In the UFC you could loosely break fighters into three different groups based on their weight classes. There are the big men – the heavyweights and some light heavyweights – though not as many now as there used to be as the light heavyweights have become more technical and less about brute force. There are the little guys – the Bantamweights, featherweights, and lightweights. Then there are the guys in the middle – the welterweights and middleweights. If we ignore the middle group for a minute then there is a striking difference between the light fighters and the heavy ones. They are different in style, different in strengths and weaknesses, and different in strategy. That means that handicappers who wish to successfully handicap the UFC need to treat the two different types of fighters differently as well. Here’s a look at five differences between light and heavy fighters, what it means for handicappers, and mistakes that bettors need to avoid:
First round strategy – There are knockout specialists in lower weight classes, but it is far more common in heavier weight classes. It’s also far more common for a heavy fighter to need a knockout to win. Those are the types of fighters who will come out very strong looking for an opening to land the final punch. If they don’t get that opportunity in the first round or the second then they are likely to be out of gas and ineffective. The heavier the fighters are, then, the more aware you need to be of how dependent a fighter is on the knockout. You also need to be very aware of how prone the opponent is to getting knocked out. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming a guy will get knocked out when he has shown time and again that he has a solid chin and is very hard to get down.
Stamina – There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part stamina becomes a bigger issue the bigger fighters are. There are heavy fighters with phenomenal stamina, but it is also very common for heavy fighters to lack the ability to compete at a high level deep into a fight. The logic for that is simple – they are carrying more weight, and they are facing an opponent with more weight and strength as well. While stamina often isn’t a particularly significant factor in the handicapping of light fighters it can be the defining factor when looking at heavy fighters. It’s especially important if the fighters are likely to spend a lot of time locked together – either standing up or on the ground. When fighters are separated they can recover their energy, but when they are actively engaged it is draining them, and their stamina reserves are called on more.
Technical competence – This isn’t a fair statement for some heavy fighters, but as a general rule lighter fighters are much more technically proficient than heavy ones. Heavy fighters will often rely more on weight, strength and momentum, while lighter guys will use technique to get their edge. The lighter a fighter is, then, the more effort you have to put into understanding how technically proficient they are, how effective their opponent is, which fighter will have an edge, and what that means for the outcome of the fight. You also need to be more concerned with lighter fighters if a fighter has a clear technical edge because heavier fighters are more often able to overcome that edge if they have advantages in size, strength, and length.
Style – Style is always an issue in a fight. Grapplers, wrestlers, and strikers all have different strengths and weaknesses, and different opponents that they are more or less likely to shine against. You have to consider the styles of the fighters and the way those styles interact regardless of who is fighting or what they weigh. There are some differences in how you look at how the styles interact – smaller fighters are likely more mobile and more able to avoid opposing strikers, for example – but it is generally a mistake to overlook or understate teh importance of style regardless of the weight.
Public interest – The public is very predictable with their biases in sports betting, and MMA is no exception. Like in boxing heavyweights are the glamor fighters in the UFC. They may not be the most technically exciting fighters, and they often don’t produce the most exciting fights, but a high profile heavyweight fight will draw more viewers and more betting action than any other weight class. There is no point debating that or arguing about it because that’s just how it is. With heavy fighters, then, you need to be more concerned with where the public interest lies and what that means with the line movement and where the oddsmakers set the lines in the first place than with light fighters.