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UFC Betting Trends: Should Bettors Follow or Fade the Public?

UFC Betting Trends: Should Bettors Follow or Fade the Public? article feature image
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Logan Riely/Getty Images. Pictured: UFC fighter Dustin Poirier.

Think UFC bettors know more than the oddsmakers? Think again.

Based on a study of analyzing fight data to review the 2021 calendar year, UFC bettors are quite a bit less accurate than expected.

Backing the public (or its inverse, fading the public) is a well-known sports betting strategy that is mostly used when betting on football. Oddsmakers will put out a spread on any given game and as money comes in, the line will move accordingly.

For instance, the Buffalo Bills are 3.5-point underdogs against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In most cases, if a lot of sharp money were to come on the Bills, they will likely move to 3-point underdogs and so on.

Interestingly, the same can be said for MMA. Sportsbooks open a fight at a given price for betting and as money comes in, the line moves accordingly. (PJ Walsh wrote a great article about why it pays to fade the public in college football.)

I knew that it would pay to fade the public in football, but MMA is different. There are a lot of external factors that football has that aren’t present in MMA. There is no weather to deal with or seven different referees with varying degrees of vision and competency.

Furthermore, MMA Twitter is filled with knowledgeable fans who are always looking for a betting edge. My expectation was that the UFC public was significantly more accurate than in other sports.

But the data tells a different story.

I dug into 62 total fights going back to UFC 261 in April, including every main card fight on Pay-Per-Views and each Fight Night main event. Thanks to Best Fight Odds, I was able to track the line movement of each fight from when the betting lines started to the opening bell.

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In those 62 fights, the betting public is 33-28-1 at predicting the fights. Not too bad, right?

At face value, bettors would welcome a winning record. However, MMA is different from other sports. The disparity between favorites and underdogs can be stark and the public often piles on despite the fact that favorites are pricey.

On average in UFC main event fights, lines moved between 5.59% and 5% in that span (the Marvin Vettori vs. Paulo Costa fight had an outlier 21.54% odds shift).

Overall, if you followed the line movement you won 54.1% of the time. However, $100 bettors still lost an astounding $1,114.82 in those 62 fights. Bettors who faded the public, though, profited a small amount ($115.16) over that same span on non-title fights.

The same cannot be said for title fights, though. Going against the public in title fights is a risky endeavor.

If $100 bettor blindly backed the public in title fights over that span, they would have went 8-4, but would be down about $15. If that same bettor faded the public, they would be down more than $350.

Neither strategy provides a clear edge on its own, but fading the public with a belt on the line is particularly costly. Titles have only changed hands twice in that time span (light heavyweight and flyweight). Eventually, more titles will change hands, which is where serious profit would come, but you’re banking on the public being wrong about the most high profile fight on the card.

The public was heavy on favorites over that span. Laying -1491 on Valentina Shevchenko might help pad your records, but it will not help make you money. Interestingly, the public was on Brandon Moreno (as was I), who went on to cash as a +171 underdog and was +200 at some books.

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Sportsbooks Often Know Who Should Be Favored

Over the sample size that we outlined, 14 times a sportsbook listed a fighter as a favorite and the betting public moved the line to make them an underdog or to pick’em status. (Note: I excluded Paulo Costa vs. Marvin Vettori on Oct. 23, which was moved because of weight issues and outside circumstances.

In those fights, the betting public is wrong at an alarming rate. The newly made betting favorite is 4-10 in those fights.

Opening Line Closing Line Result
Uriah Hall -135 | Chris Weidman +115 Hall (+134) | Weidman (-158) Hall wins +$134
Dominick Reyes (+110) vs. Jiri Prochazka (-130) Reyes (-110) | Prochazka (-110) Prochazka wins +$90.91
Beneil Dariush (+105) | Tony Ferguson (-125) Dariush (-146) | Ferguson (+124) Dariush wins -$100
Rozenstruik (+125) | Sakai (-140) Rozenstruik (-134) | Sakai (+114) Rozenstruik KO -$100
Chan Sung Jung -110 | Dan Ige -110 Jung +125 | Ige -152 Jung wins +$125
Conor McGregor -140 | Dustin Poirier +120 McGregor +105 | Poirier -129 Poirier wins -$100
Gilbert Burns -155 | Stephen Thompson +135 Burns +134 | Thompson -162 Burns wins +$134
Irene Aldana -125 vs. Yana Kunitskaya +105 Aldana -102 | Kunitskaya -119 Aldana wins +$98.04
Jose Aldo -138 vs. Pedro Munhoz +115 Aldo -111 | Munhoz -111 Aldo wins +$90.09
Vicente Luque -150 Michael Chiesa +140 Luque -112 | Chiesa -111 Luque wins +$89.29
Angela Hill -120 Tecia Torres +100 Hill +131 | Torres -156 Torres wins -$100
Casey Kenney +105 | Song Yadong -125 Kenney -121 | Song +107 Song wins +$107
Rose Namajunas -110 | Weili Zhang -110 Namajunas +100 | Zhang -122 Namajunas wins – +$100
Jose Aldo -115 | Rob Font -115 Aldo +114 | Font -139 Jose Aldo wins – +$114

As the lines moved, so did the implied probability of the betting favorite.

If you bet the favorite that the sportsbook had initially listed, the total profit is a solid $682.33 for $100 bettors. If you followed the money and bet the public favorite, you lost $715.26.

This was an unexpected trend but one that is certainly worth monitoring moving forward.

How UFC 269 Fits Into The Mix And Improvements For Next Year

Nearly 90% of the money was on McGregor when he fought Poirier in July. Sportsbooks successfully bet against McGregor in that fight, even though it was at the detriment of his left tibia and fibula.

Fighting is an unforgiving sport and narratives don’t matter. What does matter is the styles and matchups that take place as a result.

It is unclear what makes sportsbooks so accurate when placing lines on fights. However, their record is undeniably impressive.

Think UFC 269 will be any different? Thanks to data given to me by BetMGM’s John Ewing, bettors are shockingly backing the underdog in the Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena fight.

Still, the line has moved further away from Pena and towards Nunes (reverse line movement), which implies that sharp money is coming on Nunes and not as much on Pena.

Fighters Opening Odds Current Odds % Bets | %Handle
Amanda Nunes
-770
-900
27% | 36%
Julianna Pena
+500
+600
73% | 64%
Charles Oliveira
+130
+135
48% | 43%
Dustin Poirier
-160
-165
52% | 57%

This will be a fascinating weekend with two title fights. We shall see who is on the right side this weekend as the never-ending battle between the book and the betting public carries on.

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