An event hosted on a November evening in Denver, Colorado looked like a one-off spectacle that had no chance of ever being repeated. It was called the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)and billed as a “no holds barred” fighting tournament. No gloves no rules; two men enter the cage and only one walks out. I can remember at the time wondering if this was even real.
See: Brutal Beginnings of the UFC
The first UFC was a rough product of questionable legality, mismatched fights and a tournament format that had competitors fighting multiple times in a night. In a word, it was awesome. Today’s product is polished, sanctioned and has a set of rules that protect the fighters and the organization itself.
Fights are always fun for a wager, especially in the UFC where we get to know so many different fighters. It’s always fun to just sit and watch a match, but it’s so much more intense to back a fighter with real money. When you have a stake on the action, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Give a man a bet, a beer and a fight and that’s all he needs for a great night.
Best UFC Betting Sites
The UFC may be going stronger than ever these days, but it’s still a pretty niche sport compared to the likes of football, NASCAR and so on. You have to do a little looking around to find a betting site that is consistent about putting up UFC and MMA wagers. Some sites are hit and miss while others are always good for a fight bet.
In my experience, the following sites are the most consistent in covering UFC events:
There are two things in particular to look for in a UFC betting site. First is the safety of the site. There’s no point in betting somewhere where it’s not a guarantee you’ll even be paid. There have been cases in the past of people setting up online sportsbooks that look legitimate but are in fact anything but. That’s the only real downside of betting online.
The good news is you can mitigate the risk by sticking with established sites that are known for paying out winners and providing an all-around safe environment. The main thing I always look for in a site is history. How long the site has been online, what types of reviews it receives from other people and what my own experiences have been all play a part in determining which sites I recommend to our readers.
It’s rare to find UFC-specific promos or bonuses. For the most part, the only bonuses you’ll get when you sign up somewhere are general sports betting bonuses that are offered to all new players. Bovada, Bet365 and all the other big names welcome new customers with extra cash that can be used to place wagers and win real money.
How to Bet on a UFC Fight
In combat sports such as UFC/MMA and boxing, there are four major categories of wagers that you’re likely to see. Each of these types of wagers in some way requires you to predict either who will win the fight or how the fight will end.
Moneyline bets on the UFC are straight-up wagers on who will win the fight. In almost every fight, one fighter is considered the favorite and one is considered the underdog. The bookmaker’s goal in setting the odds for any fight is to book roughly an equal amount of action on each side. Thus, they alter the payout odds to make both sides attractive to bettors.
The bookmaker accomplishes this goal by offering bigger payouts for the underdog and smaller payouts for the favorite. For a historic example, let’s take a look at the odds that were offered on the first Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva matchup.
- Anderson Silva: -215
- Chris Weidman: +165
Anderson Silva opened as a clear favorite in their first fight, coming in at -215. This means that for every $1.00 in winnings, you would have had to risk $2.15. For example, a $215 wager on Anderson Silva would have netted you $100 had he won the fight.
Chris Weidman came in as the underdog at +165. Whenever you see a positive moneyline, it shows how much money you stand to win per dollar wagered. A $100 wager on Weidman would have netted you $165 in profits after he won the fight.
The odds format used in this example are called “American odds” due to their popularity in North America. In other countries, you might see decimal or fractional odds. The different formats relay the same information but in a different format. Here’s what that same fight would have looked like in each of those formats:
- Anderson Silva: 1.467 (decimal) or 20/43 (frational)
- Chris Weidman: 2.65 or 33/20
This is a wager in which you attempt to predict the round in which the fight ends. You can place bets on whether the fight will end in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth round or go to a decision. The oddsmaker sets the odds for each round based on how likely it sees each outcome.
In a fight between two aggressive, dynamic strikers, the bookmaker is likely to view it as more likely that the fight will end before reaching a decision. The betting odds will reflect this with lower payouts for early rounds and higher payouts for the decision result.
A fight between two methodical grinders or point-fighters has a higher chance of going to a decision. Thus, wagers on the fight ending early would pay more. Wagers on the decision outcome will pay less.
A totals bet in fighting is a variation on round betting. In this wager, the bookmaker sets a “total” that represents the number of rounds that the fight is expected to less. For example, a bookmaker might set the total at 2.5 for a fight between two aggressive strikers. You can then come in and wager on the fight either ending in less than 2.5 rounds (this would be called “taking the under”). Alternatively, you could “take the over” and wager on the fight lasting longer than 2.5 rounds.
Props Bets and Specials
UFC proposition bets cover a variety of other potentials not related to predicting the winner. One very common prop bet in mixed martial arts matches is a prediction on how the fight will end. The bookmaker provides a list of possible outcomes and their payouts. You can then wager on which of these outcomes were’ likely to see.
- Fight ends in KO: 7/1
- Fight ends in decision: 2/1
- Fight ends in TKO: 5/1
- Fight ends in submission: 3/1
- Fight ends in disqualification: 10/1
Other types of prop bets could cover things such as predicting whether or not the fight lasts at least one full round, how many rounds each fighter wins, how the fight is scored and so on.
Basic Tips and Strategy
Let’s start with the basics. Bankroll management should be foremost in your mind at all times. This is the most important strategy for any type of wagering because nobody can win them all. It doesn’t matter how good you are and how much you know about the UFC; you won’t win every wager. The only way to ensure your bankroll survives the natural variance that accompanies betting on future events is to keep your wagers small in relation to your total bankroll.
If you want to make a serious run at building a bankroll without having to deposit, you need to keep your wagers equal to about 2-5% of your bankroll. If you have a $1,000 bankroll, for example, each wager should be no more than $20 to $50. This gives you the best possible chance to recover from the inevitable dry run without having to redeposit.
Next up, I strongly urge you to consider signing up for an account at a couple of reputable UFC betting sites and splitting your bankroll across those accounts. This allows you to go line shopping before each wager. Occasionally, one book pays more for the underdog or requires less risk on the favorite than the other. A habit of always shopping for the best line guarantees better results over the long run.
Don’t Get Caught up in the Hype
This is something to keep in mind for all sports, but it is especially prevalent in mixed martial arts. The UFC does an excellent job of promoting fighters, hyping events and inserting itself in the news. On top of that, fan boys of each fighter always come out of the woodwork in the days before a big fight to tell you why Fighter A stands no chance against Fighter B.
If you take what you read in the news, on blogs and at discussion forums, you’re going to be all mixed up. It’s OK to read up on other peoples’ opinions, but remember that nobody ever has the lock in a no-holds barred fight. We’ve seen time and time again that fan favorites are far from invincible.
It is better to look at style matchups. In modern MMA, a fighter’s skillset consist of some combination of wrestling, submission grappling, standup striking, footwork/ring control and toughness. Additionally, each fighter has a general “overall” style that could be described as technical (GSP), brawler (Wanderlei), counter striker (Machida) and so on.
Style matchups make fights. When you put a brawler against a counter striker, that tends to play into the hands of the counter striker. Likewise, wrestlers tend to have the advantage over standup strikers. These are broad generalizations to be sure, but that’s a part of what you have to think about when analyzing any upcoming fight. How do these two fighters’ styles match up?
Big name favorites tend to be overvalued by the betting public. A lot of the time when you have someone with major name recognition slated to fight, people come in and push the line way off balance. The favorites are favorites for a reason, but you can find significant value in the underdog if he has the right style to negate what the favorite brings to the octagon.
Let’s go back to the Weidman-Silva matchup. Chris Weidman was long described as a “nightmare matchup” for Anderson Silva. He had the wrestling credentials (NCAA Division I All-American), submission grappling credentials (went deep in the ADCC after 1 year of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) and held a perfect pro fighting record.
Anderson Silva was noted for his counter striking style and unorthodox high level standup, but was known to have a weak spot against wrestlers as can be seen in his fights against Chael Sonnen. Nonetheless, the betting public favored Anderson Silva by a wide margin, eventually pushing the line to -295.
Even after Weidman defeated Silva, the line opened once again with Silva as a -175 favorite. And once again, the public pushed the line to -225. And once again, the betting public lost big on Silva.
Granted, hindsight is always 20/20 and Silva was one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the sport. But still, it shows that the hype doesn’t always match the reality. The reason I use this example is to show both the importance of noting style matchups and in not getting caught up with the sentiments of the general public when it comes to big name fighters.
Don’t be afraid to come to your own conclusion and take the contrarian position. If it blows up in your face, well, at least you practice smart bankroll management… right?