Since taking over Bellator MMA, President Scott Coker and company have put their own spin on matchmaking. The consensus from fans and media folk is that while the UFC tries to create even matchups, Bellator is not afraid to promote mismatches or squashes. Is this true?
There are some obvious examples of anecdotal evidence, such as the Josh Thomson rehab tour, Michael Page’s string of opponents and so on. However, thanks to the good folks at BestFightOdds.com and the zen experience that is typing in Excel, we have a robust dataset to analyze. For the purpose of this project, all UFC and Bellator fights assigned odds by 5Dimes were analyzed.
If Bellator is in fact more fond of squash matches than the UFC, there should be two big indicators. First, there should be more fights, by percentage, with larger underdogs. Bookmakers are not stupid. They understand when someone is being brought in to lose. Second, underdogs on a whole should perform worse. In a pro-competition environment, even betting underdogs win with regularity.
The following charts shows the breakdown of the different levels of underdogs.
Levels of Underdogs in Bellator (2015-2016)
Levels of Underdogs in UFC (2015-2016)
As you can see, by percentage, Bellator has a larger percentage of underdogs (39 percent) who came into their fights as a +300 underdog or higher compared to the UFC (23 percent.)
The following chart the winning percentage of underdogs, broken down by level of underdog.
Winning percentage of underdogs in Bellator and UFC by level (2015-2016)
The larger underdogs perform much better in the UFC. In fact, overall, underdogs in the UFC win 38 percent of the time compared to 25 percent in Bellator.
In conclusion, it appears that Bellator does not create as even of playing field with its matchmaking. However, it is also important to point out a sample size issue here. Bellator not only hosts fewer events than the UFC, but it also promotes far fewer fights that are given betting odds. In the past two years, only 75 fighters have been assigned underdog lines by 5Dimes.