UFC Betting Trends: Who Has the Edge in MMA Trilogy Fights?
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: (L-R) UFC fighters Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.
The Holy Grail of combat sports is the much-heralded trilogy fight.
From the legendary boxing trilogy fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, to Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez, and even MMA phenomenon Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes, trilogy fights are a staple of combat sports.
An exciting piece of trilogy fights is the familiarity level. Each fighter knows the other extremely well by fight No. 3. Oftentimes, there is bad blood and usually, each fighter boasts one victory over the other.
In an attempt to understand how fighters and sportsbooks approach these matchups, I decided to dig into the available data on MMA trilogies.
Looking to know how underdogs stack up against the favorites in these wars? Or maybe how often do these fights go to a decision?
I have compiled all of that information for you so we can make an informed bet this Saturday night for Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 3, which should be one of the biggest Pay-Per-View draws in combat sports history.
The data should help us understand the importance of Saturday’s main event and hopefully give us an idea of who should be favored and why.
Notable MMA Trilogy Fights
Under the UFC banner, there are 23 total trilogy fights, including this Saturday’s battle between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.
The data compiled in this chart here covers the UFC, Pride, StrikeForce, and WEC (the UFC bought Pride, StrikeForce, and WEC years ago).
I have also grabbed a few other trilogy fights from Bellator and ONE Championship. Those will be discussed later on but those promotions did get into a bad habit of doing trilogy fights for ratings when the fighters were well past their prime. This could skew the data, so I am leaving them separate in some areas to give you the most reliable and accurate data possible.
Furthermore, with assists from Best Fight Odds and Tapology, I was able to find odds for most of these fights. Obviously, some of the earlier fights were during a different time, like UFC 1 Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock in 1993.
UFC Underdog Win Percentage — By Fight Number
*Data excludes Poirier vs. McGregor
Underdogs fall off of a cliff after the first two fights. Naturally, in order to get to 3 fights, typically the fight is 1-1.
In the first two fights, underdogs are quite profitable with an over 40% hit rate.
During the third fight, underdogs are a hideous 4-17 in the final fight of a trilogy of fights (19.04%). Furthermore, the fighter who won the second fight has gone on to win the third fight 16 times out of 21 fights (76.19%).
There have been several trilogies where, for whatever reason, the fights were 2-0 going into the third fight. Plenty of times, the fights end up going 3-0 like Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn or Charles Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz (2-0-1).
Since Conor vs. Poirier is 1-1, I broke down the data further to make it more relevant. It still does not favor Conor though.
When the series is tied 1-1, 9 out of 13 times (69.2%), the fighter who won the second fight wins the third fight.
This is not great news for Conor McGregor, who is an underdog and lost the second fight.
Finish Rates in Trilogy Fights
*The above data includes most major MIxed Martial Arts Promotions (UFC, ONE, Bellator)
Finish rates during the trilogy fights are incredibly high. For reference, finishes in fights during 2021 were slightly under 50% per a deep dive into methods of victory that I did in April. So this is over a 15% increase, in some cases, compared to normal.
The data includes ONE and Bellator because it is consistent with the rest of the available data. Moreover, the numbers stay consistent between the three fights. Finish rates hang around 60% for trilogy fights no matter what promotion is discussed.
What makes these fights so exciting is that they end in finishes. This makes fans want to see the fight again. When it over-delivers the second time, the third fight is born.
Finish rates are well over 60% in the first two fights and drop slightly in the third fight. It is worth mentioning that the final fight of a UFC trilogy fight finishes at the exact same rate as the second fight (59.09%), historically speaking.
McGregor vs. Poirier: What Trilogy Data Matters The Most
There is definitely some relevant data here for this fight. I think the most important piece of data is how rare it is to lose the second fight and turn around and win the third fight.
Furthermore, Dustin Poirier is strategically taking this fight just six months after beating McGregor in January. This is without a doubt planned. Poirier is wise to do this; he does not want Conor to take his time preparing for the third fight. The longer Conor has to prepare, the more he can dissect the last fight.
Underdogs typically win around 40% of the time in the first two fights of a trilogy and just 19.04% of the time in the third fight. The most interesting part about this is that Conor opened as the betting favorite and has moved to an underdog. Despite the fact that 62% of the handle is on Conor this weekend per BetMGM’s John Ewing.
McGregor vs. Poirier 3 betting (@BetMGM)
• McGregor: opened -120, now +110
• Poirier: opened +100, now -130
72% of tickets and 62% of handle are on @TheNotoriousMMA.
— John Ewing (@johnewing) July 8, 2021
Normally, sportsbooks would increase the vig on McGregor and make him -150 and so on. That is not the case here. Perhaps it is the data that you see above that produced the odds change. Perhaps it is the rumor that Conor McGregor has a staph infection in his elbow and is on antibiotics. He has denied that rumor, so no one really knows.
No. Just vicious brain damaging elbows.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) July 2, 2021
What we do know, is that the trilogy data does not favor Conor McGregor in this final fight against Dustin Poirier. It would be quite the feat and against nearly every historical trend if Conor McGregor were to spring the upset on Saturday. Can’t wait.