Fight Night: How to Bet on Combat Sports

Colby Covington (R) punches Jorge Masvidal in their welterweight fight during UFC 272. David Becker/Getty Images/AFP.

Nothing is more exciting than fight night, and gambling has been intertwined with combat sports since the earliest days of both. It’s no coincidence that many of the biggest fights in history have taken place in casinos.

Whether it’s pay-per-view or free TV, boxing or UFC, here’s how to navigate betting on the fights.

Popcorn vs. Beef

If you watch an old movie that has a boxing/gambling plotline, you can be sure that a young fighter is being pressured to “take a dive” in a given round. That’s because everyone in old movies seems to place bets that involve picking the winner and the round when the knockout occurs.

Betting on the round is the equivalent of betting on the actual score of a football game. It’s a very high-risk, high-reward venture. (That’s probably why people placing those bets in movies are trying to fix the fight)
About half of all boxing matches end in knockouts. About one in three MMA fights do.

Mixed martial arts have two ways of ending a fight early, however, and another 20 percent of those fights end in a tap-out submission. So about 45 percent of MMA fights go the distance.

All KOs Are Not Created Equal

Rather than picking the actual round a fight ends or merely picking the winner, it’s possible to bet on the outcome (decision, knockout, submission), which is a popular way to bet the fights.

As we’ve seen above, decisions are about a 50/50 proposition, but there are big differences in knockout rates based on a number of factors. Here are some things to know when deciding if the knockout will come.

Bigger is Better

Seeing two heavyweights in the ring or cage can be intimidating just to watch. The big guys throw with dangerous power. Just as importantly, it’s harder to go the distance in a fight if you’re carrying more bulk.

Between knockout power and questionable stamina, knockout rates skyrocket as the fighters involved get bigger. Heavyweight fights go to decision about a quarter of the time in MMA.

About 40 percent of middleweight MMA fights (185 pounds) go to decision. Drop to bantamweight (135 pounds) and the rate goes over 50 percent. At flyweight (125 pounds), it’s pushing 60.

Boxing shows similar results. The knockout rate at heavyweight is around 75 percent. That drops to 60 percent at lightweight and below 50 percent at strawweight.

KOs Are a Young Fighter’s Game

If you’re trying to decide if a fight is going to go the distance, it’s also worth checking on the ages of the two combatants.

Younger fighters are more likely to have their fights end in knockouts (both wins and losses) than older fighters.

This makes intuitive sense on a number of levels. Hand speed and reaction time both drop as a person ages, which makes it harder to knock an opponent out. Younger fighters are often more aggressive and take more risks, while older fighters (especially those who have been knocked out) develop a sense of self-preservation.

In addition to that, as a younger fighter goes through knocking guys out, he gets moved up the ladder. Matchmakers will continue to test him by putting him against tougher oppositions, and the knockouts dry up.
Mike Tyson won his first 19 fights by knockout. He then had decisions in four of his next 12 fights.

In MMA, Nick Diaz had 8 of his first 10 fights end early, but 5 of his most recent 10 fights have gone the distance. Andrei Arlovski had knockouts or taps in all of his first 14 fights. 12 of his last 14 have gone the distance.