When The OddsMakers Get Caught In The Hype Train

MMA is a unique sport to gamble on because it relies so heavily on an athlete’s ability to promote themselves. The sport itself is dictated by the largest organization in it, The UFC. The UFC represents the pinnacle of mixed martial arts competition. It has the best athletes and the most prestigious awards in the world. Nonetheless, The Ultimate Fighting Championship is owned by an entertainment brand, WME. Thus, the sport of mixed martial arts is dictated by an entertainment brand, not a sports regulation body.

This means that for the professional fighter trying to make a living off their love of fighting in the cage, popularity is key. It’s a simple fact of the real world that the fighters who put the fans in the seats are the guys that are going to make more money and get more opportunities in this sport. It’s a sad fact for the MMA purist when you realize it’s not necessarily your fighting skills alone that can earn you a chance to compete in the world’s premier organization.

A perfect example comes from UFC 203 when CM Punk fought Mickey Gall. CM Punk had not only never fought, but had never even trained in mixed martial arts before he was signed to this fight. Many serious and dedicated athletes spend their entire lives searching for the chance to compete in the UFC and still never get it. The reason CM Punk was allowed to step foot into the Octagon was because he would generate income for the UFC with his enormous fan base from professional wrestling (which as we all know, despite being difficult athletically, is still a fake sport). CM Punk was paid $500,000 dollars for not even being able to last 3 minutes with another UFC debut fighter, Mickey Gall. Gall, a real fighter, on the other hand, was paid $30,000.

This has a very interesting effect on the way odds makers see and predict fights. Sometimes they fall into the trap of believing the hype and allow for a real opportunity for the educated MMA fan to make boatloads of cash on relatively small, low risk bets. Let’s take Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 1 at UFC 196 for example. The hype train was surrounding Conor McGregor, he is a stunning example of what generating a fan base can do for your career in MMA. The odds were displayed everywhere with McGregor as a heavy favorite, seemingly for good reason. He had yet to lose in the UFC and had destroyed his last 5 opponents all by TKO earning a performance of the night bonus in all 5, and he made it look easy! He was also just coming off a 13-second KO of the former featherweight kingpin and dominant champion, Jose Aldo, which blew everyone’s mind. McCgregor couldn’t be beaten, and to top it off, Nate Diaz was taking the fight on short notice.

Here’s what the odds makers didn’t pay attention to while they were getting caught in all the hype surrounding Conor. Nate Diaz is an accomplished Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt with a strong lineage under Caesar Gracie. He’s been fighting in the UFC since before Conor McGregor even made his pro debut and since 2006 there hasn’t been an unknown name on a marquee next to Nate Diaz. Nate and his brother, Nick are famous for being ultra-endurance athletes, frequently running upwards of 50 mile marathons and triathlons. They have even swam the distance back from the island that the famous Alcatraz is on, on multiple occasions.

Now, with all of this said, I was still unsure before the fight too. After all, anything can happen in this sport. And anything can happen when you bet on MMA. This was McGregor’s first fight outside of his weight class in the UFC and how a fighter is going to do against heavier and larger opponents is always a big question to answer. However, Conor just seemed unbeatable. He had so much hype and momentum around him it was hard to look past it, even for the super fan like myself.

I don’t typically bet on fights but when I saw the odds I had no choice. Most sportsbooks had something like McGregor as -380 favorite to defeat Diaz, who had +290 betting odds. Those are already strong odds but it still wasn’t enough to get me to bite. Then I found this prop bet: “Diaz Wins By Submission (+800)” at oddshark.com. That got me. I put down a low risk bet (because I was broke) of $20 and won $160 when Nate Diaz stunned the world and rocked McGregor with a 1-2 combination and then submitted him with a rear-naked choke. I should have bet more.

This is just one extreme example of how the MMA Sportsbooks and oddsmakers can get it wrong in the face of popularity. Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes was another great example of the great hype train throwing an opportunity at MMA fans. Most of them are not as easy to call as these are but almost every MMA event has at least one fight on it that odds makers got lazy on.

For UFC 208, I think that fight is Jim Miller (+330) vs. Dustin Poirier (-400). Dustin has had more media coverage lately but is coming off a KO loss to Michael Johnson in his last fight. Meanwhile, Jim Miller is on a three-fight win streak coming off an impressive win over former welterweight title contender, Thiago Alves. After winning that fight, Jim Miller has set the record for the most lightweight victories in UFC history. I’ll placing a low risk, $20 bet on Jim to defeat Poirier this weekend.