thoughts were quickly put to rest in the first round. Benavidez went 0-2 on his takedowns, while Figueiredo scored a takedown of his own and threatened a submission with a deep armbar that Benavidez was barely able to escape. In the striking battle, the numbers will show you that Benavidez was landing more strikes than Figueiredo, but when you watch the fight there was just a different level of power coming from the shots of each guy. Figueiredo walked through the shots from Benavidez, keeping his hands down and not looking troubled by anything coming his way. Conversely, when Figgy landed his punches, you could see the impact it was having on Benavidez, as there was a huge power discrepancy shown.

It’s hard to find reasons why the rematch should go any differently than the first fight. At this point in their careers, Figueiredo is the better fighter in all aspects of the game. It’s likely we see a similar first round where Benavidez tries to push the pace in order to hopefully slow down Figueiredo, but then he becomes frustrated by the power coming back and begins to load up on his same punches. Benavidez becomes very predictable when losing fights and will often lead with his head down straight into his opponent throwing with all his power. For that reason, I wouldn’t even be surprised if we saw another inadvertent headbutt leading to another knockout blow. I see very few paths to victory for Benavidez here, and he will have to weather quite the storm in order to keep this fight competitive. Given my analysis and market knowledge, I handicap Figueiredo at around an 80% favorite for this fight and would bet Figueiredo to win 2x up to -233, and then 1.5x up to -264, and finally at 1x up to -300 (75% implied probability).

Keep an eye out in the subscriber chat for more opener bets as the UFC schedule rolls on. I’ll typically have about one early play per card on average and will only to lock in money when I’m confident the line will move significantly before fight week. Be ready to bet these quickly, as it’s often a race against other sharp bettors to see who can bet the value first. One quick note I’ll point out here is that I bet 1.5x on Calvin Kattar at -152 for his July 15 fight against Dan Ige, and that line is now closer to -250 and -300 everywhere. That line moved in just a few hours after I dropped it in the FTN slack, showing how important it is to beat other bettors to the window. I handicap Kattar between 75-80% chance to win this fight. I’d bet Kattar to win 1x up until -264 (72.5% implied probability) if that line becomes available.

After we lock in early bets, I’ll spend more time on fight week looking deeper into the card for the value that didn’t stand out to me during a first look. Looking forward to crushing both early bets as well as fight-week bets with all of you.

Here is a full list of my upcoming wagers that were previously released for free at varying times. Any bets I make now that the site is live will be immediately given to subscribers. For these bets make sure to, wager X to win on favorites and risk X on underdogs.

July 11:

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos v Muslim Salikhov u2.5 rounds +113 1x, good until -110.
Volkan Oezdemir -160 1x, good until -208
Max Holloway +200 1x, good until +186
Kamaru Usman -252 RISK 5x until -300, and then to win 1x between up to -350

July 15:

Calvin Kattar -152 1.5x until -200, and then 1x up until -264

July 18:

Deiveson Figueiredo -220 2x until -233, and then 1.5x up to -264, and 1x up to -300.

July 25:

Marina Rodriguez -130 1x, good until -150
Darren Till +130 1x, good until +122 +111

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