The first six months of 2014 have come and gone, and typical of MMA’s nature there has been some unpredictability when it comes to betting. There have been four massive upsets according to the odds, as well as three UFC events in which underdogs won more fights than favorites, and yet in spite of some of the crazy happenings the overall numbers when looking at both UFC events and all MMA across the globe are decidedly… normal. Here at MMAOddsBreaker.com, we have opened betting lines at Several Bookmakers for 470 completed MMA bouts around the world thus far in 2014. Favorites have won 308 of those bouts, underdogs have been successful on 148 occasions, and 14 bouts closed as Pick ’ems. There were also five draws and two No Contests. That means of the eligible bouts, favorites have had their hand raised 67.54% of the time, with underdogs pulling off the win in 32.46% of cases. The table below breaks down the numbers for each individual organization that has seen odds thus far this year:
As a point of comparison, when I tallied the results of all UFC bouts in 2012 and 2013, the winning percentage of favorites was 68.12%. This means that the overall win and loss rates are very close to that historical average, while the UFC itself has only seen a slight increase in underdog performance. There are a couple of outliers in this information, however. Obviously the results for organizations with fewer fights don’t hold much water, but looking at a promotion like Cage Warriors, who has been the third-most prolific MMA organization in terms of bouts with lines offered, has seen upsets in over 40% of their matches. Those results point to two things:
- Underdogs have been slightly undervalued in Cage Warriors so far this year (they have outperformed expectations by about 13%, which is significant).
- Matchmaker Ian Dean has been doing a hell of a job by keeping mismatches to a minimum (keep reading for further details on this statement).
On the other end of the spectrum are World Series of Fighting, Legacy FC, and (to a lesser extent) RFA. In these three promotions combined in 2014, favorites have gone 42-11-1, with 1 no contest. That’s a remarkably high winning percentage, and something bettors may want to take a look at when analyzing future cards. Since we’re on the topic of organizations where favorites enjoy a great deal of success, that brings me to another topic that has been fairly noticeable in MMA betting over the first six months of 2014. Betting lines seem more inflated in recent months than they’ve ever been before. Part of the reason for the huge numbers we’ve seen is because sportsbooks seem very willing to move the lines, but bettors are just as culpable, as the lines would not keep moving if they did not receive any action. That being said, this next figure shows the 50 biggest spreads in MMA over the first half of 2014:
The first thing to notice is that the top six spots on this list are all bouts that were held outside of the UFC. Whether that means fighters gain a modicum of respect once they get signed by the organization, or the UFC just doesn’t tend to put on as many grossly obvious mismatches as a promotion like Bellator (four of the top six) does, is up for debate. The UFC still leads in overall entries on the list however, with 25. That number seems appropriate given the fact that the UFC has put on over 56% of bouts tracked in this data. Where there is a bit of a discrepancy is with Bellator. Their 11 entries on this list seems an awfully high share for a promotion which has put on 14.5% of bouts this year. The same can be said for WSOF, which has four entries of its own despite holding under 5% of all bettable fights this year. I mentioned earlier that Cage Warriors matchmaker Ian Dean has been doing an excellent job this year, and this chart illustrates exactly that. Despite putting on 42 lined fights in 2014 (8.94% of all MMA bouts), only two found their way on this list and even those only registered at the 38th and 40th slots on the list. Again, it’s hard to speak to the organizations with fewer fights, as one mismatch, or even one poor read by the public in regards to a bout could result in a massive line and inflate their numbers given the smaller sample size. The most shocking point that I discovered when I sorted through these numbers was that 13 of the 50 lines listed were set for title bouts. Of course, not all of these title bouts occurred in the UFC, but regardless of organization championship fights have been getting less and less competitive in terms of betting lines. Even the UFC — which generally has the best fighters available to challenge for their belts — has four title bouts cracking this list. While Ronda Rousey may be an exception, rarely do fights that are considered blowouts generate much buzz or interest, so perhaps that trend could be a reason for some of the declining numbers we’ve seen. Another interesting note with this set of data is that only five of these fifty bouts ended in upsets. Since any underdog priced +900 or lower is expected to win 10% of the time, and only six underdogs were priced at +900 or higher, you would think there should be another upset or two on that list. Mathematically, seven of those bouts should have ended in upsets. While I’m not saying there’s value in favorites of this magnitude (as the risk is almost certainly not worth the reward), I will say that the massive lines we see are often justified. This discussion of upsets segues nicely to my final topic, which is looking at the biggest upsets of the year. In the opening paragraph I mentioned that there have been four historically large upsets in MMA this year, and the very interesting part about them was that many of them happened within a very short period of time. From May 10th to May 24th, Will Brooks, Johnny Eduardo and T.J. Dillashaw were all priced above +700, and all ended up getting their hands raised. Zak Cummings — owner of the fifth biggest upset of the year — was actually in the fight right after Wineland was upset as well. The table below shows the list of the 37 upsets by fighters priced +250 or higher so far in 2014. As a reference point, 2013 only featured 51 upsets of that size across 12 months (the 50 listed in this article, and Doug Marshall over Andreas Spang at +365, which I omitted for reasons unbeknownst to myself).
Once again, the UFC numbers sit right where you would expect, with 19 of 37 entries. Bellator and Cage Warriors have experienced slightly more than their share of large upsets, but nothing too outrageous. Some of the promotions I outlined earlier as seeing favorites experience unusually high success, like Legacy FC and Titan FC, don’t appear on this list at all, so perhaps if bettors are looking for some parlay fodder the next time a multiple event weekend rolls around, bouts in those two organizations could be worth a look. One thing that is noteworthy amongst those 37 upsets is that 16 of them occurred by decision. Normally when big upsets happen, they tend to be thought of as the favorite “getting caught” by a strike or sub, but with nearly half of these upsets seeing the final bell, that theory loses a bit of credence. The finishing rate in these bouts is still higher than the finishing rate overall in the UFC through the first half of 2014 though (Reed Kuhn illustrated finishes being down recently at MMAOddsBreaker.com), so this shift towards decisions even in upsets could just be part of the changing culture of MMA. So even though ancedotal evidence might tell you that 2014 has been a crazy year to bet on MMA, the numbers show that it has been rather average. Certainly there have been some individual happenings which have shocked us all, but it’s comforting to know that in the larger sense, betting on MMA still yields some of the same results as always.