Once considered an outside sporting interest when compared to the likes of American football, basketball and baseball, MMA is becoming more and more of a mainstream sport. While MMA still has a long way to go, its rise in popularity in the 21st century makes it unrecognizable from the niche sport that caught the eye as a plotline on Friends in 1997.
MMA betting has subsequently increased with popularity over time, as more and more sportsbooks offer a wider selection of markets on the combat sport. The UFC is the premier MMA circuit in the world and all of the big sportsbooks will offer UFC betting.
If you want to familiarize yourself with the different bet types in UFC and MMA betting, check out our guide on the types of MMA bets. Once you are comfortable with what you can wager on, read on below as we explore strategies for how to bet on MMA in more detail.
The most important factor to assess when betting on an MMA fight is the matchup between the two fighters and their fighting styles. This is something we’ll explore in our next section, though it is not the most basic consideration to look at – even if it’s the most influential.
The first aspects to measure ahead of betting on an MMA fighter are their win-loss records and ranking status. Although many fans complain that a fighter’s win-loss record is too basic and doesn’t give a full picture of their ability, these statistics are there for a reason and discarding them completely would be equal to going in blind.
For example, if a fighter is a good wrestler and his next opponent struggles in that area, that information suddenly looks very different when you learn the wrestler has 5 wins and 7 career losses, while his opponent has 6 wins and 1 career loss. Win-loss records can teach you how often a fighter has fought in the UFC, how often they fought at amateur level and, most importantly, how many defeats they’ve had.
UFC rankings can be similarly useful: while these tables will again only paint some of the picture, if a fighter is ranked #2 in their weight category and they’re fighting someone ranked #9, they will likely be the pre-fight favorite.
As already discussed, win-loss records and rankings are basic indicators of a fighter’s ability – but the matchup of their next fight is what’s most important in determining that fight’s outcome. MMA is an all-encompassing combat sport by nature, meaning fighters come from many different mixed martial arts backgrounds.
Fighters can be specialists in a number of fighting styles, including boxing, muay thai, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jjitsu, judo, wrestling, karate, taekwondo and capoeira. If two fighters are generally considered even in ability, this is where their strengths and weaknesses in terms of fighting style become even more crucial.
From a betting point of view, this can not only affect the money line but round betting, too. For instance, a wrestler who prefers taking the fight to the ground may be happier to see a fight go the distance, encouraging over bets for round totals, as well as making a decision or submission likelier than a knockout.
The reverse applies for fighters who are stronger in their striking. Fighters like this, often boxers or taekwondo experts, will seek an earlier knockout rather than risk losing a fight on points, pointing towards under bets or perhaps wagering on a knockout finish.
Naturally, some fighting styles will also be better suited against others. Boxers may struggle against wrestlers or judo experts, for instance, especially if the fight keeps going to the mat. Conor McGregor’s first match with Nate Diaz was a historic example, where heavy favorite McGregor fell to a shock submission loss.
So, when assessing two fighters for an upcoming MMA fight, it is extremely important to account for fighting styles and the fight matchup. If you can incorporate win-loss records and rankings into this, it’ll help you predict which fighter will be more dominant – affecting which fighting style becomes more prominent throughout the fight.
Although no one fighting style is superior to another, some analysts believe strong wrestling prowess gives a fighter a significant advantage in MMA. This is because fighters working from a wrestling base can build the rest of their skills around their wrestling.
In the UFC, a large proportion of champions have been wrestling-based fighters. This perhaps suggests wrestling is one of the most useful base skills to have, being the easiest to supplement with other fighting styles.
While wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu have produced plenty of UFC champions over the years, though, there have still been a number of boxing specialists to have triumphed. So when betting on fighters who prioritize their boxing – and especially in a fight involving two boxers – it’s important to consider how their fighting stance will affect the outcome of the match.
Fighters with an orthodox stance – left foot forward and right foot back – are more common in MMA. This can give fighters with a southpaw stance – right foot forward and left foot back – the advantage, as there are less southpaw fighters around for orthodox fighters to train against.
Anderson Silva, multiple UFC champion and considered the best MMA fighter of all time, and Conor McGregor are two examples of prominent southpaw MMA fighters. Other successful southpaws include the Diaz brothers (Nate and Nick), Chael Sonnen and Holly Holm.
MMA fights are settled in the octagon. But, just like a football team with weeks to prepare for the playoffs or a basketball team traveling across the US for a crucial game, pre-fight preparations can have a huge impact.
Some fighters coming off the back of a loss will blame their pre-fight training camps, while victorious fighters will often credit the work they did in preparation for a match. A key consideration is how long a fighter has had to prepare for a specific bout – some late stand-ins can be at a disadvantage if they replace a fighter just a few weeks before a fight; this can happen if the original fighter gets injured or fails a drug test.
Equally worth examining is the caliber of a fighter’s training partners. If a fighter chooses high-quality sparring partners, they can be better prepared than a fighter entering a bout overconfident, after training with opponents weaker than them. Fighters can also train with top performers in another fighting discipline, to either prepare them for the strengths of their upcoming opponent or work on their own individual weaknesses.
Even though MMA is an individual sport, a fighter’s backroom team can be as important as the coaching setup of an American football, baseball or hockey team. The most successful coaches in MMA, such as Jon Kavanagh, are known to boost the performance of their fighters.
In preparation for a particularly big event, if a fighter either changes coach or hires an extra trainer to work on a specific area of their game, this will certainly be worth accounting for in your betting. Other coaches, however, come with weakened reputations, such as Ronda Rousey’s trainer Edmond Tarverdyan.
While Rousey was at the top of her game in the UFC, critics suggested Tarverdyan did not enhance her weaknesses, with that complacency leading to a sharp downfall. Some coaches will have particular experience with certain fighting styles, too.
With various different weight categories across professional MMA (amateur MMA has an additional super heavyweight category), another important consideration when betting on MMA and the UFC is how well a fighter has made weight. For example, a naturally heavier fighter may struggle to make the cut for a lightweight bout, pushing their body to the limit to do so.
While weight categories separate heavier fighters from lighter fighters, eliminating unfair advantages, there can still be a difference of several pounds between fighters within one category. That’s why fighters on the edge of two categories can either be very disadvantaged in one division, or extremely suited to another.
Alongside weight, injuries can impact a fighter’s ability going into a bout, which will often be reflected in their odds. Although injuries make a huge difference in a team sport, the effects are more subtle for an individual fighter.
Fighters, for instance, may hide injuries not to expose them to opponents beforehand. But the smallest shoulder injury could be crucial for a wrestler, while a minor leg injury could completely alter the approach of a taekwondo fighter.
Once all your pre-match research has been done and the fight has already started, your betting opportunities do not disappear. In fact, rather than becoming limited, the growth of live betting can leave you with even more options during a fight.
If you have studied up a particular match and were not able to choose a wager leading up to the event, you can use all your gained knowledge once a fight has started – with the added benefit of seeing how the opening exchanges have unfolded. Odds will change throughout a match, giving you the opportunity to assess changes on the money line, round betting, method of victory and more.
In this way, live MMA or UFC betting allows you to either place a new wager having seen how the fight is going, or hedge your bets if you think your pre-match wager isn’t going to win. With the latter, however, it’s important to gamble responsibly, not chasing your losses and only wagering on a different outcome strategically.
Despite the worldwide appeal of the UFC, MMA is still far from the number one US sport in terms of popularity. Because of this, sportsbooks have far less data to work with than something like the NFL or MLB, which have years of performances and statistics for books to look at when setting lines and odds.
If you are looking for betting value or aiming to bet regularly on the UFC, the chances are you may find more questionable odds and lines than other sports where the books are usually watertight. So if you are looking to find an edge over the sportsbook, betting on MMA can give you more of an opportunity than, for example, betting on the NBA.
UFC is the main competition MMA fans will recognize worldwide – but there are a number of lesser-talked about MMA competitions worth keeping an eye on when you are betting on MMA. The ‘best of the rest’ is Bellator MMA – a circuit worth following because of the amount of fighters who switch between Bellator and UFC.
Over the years, Bellator fighters have moved to the UFC and, in these cases, betting on them as a rookie would have been a mistake. Though they were new to the UFC, their overall MMA records may have been very strong in Bellator.
More recently, a number of UFC fighters have made the switch in the opposite direction, raising the profile of the Bellator circuit. Even though the UFC is the biggest MMA competition in the world, betting on Bellator MMA is becoming increasingly popular, so the fighters on this circuit are worth following – especially with the increasing crossover with the UFC.
For all the best odds and offers on UFC or Bellator action, always compare before you bet. MMA fight nights take place regularly throughout the year, giving you plenty of chances to bet on the best fighters in the world.
Even though particular fighters may wait weeks or months between a fight, the multiple circuits and divisions across MMA mean you are guaranteed regular betting action. As long as you gamble responsibly, without trying to wager on every UFC fight you can find, you’ll be able to have fun and enjoy MMA betting.
And, if you are looking to profit long term from betting on the UFC, Bellator or any other MMA action, you won’t be left short of fights to bet on.