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Handicapping Older MMA Fighters

MMA Betting: Handicapping Older Fighters

By Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

In any fighting sport, we are forced to deal with aging athletes and figure out how to rank them for our betting purposes. It’s an area of widely-divergent results and perspectives. Some fighters thrive at an advanced fighting age, while others can’t. Looking for certain signals can help us determine how an older fighter will fare.

Not all fighters are built the same, obviously. For various reasons, there are fighters who age like fine wine while others turn to vinegar. You will see fighters thriving in their late-thirties or even their forties, while other fighters are spent forces while still in their twenties. There is a fighter’s chronological age and his ring-age and those can be two different things.

The newness of MMA makes some of this a bit difficult. Sure, there are things to look for when a fighter is slowing down. It just doesn’t have the same built-in framework that boxing has. We’ve seen boxers for decades. We know what to exactly look for when a fighter has reached a stage of over-ripeness. There is one fighting discipline and it’s easier to see erosion within that one thing. We also know when a fighter is punchy. We see retired fighters on their heels. It all adds to a more enhanced sense of the effects of age, wear, and tear than what we have when evaluating MMA talent. In MMA, the act of determining who the shopworn fighters are is more problematic. There are less precedents.

Before we wager on an aging fighter, we should ask ourselves certain questions. Older fighters are probably not what they once were, but that can by a little or a lot. For a fighter to even still be in big fights at an advanced age suggests that he is a fighter with a lot of career success. A byproduct of that is rating him on his past self, rather than his current form. Fighters with a respected track record can benefit from a long-lasting tag of greatness that may or not be expired.

In other words, it often takes fans and bettors alike a little too long to acknowledge that a fighter is not what he once was. As fans, we like to remember the greats for what they once were, as opposed to what they have become. As bettors, however, we can’t afford to do that. Our success in MMA wagering will come down to our ability to use the past, but not allow it to drive our analysis. What shined yesterday might not be so bright today.

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Look for certain skills with older fighters. Think about the specific skills that age well and which ones do not when evaluating older fighters. A fighter who relies on athleticism is more likely to erode over time quicker than a fighter who relies on strength. Punching power is not something that generally requires youthful exuberance to execute. A fighter who is an energetic ball of fire in the ring who relies heavily on fast reflexes and speed might age a bit less gracefully.

A fighter’s past can also be an indication. How many wars has he been in? Were most of his fights going the distance? Those added rounds of wear and tear can resonate more harshly than a fighter who had a lot of quick evenings in the ring or octagon. A fighter’s ability to soak up punishment tends not to get better with age, but there are degrees.

Be careful with older fighters who are coming off a few knockouts. In their 20’s, they may have lost close fights. But something happens to a fighter who legitimately gets his butt kicked. At a younger age, they can bounce back from that. But an older fighter who gets rendered unconscious a time or two will probably be less able to absorb punishment than he was before. A fighter who was knocked out is easier to stop than a fighter who has never suffered that fate.

It’s not an easy thing to do. We can look at a fighter’s past history, his level of freshness, his lifestyle, level of commitment, skill-set, and his ability to stay hungry--and still be in the dark. These are only clues, not telltale signs that give us any kind of definitive understanding. At the end of the day, we need to look at each fighter individually and apply standards to him and him only. Then hopefully we can determine if an older fighter is worth betting or not.

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