Kicking off our examination of the past year in MMA betting was this primer going over some basic numbers from the year. Those numbers were able to provide us baselines for how often favorites win, and allowed a bit of examination into which promotions see variance in that area. However, there are many things those numbers don’t tell us. For instance, World Series of Fighting saw 78.57% of their favorites win in 2014, which is one of the higher numbers calculated. What if the odds predicted that 85% of WSOF favorites were supposed to win? Then the actual numbers represent a greater amount of success than anticipated by underdogs. There are plenty of variables to consider when setting a line for an MMA bout, like how the oddsmaker actually believes the bout will unfold, and the public perception of each fighter. Nick Kalikas discussed some of these factors on a recent episode of the Parting Shot Podcast. So when all is said and done, how accurate do MMA odds end up? In a word: Extremely. Below is a breakdown of the expected and actual wins for favorites and underdogs.
So favorites were expected to win just a hair over 603 of the 877 qualifying bouts – those that closed at a Pick Em price, ended in a No Contest, or ended as a Draw were excluded – and in practice they accumulated 607 wins. So across nearly 900 contests in the calendar year, the odds were off by a mere four (0.45%). That is rather incredible predictive prowess for a set of numbers. As any bettor knows, variance decreases with volume. So even though these overall numbers don’t indicate much value in the grand scheme of betting in 2014, there are opportunities that open up when we break down the numbers by promotion. This next graphic looks at those same categories on a smaller scale, to see how we ended up with such a small difference between the expected and actual results across the board.
It certainly helps the overall picture that the aggregate odds for the world’s largest promotion are essentially dead on the money. Rounding to the nearest whole number, oddsmakers predicted the exact number of UFC bouts that would end with favorites and underdogs winning. It seems that even in spite of the UFC’s massive expansion, a host of unknown fighters debuting in the organization, and events that are harder and harder to prepare for; the betting market has a pretty good handle on UFC bouts. Again, on a fight-by-fight basis there is still value on a particular side, but in general the UFC market is as accurate as any out there. The second largest organization is also the second-most accurate in terms of expectations versus reality. Favorites were slightly undervalued in the promotion on the year, outperforming their predicted win percentage by 1.69%. This is a bit surprising given the following chart, which shows the percentage of fights in each MMA organization featuring long odds (an underdog priced at +300 or higher).
Bellator features long odds over 50% more often than the overall average, which explains why they saw one of the highest expected rates of victory for betting favorites. For favorites to come through almost an additional 2% beyond that number points to the fact that Bellator matchmaking (at least under their old regime) was likely designed to see specific results. When it comes to success for favorites however, Bellator doesn’t hold a candle to WSOF, ONE FC, or Titan FC. Those three organizations saw overperformance by favorites of 9.12%, 14.53%, and a whopping 18.26%, respectively. If you’re looking for a parlay leg, chances are you’ll find one on these cards. All three of the promotions also had favorites expected to win at a lower rate than Bellator, so we could see a case of the market making a correction and thus be exposed to longer lines in 2015. For those who enjoy betting underdogs (like myself), you’ll probably find more success following Cage Warriors or Invicta. Canada’s MFC was the only promotion to actually see underdogs win in the majority of their bouts, but due to the small sample size (10 lined bouts) it’s difficult to read too much into that stat. The success of underdogs in Cage Warriors was highlighted briefly in this mid-year betting piece, and it continued through the end of the year. Underdogs won 40% of all bouts, and outperformed their already lofty expectations (only exceeded by RFA and the aforementioned MFC) by 6.97%. Invicta is a very strange case, as gambling on women’s MMA is still very much a nascent proposition. Despite the organization only hosting 18 lined bouts in 2014, it still deserves attention. The all-female promotion basically took the first half of 2014 off, as it required time to restock its roster following the UFC’s introduction of the women’s strawweight class. Once the promotion got going again, three things jumped out at me: Invicta (and women’s bouts in general) feature longer lines on average than men’s bouts. Five of the 51 widest MMA lines of 2014 came from Invicta, meaning they were about five times more represented in that list than their 2.0% share of all betting lines would have predicted. Second, underdogs won at an extremely high rate in the Invicta cage. The promotion’s 44.4% win percentage for dogs was second only to MFC. That win rate was in spite of favorites being expected to win more in Invicta than every other promotion except for Poland’s KSW. Odds indicated that favorites should come through 72.31% of the time and underdogs just 27.69%, meaning that 44.4% upset rate created a massive 16.76% overperformance by dogs. Whether that trend will continue into 2015, or if bettors, oddsmakers, and sportsbooks get a better handle on the women’s side of the sport is yet to be seen, but there was certainly some value in that area of the sport during this past year. One last note looking at these numbers. Through their 28 lined bouts in 2014, RFA put on just one that featured long odds (Pedro Munhoz was tied for third biggest favorite of the year at -2300 against Billy Daniels). As a result the promotion had the highest expected rate of upsets for the year at 36.18%. Underdogs actually did a little bit better than that, winning 38.46% of the time. The difference was only 2.28%, so obviously the market had a pretty good idea of the upset potential in RFA’s bouts. Perhaps if the matchmaking remains consistent in 2015 but favorites get a bit more respect, RFA could be a nice place to consistently make some money on underdogs moving forward. Looking at the big picture, MMA odds continued to be very accurate over the past year. Nobody is going to be making money strictly betting favorites or underdogs, but if you look in the right places, you were able to get a bit of an edge in 2014. Favorites did exceedingly well in Titan FC, ONE FC, and WSOF, while upsets were on the menu more frequently in Invicta, Cage Warriors, and RFA. The biggest promotions in the world (UFC and Bellator) tend to see fairly accurate odds, so finding the money in those events is truly a case of doing your homework and playing those bouts on a case-by-case basis.