The Introduction of MMA to the World and the McGregor Effect
Let’s discuss how fighters are ruining the American betting system. In 1993, mixed martial art fighting was truly introduced to the world via something called The Ultimate Fighting Championship. This was later renamed UFC 1 and boy was it boring. The rules had yet to be refined and the weight classes were non-existent.
Despite this, the popularity has been on a steady increase ever since, because who doesn’t love a good blood bath? If we fast forward through the years to the present day, the UFC is much different looking. Dana White has crafted the UFC into a well-oiled machine. The popularity continues to increase as the competition rises to the elite level and we have entered the era of the MMA superstar.
If you don’t know anything about MMA or the UFC, there is still a chance you might know who Connor McGregor is. This is because of his eccentric personality, odd fighting style, and general tomfoolery outside the octagon. He has crafted an image and a persona for himself. While this is great for the fans, this isn’t the best development for people betting on UFC fights.
Let’s rewind and take a look at how the popularity of McGregor has influenced the American Odds of his fights while also looking at how it has influenced the odds of more recent fights.
UFC 194 – Connor McGregor versus Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo +150
Connor McGregor -180 (Favorite)
This appears to be the point in McGregor’s career where his stardom began to influence the odds. Now obviously we know the outcome of this bout which makes it unfair, but let’s say we didn’t. Going into this fight, Jose Aldo was almost untouchable. He only had one defeat against him and that happened ten years prior. Jose was the Featherweight Champion and had successfully defended his title seven times.
While Connor’s record was still very impressive, he did have two losses. Moreover, Jose Aldo was on an 18-win streak that begun before Connor even started fighting in mixed martial arts. So this begs the question… why? Why was Connor the favorite to win? Let’s examine further, as Connor starched Jose in 13 seconds and his popularity grew.
UFC 202 – Connor McGregor versus Nate Diaz Two
Nate Diaz +100
Connor McGregor -125 (Favorite)
Alright, now the initial matchup for UFC 196 was supposed to be McGregor against Rafael Dos Anjos, but Rafael pulled out shortly before the match due to a broken foot. In steps Nate Diaz, with less than two weeks to prepare and he manages to choke Connor out late in the second. The odds for their first meeting were most likely accurate, as it was difficult to see the upset from Diaz coming. However, although by a slim margin, McGregor gets the advantage in his favor for their second bout as well.
There isn’t a universe where this makes sense. Nate had just finished Connor in their last fight and Connor was again willing to meet Nate at his favored weight class. In the end, Connor did end up taking it by majority decision. This often sparking debate among UFC fans as this fight was extremely close.
Why don’t we jump to a few examples from this past year?
UFC 257 – Connor McGregor versus Dustin Poirier Two
Dustin Poirier +150
Connor McGregor -175 (Favorite)
Yes, Connor did finish Dustin in their initial meeting. He embarrassed Dustin with a TKO early in the first round. This definitely could have an effect on the odds. Although, if we take a quick look at the period between their two meetings, the odds should have been different.
Dustin Poirier was on a mean streak since his loss to McGregor. He only lost twice since his meeting with Connor, one of those being to Khabib (can we even really count this loss?). Mystic Mac on the other hand was sucking up a storm for the five years prior to this match. After the defeat to Nate Diaz in 2016, McGregor had lost 50% of his fights (including The Money Fight) leading up to his match with Dustin.
Connor had beaten Dustin before, but Poirier had forward momentum and had been whooping in the lightweight division since his loss to McGregor. There is no way for an MMA fan not to have seen the defeat of McGregor coming in this bout.
To see where else this effect is happening, let’s jump to the current heavyweight division.
UFC 220 – Stipe Miocic versus Francis Ngannou
Stipe Miocic +130
Francis Ngannou -160 (Favorite)
At the beginning of 2018, Stipe and Francis met for the first time. Stipe had a record just as impressive as Ngannou’s. He understood that Francis had a ground game similar to that of Kimbo Slice. Oh, and he was the reigning heavyweight champion of the world! So then why? Why wasn’t Stipe the favorite for this fight?
This is why. Here is Francis Ngannou:
And this is Stipe Miocic:
Francis had built a reputation for rag dolling his opponents in the first round. In over 50 percent of his fights leading up to his bout with Stipe, he never even saw the second round. Going into UFC 220 against Stipe, Francis had never seen a third round. Think about that for a second.
When Francis met Stipe at UFC 220, he basically spent 25 minutes in the fetal position as Stipe just shoved him against the cage, punching him enough that Herb Dean wouldn’t stand them up. In his entire career leading up to the Stipe fight, Ngannou had spent a total of roughly 55 minutes actively fighting in the ring. Against Stipe, he spent 25 minutes in the octagon; no wonder he stumbled around the ring looking for his corner most of the fight.
So how does Stipe come into the fight as the champion and the underdog? It is the fact that Francis Ngannou built a reputation of being an absolute assassin in the octagon while Stipe quietly defended his title over the years.
In contrast we have:
UFC 260 – Stipe Miocic versus Francis Ngannou Two
Stipe Miocic +190
Francis Ngannou -225 (Favorite)
Francis Ngannou is still the favorite even though they both only had one loss on their records since previously meeting!?
So why? Why is Francis a heavy favorite against Stipe, even though Stipe dominated him in their last bout. It is because of the popularity Francis was able to draw to himself. After a unanimous decision loss to Derrick Lewis, Ngannou began knocking the heads off his opponents all the way back to Stipe’s doorstep.
The odds reflect the fact that Francis is not only physically impressive, but the masses look at his previous matches and do not see a way for Stipe to win.
What This Means for the MMA
This means that as long as the popularity of the UFC continues to grow, the Vegas Odds will always be skewed. When your Grandmother does not know what MMA is but knows who Connor McGregor is, this will make for uneven and borderline dumb odds.
An MMA fan might bet on Connor simply because they have faith in him, not taking into consideration all the statistics which make this sport interesting. The general population will wreck any chance of winning big on a lesser-known name. In turn, they will open the door for the underdog upsets, like we saw in Poirier vs McGregor Two or Holly Holm vs Ronda Rousey.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to fix this system, as it has worked well enough for many years. As with many things in the MMA world, like the odd boxing-style judging, dangerous weight cutting, and questionable drug policies, we will just have to accept that this is how it is going to work for now.
These are the trends I have witnessed and the way I see the MMA betting world progressing. If you have picked up on something I haven’t, feel free to give me an ear full at @JHuberWrites. And for other articles like this one be sure to check out all the great content at Belly Up Sports.