Early last Wednesday, MMA outlet Bloody Elbow posted an article discussing an ongoing investigation into a potentially fixed fight at the most recent UFC event in South Korea. While no specific fighters were named in the investigation, those in the MMA gambling community would instantly recognize the fight in question as the lightweight bout between Korean Tae Hyun Bang and American Leo Kuntz. Due to the incredibly odd nature of the line movement in that fight, there was rampant speculation that the fight could potentially be fixed, or perhaps that Bang was hiding a significant injury.
The reports state that “the fighter” in question was offered one million Won (approximately $88,000 USD) to throw the fight, and that he also placed a bet on his opponent for half that amount. It was also rumored that several sportsbooks in Las Vegas took significantly larger action than normal for a UFC preliminary bout, lending some credence to the possibility of a fix. After being approached by UFC officials who were made aware of the rumors surrounding the bet, he decided to compete normally and won a split decision. Following the bout, several threats were made against the fighter, and fearing for his safety, he contacted police to inform them of the situation, admitting to agreeing to throw the fight.
The event — UFC Fight Night 79 — was held on November 28th, 2015. The betting odds for the fight in question were released at Several Bookmakers on November 22nd. Bang was the prohibitive favorite at -180 (bet $180 to win $100), with the comeback on Kuntz at +140 (bet $100 to win $140). Up until the day of weigh-ins, Bang remained the favorite, although the line tightened significantly. During the afternoon on weigh-in day, Bang moved from a pick em price of -105 up to +155 — a large, but not necessarily suspicious, movement. However, then things got extremely strange. In the span of an hour, Bang moved from +155 all the way up to +380. This was cause for alarm for bettors, as neither fighter showed anything at weigh-ins or in their previous performances to warrant such a wide line in what had the makings of a competitive fight.
At the best of times, MMA fans are quick to scream fix. Essentially all of Bellator’s recent main events featuring older fighters have conspiracy theorists coming out of the woodwork claiming the fix was in (Ortiz/Sonnen and Kimbo/Shamrock, most notably), but for the most part, MMA in general has avoided the dark clouds of serious fight-fixing talk. There have been some admitted cases of fixed fights (Nobuhiko Takada vs. Mark Coleman in PRIDE, for instance), and some “wink wink, nudge nudge” fights in the early days of the UFC (Oleg Taktarov vs. Anthony Macias, and Don Frye vs. Mark Hall 3), but since widespread regulation of the sport, scandal has been avoided.
The positive note for the UFC is that despite the rumors surrounding the fight, Bang seemed to fight as he would’ve in any other contest, so the fight was not actually thrown. Unfortunately, this brings a dark issue to the forefront of the sport as a legitimate possibility. Without taking too much of a leap away from this particular situation, fixing fights is often a financial proposition for fighters. Bang was/is never going to be a UFC champion or top contender, so he would be unlikely to lose out on significant paydays from that avenue. The nubmers floated for this potential fix are strange though.
Between the amount he was reportedly paid to throw the fight ($88,000) and the amount he would have won on his bet on Kuntz (approximately $44,000 since the odds were relatively close), that only totals $132,000. Just 18 months prior to this incident, Bang defeated Kajan Johnson at UFC 174, earning both “Fight of the Night” and “Performance of the Night” bonuses for his troubles, and taking home a reported $116,000 ($8,000 to show, $8,000 to win, and $100,000 in bonuses).
Being willing to throw a fight and potentially ruin his career for slightly more than that is a curious decision, although the amount he took home at UFC 174 is an obvious outlier for him financially, given his show money of $8,000 for that bout. This could reignite the debate about fighter pay in MMA, as Bang is more the norm in terms of fighter pay than the exception, and other fighters in a similar position may be amenable to the idea of fixing a fight as well.