Gabe Killian on MMA Wagering: Know When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

Gunnar Nelson 2As Kenny Rogers famously sang: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” While the original quote was in relation to poker, it applies to mixed martial arts wagering as well. For example, Donald Cerrone was a good fighter to back when he first entered the UFC, going on a 5-0 run. Some knew when the right time to get off the “Cowboy” money train would be, but I was not one of them. I backed Cerrone with my wallet when he attempted to go 6-0 against Nate Diaz in the co-main event of UFC 141, losing the bout via unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards. I felt confident Cerrone would defeat Diaz, and the betting line reflected my gut, as he was a 3-to-1 favorite over the Stockton, CA native. It was one of my many lessons learned in the world of mixed martial arts wagering, and I have gone on to avoid similar mistakes as much as possible. One good example would be Gunnar Nelson, who is one of my favorite fighters in all of mixed martial arts. I was big on him at the sportsbooks when he made his UFC debut against DaMarques Johnson, defeating him via first round rear naked choke submission, which was the precise outcome to the match-up I expected. My support for “Gunny” continued through his next two bouts, where he defeated veteran Jorge Santiago via unanimous decision and Dagestani fighter Omari Akhmedov via first round guillotine choke submission. Those two contests also went exactly as expected. When Nelson was to take on Zak Cummings in his next outing, I thought it may be time to jump off the “Gunny” money-train. I made a play on Cummings at +460 for 1.5u to win 6.9. My reasoning was that I felt Nelson was undersized for the welterweight division and could taste defeat when paired up against a larger welterweight who is well-versed both on the mat and on the feet. With his upset win over Yan Cabral in his previous bout, Cummings showed potential of being the man to finally defeat Nelson. The native of Iceland went on to win the bout via rear naked choke submission in the second round, but my instincts were right and to this day I believe Cummings at +460 was the right play for that match-up. I believe Cummings won the first round and was getting the better of Nelson in the second until the fight hit the mat and Nelson managed to sneak in a rear naked choke and get the tap with only 12-seconds remaining in the frame. Despite the fact that I lost the +460 value play on Cummings, I knew I was right to get off the “Gunny” money-train. A few months later at UFC Fight Night 53 in Sweden, I was proven to be right. Nelson took on Rick Story in the main event of the evening and again found himself playing the role of big favorite at the sportsbooks. Story, in return, was a big +260 underdog. Believing Story should be the favorite, I saw a world of value at the price of +260, so I made a play on him for 4.5u to win 11.7u, as well as a play on Story by Decision at +525 for 1u to win 5.25u. The result of the bout was as I expected, with Story winning by way of decision. So even though I was and still remain a very big Gunnar Nelson fan, I thankfully knew when to fold ‘em. Folding on Nelson certainly paid off, with a profit of +16.95, which would be big for a month’s profits, much less profits from a single contest. There are many examples of this and the most recent is UFC 183’s Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum had my support going into his bout against Urijah Hall for The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 middleweight tournament final. Believing he would win, I wagered on him to win at near 4-to-1 underdog odds and at even greater odds for him to win via decision. (Note: I was not writing for MMAOddsbreaker at the time, so I cannot provide links for the plays.) The TUF 18 winner went on to defeat Brian Melancon via first round rear naked choke submission in his next outing, and followed that up with a split decision victory over the aforementioned Rick Story. Against Melancon, I made a bet on him to win by decision at 3-1 underdog odds and even though he won, I lost. Against Story, I admittedly did not see value in him at his betting odds, but I followed my gut and made plays on him to win on the moneyline and also by decision, and luckily I cashed both tickets. (Note: I was not writing for MMAOddsbreaker at the time of the Melancon fight, however I was at the time of the Story fight, but did not see enough value to recommend him as a wager to my readers on the site.) In his next bout at UFC Fight Night 44, Gastelum took on Nico Musoke and I felt very confident he would get his hand raised at the end of that match-up. Even at the juicy price of -380, I saw enough value in him to include him in a three-way parlay at +119 for 5.05u to win 6.05u that ended up cashing. Gastelum faced the biggest challenge of his professional mixed martial arts career in his next match-up when he took on the veteran Jake Ellenberger, but again, I felt confident this was a fight he would win. A 2-to-1 favorite at the time, I made a play on him for 3u to win 1.5u and won when he submitted Ellenberger with a rear naked choke in the first round. In a quick turnaround, the 23-year old was scheduled to take on Tyron Woodley, with UFC President Dana White saying he could earn a title shot with a victory over the Strikeforce veteran. Again, he was set to take on the biggest test of his career, only this time I did not feel so confident he would get his hand raised. Being a Gastelum fan and a passenger on the Gastelum money-train, I was sensing it may be time to fold on him. It would all come down to how he looked at the weigh-ins, and when I saw him initially step foot on the scale, I already knew I would not be confident having my money behind him, especially considering he was a slight betting favorite at the time. The then-undefeated fighter looked not at all in good shape. I did not know he was going to be overweight yet and I had already decided to pull out. Seconds later when it was announced that he is nine pounds overweight, I felt certain that the ride on the Gastelum money-train had come to an end. The 23-year old went on to lose the co-main event bout against Woodley via split decision on the judges’ scorecards following three rounds of closely contested action. Gastelum has had many backers at the sportsbooks throughout his Octagon career. At UFC 183, many, including myself, knew the time had come to fold. Following the first loss of his professional mixed martial arts career, Gastelum will almost surely be making a return to the middleweight division. It is likely he could go on another hot run, but he has lost the spark that once filled my gut with confidence. For those of us who share the passion of MMA wagering and the fortune of profiting off it, we occasionally come across fighters who not only make fans out of us, but also continually allow us to believe they will be victorious in the match-ups they are paired up in. We see that they are on a hot run and we want them to stay hot, not only for them but also for our wallets. When it comes to fighters like these which we back, many of us often wager on them because they have been consistently making money for us, ultimately putting less than half the homework into their fights than we normally would. Ultimately, that is one of the biggest mistakes to make in MMA wagering, and for some, it may take countless losses before catching on to what they’re doing wrong. When it comes to these certain fighters, we have to spend as much time as possible picking them apart, as well as their opponents, every time around. There will surely come another fight that fuels us with false confidence, and we must be cautious, aware and ready for when those times arrive, so instead of falling into a deep hole, we can walk on clouds with pockets filled with cash.

Written by Gabe Killian

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