UFC 261 Betting Trends: The Value of Tailing Underdogs, Finishes vs. Decisions
Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images. Pictured: UFC fighter Jessica Andrade.
When it comes to betting on the UFC, analytical data can tell huge pieces of a larger story and trend. Reason being is there are fewer underlying factors at play than in any other sport.
For example, NFL games feature eleven players on each side of the field, four coaches, and seven officials waiting to make a gaming-changing decision. Plenty of mistakes can be made between the thirty-plus people that are on the field at a given time.
In the UFC, features just three people inside of the octagon. The referee can make mistakes just like any other, but their role is far less pronounced than in most major sports. But there are just the two fighters in the octagon who are attempting to impose their will — or strongest skills — on their opponent.
I’ve taken a look a few trends from the previous 13 cards since the start of 2021 in order to find some profitable trends for this weekend’s action.
Tailing Underdogs In 2021
Underdogs were red hot during the first two months of 2021. The overall record for dogs was just 38-90 through March 6, but they were very profitable during that time landing at +13.8 units for underdog bettors.
Since the UFC 259, underdogs have come back to Earth to the tune of a 16-55 record and losing single unit bettors 11.5 units. You’d still up on the year if you bet them all blindly, but there has been clear regression for underdogs over the past four UFC cards.
Are UFC Underdogs Worth Tailing In The Future?
The rate at which underdogs hit is not great — they have a combined 54-145 record this year. Even still, they have a positive outcome per unit bet. Furthermore, it could be even better if not for a few flukey decisions.
Last week, we watched Alexandr Romanov win an extremely questionable split-technical decision that had 77.5% of fans disagreeing with the judges, according to MMADecisions. We even saw Tracy Cortez barely win a split decision as a -500 favorite. Judge’s decisions are a part of the game, but we could see these near coin-flips go another way shortly.
Massive favorites are rarely worth betting in the UFC. It’s often been more profitable to look at a fighter’s most likely method of victory and place that wager. Oftentimes, you can get a prop on a huge favorite at plus money — or get an underdog at prices that better reflect their chance of winning.
2021 Method Of Victories
Betting on the method of victory is the most important piece to the UFC pie.
Understanding an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses could be the difference between laying big money on a -400 favorite and betting their most likely win condition at +300.
As you can see, decisions are the most common outcome across the UFC. This extremely high number could be quite alarming to UFC President Dana White who always pushes fighters to get the finish. The 2021 decision data is a record high at 55.41%. There could be plenty of contributing factors to why finishes are still in decline.
The UFC went to a smaller cage in May 2020. Theoretically, the smaller cage at the UFC APEX should result in fewer decisions. As Sean Zerillo explained in great detail at the beginning of the year, the octagon is scaled down more than 30% in terms of square footage. The increased action, and expected higher finish rate, has not come to fruition in 2021.
Other than expected variance year-to-year, the lack of fan energy could be another underlying cause. The Dana White Contender Series features an incredible 61.9% finish rate. The urgency to impress Dana White and win a UFC contract incentivizes fighters to push the pace.
Perhaps the lack of fan energy is having a similar effect. (Can you imagine Jose Aldo charging Conor McGregor as he did in 2015 if there were no fans?)
The data shows that positive regression should be coming for finishes inside the octagon. Perhaps the return of fans this weekend could be the catalyst needed to bring finishes back to their normal rate.
Women’s Method Of Victories
It is worth noting that there have only been 26 women’s fights in the UFC this year and 10 have been at flyweight, which usually indicates a lower finish rate. Typically, the higher the weight class goes, the more finishes there are.
Overall, women’s fights end via decision at a 65.3% rate, which is very high. Interestingly, the lower weight classes have seen more finishes this year with six total in 18 fights. There have been just eight women’s fights at 135 pounds or higher this year and those fights have had just two finishes.