A Betting Guide to Mixed Martial Arts, Part Two


Last time in the MMA Betting Guide, we went over the basic math and concept behind betting on MMA.  In this part, I’ll cover the art of fight assessment and go over all the aspects of proper fight analysis.  This will help you not only in betting endeavors, but also in fantasy MMA and in your basic understanding of the sport.  So, let’s get started!

Part 2: Fight Assessment and Percentages

It’s always great to be able to pick a winner in any sport you enjoy, but it’s an absolute crucial skill in the world of betting.  While going with your gut or backing your favorite fighter will always be part of the sport, we must treat this more like coaching and less like fandom when dealing with our hard-earned bankroll.

Keep in mind that we’re going over this all with the goal of coming up with a percentage of victory for each fighter, which we need to apply to each fight to assess our risk/pay out.  I covered part of this concept in the first section of this series, and will cover it more throughout the series.

Below, I will cover some of the fundamentals of fight predictions so that you might get a basis for making your own assessment concerning fights, and apply that to what we know about wagering.

The Golden Rules

There are certain inevitable truths about making fight predictions which should be the foundation on which your assessments are made.  These are things that should ALWAYS be kept in mind when thinking about upcoming fights, as they’re always pertinent.

Rule 1: Take your heart out of it

We all have fighters we love, and we all have fighters we hate, but these are the concerns of fans.  As a bettor, you need to be able to set aside feelings in either direction and concentrate on the cold facts.  Sometimes a fighter you love is heading towards a colossal ass-kicking, and sometimes a fighter you can’t stand is being gifted a fight.  In both circumstances, it benefits you to put your money where it will make you money, and not where your heart tells you.

Rule 2: Battlefields dictate fights

I’ve used this term in my fightcard breakdowns before, and it’s something that people sometimes forget.  It doesn’t matter how much talent a fighter has in one area if he can never contest a fight in that realm, and figuring out what “battlefield” a fight will take place in will often make fight predictions a snap.  When looking at where a fight takes place, it isn’t just about the ground or standing either.  Aspects like top and bottom game grappling, clinch striking and wrestling, as well as inside and outside striking are all battlefields within the realms of striking and grappling.

Rule 3: Archetypes are key

This could also be called “Styles make fights”, but there’s more to it than style.  While all fighters are unique, they’re all easily lumped together as well.  You’ll always have super lanky kickboxers, neckless wrestlers or conservative BJJ fighters, and finding similar opponents in a fighter’s past can often aid you in your predictions.  This rule can’t stand alone, as fighters will evolve to cover their issues from tough fights in their past, but it’s always a good reference point.

Rule 4: Always watch tape

The hallmark of a poor fight analyst is someone who doesn’t watch footage of fighters, and instead relies on records.  While a record can certainly give you a bit of flavor for a fighter, nothing can substitute actual tape.  If you don’t have a background in martial arts, you might not get as much information as those who do, but a few moments of newer footage on a fighter will tell you a great deal about them.

Rule 5: Don’t over-think it

This may be an odd rule, especially as it will precede several pages of text about fight analysis, but it’s one of the most important aspects of fight predictions.  There are literally hundreds of aspects to each fighter and hundreds of intangibles in each fight.  Watching every bout each fighter has ever had and reading every interview and bio on the participants will do more to confuse you than help you make wise decisions.  If you know both fighters well enough, you should know what’s going to matter in the fight and what isn’t without having to consider every nuance.

Rule 6: Write it out

This is actually what got me started on writing about MMA.  It’s easy to come up with a scenario that makes no sense in your head, but writing puts the ring of truth into what you’re thinking and can help you sort out your thoughts.   Even if you’re just dumping it onto a forum somewhere, write out your fight predictions and see if you can explain it in a way that makes sense.  If you can’t, it’s time to re-evaluate what you were thinking.

A Breakdown of Match-Making and Fighter Tiers

The art of match-making is a tricky one, and varies depending on what organization you’re dealing with.  We must keep in mind that MMA is a business, and every business will have different principles of operation, which come out in their matchmaking.  Certain fighters will be given “soft” fights to put them over or groom them to be champions, some will be used as a stepping stone and given tougher bouts, and some are simply filler for a card.  Knowing how each organization treats it’s fighters can help you be on the right side of every smart bet.

The UFC is Top Tier

“Fighter Tiers” is an expression of where an organization’s fighters line up on the world stage.  Oftentimes you’ll hear someone referred to as top-tier, mid-tier, etc, giving you an idea of where they are in the world of MMA.  In general; UFC/WEC has the best and tightest talent pool; Strikeforce and Bellator have a wide range of fighters from low-tier to upper-tier; and Japan has the largest range of talent, from absolute novices to potential world-class fighters.

While this doesn’t always factor into your predictions for a fight, it’s very useful for when fighters are moving from one organization to another.  Someone that cleaned up in King Of the Cage might be in way over their head moving into the UFC, and someone who was considered a mid-tier fighter in the UFC might be a future champion in Bellator.  Having an idea of the wide scope of MMA will help you determine how fighters stack up to each other and put their skills into perspective before they ever step into the ring/cage.

A Breakdown of Combatives

Now we have our Golden Rules and understand a fighter’s respective level of talent, as well as how they’re being matched.  Now, we need to look at some of the factors that go into fight assessment.  I will break this section down into three categories, although there will be some cross-over between them.  These categories being: The standing game, the ground game, and training.

The Basics of the Standing Game

When looking at MMA, we only know one thing for absolute certain:  It starts on the feet.  How long it stays there and what happens while it’s there is up to you to decide in every fight, but the standing game is an ever present part of MMA, and will always allow a puncher’s chance.

Assessing the standing game between two strikers is a fairly simple when dealing with typical fighters, and can be broken down into five attributes.  Keep in mind I said “typical” fighters.  There are fighters who are so heavy-handed, fast, or technically sound that they defy reason.  For the rest, we have this equation, which is in order of importance:

Power over technique, technique over speed, speed over chin, with cardio governing the four.

While people talk about Royce Gracie turning the martial arts world on its head, one man had an even more profound effect: Tank Abbott.  While Gracie was at least a master of martial arts, Abbott was a fat, rude prick, who crushed master martial artists without any regard for their lifetime spent training.  Unlike boxing, where technique will beat power nearly every time, the 4oz glove flips that equation around, and the man who hits hardest almost always wins.

Technique follows power, but is more important than the ability to move fast or take a hit, as solid footwork and head movement keep you safe, while being able to get your combinations off first make offense your best defense.  Technique without power means fighting to a lot of decisions when equally matched, and the more powerful striker can not only finish, but inflict enough damage to take that decision.

Speed is often equal across weight classes, but it’s still important to consider when there’s a differential.  A slow opponent will be unable to land as effectively as a quick one if he can’t get his punches off before his foe darts out of range.  Technique is more important than speed in terms of economy of motion, accuracy and making sure your defenses are in place at all times.

A chin usually isn’t going to win you a fight, but is certainly a factor to consider, as being able to eat punches in a close fight can make all the difference.  With two power punchers, the chin can be the determining factor, as both men trade, but one takes hits and keeps on coming.

Finally, cardio can be a factor in any fight, but a striking bout will go south fast for anyone that doesn’t have the wind for it.  Power strikers lose their pop when tired, technical strikers lose their accuracy and speed, and they’re all sloppier and more susceptible to being KO’d when gassed.

The Four Ranges of Striking

When talking about the standing game, there are four ranges we’re discussing, which factor into the second Golden Rule of “Battlefields”.  These four ranges are:  Kicking range, outside boxing range, inside boxing range, and clinch range.  A fight will often touch all four of these at some point, as they’re often a matter of a few inches one way or another.  While all of these will occur in a typical fight, a skilled fighter will be able to hold an opponent in their preferred range using either strikes to keep them way, or footwork and head movement to work closer.  Below is a bit about each range.  When reading about these, try and think of fighters that use one, two, or all four well in their game and get an idea of how they’d match up with other fighters with different styles.

Kicking range: This is where most MMA fights tentatively start, with two men throwing long leg kicks to find range.  Fighters who aren’t confident in their hands or takedowns will often linger at this range as well to avoid the threat of heavy hands, but give them ample reaction time to set up takedowns as an opponent moves in, a-la classic Royce Gracie.  While there aren’t a ton of them inside MMA, there are some fighters that prefer kicking range, and use it with deadly effectiveness.

Outside boxing range: The most common striking range in MMA, outside boxing is all about the jab and footwork to keep an opponent right where you want them.  Typically this is the range a striking match settles into at some point, as both men try to land probing strikes and put together combinations.

Inside boxing range: This is much more common in traditional boxing, but a few fighters use this range well.  This is where a solid body puncher or heavy handed brawler likes to be, where their looping strikes hit with the most thud.  Considering the clinch isn’t a restart position in MMA like it is in boxing, it’s rare to see people stay here for long, and this situation is usually where counter-strikers thrive, as they close a small amount of distance on an outside boxer and land their counter hooks.  Matt Serra would be an example of someone who prefers inside boxing.

Clinch striking range: Clinch striking is half wrestling and half striking, as the positioning will determine what kind of offense can be used.  Knees, elbows, uppercuts and hooks are your common clinch striking attacks in MMA, where headbutts where a hallmark of clinch fighting in the early days.

Reach and Height

Another major factor in the striking game is the reach and height of opponents.  Reach is the measure from fingertip to fingertip across the upper body, and is an easily misleading stat.  Keep in mind that Brock Lesnar has the same reach, on paper, as Jon Jones.  A true effective reach is from the shoulder to the fist, and determines how far your jab travels, although this stat is rarely given.  You can often determine a real effective reach if both opponents are of similar builds, but otherwise it’s a matter of comparison with common fighters.

Height is a misleading number, as it’s half offensive and half defensive in the stand-up game.  A taller fighter will have a slight advantage in reach, even if the numbers given in the Tale of the Tape are the same.  Most importantly, height is defensive in nature, as it effectively reduces an opponent’s range to land punches to the head.  Also, fighters who are punching downward at a foe tend to hit harder than those punching upwards at a taller opponent.

The Basics of The Ground Game

The ground game is perhaps the most confusing aspect of MMA. While two men throwing kicks and punches is a fairly straight forward affair, the aspects of clinch grappling, takedowns, base, bottom game, transitions, and submissions can be mind-boggling.  While I put together a basic formula above for how as striking battle should pan out, there really is no simplified way to look at the ground game, which is why it turns some casual fans off to the whole sport.  I’m not going to break down the styles themselves, as that would be several books in and of itself. Instead, I’ll place some comparisons between these styles, and how they relate to each other in MMA.

Freestyle (wrestling) vs. Freestyle: One of the most common pairings of grapplers, especially in American MMA. A bout between freestyle wrestlers will go either of two ways.  1) One wrestler is superior to the other, leading to takedowns and top control, or a forced stand-up bout. 2) Both men are roughly equal, which forces a stand-up bout.  If you’re unfamiliar with how wrestlers compare, it can be helpful to look into their background.  Certain states (Oklahoma, Indiana, Arizona, Illinois, etc) have a heritage in wrestling, and tend to produce amazing talent.  Other states (California, New York, etc) have huge talent pools, making their top wrestlers comparable to those heritage states.

In college, schools are broken down into divisions from D-1 to D-3, with Division 1 being the largest talent pools and therefore the best wrestlers, down to Division 3.  While it isn’t a hard rule that a D-1 National Champion will beat a Georgia state champion, it does give you a glimpse into how each man will likely perform against the other.

Freestyle vs. BJJ: This is often the most difficult circumstance to call, as there are multiple variables in this kind of match-up.  Either A) The wrestler can stop the BJJ fighter from getting a fight to the mat, forcing a stand-up bout, B) The wrestler will opt to try his hand on the mat, pitting his own takedown ability and top control against the BJJ fighter’s takedown defense, sweeps and submission ability C) The BJJ fighter will work his own takedowns and attempt to take top control himself.

In this set-up, the fight is really in the hands of the wrestler for the most part, as they’ll often have the ability to dictate the battlefield.  Knowing what wrestlers prefer to stand and who always go for the ground game can help decide how this fight pans out.  Remember, not everyone makes the smart choice here, and game plans and training will play heavy into this style.

Freestyle vs. Judo: An odd pairing, but one we’re starting to see more and more of. A judoka often has incredible core strength and base, and will be able to stop the majority of straight forward takedowns.  A slick wrestler can still put a judoka on the mat, but a wrestler who relies on double and single leg takedowns only will oftentimes be stuffed by the Judokas strong base.  Contrary to popular belief, judoka’s don’t typically have strong bottom game skills for the same reason wrestlers don’t: The match is over once you’re on your back for a few moments.  Judoka’s tend to be both extremely difficult to finish, but also lack finishing skills themselves, often leading to a majority of these bouts going to decision, or turning into striking bouts.

Freestyle vs. Greco (wrestling): While far less common than freestyle, Greco roman wrestlers have been a force in the MMA world since the beginning, with some of the best wrestlers on the planet being from this school.  While a freestyle wrestler often specializes in lower body takedowns, a greco-roman wrestler will use clinch takedowns and a strong base to control fights.  When these two styles meet, it’s often the greco fighter who controls the bout from clinch and gets the majority of takedowns by using the freestyle wrestler’s forward pressure against him.  It’s also important to note that because good greco roman wrestlers are so rare, people often have trouble training against them due to lack of training partners.

BJJ vs. BJJ: Another common pairing in MMA, these fights tend to turn into either complete stalemates or wild transitioning battles.  When dealing with this kind of fight, you need to look at the takedown ability of both fighters, as well as the top and bottom games of each.  If one BJJ fighter is the superior top game grappler, expect it to go to a decision, as he’ll be well-versed on his opponent’s submission attempts from bottom and be able to ride the clock out, and won’t be so quick to give up position for submissions.

The Basics of Training

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of MMA, training is what makes a novice fighter progress to a champion, and encompasses the most difficult aspect of the sport to predict.  An incredible fighter can be stopped by a less talented individual who trains harder and has a better game plan, and figuring out where the edge lies here can allow you make some serious money at the expense of less-informed bettors.


This is easily the most misunderstood aspect of combat sports, as people tend to put far too much stock into areas of little importance, and ignore far weightier aspects.

Cardio is one of these area’s people don’t understand about the sport, and I’d like to look deeper into this aspect here.  Cardio is a blanket term for a fighter’s ability to function at their best in a fight, and has a great number of factors that effect it.  Here’s a short list:

Conditioning: This is the basic level of fitness of a fighter.  At the top level of MMA, you won’t find a single fighter who isn’t at the top of their game conditioning wise, with the exception of some heavyweights.  Determining a fighter’s fitness level is generally a matter of how much extra weight they’re carrying and their history of performance in winning fights.  How a fighter looks in an easy fight is a baseline for their conditioning overall.

Experience: Experience plays a huge factor into a fighter’s performance and how they handle the build up to a fight.  They often fight at the top of their ability because their bodies don’t go through the issues of jitters and chemical dumps.  New fighters tend to blow a majority of their energy trying to keep emotions in check during the build up to the fight itself, while veterans will often be relaxed and in prime mental state for the fight. 

Venue: The location of a fight factors into how a fighter will feel leading up to that match-up.  Issues like altitude, air quality, travel and weather all determine how much is taken out of the fighter before he even gets into the cage/ring.

Composure: Related to, but not the same as experience.  Composure is when a fight is going against a fighter, and how much that takes out of them.  Some fighters rely on momentum to keep them in the game, while others do just as well even on the losing end of a fight, and won’t dump their energy into panicking during a tough fight.

Training: How a fighter trains will determine their general energy level in different circumstances in a fight.  Someone who trains pure BJJ will gas in a standing bout, while a kickboxer will have issues with a grappling match.  While top-tier fighters train everything, oftentimes fighters coming from other disciplines into MMA will have cardio issues when taken out of their element.

Body type: A fighter’s build factors heavily into how much energy they’ll have in a fight.  A fighter with too little muscle for a division will gas out when having to exert themselves against much larger fighters, and fighters with too much muscle won’t have enough oxygen to supply their body in a tough scrap. More is not necessarily better.

Weight Cutting: Some fighters cut no weight at all, while others cut far too much.  Understanding a fighter’s history in weight cutting often determines how they’ll handle issues like dropping a weight class or taking on grinding opponents.  Wrestlers have the easier time with this from years of cutting, while older fighters have much more trouble.  I will address the actual weigh-ins below.

Game Plans: Just like a great general can lead novice troops to victory against superior forces, a great game plan can win a fight, even when that fighter is overmatched.  There are two parts to a game plan of course, those being the plan itself, and a fighter’s ability to implement it.

Creating a Game Plan: Just like you’re looking at a fight and trying to figure out who wins, both fighter’s camps are doing the same thing.  They will know their fighter’s strengths and weaknesses and will search through tape to find the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, and create a plan that will make the fight as winnable as possible.  Oftentimes this is of a defensive nature, where fighters are working to cover holes that the other will exploit.  Sometimes its of an offensive nature in finding a hole in their opponent’s game that has yet to be ironed out.  Some teams, such as Greg Jackson’s, are strong game planners who have a history of winning fights with solid planning.  On the flip-side, some teams are notorious for doing no game planning whatsoever.

Sticking to a Game Plan: Being on a team who can formulate a solid plan is only half the battle, as being able to implement this plan is the true test of some fighters.  Some fighters go stupid the moment the bell rings, some lose focus if they get hit or begin to tire, and some are mentally sharp under any circumstance.  Part of analyzing a fight is understanding what category fighters fall into, and how they’ll act in the fight.  A fighter might have all the skills to win a fight, but won’t use them under fire, and there’s no sense losing your bankroll over that.

Camps: It’s not always tough matches that make a fighter great, but it’s the path they take to prepare for those fights.  Having a top-notch fight camp and top-notch training is exactly what a fighter needs to become a champion.   Some camps are well-known for being great on the cerebral end of things, like game plans and innovative training, while others are great on the physical end, like with great technique and conditioning.  Some camps are known for producing champions, some for producing tough prospects, and some for journeymen.  Knowing what camp a fighter is involved in can tell you a great deal about what they’re working on between fights and how they’re likely to progress.  If you’re unfamiliar with a camp, using www.sherdog.com and their Fight Finder will yield a list of every fighter affiliated with that camp, which should give you an idea of what they’re all about.

The Weigh-ins: The final piece of this MMA prediction puzzle are the weigh-ins.  While a lot of emphasis is placed on the actual weight of the fighters, being either smaller than needed or over weight.  This information is only useful in relation to each fighter’s game plan and style though, and we need to look at the battlefield to understand if and when this weight issue will take effect.

Underweight: Though rare in the upper-tiers of MMA, some fighters actually prefer not to cut weight at all, and come into their fights at 100%.  Being the smaller of two fighters can be a huge disadvantage in certain instances, like a pitched wrestling match, but that extra energy can be a boon in fast-paced striking bouts or highly-contested ground fights.

Overweight: This is the one that tends to get people, as bettors will often flee from placing money on a fighter who doesn’t make weight.  While this could hint at an illness or lower body injury, you need to look into how this fight is going to play out overall.  A fighter whose only option to win is an early TKO isn’t going to be hindered by a tough weight-cut or injury to the foot or knee.

Posture: The real hidden gem in the weigh-in is the post-weight in staredown, and understanding human psyche will help understand how this fight can possibly play out.  With both fighter’s method of victory in mind, check out the weigh-in photos and look at the head posture of each fighter before a bout.  While someone might have their hands up and look ready to fight, a fighter who is mentally ready to be aggressive will often crane their head towards a foe, while someone who may be intimidated or unsure of themselves will pull their head away from a foe.  Looking at game plans and seeing the posture of each man gives you the final glimpse into how this fight may play out, and allow you to decide those close bouts in a profitable way.

The Percentage: With all our ducks in a row, we have all the information we need to come up with a percentage of victory for each fighter, which we can then use with our betting knowledge to place bets.  This is the most important part of the entire prediction process, as having a proper grasp of the fight will give us the best chance of making real money on each and every event.  Fight predictions are not so much about being right, but about properly assessing each fight and putting your money in the right spot to make a profit.

Remember, practice makes perfect, and before you open up a sportbook or start laying down real money, I’d recommend a few “dry runs” with events.  Research the fights, come up with a realistic percentage for each fight, and then compare with the results to see how close to the mark you were.  If you get good at this, you may not win every bet, but you’ll rarely be off on how a fight will play out.

That’s it for the predictions segment of the betting guide.  Next time, we’ll cover the basics of betting and money management, as your final piece of the MMA betting puzzle.

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One Response to A Betting Guide to Mixed Martial Arts, Part Two

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