Steroids in the UFC: Bettor Confidence
By Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
With the news that Brock Lesnar got popped with a dirty test following his UFC 200 win over Mark Hunt, perhaps it's time to rethink the sport's legitimacy as a betting sport. As of now, MMA has been growing in popularity at the betting windows. But boxing was at one point the top wagering draw in the USA, before scandal and the loss of bettor confidence relegated it to the back-page at the sportsbook. With the proliferation of fighters getting popped for PED in the UFC, could MMA's betting growth bottom out?
There's a fine line between sports and a circus. The UFC as a league is already a pretty haphazard organization in relation to other sport leagues. Not that it's shady per se, but it's a business and there isn't any shame when they act from that perspective in lieu of what makes more sense from a sporting perspective. The UFC has now been sold, meaning there are new directions this can go without us even being aware of it at the present time. The most damaging element to bettor confidence, however, is what appears to be rampant PED use.
It's not like when a baseball player is on the juice. When betting on baseball, whatever edge that player is getting can be more or less absorbed being that there are 9 guys on the field and they play everyday. It might not manifest in a one-game window. In mixed martial arts fights, however, it's one-on-one. The affects of the drugs are being unleashed directly on the opponent in the most hands-on way possible. Beyond just the obvious increased inherent dangers of PED use in a sport like MMA, it's hard to think of another sport where the drugs play such an integral role in the result.
This is a time when it's easy to caught up in hyperbole and start thinking most everyone in MMA is juiced. After all, it doesn't look good when the two top draws to what was supposed to be the biggest UFC card ever get popped for banned substances. At the same time, we shouldn't get carried away. For all the high-profile cases we see where a name-fighter is getting caught, there are a ton of fighters who are still presumably clean. Or are our heads in the sand? After all, we're just noticing the people who get caught. One has to assume there are just as many if not more people who are not getting caught.
While guys like Mark Hunt get denied their rightful chance at victory, at least the commission overturns the result to remove a loss from their records. As betting men, we are bound to the decision as it is announced in the octagon by Bruce Buffer on the night of the fight. We can't come back to the sportsbook a few weeks later when a guy gets popped and look for a refund.
Another way of looking at it is that it all evens out at the end. Conceivably, when dirty work is afoot, we will be the beneficiary of it as often as we are the victims. Those who bet on Mark Hunt will obviously feel screwed, while bettors of Lesnar will be happy that the side of their bet got a little extra boost. But even though it may even out, we would all like to handicap mixed martial arts fights with a reasonable assumption that we are dealing with an even playing field. Even still, when you suspect a fighter is using PED, maybe he's a more attractive betting option. With all that has been going on, maybe it's not that crazy for us to start making that allowance in our handicapping of fights.
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A lot of things can happen when betting on an MMA match to turn a bet into a loser when it otherwise should have been a winner. You can have bad decisions, referee miscues, or just bonehead mistakes made by the fighters in winnable fights. Losing a bet because the opponent is on steroids is not going to transform a winning MMA bettor into a losing one. It might jump up and bite us at some point and maybe it already has—both in fights where the winner tested positive and in others where the winner didn't get caught. In terms of having a massive impact, however, I don't see it. Solid handicapping of fights is still going to win out over the long-haul. But at the very least, the rash of positive tests for banned substances is disconcerting.