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Jumping in the Octagon: Betting on the Ultimate Fighting Championship

I’ve been watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) since the first events were held in 1993. When I heard that guys would be in a cage fighting a “no holds barred”, I was more than intrigued.

After all, it was a natural extension of my fandom of pro wrestling, except, it wasn’t scripted.

It took another decade and the near demise of the organization to realize that I could actually bet on UFC.

In 1993, the internet was in its infancy. It took another 5 years to become easily accessible. And in that time, online casinos started popping up.

I remember when I started researching online casinos around 2003 seeing the options to be on sports books. And Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and UFC were among the options.

It was a bit of a “Wild West” atmosphere in both the MMA world and regarding online betting at the time. Few experts existed in either. So both finding a reputable place online to take a bet and finding reliable information on UFC fighters to make an educated bet was nearly impossible.

Of course, you could go by their record. But the rules were changing so fast that records didn’t matter. The no holds barred aspect was changed to appease sporting commission and to get pay-per-view clearance.

The original fighters like Ken Shamrock, Dan “the Beast” Severn, and Tank Abbott seemed to be fighting less and transitioning to or have already finished their transition to pro wrestling, with both Shamrock and Severn holding championships in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) among others.

So a new crop of fighters were popping up and there was little or no information about them.

The Rise of UFC

UFC was popular when it first came out due to the no holds barred nature of the sport, but that aspect also hurt it. Not with the fans, but with sporting regulators and the federal government. In 1996 and 1997, 36 states had banned no holds barred contests. This was amplified by United States Senator John McCain, who’d seen a video of the first few UFC events and sent letters to all 50 state governors recommending the sport be banned, calling the event “human cockfighting”.

With the bans in effect, UFC not only found it hard to find event venues but was refused clearance on the major pay per view carriers at the time.

This led to the UFC working with state regulators to develop a rules system that would appease them. These include adding timed rounds, requiring gloves, and banning strikes to the back of the head.

With these changes in place, states started sanctioning UFC matches. But with the changes, the old guard of fighters were leaving the sport due to both the changes and age.

New names started peppering the matches. Names such as Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, and Wanderlei Silva started appearing in events.

As this was happening, UFC started having financial problems and in 2001, the company was sold to Zuffa, LLC. Zuffa’s team included Dana White.

Under White’s leadership, the UFC would get a new lease on life. Zuffa spent a lot on marketing the sport and the athletes involved. This culminated in Zuffa coming to terms with Spike TV for their first network show. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

TUF was a reality show that gave fans and those who knew nothing about the sport to see veterans train new recruits to the UFC ranks. The show was helped by the lead in of WWE Raw, which allowed pro wrestling fans to experience what the new UFC was all about.

The show proved to be a rating success. Spike then started airing UFC Unleashed. This show was a highlight show of previous events hosted by UFC fighters. The further success of the new show led to Spike arranging for a live show to be broadcast, UFC Fight Night in August 2005.

By this time the pay per view business for UFC had exploded. February 2006 saw Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell face off at UFC 57. The event broke all previous UFC records with 410,000 pay per view buys.

The Modern UFC and Las Vegas

With the advent of UFC 57, the scene was now set to take the guessing out of betting on UFC. A number of factors facilitated this. These included:

  • The rules were now set for the most part, although tweaks would occur, none of the new rule changes would greatly affect a match.
  • Fighters under the new rules had fought in several events.
  • The fan base dramatically increased, drawing attention to the sport.
  • Experts emerged that could give educated information on the fighters, how they trained, and how they’d perform against one another.
  • Zuffa, LLC, was headed by 2 casino executives, Frank, and Lorenzo Fertitta, which helped the UFC get more attention from oddsmakers.

Now with experts and oddsmakers on board, Las Vegas and other betting venues around the world and online could now effectively and uniformly provide opportunities for fans to place educated bets.

Placing your Bets

Understanding the Odds

The odds in most matches are shown in the “money line” style. This means that you’ll see either a minus (-) or a plus (+) sign in front of a number. An example is shown below:

  • Jon Jones -1250, Anthony Smith +700

In this example, Jon Jones is favored to win. So, if you bet $1,250 on Jones, you’ll win $100, plus you get the original stake back.

As for Smith, it is the oddsmakers believe that he will lose. So if you bet $100, you will win $700, plus you get back your original stake.

The money line bet is on the outcome of the fight. It is the most popular type of sports bet and is the standard for describing odds on most sports.

As with most betting, the odds will fluctuate between sportsbooks. This can happen for a number of reasons. For instance, using the above example. They may have:

  • Jon Jones -1000, Anthony Smith +700

The oddsmaker at one site or casino may have new information on the fighters. Maybe the site heard that Jones had a minor hand injury during training, thus making his victory less assured.

In most cases though, you’ll find that reigning and defending champions will likely have a lower payout than a challenger. This may not always be the case. If a historically dominant fighter without a title were to challenge a champion that could skew the odds. For example, rumors have circled for several years about Brock Lesnar returning to UFC to challenge for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. If that was the case, Lesnar may be favored to win, no matter who the champion was, due to his previous dominance in the octagon.

It’s also important to point out that these odds can change frequently, especially as it gets closer to fight time. The odds 3 months before a match could look vastly different from the odds offered an hour before bell time.

Placing Parlay Bets

I was in high school when I first learned about parlay betting. I went to a private school and the bus ride to get there took 2 hours each way. I had 2 classmates named Joe and Eric who somehow connected themselves with a bookie.

Each week during football seasons, Joe and Eric would pass out these strips of heavy bond paper about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide with all the NFL and some of the college games on them. We were encouraged to pick 15 teams as winners.

We could pay $1 or $2, and if all the teams we chose won, we’d win. We had to choose at least 3 teams, which paid $10. All 15 teams would pay $500.

I wasn’t sure of all of the details, I was 14 years old, I had a few dollars burning a hole in my pocket, and I wanted to win some money.

I was not a student of football and I made horrible choices, so I never won. But friends of mine did, and that kept me paying my $2 to Joe and Eric every week until I graduated.

Parlay betting on the UFC works in a similar manner. The idea is that you’re picking the winner of more than one fight and the wins link together to give you a higher payout.

The parlay will also pay more than just choosing the fights individually. For example, 2 fights that may yield you a profit of $800 separately, may yield you $1400 on a parlay bet depending on how the casino sets up the odds and payouts.

The flip side of the bet is that all of your choices must come true. If you bet on 4 fighters to win and 3 win, but 1 loses, you lose everything. The reward is high for taking the risk, however, especially if you’re betting on 3 or more fights.

Over/Under Round Bets

Next to choosing a winner, the 2nd most popular bet on UFC matches is the over/under round bet. Essentially, this bet is a wager on when they fight will end.

To give you an example

Let’s say there is a title match. All title matches are 5 rounds of 5 minutes each. You can place a bet that the fight will finish in 3 1/2 rounds or less (under 3.5 rounds). That being said, the fish has to end by 2 minutes and 30 seconds into the 3rd round. If it goes to 2 minutes and 31 seconds, you lose.

You can also place a bet that the same fight will last longer than 3 1/2 rounds. That means that in order to win, both fighters must still be fighting at the 2 minutes and 31-second mark of the 3rd round.

The results of the fight itself don’t matter. The match could knockout win, a technical knockout, a submission, judge’s decision, disqualification, or even a draw (on the over bet). All that matters is when the match ends. The fighter that wins, loses, or if they both draw is also irrelevant.

In my experience, I like to place over bets on the little guys. These guys tend to have a lot of energy and because they don’t have a lot of weight behind their blows, the fights tend to end in decisions.

For the bigger guys, I will generally bet under, because they hit hard, and if they don’t do a lot of aerobic conditioning, they run out of gas rather quickly.

Round Bets

Where the over/under bets are based on whether a match ends before or after a certain time, a round bet allows the bettor to choose what round the match will end in.

In most cases, these bets are a good way to go, because in a non-title match, you have a 1 out of 3 chance of picking the right round. In a title fight, it will pay a bit more, since your chance are reduced to 1 out of 5.

Much like the over/under, the outcome of the fight doesn’t come into play other than the round in which it ends. Either fighter could win or the match could be a draw (if the final round is chosen).

Type of Victory/Match Ending Bet

In the UFC, matches can end in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Knockout –
  • One fighter renders the other fighter unconscious

  • Technical Knockout –
  • One fighter has beaten the other fighter to the point where they 2nd fighter is either unable to defend himself or it is dangerous to let the 2nd fighter to continue

  • Submission (Tap Out) –
  • One fighter puts the other fighter in a restraining hold that causes the 2nd fighter enough pain to give up and surrender the match

  • Judges Decision/Points –
  • During a match, outside judges are scoring the fighters based on the offense and defense they exhibit throughout the match. If the match goes to the end of the final round without a submission, knockout, or technical knockout, the decision is made by adding the points of the judges. The person with the most points wins the match.

  • Draw –
  • Also done with the points system. This is when the judges point totals are split down the middle. This can happen in 2 ways. The 3 judges all say that both fighters scored the same amount of points or 1 judge can say that both fighters score the same amount of points. The 2nd judge says that fighter 1 won the match and the 3rd judge says that fighter 2 won the match. The 2nd scenario is known as a split decision.

  • Disqualification –
  • This is a rare ending to a match, but can happen. This usually occurs when a fighter disregards the instructions and warning of the referee or does something patently blatant as to violate the rules, such as intentionally striking a low blow

  • No Contest –
  • This is similar to a draw in that there is no winner. But it also erases the event from the fighter’s record. This will sometimes happen several weeks after an event if a drug test was failed. The most famous case happened at UFC 200 where Brock Lesnar faced Mark Hunt. Lesnar tested positive for banned substances and about 6 months after the fact, the athletic commission ordered UFC to change Lesnar’s win to a no contest. In this case, since it was long after the fight, people who bet on Lesnar’s win still got paid.

So you can bet on any of these outcomes. Some venues may not have all of these options available, so you may need to contact them directly to discuss the bet and see if they will take it. In most cases, if it’s reasonable to the bookmaker, they will offer you odds and take the bet.

Bonus Awards

UFC is unlike other MMA or event boxing organizations in that they reward their fighters with bonuses for outstanding performances.

UFC fighters will generally receive a contracted amount for winning or losing a fight. But the organization offers the chance to make even more money if the fighter or fighters put forth an added effort to try and win their match.

Sometimes, one or more of the bonus awards may not be issued.
UFC currently offers 4 bonus awards:

  • Fight of the Night
  • Knockout of the Night
  • Submission of the Night
  • Performance of the Night

The winners of these bonuses are selected by UFC management. The fighters get $50,000 for winning one of these awards.

Bettors can get in on the action by selecting who will win the awards.

For the Fight of the Night, a bettor simply needs to guess at which fight will be the night’s best. This includes all matches on a single card. It is common for the events to have “broadcast tiers” where part of the undercard may be broadcast on network television and the upper card may be part of a pay per view. The Fight of the Night, and really all the bonus awards, are based on the card in its entirety, regardless of the broadcast medium.

With the Fight of the Night, the most bets are placed on the main event, so betting on undercards yield better odds. If you choose to place this bet, be sure to research as it may be a hard one to nail down.

Knockout of the Night is another bonus award bet you can place. For this bet, it is advisable to look at a fighter’s record to see how many wins they have by knockout. Remember, Knockout of the Night is given to the most decisive knockout, so if there is more than one, any can be chosen. If there are no knockouts, the award is not given.

You can place a bet that no Knockout of the Night Award will be issued on a card.

Submission of the night is similar to the Knockout of the Night in that they are looking for the most convincing submission hold of the card. If there are no matches ending in a tap out, the award is not given. Like the knockout bet, you can also bet that no Submission of the Night award will be given.

Performance of the Night is awarded to the fighter who put on the best and most exciting individual performance. This is a good bet to place on an up and comer on the undercard in some cases.

Going the Distance

If you ever watched the original Rocky movie, then you know what “going the distance” means. This happens when both fighters are standing after all the rounds (3 or 5 depending on if it is a title match) have completed.

This is not the most common ending for a fight. But it has happened and is a bet you can place.

This bet doesn’t require you to pick a winner, all you are betting on is that both fighters are standing at the end.

Usually, these bets pay well since it is not a common outcome.


While betting on the Ultimate Fighting Championships might not be the first type of bet to pop into your mind when wagering on a sport, it’s quite popular and growing rapidly.

This is due to the popularity of the sport itself.

I remember 30 years ago, boxing was a big draw to bet on. Especially with Mike Tyson destroying all of his opponents. But that faded as the 90s ended. In the last few years, UFC and MMA betting has filled the void left by boxing. It helps that the betting is similar.

But the personalities of UFC are also driving bets. Fighters like Connor McGregor, (when he’s not bouncing back to the WWE) Brock Lesnar and even former fighter Ronda Rousey with their dominant performances encourage betting. Some want to see them win, and some want to see them lose. And they’re willing to put their money on it.

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