Freelance: UFC Betting—5 Ways to Spot an Upset in MMA Fights

For all you hard-working sports fans that like to gamble, your money is hard to earn and may be even harder to keep. So, when you do bet (in this case on MMA) you want to be smart about. Although, one of the most entertaining aspects of all sports, especially in fighting, is when you watch something happen that no one expected—except for those who paid close enough attention.

Hopefully, the list of factors below will help you out the next time you are considering backing the underdog in a dog-eat-dog sport.

5. Injures/ Weight-Cutting

Every fighter enters any given fight with a number of bumps, bruises, and smaller but manageable injures. At the risk of stating the obvious, if you are hiding say, a leg injury, or are over-dehydrated from making weight like Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov who said that he though he was “going to die” from cutting to face Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson (he opened as a -200 favorite against the +160 Ferguson in January before the bout was scrapped) a 22-0 record won’t hold up no matter how skilled you are.

4. Is [INSERT FIGHTER NAME HERE] a “Real” MMA Fighter?

In hindsight, even the most hardcore of “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey’s fans should have seen her first loss to former boxer Holly Holm coming. What was Rousey before she turned to MMA? The answer is: a judoka. What was she after she had entered the sport? The answer is: a judoka.

What was her plan of attack in each of her 12 consecutive wins (15 if you include her amateur background)? It was pretty simple: Let the opponent come to her, force said opponent to clinch just long enough for Rousey to execute any number of judo throws, look for a chance at her signature move (the armbar,) eventually sink in the armbar and score the victory.

To be fair, she does also have three wins by KO/TKO, once deliberately choosing to stand and doing so successful to highlight her then-improving hands, but her striking just wasn’t on the level that it needed to be and “The Preacher’s Daughter” and Jackson-Wink MMA knew that. Holm said prior to UFC 193:

“In trying to close the gap on her, a lot of girls don’t want to get too close because then she can clinch and toss you to the ground and then arm bar you in two seconds. But if you don’t get close enough, you can’t hit her. You have to be able to put together a game plan to get past that…If you’re going to be in range, you have to be ready to deal with the clinch game. If you’re going to be out, you better be working on some angles to try to strike from distance and use footwork and the cage to your advantage. I’m not saying girls haven’t tried, but she’s obviously just flat shut down their plans.”

The same thing later applied to Holm after she captured the UFC women’s bantamweight (135-pound) title from Rousey and shocked the world: Rousey had an armbar as a signature move that everyone expected after a certain point in the streak (you always want to be unpredictable) and then her challengers saw what she did to set up the armbar and solved the metaphorical puzzle.

Predictability Changes the Odds: Everyone has a base style that they first learn and in Holm’s case it was her boxing—as mentioned elsewhere, she had 16 title defenses across three weight divisions—but we never really saw jiu-jitsu from her in the same way that we’d always see Rousey either execute those throws or hit punching mitts when training.

That’s why Holm got put to sleep by Miesha “Cupcake” Tate at UFC 196 and why after the loss to Holm, Rousey became less of a threat to current champion Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes entering their bout at UFC 207 last December. As of November 10, 2015 ahead of the Holm fight, Rousey was listed by Bovada as a -1,000 favorite to the +900 underdog in Holm.

By the time the she faced Nunes, the odds were a lot close with Rousey the (lesser) favorite after spending over a year basically in hiding, coming in on December 30, 2016 at -165 to the +145 Nunes per

The UFC is no longer a clash of styles-type tournament and the sport of MMA is a hybrid (it is called mixed martial arts) and everyone needs to be well-rounded in every aspect, not necessarily to perfection, but enough to be a “jack of all trades”

3. Look for a Change in Fighting Styles

There are some men and women in the UFC that make the more thoughtful, often evasive approach of point fighting just work for them and they do so consistently: former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz, current UFC women’s strawweight (115-pound) champion, “Joanna Champion” Jędrzejczyk (who easily won back-to-back performances against heated rivals Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz four rounds to one), Jon “Bones” Jones, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, etc…

These fighters understand a basic idea that has existed since the beginning and is essentially just “How to Win in a Fight” and that idea is this: hit and don’t get hit or “stick and move.” This strategy also works because while they are point fighting, the fighters mentioned above and more like them are simultaneously looking for the same openings as even more consistent finishers to end the fight (fighters aren’t paid by the hour after all.)

However, these fighters understand that if they simply land more strikes and are more accurate than their adversary, chipping away at them and letting the punch count add up (a practice known as “volume striking”) then they aren’t in any real danger of getting robbed. Although, some fighters like the recently re-signed Georges “Rush” St-Pierre have admittedly to losing their killer instinct, instead simply fighting to not lose rather than to win.

GSP said last September, “Towards the end (of his initial UFC run and championship success—nine welterweight (170-pound) title defenses, the second-most overall in UFC history—before a he took a hiatus from competing in MMA for around three years,) I didn’t have the same anger, I didn’t have the same drive to hurt a guy and to finish it. It’s a fact. I tried to get it back, but it’s very hard. I think the best way to get it back for me was to step out. Because it’s more of an emotion thing. I was fighting more for winning instead of going through the guy. I needed to step out to let my hunger go up.”

This loss of motivation might not always be obvious to UFC fans and that’s a good thing because although fans have become vastly more educated as the sport has gotten older, the very minute fans catch on to a fighter that is coasting, that’s when even just one person in Las Vegas will start considering putting money down on an up-and-coming underdog because there will always be more of those to come. It’s a never-ending cycle; a machine.

2. One-Sided Promotional Efforts and 1. Look Out for Winning Streaks

The last two points take a lot less time to explain because they (like point #5) are very obvious. Rousey admitted after the Holm loss while appearing on Ellen that she had fought three title fights (what could have taken up to a combined 75 minutes) in nine months.

UFC President Dana White has said previously that he can’t make anyone fight and Rousey’s on desire to compete at the time may have played a factor in her being booked that much, but when you are a mega-star that transcends your sport like she is and was, you will be “pushed” to the moon and that includes outside distractions like the silver screens of Hollywood.

It’s hard to criticize Rousey for setting herself up with something outside of fighting, but this is similar to muscle atrophy in a way: If you don’t use it, you lose it. The less you train, the more you diminish. Ask “Notorious” Conor McGregor. He was a -400 favorite against +300 underdog Nate Diaz prior to his single loss in the UFC (UFC 196 Odds as of February 25, 2016.)

The number one thing to pay attention to though is win streaks. You want to keep an eye on hot prospects on an “up” streak, but also those fighters who have been on a streak for some time. Consistency is nice, but all things come to an end. Basically, it’s that old phrase “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” in a manner of speaking. If a fighter retires from the UFC/MMA undefeated, they were either smart. Made their money, and got out early or they didn’t face the best level of competition—which would be a problem.