The following article was written by MMAjunkie.com's own Eric "Performify" Foster for the October 2008 issue of FIGHT! Magazine (on newstands now). Performify is a regular contributor to FIGHT! and shares his insights on betting on MMA.
Subscriptions to FIGHT! Magazine are available at www.fightmagazine.com.
* * * *
As MMA fans we love to discuss every nuance of our favorite fights and our favorite fighters. One of the most heated discussion topics we see revisited time and again on the MMAjunkie.com MMA Forums is whether a fighter is "overrated" or "underrated."
While these discussions can often turn in to unproductive (and unacceptable) "fighter bashing," there is actually significant value in examining the concept of a fighter as "overrated" or "underrated" from a gambling perspective.
For this column, I will be looking at the two main reasons fighters are usually overvalued in betting lines and provide a detailed example of each. For the next strategy-focused article (in November's issue), we will look at fighters who are traditionally undervalued.
The very word "overrated" can have negative connotations, and I think it's important to make it perfectly clear: when I speak of overrated in this column, I'm purely speaking to a habitual mispricing of a betting line for that fighter. Every time you see the word "overrated" for the rest of this column, please read it as "overrated from a gambling perspective" only.
Examining if a fighter is considered overrated is not a judgment on the fighter's skills, and it is definitely not a condemnation on the fighter as a person. It is also not about a fighter who loses the occasional fight; at the top tiers of mixed martial arts, almost every fighter will lose fights throughout his career. Instead, evaluating fighters who are considered overrated is an attempt to identify those competitors who are regularly and consistently assigned an inaccurate betting line by oddsmakers for a variety of reasons.
It is also important to understand that a fighter can be overrated even as an underdog; when we use the term overrated in gambling parlance, we're speaking of a betting line which is overvalued, be that a favorite being too heavily favored or an underdog who is being given to much chance to upset.
The first primary reason that fighters are overvalued in betting lines is simple and obvious yet powerful once you can recognize it. Most frequently, fighters who are consistently overvalued by oddsmakers are those who are heavily favored by fans. Many fighters will place a bet on their favorite fighters no matter what the odds. As the perfect example, take one of the most popular and polarizing figures in MMA history: none other than the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, Tito Ortiz.
Despite being winless in his past three fights, Ortiz is still one of MMA's biggest names, holding a 15-6-1 professional record. Despite a solid grappling pedigree and one of MMA's best top games, Ortiz is the definition of a fighter who has recently been, and likely will continue to be for the remainder of his career, overrated from a gambling perspective.
Ortiz's latest wins against top competition were defeating Wanderlei Silva by a five-round decision back at UFC 25 in April 2000, and then Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 33 in September 2001. Fast forwarding through Ortiz's fights since that win over Matyushenko, we have a win over an aging Ken Shamrock, losses to Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, a unanimous decision win over a young and undersized Patrick Cote (who now fights at 185), a split-decision win over Vitor Belfort (part of a string of five-out-of-seven losses by Belfort), a controversial split -decision victory over a very green Forrest Griffin, two more wins over Shamrock, a loss to Liddell, a controversial draw with Rashad Evans, and a loss to Lyoto Machida that was one of the most dominant decision fights in UFC history. That is almost seven years without a legitimate win against top competition.
None of this is meant to criticize Ortiz, and if he is your favorite fighter, the last thing I am trying to do is change your personal preference. I merely point out that Ortiz's reputation as a fighter and his popularity with the fans has outpaced the quality of his wins. As a result, he has been overrated from a gambling perspective several times in his career, including in his past three fights. And, assuming Ortiz returns to the cage (or the ring) sometime soon, expect his line to be artificially inflated due to his popularity with the fans.
Popularity is a big reason for a fighter being overrated in betting terms. But the second major reason a fighter can be overrated from a gambling perspective is because public perception of his past fights doesn't match up with reality. For this example, let's look at Roger Huerta.
After losing to Kenny Florian at UFC 87, Huerta holds a 20-2-1 MMA record and is 6-1 in the UFC. Huerta's notable wins include -- well, therein lies the problem. Huerta had amassed a perfect record in the UFC and an impressive overall record, but he had not faced or beaten anyone I would call "notable" in his entire career prior to the Florian fight. Again, this is not a personal attack against a fighter; it is simply an acknowledgment that Huerta's records of 20-2-1 MMA and 6-1 UFC are deceiving. The general public looks at the records and the win streaks and considered Huerta a top contender when in reality his wins were deceiving.
Most of Huerta's fights in the UFC have come against rookies entering the UFC for the first time, such Jason Dent, John Halverson, Leonard Garcia and Alberto Crane. In fact, Huerta's only UFC win against a non-rookie was Clay Guida at the The Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale. Let's take a quick look at the UFC records and contract status of Huerta's six UFC wins in chronological order:
-Dent: 0-2, no longer in the UFC
-Halverson: 0-2, no longer in the UFC
-Garcia: 1-2, no longer in the UFC
-Evans: 0-2, no longer in the UFC
-Crane: 0-2, no longer in the UFC
-Guida: 4-3, still with the organization
So, Huerta's six defeated UFC opponents have a combined lifetime UFC record of 5-13, with five of the six no longer fighting for the organization. When you put these six wins in that perspective, they tell a much different story.
Simply put, Huerta is nowhere near the polished fighter that his record or his publicity makes him out to be. Against Crane, Huerta faced a one-dimensional grappler with limited striking skills, but he was still able to take Huerta's back, mount him, and threaten him with several close submission attempts. Guida was beating Huerta soundly in their fight before Huerta turned things around in the third round with a perfectly timed knee to his opponent's chin. And most recently, Huerta was definitely overrated as a slight underdog to Florian at UFC 87, when Florian should have been a much larger favorite. For those of you thinking I might just be jumping on the Florian bandwagon in light of the victory at UFC 87, I actually covered this exact topic in "Performify's Picks for UFC 87," which you can see archived on MMAjunkie.com. There was a reason that Florian was one of my largest recommended plays on the night's card; it was easy to identify that Huerta's line was over-inflated due to public perception.
As further example of these two factors in practice, here are three more fighters I believe will be overrated by linesmakers in the near future -- fighters you can look to "fade" for value in upcoming fights if the linesmakers do not adjust fast enough.
Frank Mir: Before you think of betting Mir against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in their upcoming fight, remember that he is only 3-2 in his past five fights and has only really submitted two rather one-dimensional strikers since returning to the octagon from his debilitating motorcycle crash. He's also being given too much credit for slapping a quick submission on a very green Brock Lesnar in my opinion. I expect Mir will have a lot of trouble with "Minotauro" and expect to find value in the line due to public mis-perception of Mir's recent fights.
Matt Serra: He will likely be overrated from a gambling perspective forever due to the statistical anomaly of his knockout of Georges St. Pierre. While you have to give all credit in the world to Serra for that victory, you should also consider that he first stunned St. Pierre with a "one in a hundred" looping shot behind the ear. In my opinion Serra should be considered the epitome of an ultra-longshot coming through.
Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson: Many MMA purists are quick to bash Slice, but he's still one of the biggest names in the sport. While he certainly has a fantastic camp (thanks to head trainer and MMA legend Bas Rutten), it's clear from the James Thompson fight that Slice's skills and the public perception of his skills are not in mesh. People's memories fade, and in the face of his popularity, many will forget that Slice struggled mightily with Thompson and only remember that he won.