Cashing in on a big upset is something that gives MMA bettors as much glee as anything. There’s something about being one of a handful of people on a certain side of a bout and watching it come through. Sometimes the opening line doesn’t make sense (should Michael Chandler really have opened as a -705 favorite against Will Brooks the first time around?), but more often than not the public moves the line to the point where it just gets absurd (for instance, taking an unproven 2-0 fighter and betting her up to -1050 against a 27-fight veteran). Either way, there are always upset opportunities in MMA, it’s just a matter of finding them and capitalizing. 2014 was actually a fairly difficult year to predict which upsets were going to happen. The list that follows is a compilation of the top 50 (well, 52) upsets of 2014 as per the closing odds* at Several Bookmakers. If you were on more than ten of these underdogs, that’s a job well done.
From a sheer numbers perspective, 2014 saw some of the biggest upsets in MMA history. It was also unique as two events each produced a pair of upsets that rank in our top 10. UFC Fight Night 40 saw Johnny Eduardo pull off the third biggest upset of the year, while Zak Cummings added #8. Those upsets actually occurred in back-to-back fights. Invicta FC 10 gave us a pair of late entries with identical odds, as Herica Tiburcio and Roxanne Modafferri both won as +600 underdogs to tie for sixth spot. UFC 173 saw our number 3 upset joined by #19, as both TJ Dillashaw and Mitch Clarke shocked audiences with their victories in Las Vegas that night. Bellator 120 got in on the upset action in an even bigger way, as it gave us three entries on the list (#1, #23, and #39). No event was more upset-friendly than UFC Fight Night 38 though. Overall, the card saw underdogs go a whopping 9-1-1. It’s fitting then, that it also tops our list of upsets with four entries. Thiago Santos kicked Ronny Markes right out of the UFC with the fourth biggest upset of the year, CB Dollaway clocked in at #29 with his first round KO of Cezar Ferreira. Godofredo Castro and Michel Prazeres also pulled off substantial upsets, and find themselves tied for 42nd. While there were plenty of events featuring multiple upsets, there were no fighters who made repeat appearances on this year’s list. Last year, Doug Marshall, Robbie Lawler, and Emanuel Newton all managed more than one of the top 50 upsets. Will Brooks was probably the closest, as he nearly pulled off the same feat as Newton, winning as a massive underdog, and then winning again in the return bout later in the year. However, his line in their rematch peaked at +230 and closed at +170, so he missed the cut. It is interesting to note that while there were no upsets that equalled the top two from 2013 (Newton and LaRue Burley), the cut off this year was higher, at +265 as opposed to +250. There were also more large upsets this year, with 7 of +600 or greater and 38 of +300 or greater. 2013 had 3 and 24, respectively. In terms of how upsets played out by promotion, the UFC naturally led the way. 30 of the top 52 took place inside the Octagon, for 57.69%, which is right in line with their share of total fights put on (55.76%). Bellator was next with 9 (17.31%) which again stays fairly true to their percentage of bouts (13.53%), and the same applies to WSOF (5.77% of the largest upsets compared to 4.88% of total fights). Only Titan FC, RFA, and Finland’s Cage were without an upset that cracked the list. Titan makes sense to be the only promotion that put on 30 or lined bouts and not have a big upset, as they proved throughout the year to be the most favorite-friendly organization in the sport. Cage also makes sense, as they only put on seven lined fights in the entire year, and the majority of those were made to have local fighters look good. At first glance, RFA seems out of place on this list, being that they saw one of the highest percentages of underdog wins. However, if you remember the chart presented yesterday which looked at the percentage of fights each promotion held with underdogs above +300, RFA only had one fight that qualified all year. It’s hard to have big upsets in a promotion which simply does not have long odds very often. After looking over the statistics surrounding the largest upsets of the year, there isn’t any sort of trend that jumps out. Promotions have about as many upsets as they should, and they seem to come in bunches rather than regularly throughout the year. That too, seems completely random though. Hitting one of these underdogs seems like it involves having a good read, a bit of luck, and a betting public who doesn’t understand the favorite they’re betting up.