When people talk about handicapping UFC events one of the factors that comes up often is the location of the fight and the advantage that can give to fighters from that country. The UFC likes to schedule home country fighters in events in their own countries to boost the box office appeal of the event – Australians in Australia, Canadians in Canada, and so on. Does that really give those fighters an edge, and is it worth betting on them as a result? Here’s a look at four factors to consider:
Headliners will get support wherever they are – The home octagon advantage can seriously and significantly be overcompensated for when you are dealing with the big name fighters. Georges St. Pierre is a perfect example. He is wildly popular in Canada – one of the most popular athletes in the country – and he has fought several times in Canada in order to help the UFC ensure their events there are a success. When he fights in Canada the crowd goes wild for him, and bettors respond by supporting him heavily. He undoubtedly enjoys the support he gets fighting at home. Here’s the thing, though – GSP is wildly popular everywhere he fights, and always has strong support from the crowd. Because the crowd is always going to be screaming and behind him the impact of fighting at home isn’t as significant as it seems, and the public can easily overcompensate for it. In fact, you can probably assume that the public is overcompensating for the home crowd if the fighter is a headliner – with one big exception we’ll talk about soon.
Lower level fighters can gain an edge – The further you get down the card, the less the crowd knows about the fighters in advance, and the less likely that they have a clear allegiance one way or the other. In cases like that, the home country advantage is going to be very significant. If a fight is in Sydney and the crowd knows nothing about either fighter but one is Australian then the allegiance will be obvious and likely fairly intense. It will be more support than the fighter is used to having, and it could make a big difference. If the fighters are reasonably close in skill level and they match up well then the fighter with the home country advantage could have a big edge. That can provide value – especially if it’s not immediately obvious that the fighter is from the country so casual bettors don’t necessarily realize it.
The novelty factor – This is the one exception I was talking about earlier. The impact of being form the home country is going to be far less significant if the country hosts a lot of events, and if the majority of the fighters are from that country. I’m talking, of course, about fights being hosted in the U.S. The large majority of events are held in the U.S., most cards feature several Americans, and Americans have long been successful in the UFC, so the impact of Americans fighting at home is far less significant than others fighters fighting in countries that don’t seethe UFC as often. The impact could be significant in the U.S., though, if a fighter is fighting in his home town or state.
The style of fighter is significant – Geography can be a big factor, but the style of the fighters can be even more significant. If the home country fighter is of a style that isn’t going to be popular for a wild range of fans then that can easily eliminate the impact of fighter’s background. For example, a fighter who likes to get to the ground early and struggle in a small space for points and a submission are not nearly as interesting to watch for casual fans than a fighter that stays on his feet and throws a lot of kicks and punches. If the fighter that isn’t form the home country is dramatically more exciting to watch than the home fighter than the advantage given by the geography could quickly be overwhelmed by the enjoyment the crowd gets from the flashy fighter.