Betting Uncertainty

My biggest pet peeve in MMA discussions is when someone talks about how he “knew” a certain result would happen, and that it should have been obvious to everyone that this would happen. I ask this person how much money they put on the fight, since it would be irrational to know something and not bet, and invariably I get a response that this person does not actually put money on fights.

This should be no surprise, since if you have been betting for a reasonable period of time, the first lesson you would learn is that no result is ever knowable. No matter how much you expect something to happen, every once in a while something happens that completely shocks your expectations. Understanding the role uncertainty plays is very important for long term success when betting on MMA. I will share my conception of uncertainty here, and hopefully you find it intuitive.

A fight between two fighters can be thought of as a 100-sided die. In reality, a certain number of sides favour one fighter winning, and a certain number of sides have the other winning. In MMA, there are two kinds of uncertainty. The first kind is what that die for a given fight actually looks like. The second kind of uncertainty relates to how the die will land.

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I would argue that most fights actually have a fairly certain outcome in reality (most sides of the die favour one fighter), even though in many cases the line does not reflect that. A recent example would be Steve Cantwell vs Cyrille Diabate. The line on this fight was even, but in retrospect this was not a 50/50 fight, and a rematch would undoubtedly have Diabate as a massive favourite. In this case, there was uncertainty regarding what that die actually looked like.

An opposite example would be the upcoming Edgar vs Maynard 3 fight. I would argue there is relatively little uncertainty as to what the die actually looks like here. Instead, the even line going into that fight reflects the fact that nobody has any idea how the die is going to land.

So, what’s the takeaway here?

When you’re really confident about a fight, you always need to be considerate about both kinds of uncertainty. Firstly, how sure are you that the die really looks the way you think it looks? I go over most of this here . Just as importantly however, you must always be wary of the possibility that you may have correctly predicted who the die favours, but the die may still land against you. Just ask anyone who bet on Nam Phan against Leonard Garcia.

For this reason, I typically advise against betting on heavy favourites. When you do so, you take a much bigger gamble on what the die actually looks like, and the repercussions from an unlucky roll are much more severe.

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