The single biggest factor in handicapping mixed martial arts is the styles of the fighters and how those styles work against each other. A stronger, faster, more athletic fighter can and often does lose a fight if they can’t handle the style of their opponent. Fighters are typically capable of adapting to and dealing with some types of fighters, but will struggle against other styles. Simply put, if you aren’t spending a lot of time looking at the styles of fighters when handicapping a fight then you are essentially guessing. Guessing really shouldn’t be a big part of winning sports betting. Here are five factors to consider when considering fighter styles in MMA handicapping:
What is the fighter’s true style? – This is an obvious and important starting point – you need to know what the fighter’s style is before you can evaluate what that means. When looking at fighting styles most analysis is too simplistic for effective betting purposes. People will generalize – he’s a striker, or he’s a jiu jitsu guy. That just isn’t accurate enough. That’s ultimately just one part of his game plan – even in an ideal situation. You need to get a sense of what kind of style the fighter uses when he is on his feet, when he is trying to take down the opponent, when the opponent tries to take him down, and when they are on the ground. Unless the fight ends quickly each fighter will face all of those situations more than once in a fight, so each aspect is part of their fighting style. By just looking at their primary style you are missing out on what they will be forced to do and how effectively they will be able to handle that. By just calling a guy a striker we could miss that he is reasonably effective on the ground, or that he is very prone to a take down.
What else are they really good at? – This is an extension of the last point. As I said, most fighters have a clear and defining strength, and that’s what people will primarily focus on. They likely won’t be as good at anything else as they are at their best trait, but there are going to be other things that they are good at as well. A fighter who is athletic will be able to excel at things that require speed and flexibility. Big, strong guys will excel at things that require strength. Smart fighters will be at their best in strategic areas. You get the idea – you just need to make an inventory of what a fighter is good at.
What are their proven weaknesses? – We won’t dwell on this one much because it’s just an extension of the last two again. You want to look at areas in which the fighter has gotten themselves in trouble in the past. It could be something obvious – they have repeatedly been submitted once they got onto the ground, or they have been shown to have a fragile chin against a relentless puncher, for example. It often won’t be that straight forward, though. It could be that they have had problems with something in particular even when they have ultimately won their fights. The more you can learn about their weaknesses the more effectively you can look at how the two fighters match up.
How do the opponent’s strengths match their weaknesses? – As you can see this all builds on the step before. Once you have the strengths and the weaknesses for each fighter determined you have a good sense of the factors that make up their style, and you are well positioned to see how the fighters match up. If they have similar strengths and weaknesses then you need to determine which fighter is better at whatever they are going to be doing. If they have different styles then you need to look at how those styles match up, which fighter will be able to set the tone of the fight, how the fight is likely to progress, and who that gives the edge to.
Can they compensate for the differences? – This is the final step in the progression. Once you have identified the areas where the fighter is likely going to have issues you need to determine whether the fighter is likely to be able to compensate for the issues and overcome them, or if the issues are likely to be too big of a factor to deal with effectively. Successful MMA fighting is about dealing with the situations that aren’t ideal so you can survive until you can create situations that are ideal. If a fighter isn’t going to be able to do that then you don’t want to bet on them.