Betting Against UFC Champions: Almost Always a Good Idea?
By Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
The thinking is that champions don't last long in the UFC. Combine with the fact that champions are usually pretty robust favorites and you can start to see how betting against champions might seem like a viable play. A fighter achieves a certain level of stature and prestige upon becoming a champion and therefore people will tend to bet on that fighter. The oddsmakers will make that fighter more of a favorite than he/she deserves to be. And that's where we can cash in on some nicely-valued underdogs when betting on MMA.
There are some champions where this tactic would have failed big-time. Anyone who decided to try this with Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, or Demetrious Johnson would have gone broke. So no one is recommending you just blindly bet against champions. At the same time, there seems to be a growing level of parity in the sport and champions usually do not reign for long. And when cashing in on big underdogs, you won't have to be right every single time.
This article is being written in mid-2016, but will likely apply beyond that date. Let's look at the recent history of all the divisions in MMA and see if we can't notice a pattern.
Heavyweight Division: Stipe Miocic is the champion after beating Fabricio Werdum as an underdog in Werdum's first defense of the title. Incredibly, out of the last 8 heavyweight champions, only two successful title defenses have been registered.
Light Heavyweight Division: This is a division where betting against the champion would have not worked with Jon Jones making 8 defenses. New champion Daniel Cormier has made one defense.
Middleweight Division: After a legendary reign at 185 pounds, Anderson Silva lost the title to Chris Weidman, who registered three defenses. But now, some parity has been infused into the division, with Luke Rockhold losing his belt in his first defense to Michael Bisping, who doesn't seem poised for a long stay at the top.
Welterweight Division: The post Matt Hughes/Georges St-Pierre era has opened up the division a lot, with Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler trading the belt. Lawler has made two defenses as of press-time.
Lightweight Division: New champion Eddie Alvarez was able to take the belt off Rafael dos Anjos in the Brazilian's 2nd title defense. Dos Anjos won it from Anthony Pettis in his 2nd defense, as well. No lightweight champion has ever made more than three successful title defenses.
Featherweight Division: Conor MacGregor's extended moonlighting at higher weights has put the featherweight division in a bit of a freeze, but in his absence, longtime champ and former victim Jose Aldo has re-established himself. Aldo and MacGregor are the only guys to hold the UFC 145-pound belt.
Bantamweight Division: No bantamweight has made more than two defenses of his title. In recent years, we've seen the title get passed from Renan Barao to TJ Dillashaw to Dominick Cruz. With Cruz' injury history and the depth of the division, another short reign might be in store.
Women's Bantamweight Division: Lately, this is the most turbulent division in the sport. After the utter dominance of Ronda Rousey, the title has been passed around like a hot potato. Rousey's conqueror Holly Holm lost the belt in her first defense to Miesha Tate, who then dropped the title in her first defense to Amanda Nunes.
Flyweight Division: Not a division where betting against the champion would have worked, with Demetrious Johnson dominating at this weight. Then again, Johnson's supremacy was obvious enough that most would have avoided betting against him.
Women's Strawweight Division: Joanna Jedzejczyk is as tough as they come and one would need a really good price on the opponent to even think about betting against her.
Conclusion: First of all, we need to pick our spots. By that, we mean you have to pinpoint the champions who fill a certain betting criteria. One chief standard is that you think that fighter is readily beatable. That mindset may have prevented you from cashing in on some huge wins, like when Matt Serra beat GSP or when Holm beat Rousey. In addition, you should feel that a fighter is overrated or at least receiving odds that are too flattering. There aren't too many fighters in the history of the sport that deserve the odds that some champions receive in fights.
Attribute it to any number of things. The road to becoming a UFC champion is an arduous one. By the time some fighters get to the top, they're already coming to the end of their prime. Their bodies are worn out from all the wars it took to get to the top, not to mention the arduous training it takes to be a top force in MMA. Then you also have the parity at the top of the sport, where any number of guys stand a very viable chance of winning a title. There is a reason it's not that strange to see boxing underdogs getting odds like 40-to-1. You'll never see that in the UFC. The fighters have been vetted thoroughly and by the time they even get a shot at the title, they are proven commodities.
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In 2016 alone, we've seen how little it means to be a favorite. The upsets have been pouring in and it's clear that in a sport like MMA, there is no such thing as a huge long-shot. There are so many different ways to win. In boxing, for example, you can isolate the possibilities to a small handful of different outcomes. In a fighting sport with literally dozens of different tactics, it's almost impossible to be totally definitive about a prediction. When dealing with a champion who appears vulnerable, there will often be value on the challenger where passing will be very hard.