Betting on MMA Fighters in Transition

MMA Betting Strategy: Wagering on Fighters in Transition

By Loot, MMA Handicapper,

For the most part, a fighter’s career just sails along on a continuum. Fight once ever couple months, take a break, book a fight, and then return to training. They win some, they lose some, but their career goes on a flatline course. This is not concerning so much whether the fighter is successful or not, but it’s about extenuating circumstances.

There are weird times in a fighter’s career–transition stages where it’s difficult to know what we are getting into as bettors. It includes fighters moving up into a new weight class, coming out of retirement, returning following a terrible injury, joining a new organization, or when crossover athletes try MMA.

When a fighter is changing weight classes, there are a few things to keep in mind. One is that MMA weight classes are much further apart than in boxing. Say what you will about boxing, but it’s where we developed our sensibilities on the parameters of fighting sports. Guys in boxing can eat a happy meal and be in a new weight class. In MMA, it’s not a big deal for a guy to move from lightweight (155 pounds) to welterweight (170 pounds). In boxing, that is something you wouldn’t see very often.

Like boxing, however, fighters coming out of retirement are an iffy proposition. Sometimes, there will be a triumphant comeback success story, which only serves to blind us from the others that failed. Something bad generally happens to a guy’s mind once retirement starts entering into the picture.

The same goes for fighters new to an organization. When a guy gets to the UFC, for example, there’s no telling how he will react to the better competition. Sure, there have been cases of fighters establishing clear-cut credentials in another organization and having it carry over to the UFC in seamless fashion. That doesn’t always happen, however, as a lot of fighters can’t make the jump.


A fighter coming off a major injury is a question mark. Will he be tentative? How important was the injury to his specific tendencies as an MMA fighter. A broken hand might not be that big of a deal to a BJJ guy, as opposed to a striker, for instance. We also now see guys coming into MMA from other walks of life whether it be boxing, football, or even pro and amateur wrestling. It adds up to a lot of fight over the course of a year where question marks loom large and bettors can be left feeling a bit flummoxed.

A key point is that you shouldn’t expect the UFC to ease these guys back into action.

It is a bizarre feature of a young sport. The lack of tune-up fights in the UFC is staggering. You can have a legend coming off a retirement or a busted knee. You’d think they would help ease him back into action, not throw him in with a rising star or some fantastic diamond-in-the-rough fighter.

Georges St. Pierre is out for over a year, they give him Carlos Condit. James Toney wants to try MMA, they give him Randy Couture as an entrance exam. BJ Penn comes out of retirement and how do they treat one of the pioneers of the game? They give him the bigger and peaking Rory McDonald. In boxing, we expect to see fighters in these situations catch a bit of a break with the matchmaking. In MMA and especially the UFC, forget about it.

That almost forces the betting man to take a wait-and-see approach with fighters in a state of flux. First of all, the fighters are trying to overcome something, whether it be inactivity, fighting bigger guys, or returning from an injury. That is already enough of a hurdle to overcome. On top of that, they are often asked to beat super-tough opposition right off the bat.

It’s a kink they should definitely iron out in the future. The fighters deserve better. It doesn’t have to be like boxing where a guy can beef up his record endlessly against horrible opposition. That doesn’t mean it’s uncalled for to ease a fighter back into action. A guy coming back from retirement has some rust to work off. Let him fight a mid-level guy. Let a fighter with an injury test the waters a bit before forcing him to go full-boar. Maybe when a guy comes from a different sport, let him fight a few stiffs before throwing him to the lions. In any event, when we find fighters in these transitional stages, we should watch first and bet second.

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