For many fighters below the star level in the UFC, being in the biggest fight organization in the world is not a permanent career. A couple of bad fights or any number of other problems can lead to a fighter leaving before his career is over. Quite often those same guys will return to the organization months or years later after some time elsewhere. When those fighters return after an absence it creates a challenge for handicappers. Are they better fighters now than they were, or are they essentially the same guy? How will the public respond? How should we properly handicap them? Here are seven questions for bettors to consider when handicapping a fighter returning to the UFC after an absence:
How old are they? – MMM bettors can look at this in terms of their actual age, or the stage of their career. The latter is probably more relevant for bettors. There are relatively young guys who are close to retirement because they have fought so many times and their style of fighting is extremely tough on their bodies. There are older guys who may not have gotten an early start in the sport, who don’t fight a lot, or who are easier on themselves and still have a lot of fighting ahead of them. What you want to get a sense of is whether the fighter is returning to the UFC in the prime of his career, is still on the rise or is looking for a last hurrah before heading off into the sunset. Understanding this will help you have a better idea of their motivation, their resiliency when they face adversity, and the way that the UFC may look to use them.
When did they leave? – For MMM bettors, this is the first in the series of questions that looks to fill in the gaps between now and their last appearance in the organization. Did they leave recently enough that the core of their weight class and the general feel of the events was the same as it is now, or are they essentially joining a whole new organization? Did they leave when they were at the prime of their careers, were they still on the rise, or were they already struggling? Did they leave when they were successful or when they were losing? Were they being heavily used when they were last in the organization, or were they an afterthought?
Why did they leave? – It’s not that common for fighters to leave the UFC entirely because of their own choice – certainly not because they see better opportunities elsewhere. There are, however, a lot of reasons why fighters do leave the organization – contract issues, a string of losses or otherwise unsuccessful fights, attitude problems, injuries, drug or legal issues, a surplus of similar fighters in the weight class and so on. The more you can understand about why the fighter left, the better the sense you can get of whether the same issues are likely to be a problem again, or if the fighter has matured, gotten healthy, or generally is in a better place.
Where did they go? – The fighter almost certainly fought elsewhere after leaving the UFC, so you need to look at where he went and what experience he gained. Was he fighting talented guys who were advancing him and improving him as a fighter, or was he beating up on lesser talent? Was he fighting in big organizations that would allow him to train properly, or was he in the minor leagues of the sport? Was he a main event fighter, or buried deep on the undercard? Did he have to deal with media and fan exposure, or will the pressure that comes with the UFC be unfamiliar to him? How often was he fighting? How long was he gone?
Why are they back? – There are all sorts of reasons that the UFC can bring a fighter back, and not all of them are positive for the fighter. He could have been a big star before he left, or become one when he was away, and they really want him back to contend in the division. He could be a guy who needed seasoning and is now ready to be a serious contender. He could be a good, solid fighter who is always useful to have in the middle of cards. Those are all positive. One less positive possibility is that they need some cannon fodder and he can be relied upon to put up a solid fight to build the confidence of a fighter on the rise before losing. By understanding why they are back in the UFC – and what kind of long term future they are likely to have – you can get a sense of what type of fights they are likely to face, and how they might be expected to do in those fights.
Are they the same fighter we last saw? – Sometimes a fighter will return to the UFC and it will be like he never left. Physically he is still capable, but his game hasn’t advanced significantly. He has largely the same strengths and weaknesses as before. Other times though, there are significant changes. It could be that he was young before and has grown, matured, and become a wiser, stronger fighter. Or it could be that last time he was in his prime, but now he is in a decline and isn’t as fast or explosive. If he was at all prominent the last time he was in the UFC then it’s important to know what, if anything, has changed. The public won’t likely sense those adjustments, so if the change is significant then that could create value.
What will the public perception be? – Will the public be excited about the return and anxious to see him back in action? Or will they have hardly noticed he was gone and hardly care he has returned? Is he going to be back in a prominent fight, or buried well down the card? Is he returning on a card that will be heavily bet, or one that will get much less attention? The more you can understand about what the public is likely to think, the better the sense you will have of how much you need to factor the public reaction, and the impact on the value, into your handicapping.