Things You Can’t Handicap

Things You Can’t Handicap When Wagering on Mixed Martial Arts Fights

By Loot, MMA Handicapper,

When we wager on MMA, any number of things can occur that throws our predictions into a tailspin. As we get better, we begin to identify some of the factors and deal with them in our handicapping. There are some things, however, that can not be accounted for regardless of how much depth your predictions possess.

The issues of fouls are a very real concern. Time and again, we have seen a fighter victimized by a foul that compromised his performance–some intentional and some not. It is very seldom you will see any actual disqualifications. This allows some fighters to get away with a lot. Often, their opponent is fouled and when the action resumes, he’s a different guy.

We can have great predictions, but if the fighter we backed gets poked in the eye or gets hammered with a knee while still down–that can throw a serious wrench into his plans. In the wide-open world of MMA fighting, any number of things can go awry. And even if a fouled fighter gets what seems like ample time to recover, he can still emerge from the sequence in a heavily-deteriorated state. Concussions and damaged eyes take more than 5 minutes to get better.

It’s an element of unfairness that can render our analysis moot. When we bet on MMA matches, even involving fighters with a history of this, we have to chalk it up as “part of the game.” A fighter can have all the edges or at least a solid chance to win, but things happen. And when they do, there is no amount of foresight that could have prevented it. The powers-that-be might give that fighter a rematch after a situation like that, but that does nothing for us.

When making predictions, we also tend to chalk up the issue of cuts to fate. We figure it can’t be predicted and both fighters are equally liable to incur a fight-altering cut. That is true to an extent. There are fighters whose history wither suggests a higher likelihood of sustaining a cut or causing one, but there is no accurate road-map for this dynamic.


One cool thing about MMA is that you don’t really see a lot of fights stopped for cuts. There is a longer leash extended to MMA fighters than, say, boxers. And unlike boxing, which is all-stand-up, an MMA fighter has less time to think about his cut and can do some things to prevent his opponent from making it worse. Nevertheless, if you bet enough MMA, you will sometimes see cuts enter into the equation. Trying to have any type of feel for exactly when this can happen is really a futile exercise.

We also need to realize the inherent limitations of any handicapping model. There are two professionally-trained fighters in the octagon, with a deep repertoire of moves and techniques. In a situation like that, who can really say what will happen, or more specifically, what won’t happen?

The point is that no one is above getting their clock cleaned. MMA is a young sport, but it is still revealing that no MMA fighter has ever avoided the fate of getting their butt whipped for their whole career. It really is only is a matter of time, an issue of “when” and not “if,” a fighter will suffer this fate.

The thing about top MMA fighters is that when they come down to earth, so to speak, it is almost always without much warning. Touchdowns can be handicapped to some extent. Who’s really to say a fighter can’t crash a punch off the temple of their opponent–no matter how good he is?

We can make assumptions. We can determine who is more or less likely to accomplish this. But can we really gauge it? It’s the one thing in sports that works the same for everyone. If a guy gets hit hard enough in the right place–he will go. While there are those more and less likely to make this happen, most fighters involved in fights we can bet on have reached a point where they are capable of a sudden knockout.

In football, for example, a team up by 4 touchdowns late in the 4th quarter can say victory is a foregone conclusion. When betting MMA, there is always a possible equalizer looming and it’s never easy to see coming–for the losing fighter and those unfortunate to have wagered on him.

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