How To Handicap UFC Fights

In this guide I’m going to run you through the process that I use when handicapping UFC fights. The UFC has become one of the most profitable sports that I wager on. A lot of the information in this guide is geared towards beginners, but is useful for every bettor.

First Step – Breaking Down the Fighters

The first thing that you have to do is breakdown the fight. I use Excel to fill in the data and keep it handy while I handicap the fight. A lot of handicappers also use the “Uber Tale of the Tape” spreadsheet available at Fightnomics. Basically you need to analyze the two fighters including their bio, striking offense, striking defense and ground game.

  • Bio – Weight Class (Plus Any Previous WC), Age, Reach & Stance
  • Striking Offense – Accuracy, Aggressiveness (SLpM), Knockdown + Knockout Rate
  • Striking Defense – Knockdown + Knockout Rate, Significant Strikes Absorbed + Defended
  • Ground Game – Takedowns Attempted + Landed, Takedown Defense, Submission Attempts + Defense

All of these statistics can be found online for free at websites such as FightMetric. Once you have a spreadsheet completed you’ll be able to see where each fighter has a strength or weakness. In some cases one fighter may have an edge in every category.

What’s the most important statistics when handicapping UFC fights? Based on research the biggest factors in determining the winner of a fight in the UFC are age, stance, reach and pace. This is because the sportsbooks and the general betting public undervalues this information. Looking at these four factors alone isn’t smart, but they should be included in your spreadsheet along with the rest of the statistics I’ve included above.

Why are these four factors so important? Based on historical data these four factors have done well in predicting the outcome of a fight.

Age is important because as a fighter gets older historical data has shown us that the fighter is more likely to be knocked out. Pace is also extremely important because the judges’ scoring the fights often score in favor of the fighter that’s more active in the cage. The stance comes into play when a southpaw is fighting, which isn’t too often as most fighters aren’t lefties. Reach is also one of the first stats I look at in a fight because it can prove to be a huge edge, especially in a fight that’s expected to be a stand-up slugfest.

Here are some questions to answer while analyzing a fight.

  1. Does one fighter have an enormous edge in striking or the ground game?
  2. How has each fighter performed in his or her last 2-3 fights?
  3. Never underestimate defense (Ex: Aldo stops 92% of takedown attempts, so wrestlers have no edge on him)
  4. What is the public perception of a fighter and how will that affect the betting lines?
  5. Is the fight likely to end by stoppage or go the distance?
  6. What level of competition has a fighter competed against? (Wins against scrubs doesn’t mean much)

Second Step – Assigning A Win Percentage to Each Fighter

Now that you’ve done your homework on the fight you should be able to picture how the fight will play out. It’s time to assign a win percentage to each of the fighters in the fight that you just handicapped. Let’s use the Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi upcoming fight as an example. After analyzing the fight we determine that Machida has a 60% chance to win and Mousasi has a 40% chance to win.

Third Step – View the Odds & Determine Your Value Bets

  • Lyoto Machida (1.43 Odds) vs. Gegard Mousasi (2.95 Odds)

Now we have to convert the sports betting lines into a percentage (Formula: 1 / Decimal Odds x 100). Once you do that you’ll see that the implied win percentage for Machida is 69.9% and Mousasi is 33.9%. The percentage is over 100 because of the commission that the bookmaker takes on the market for taking the bets. The implied win percentage equates to how often a fighter needs to win at the current odds to breakeven. Earlier we determined that Machida has a 60% chance to win and Mousasi has a 40% chance. This means that the value is on Mousasi to win, so you’d either bet on Mousasi or avoid this fight.

Finding Value in Alternate UFC Markets

You don’t have to predict which fighter will win a fight to make money betting on the UFC. There are a range of other markets including over/round betting, method of victory and multiple other prop bets. Let’s use the Machida vs. Mousasi fight and look at the odds that this fight will go to a decision.

  • Fight Will go to Decision (1.77 Odds) vs. Fight Won’t go to Decision (2.00 Odds)

When I look at this prop bet the fight going the distance stands out to me and I’ll explain why quickly in short form below.

  • 2 of the last 3 fights for both fighters have gone the distance.
  • Mousasi has never been KO’ed (Submitted 2X), but Machida isn’t a threat to submit him.
  • Machida has been knocked out once only in his career, so Mousasi is unlikely to KO him.
  • Machida is known to keep his distance and pick his spots wisely, which is why half of his career wins are by decision.

When I picture this fight I can see it going to the judges’ scorecards. Mousasi has the power to surprise Machida with a TKO/KO hit, but I think that’s unlikely. Machida is now up there in age (35), but he has a strong chin/jaw plus his stand-up defense is excellent.

Use Data to Back Up Your Predictions

In the UFC it isn’t that time consuming to keep a database on Excel that includes every fight. Track the name of each fighter, weight class, who won the fight, how the fight ended and when the fight ended. This will help you identify trends in the weight classes.

For instance, according to data published by Fightnomics, last year (2013) 79% of heavyweight fights were ended by stoppage, 59% of featherweight fights were ended by decision and 32% of bantamweight fights were ended by submission.

This data will help illustrate trends in the market that can be exploited. If you knew that 68% of heavyweight fights ended by TKO/KO you would likely look to bet on the fighter you think will win to win by TKO/KO in the method of victory market at better odds.