Posted 02/08/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

Betting on MMA: The Basics

There’s nothing like a healthy wager to make a fight interesting, and with the UFC putting on so many these days, there’s lots of opportunities to make things interesting. Here’s the thing: sports betting is hard. You’re going to lose money. Probably a lot of it. It’s the cost of excitement.

Let’s reduce that cost. I’m not going to teach you how to handicap a fight, because, to be honest, it’s fruitless unless you have 40 hours a week to watch tape (in addition to the numerous hours needed to learn how to analyze a fight). Even then, you’re still trying to match wits with people that are devoting as much or more time to the same thing.

Instead, I’ll show you the fundamental skills of a sports gambler: reading a betting line (for the virgins), bankroll management, which sites to gamble on, etc. I can’t promise you’ll make money, but hopefully I can convince you to think twice about that 6-fight parlay on fight night.

Betting line notation is strange and simple and delightfully wonderful. (Note: I’m only discussing American odds. If you want a look at interpreting other odds, check out our sister site A negative sign in front of a number means you have to bet that much to win $100 in profit. So, if you see “Alistair Overeem -235,” you’ll have to risk $235 to win $335 back (that’s your original $235 wager plus $100 in profit). The positive sign is much easier: a positive number indicates how much you profit on a $100 bet. So, “Mark Hunt +450” means your $100 bet will return $550 (your original $100 wager plus $450 in profit).

You’ll occasionally see fractional odds, mostly with certain prop bets. The left said (or numerator) of the fraction is your profit. The right side (or denominator) is what you have to wager to win on the left. So, a 2-1 (or 2/1) bet means you have to risk $1 to win $2 in profit; 7-2 (or 7/2) means you have to risk $2 to win $7 in profit; 4-5 (or 4/5) means you have to risk $5 to win $4 in profit.

Here are the major wagers books offer on fights:

Straight: This is the simplest of all wagers: who do you think will win the fight? These wagers usually look like this:

Lyoto Machida -250
Gegard Mousasi +215

Over/under: An over/under wager sets a line on an outcome. You are trying to guess whether the actual result will end up “over” or “under” that line. In MMA, this is usually limited to the length of a fight, though some books offer over/under bets on scorecard totals. Example:

Machida vs. Mousasi o3.5 (-155) u3.5 (+125)

That means if Machida and Mousasi fight past the 2:30 mark of the fourth round, the over bet cashes. If either Machida and Mousasi finish the other prior to the 2:30 mark of the fourth round, the under bet cashes. In the unlikely event the fight ends at exactly 2:30 of the fourth round, the wager is a push. (When a bet pushes, you neither win nor lose and receive the amount you wagered back.)

Props: “Prop” is short for “proposition.” If you tell a friend, “I bet $10 you can’t drink this entire gallon of milk,” you’ve offered him a prop bet. Like other sports, MMA is long on these sorts of bets. Here’s a short list of common props:

Fighter X wins in round Z
Fighter X/Fighter Y goes 5-round distance
Fighter X/Fighter Y starts round Z
Fighter X wins by [KO, submission, and/or decision]

Fight of the Night bonus winners

That first group of props are offered as yes/no. That means you can bet that Lyoto Machida will win in round one (+550) or any other result (-1050). There are exceptions; many books do not offer a “no” bet on whether a fight ends in a draw.

Wagers on the Fight of the Night bonuses allow you to pick from a list of all the fighters on the card. It is one of the few wagers in MMA betting that uses fractional odds.

Now you know how to read a line and what types of wagers to expect. Where do you put your money? Choosing a book (or books, as we’ll talk about next week) is as important a decision as any wager you’ll make. There’s a few options to consider. Are you a heavy (and if so, why are you reading this?) or casual bettor? Does a book service your country? What ways can I deposit? Does a book pay out quickly?

Fortunately, has done a lot of the work for you. Their A-list section offers a list of the best books available, which includes a list of banned countries. In addition, SBR provides a blacklist section of unreliable books, and often acts as an intermediary in disputes between player and casino.

Personally, I have money on three sites: Bovada, 5Dimes, and Bookmaker. All three are great, though 5Dimes typically has the best lines. Those outside the United States should take a look at Pinnacle Sports, which has a reputation for offering the lowest-juice lines* anywhere.

Next week we’ll take a look at the more advanced fundamentals like bankroll management, line shopping, and more.

* – For those curious, here’s how you can figure out the true odds of a bet. Let’s use the example from above

Lyoto Machida -250
Gegard Mousasi +215

The break-even rate for a bet on Machida is 71.4%. (You get this by dividing the absolute value of the wager by the absolute value of the wager plus 100. In this case, 250/350.) The break-even rate for a bet on Mousasi is 31.7%. (You get this by dividing 100 by the absolute value of the wager plus 100. In this case, 100/350.)

Now, you’ll notice those percentages add up to 103.1%. That extra 3.1% is the vig, which is essentially a tax the sportsbook takes out to guarantee a profit. If you divide each break-even rate by the total percentage, you get the true odds for the fight. So, Machida (71.4%/103.1%) is expected to win 69.2% of the time, while Mousasi (31.7%/103.1%) is expected to win 30.7% of the time. (Those don’t add up exactly to 100% due to rounding issues.) You can convert those percentages back into a betting line (use Google to find a converter), and get an idea of what the book is taking as the vig.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter



Mike Fagan