Just over three months ago — as the UFC was preparing to head to Brazil for a card featuring Vitor Belfort and Luke Rockhold — I had published an article looking at the success Brazilian fighters had enjoyed in the Octagon since the UFC began to make trips back to their home country. That article can be found here. The results were quite impressive, with Brazilian fighters going 25-10 against non-Brazilians, but also outperforming their expected success (as denoted by betting odds) by 15%. The trend with the previous numbers seemed to be indicating that the performance of Brazilians had been declining, and I hypothesized that they would see decreased success in future events held in Brazil. There have been three additional Brazilian events since the original data was compiled, so let’s revisit it prior to the upcoming UFC Fight Night 28 card. UFC on FX 8, UFC on Fuel 10, and UFC 163 produced 26 more Brazilian vs. non-Brazilian bouts, which almost doubled the previous sample size. So, the question looms: Was the previous hypothesis correct, or have Brazilians rebounded to their early levels of success? To put it simply, I was very, very wrong. In the additional 26 bouts, Brazilians have gone a whopping 22-4 (84.6% win rate). Based on the closing betting odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook, Brazilians were expected to win 17.77 of those 26 bouts. The 22 wins is a whopping 24% higher than expectations, so clearly the Brazilians have bounced back in a big way. Not that they were ever lacking success, but the performance had markedly declined over the course of the previous numbers. Take a look at the results of these recent events in the table below:
It should be noted that Brazilians were favored in 22 of the 26 fights, but the numbers on paper don’t guarantee a win, so the 22 victories is a phenomenal number. Of those 22 wins, 16 have come by way of stoppage, which is a slightly higher rate of finishes than in the first set of data. Again, an issue that many handicappers bring up in relation to picking and betting fights in Brazil is judging, but we haven’t seen any real bias towards hometown fighters. There have been bad decisions, certainly, but they have gone in both directions. Just as Rafael dos Anjos received an unjust decision over Evan Dunham, you’d be hard pressed to find people who thought Phil Davis beat Lyoto Machida, but he got the nod there. Historically, there is no basis — other than unfounded perception — that the scorecards lean heavily in favor of Brazilians. Overall, the recent events have only served to reinforce how dominant Brazilians have been on home soil. They now sport an overall record of 47-14 against foreigners, a 77% win rate. Very few trends in MMA lean that heavily in any particular direction, but with 60+ fights as a sample, it seems that Brazilians are going to continue to outperform the market’s expectations, which they have done by just under 20% across the whole data set thus far. Even still, I continue to find myself doubting Brazilians on each card, especially in fights that are close on the books. For instance, I picked against Vitor Belfort versus Luke Rockhold, Caio Magalhaes against Karlos Vemola, and Rodrigo Damm against Mizuto Hirota. Perhaps it’s time that I simply let the numbers do the talking, especially since the other trends we’ve uncovered in this series of articles (the finishing rates of five-round non-title main events, and the likelihood of younger fighters winning in rematches) have both proven to make money if followed. Speaking of those numbers, if we look at the current betting lines for UFC Fight Night 28, we see nine fights where Brazilians will take on foreigners. Although these odds will likely change from now until fight day, we can only work with what we’ve got, and the lines have had some time to settle since opening. Those lines indicate that Brazilians should be expected to win 5.30 of those 9 bouts, but we know better. Taking into account the continued over performance of these fighters, if we take that expected win total and multiply it by 1.19, we get a value of 6.31. The question now becomes whether we should expect six or seven victories from Brazilians on this card. My safe assumption would be that both large non-Brazilian favorites, Joseph Benavidez and Ali Bagautinov, will pull through, meaning that one other foreigner will have to find a way to win. The best candidates to do so would be on the undercard, in Sean Spencer, Junior Hernandez, or Keith Wisniewski, although trying to coax some confidence out of me to pick one of those particular men will be difficult. I can see how all of them could win, but there’s a reason more fighters can’t replicate the success of Nik Lentz and Phil Davis once they step on Brazilian soil, so tread cautiously. In fact, when we break down the data a little bit further, it could only be Benavidez and Bagautinov who leave Brazil with victories on Wednesday night. Take a look at the chart below, which outlines the expected and actual number of wins for Brazilian fighters on each individual card.
As you can see, this trend has held across PPV cards and televised cards of different statures. In fact, free cards have had an even higher success rate than PPVs for Brazilians, as their winning percentage jumps to 83.3% and their overperformance of the betting lines sits at 26.6% (20 wins against 15.8 expected). With those TV specific numbers in hand, the 5.30 expected wins multiplied by 1.266 gives us a total of 6.71. Perhaps I was looking at things the wrong way last time around. I said that an increase in Brazilian cards meant that the UFC would be unable to continue putting favorable matches on for Brazilians because they would have to bring in less talented hometown fighters. In reality, what it has allowed them to do is to take lower quality fighters from other areas and have them fly to Brazil to, in most cases, lose. So if the overall trend continues to hold, Brazilians are looking at winning six of nine fights against foreigners at UFC Fight Night 28, but if there indeed is a jump in the trend when the smaller cards are booked, Brazilians could very likely go 7-2. I’ll leave you with one last statistic to ponder as you consider your picks and bets for this card. Fighters who are winless in the UFC (due to either debuting in the organization, or only having previous losses/draws) have fought against Brazilians in Brazil 17 times. They have gone 3-14 in those fights. Even as small as that win number is, it still carries an asterisk with it. One of those wins was Stanislav Nedkov beating Luiz Cane at UFC 134, which is fine. Another was Ian McCall beating Iliarde Santos at UFC 163, which is a bit of a stretch given McCall’s long standing position as a top flyweight in the world, but we’ll even let that slide. The third is Carlo Prater “beating” Erick Silva at UFC 142, which was universally panned as a horrible call by referee Mario Yamasaki. So really, winless fighters are 2-15 when heading to Brazil to fight someone on home soil, with one of those wins coming from a consensus top 5 fighter. I noted earlier that Sean Spencer, Junior Hernandez and Keith Wisniewski likely have the best shot at being the third fighter to beat a Brazilian on this card — if there are three Brazilians that lose. None of those men have a win inside the UFC, and none are anywhere close to a top 5 fighter. Keep that in mind. Perhaps if you’re looking for another Brazilian to lose, it may be wise to look up the card at more established fighters like Ryan Bader or Yushin Okami to pull off the upset. However, before you pull the trigger on any of those bets, just ask yourself, “Do I really want to bet against a Brazilian?” Chances are the answer is no.