Top MMA Promotions You Can Bet On
When people think about betting on mixed martial arts, they usually think about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). That’s fair. The UFC is the big brand of MMA. However, bettors who enjoy wagering on fights know that you can find equally good action in some of the other MMA promotions out there. Besides the UFC, sportsbooks also offer betting lines on fights put on by Bellator, Invicta, and ONE Championship. Below, we run through the four biggest MMA promotions in the world and look at the unique betting considerations of each.
1. UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship)
When it comes to the sport of mixed martial arts, the Ultimate Fighting Championships is the number one brand in the world. Most of the high-profile fights that take place in the sport happen in a UFC Octagon.
Founded in 1993, the UFC was one of the first organizations to put on real fights in a cage. Over the years, it has had to adapt to government scrutiny, new regulations and, at one time, potential bankruptcy. However, in the early 2000s, Dana White (current UFC president) and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta (founders of Zuffa) bought the fledgling promotion for $2 million. From there, they worked with state-run athletic commissions to have the sport sanctioned under the New Jersey “Unified Rules” which are still used today.
White and Zuffa took the sport mainstream, largely thanks to their popular reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter” (TUF). Zuffa struck a lucrative TV deal with FOX Sports, created a streaming network called Fight Pass, and routinely recorded over a million pay-per-view buys for high-profile events, something no other MMA promotion has done thus far.
Almost all of the biggest names in MMA have fought in the UFC octagon, including Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey, and Conor McGregor to name a handful.
In 2016, the UFC was sold to WME-IMG for $4.2 billion, which, at the time, was the largest transaction in sports history.
Betting on UFC fights
The UFC puts on events almost on a weekly basis and most sportsbooks worth their salt will have UFC odds. The odds for any given card will be released a month or so in advance, in most cases, and often the main event will be available to bettors even earlier. But there are occasions when smaller cards will only be available for betting a week or two in advance.
While there are many different types of bets you can make on most UFC fights (such as round betting and method-of-victory, which we explain in more detail here), betting on who will win is by far the most popular wager.
If you know enough about the fighters who compete in the octagon, you might be able to find some decent value when lines are initially released. But the problem with betting on the UFC is that it features the most well-known fighters in the world. Why is that a problem? First, sportsbooks are less likely to post flawed lines because the fighters are known quantities. Second, if a bad line is posted, there will be many savvy bettors ready to pounce on it, which will quickly drive the odds closer to reality and lessen the value that briefly existed.
Betting on well-known favorites in the UFC – like Conor McGregor – is not a very lucrative endeavor. Casual fans flock to big names, and that often shifts the odds considerably in the build-up to a fight. If you don’t jump on them early, you either have to bet on underdogs, look for value elsewhere on the card, or turn to another promotion entirely, speaking of which …
2. Bellator MMA
When compared to the near-monopoly that is the UFC, Bellator has always been the Jan Brady to the UFC’s Marsha. However, it’s not bad being #2, especially when you’re owned by cable giant Viacom and can carve out a niche amongst MMA fans by putting together fights that are more about the sizzle than the steak.
Like the UFC, most big sportsbooks offer bets for Bellator fights. Their events are a bit more spread out than the UFC, but you can generally count on at least one Bellator show per month.
Founded in 2008, Bellator MMA (formerly known as Bellator Fighting Championships) was marketed as the “The Toughest Tournament in Sports” and used a single-elimination tournament format that awarded the winner a title shot against the world champion in the applicable weight class.
At first, the tournament idea was interesting and different than what the UFC was doing, but the promotion started to waver and soon changed its standard operating procedure. When founder Bjorn Rebney left the promotion in 2014 and was replaced by longtime MMA executive and former Strikeforce President Scott Coker, Bellator’s modus operandi shifted. The tournament format has been replaced, and now Bellator functions largely the same as the UFC.
Bellator has never been afraid to go after free agents and take on older fighters with name-value, like Tito Ortiz, Chael Sonnen, Fedor Emelianenko, and Rampage Jackson. They also have some top fighters, though, like Rory MacDonald, Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, and Douglas Lima. Bellator is also not afraid to co-promote with other organizations and has included kickboxing on their cards. You can currently watch Bellator events on Spike TV and they also put on occasional pay-per-view events.
Betting on Bellator fights
Most sportsbooks will allow you to make the standard moneyline bets on Bellator fights and, although they might not be as popular as the UFC, the betting lines do fluctuate a lot, especially on the events that have bigger names attached. Again, like the UFC, if you want to wager on a popular favorite, it’s safest to do so when the betting line is first released in order to get the best odds.
Bellator’s penchant for going after well-known fighters can make it equally hard to find value for their events as it is with the UFC. Everyone (sportsbooks and bettors, alike) knows exactly what Chael Sonnen and Tito Ortiz are these days and who should be the favorite in a head-to-head matchup. That said, Bellator undercards will include lesser-known fighters. If you do your research or have some first-hand information that sportsbooks don’t, you may be well-positioned to jump on a flawed line. Of course, sportsbooks won’t list every fight on the card; only the ones they feel comfortable setting odds on.
Most sportsbooks will also include round betting and method-of-victory bets (explained in more detail in our “How to Wager on MMA” article) for Bellator events, just like they do with the UFC, so there are many ways to get in on the action.
3. Invicta Fighting Championship
Invicta FC is a professional MMA promotion for female fighters and has been a great launching pad for some of the sport’s biggest names. Although Invicta doesn’t have a TV deal, their fights can be seen on Fight Pass, the UFC’s streaming site.
Invicta FC was founded in 2010 by Janet Martin and Shannon Knapp, who both had experience working with other MMA organizations like King of the Cage and Strikeforce. This all-women’s MMA promotion was meant to fill a void left by Strikeforce when it was bought by the UFC. At the time, the UFC had no plans to continue promoting women’s MMA like Strikeforce had successfully done in the mid-2000s, so Knapp and Martin sought out the necessary funding and started Invicta.
In 2012, Invicta FC started putting on pay-per-views that actually did reasonably well for a small promotion. In 2014, Invicta came to an agreement with the UFC, which is how their fights (along with their library of previous events) came to be on Fight Pass.
Betting on Invicta FC
For the most part, only hardcore MMA fans are aware of Invicta FC and it is harder to find sportsbooks that offer Invicta bets. But you can find betting action on select sportsbooks like 5Dimes, BetDSI, and BookMaker.
The moneylines are usually released the week of the event. If you do your research or are knowledgeable enough about the women participating, you can actually find some solid betting lines with considerable value. But make sure you know about both fighters before making your wager. New bettors will often be tempted to put down money when they know something about one fighter (or simply recognize a popular name). This can be a quick way to lose money. There are two sides to every equation, and you won’t be able to do the math correctly unless you understand both sides.
4. ONE Championship
If the UFC and Bellator are the kings of North America and Europe, then ONE Championship reigns supreme in the Asian market. The promotion is one of the most successful MMA organizations in existence and regularly puts on great fights, yet much of the western world has never heard of it.
ONE Championship (formerly known as ONE Fighting Championship) is a Singapore-based MMA promotion started in 2011. By focusing on Asia almost exclusively, the company was able to find a niche marketplace that the UFC had largely ignored. They quickly became one of Asia’s most valuable sports-media properties with a global broadcast that reached over one billion homes in 128 countries.
The company puts on shows in Jakarta, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Taipei, Phnom Penh, Beijing, Guangzhou, Yangon, Changsha, Hefei, Macau, and Bangkok as well as Singapore. They also have a lucrative ten-year broadcast deal with Fox Sports Asia and ESPN Star Sports.
ONE Championship showcases some of the best Asian talents on the planet, including Bibiano Fernandes, Yoshitaka Naito, and Angela Lee. They also have one of the best welterweights in American Ben Askren.
Betting on ONE Championship
Because of how popular the promotion is in Asian countries, some sportsbooks (5Dimes, SportBet, and William Hill) will take bets on ONE Championship fights. ONE generally puts on monthly events, but odds tend to be released only days before the fights. You rarely see ONE Championship odds being released weeks before one of their shows, so it’s best to stay tuned and be ready to react quickly if you see something juicy. As with other promotions, ONE Championship odds tend to take a big jump on the day of events as the general public puts its money down.