Why Bettors Should Choose MMA Over Boxing
Published on February 14, 2018
Move over, Gramps; there’s a new king of the fight sports in town! And, by the way, it’s better to bet on than old traditional boxing has been for many years. Long gone are the days of the best boxing talent in the world facing off regularly on free TV for everyone to see. In fact, it’s a rarity to see the top boxers in the sport ever get in the ring together at all.
There’s always some record to protect or political reasons why the best bouts can’t get scheduled. When the mega-fights do finally happen, one or both of the athletes are usually past their prime and only participating in a big payday. And more often than not, they disappoint us in the way that Mayweather and Pacquiao did.
Beyond the more frequent opportunities to bet on big-time fights, mixed martial arts is easily the superior sport to handicap and bet on as well. While boxing utilizes attacks only involving two fists, MMA fights contain punches, elbows, kicks, grappling, and knees. These added dimensions present more opportunities for knockouts and more complex strategies that will come into play when betting.
They also increase the likelihood of fluke upsets. And if you know what you’re looking for, MMA — more than any other sport — can present opportunities to identify an underdog winning due to stylistic differences before they happen. While this also happens in boxing, the additional weapons at play increase the variance in MMA to a degree that pugilism alone cannot.
Lastly, watching mixed martial arts is just more exciting! While I will concede that the most prominent boxing events tend to capture the public’s attention more than the most significant MMA cards do, those fights don’t come along often enough.
And when the mega fights do occasionally come to fruition, the undercard is usually unimpressive or made up of little-known fighters, forcing the consumer to pay PPV money for a single contest. Meanwhile, in the UFC and other organizations, cards continually offer bettors with somewhere between three and six interesting matches to wager on, making for a more entertaining viewing experience.
I don’t just want to insult boxing; the truth of the matter is that I love any and every fight sport in existence. If you record two bugs fighting each other, I’ll probably tune in and watch; the only exception is those robot fights they sometimes show on television where the two juiced-up remote-control cars slam into each other over and over. Those stink. But after decades of enjoying both sports, boxing has let me down much more often and made me way less money, which is why I believe MMA is the better sport on which to bet.
Even the most seasoned boxing connoisseur will tell you that one of the most frustrating aspects of the sport is all of the politics involved. Due to the lack of a significant governing body or promotion, the industry becomes a bit of a chaotic free-for-all controlled by shady promoters and corrupt organizations. This makes scheduling the most exciting fights for fans extremely difficult.
Promoters spend the first half of promising fighters’ careers scheduling easy bouts to get them lots of wins on their records and avoid any risks that could potentially derail more massive paydays down the line. Even when they finally rise to the top of the ranks and become champions, the power brokers of the sport are always manipulating the matchups, trying to find some angle to keep their athlete on top. Because of the prevailing practices in pugilism, it’s increasingly infrequent that we see two fighters at the peak of their powers facing off.
What makes matters worse is that even when these fights do occur once in a blue moon, you still have to worry about the other feature of boxing politics — crooked judges. Look at when Gennady Golovkin fought Canelo Alvarez, for example. It shouldn’t be acceptable that everybody knew going into the fight that GGG would have to knock Alvarez out to win the battle because there was no way the judges would allow him to lose a decision.
You see, the promoters pay the salaries of the judges and officials at ringside, and Canelo’s fight against Golovkin was promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, with whom Alvarez is signed. The majority of the boxing press and public agreed that Gennady won the fight, but the judges ruled it a draw. In the end, everyone was disappointed, but nobody was surprised, and that’s a problem. I suppose you could factor the crooked judging into the bets you make, but I’d argue that your best bet is to avoid corrupt contests for the most part.
The fighters have less control over their careers, but the best fights are made. This leads to fewer pretenders landing in title fights that they didn’t deserve, and forces the very best talents to face each other more often throughout their careers. This is why you’ll notice the records in MMA look less impressive. You can’t coast to a 20-0 record for the first few years of your career.
Plus, with everyone under the same promotion, there’s less incentive to manipulate judges into producing desired results. I’m not saying there aren’t terrible decisions in MMA fights sometimes, because there unquestionably are, but they tend to be due to stupidity rather than corruption, which seems slightly more tolerable.
Before digging into this section, I want to preface it by saying that I understand that there are in fact a wide range of styles and approaches to the sport of boxing. You have your defensive geniuses like Floyd Mayweather who utilize a front shoulder roll and counter punching, which looks nothing like Lomachenko’s ballerina-like footwork and elusive attacking style, or Gennady Golovkin stalking his prey and cutting off the ring and landing power shots. But despite the variety of boxing styles, it’s still all predicated on only using two fists. When you add additional dimensions to a fight, such as fighting on the ground or throwing kicks, the possible outcomes of a conflict increase drastically.
Mixed martial arts athletes have many more weapons at their disposal, which leads to more specialized, robust game plans. With fighters’ styles varying so drastically, matchups become ever more critical when predicting a fight. Nearly all results are determined by which opponent can dictate where the bout takes place. A kickboxer with no ability to stop a takedown has almost no chance against a seasoned wrestler, no matter how hard they punch or kick.
After watching the sport for the majority of its existence, I’ve found that deciding where fights will take place gets more apparent with experience. You begin to break down individual aspects of the competition that will prove to be most important. One example of a fight that I found easy to predict was Demian Maia versus Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title.
Maia was on a tear going into his title fight. Opponent after opponent found the Brazilian jiu-jitsu maestro on their back, unable to free themselves from his grasp or prevent a submission. But in order to bring the fight to his comfort zone, he’d have to get his opponents to the ground, where they could grapple. The Brazilian challenger’s boxing has improved over the years, but he was slower and less potent than Woodley on the feet.
As the contest approached, it seemed obvious what would happen. Tyron Woodley’s foundation is based on his wrestling, so the prospect of Maia successfully taking him down was unlikely. On the feet, the champ had the faster hand speed and more pop, so naturally, he would prefer to keep the fight standing. Throughout the fight, Demian Maia attempted shot after shot, desperate to get the match on the mat, but Woodley stuffed them all, allowing him to dictate the flow of the fight. Like clockwork, Woodley went on to win the championship bout.
Sure, there are strategies and styles in boxing that experienced fans may be able to diagnose and exploit for winning bets, but they aren’t as obvious to pinpoint for the more casual fan. Mixed martial arts, on the other hand, has stylistic mismatches that you can be surer of and that don’t take as much experience to identify.
Beyond offering better betting opportunities on a fight-by-fight basis, mixed martial arts provides a higher volume of noteworthy matchups to bet on. Sure, boxing is an enormous sport with thousands of bouts taking place on any given day. But the majority of these fights don’t involve combatants with any name recognition or notoriety.
MMA does not have this problem. There are several influential organizations, none more prominent than the UFC, which results in there being at least a couple of bet-worthy cards per month. The UFC alone has one event a month at minimum, each of which boasts multiple competitive fights. If you want to make any money betting on a sport, you need the opportunity to place bets and gain experience, a feat that is much more difficult when sticking to boxing exclusively.
As I mentioned previously, the landscape of boxing makes signing and scheduling bouts between marquee fighters increasingly difficult. There is so much money at play and so many egos involved that a huge swathe of the industry is searching out the most prominent big-name fighter that offers the least risk so that they may cash in and pad their record without concern. This is why you see fights like Mayweather versus Conor McGregor booked; it was an easy payday in the hundreds of millions and Floyd never had to sweat the possibility of defeat.
But with MMA, fighters rarely have the luxury of being so cautious with their competition. Promotions like the UFC have powerful matchmakers that look to make the best cards possible without as much concern about protecting individual fighters’ records. So at each stage in a fighter’s career, they are facing similar competition, with wins and losses determining whether they move on to tougher opponents, or if they will need to get back against a lesser opponent.
This creates a more competitive environment where no fighters escape the sport undefeated and only the best rise to the top of the standings. It also means that there are tons of fights scheduled with relatively close odds. This allows us as bettors to be discerning with our picks and only play fights that we believe we can predict, but also receive decent payouts for winning choices.
In order to provide fans with so many competitive matchups per month, there need to be several quality fights on each card. While boxing typically only offers a single meaningful fight per pay-per-view, the UFC is offering anywhere between three and seven, depending on the importance of the event. Not only does this give us more opportunities on each fight weekend, but it gives us flexibility with things like making multiple-pick parlay cards.
It’s just a fact that some main events don’t live up to their billing. Nobody came away from Pacman versus Mayweather feeling great about their $100 purchase. This was made worse by the fact that it was the only bout on the card that people really cared about.
I once went to a UFC event in person which saw the main event end within the first minute because the seam of Vitor Belfort’s glove sliced open Randy Couture’s eyelid on the first punch of the fight. The punch didn’t even land flush; the seam grazed the champion just enough to cause the cut, ending the contest by doctor’s stoppage. This should have been an infuriating turn of events, but it wasn’t; you want to know why?
It didn’t matter that the main event was a dud because the card before it was absolutely astounding. On that same night, B.J. Penn shocked the world in the co-main event by moving up a weight class to welterweight and defeating the unstoppable Matt Hughes. And just before that masterpiece, the crowd was treated to Georges St-Pierre’s first scrap in the octagon, local favorite Frank Mir’s revenge match against Wes Sims, and the infamous Lightning Lee Murray’s destruction of Jorge Rivera. By the time the disappointment happened, everyone was already satisfied with their purchase.
One last advantage that betting mixed martial arts has over boxing is the frequency with which underdogs win their fights. In 2015 and 2016, underdogs won their bouts 38.5% and 36.8% of the time, respectively. This means that there is a tremendous amount of value present in the odds of any given card.
Anyone can make picks with a high degree of accuracy by betting the heaviest of favorites exclusively, but that approach will not make any money. If you want to come out ahead, you will need to find the upset underdog picks. When betting underdogs with average odds of +150, a gambler only needs to win 40% of their bets to break even. Counting all of the events that have taken place in 2017, thirty-five out of the forty cards have seen an underdog of +150 or higher odds win a match. So the opportunities are out there; you just have to find them!
Over the course of the last couple decades, mixed martial arts has taken over an ever-expanding percentage of the fight-sports market. The sport has exploded both in talent and mainstream acceptance, while boxing has stagnated. Many of the reasons that have led to this shift in the landscape of fight sports are also why I believe betting on MMA is a more lucrative proposition than gambling on boxing.
This is in stark contrast to MMA, which sees promotors holding much greater control, allowing for the most competitive, compelling bouts to take place consistently.
Not only is this ideal from an entertainment standpoint, but it also gives us more opportunity to find value in the offered odds. It also means that we can trust that politics and corruption won’t play a part in the outcome of the contest once it’s happened. But the sport of MMA does more than just match up the most compelling fighters; they do so with a frequency that boxing can’t hope to equal.
The UFC alone promotes more high-stakes fight cards in one year than boxing can manage in three. Furthermore, each of those fight cards will carry several matches between well-known, evenly-matched competitors, while the vast majority of boxing PPV’s rely on the main event alone.
Then you have the litany of offensive weapons and strategies at a mixed martial artist’s disposal versus their pugilistic counterparts, and the decision practically makes itself. MMA is the far more superior sport for the average fan to wager on. Unless some drastic changes are made to the industry of boxing, I expect this gap to continue widening as time goes on.