When I was seven years old, my dad taught me how to gamble. On many a Saturday afternoon during my childhood, he and I would sit down at our family’s dining room table with a deck of cards and some chips, discussing strategy for poker, blackjack and other betting games that my dad had clearly made up with his friends in their college years. This early education, along with my decidedly non-poker-shark appearance, put me at a distinct advantage later in life when I’d be invited to join a game. Most times I’d break even, sometimes I’d win.

This lifelong gaming knowledge has not, however, turned me into a gambling addict. Quite the opposite, in fact.  I’m 28 years old and have never been inside a casino. I can’t spend more than 90 minutes at a poker table before I get bored out of my mind. Perhaps most relevant to this discussion, however, is the fact that I’ve never bet on MMA.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m very confident when it comes to my predicting abilities in the fight game. I’ve just never felt compelled to take the actual financial risk of placing money on those predictions. It’s not a moral thing, I’m just not into it.

I know I’m not alone in this thinking, not just among MMA fans but sports fans in general. Some people like to have a little action on the sports they watch, some don’t. But even the most strident non-gamblers had to look twice when the odds for the UFC 152 main event were released late last week.

After Dan Henderson was forced to remove himself from a fight with Jon Jones at UFC 151, Jones declined an alternative fight, which led to the event’s cancellation. Jones was then slated to take on Lyoto Machida at UFC 152, only to have Machida take a pass. After some consideration, it was determined that Vitor Belfort—late of the middleweight division—would get the nod and square off with Jones for his belt on Sept. 22.

To call this fight a mismatch is doing a disservice to mismatches. Belfort, while certainly a potent fighter, has not fought at 205 pounds since 2007. He is 3-1 in the UFC since returning to the Octagon in 2009, with his one loss coming to middleweight champion Anderson Silva. But no one would have presently considered him to be a title contender in any division, let alone light heavyweight.

Jon Jones, on the other hand, is the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, has never really lost a bout (I don’t count the DQ in the Matt Hamill fight) and destroyed four previous light heavyweight champions in his last four contests. He’s only now beginning to enter the prime of his career and basically looks unstoppable.

The betting lines for this fight reflect this perceived lopsidedness in spades. As of Tuesday afternoon, Jones sat at -900 on Bovada—the site formerly known as Bodog. For those unfamiliar with MMA betting, this means a person would need to bet on Jones $900 in order to win $100. This is astounding enough on its own, as sports-book aficionados would probably have a tough time finding a fight that contains such a line for the favorite.

Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the +550 number for Belfort. This means that if a person bets $100 on Belfort and he wins, the bettor earns $550 in profit. Again, this figure is leaps and bounds beyond what MMA gamblers typically see, even for most fights that, on paper, look very one-sided.

Now, almost everyone who pays any attention whatsoever to MMA is predicting Jones to win. He’s bigger, he’s longer, he’s more well-rounded and he’s faced by far the more difficult competition in the last few years. If Jones ends up losing, it will send shockwaves throughout the MMA community. No one—no one—expects Vitor Belfort to win.

Even with this glut of common-sense thinking in Jones’ favor, however, the potential opportunity for significant winnings must have some fans who typically do not bet on the sport thinking about putting a little of their money down on Belfort. Even a reasonably small bet of $50 would net a person $275 in profit, which is a hell of a lot of beer money.

Of course, after the bet has been made, anyone who makes it needs to hope for a first-round KO for Belfort, because that’s his only hope of winning. Belfort is probably the most dangerous puncher Jones has ever faced, and we’ve seen him repeatedly turn able-bodied men into crumpled piles of flesh and bone with a single blow.

Is this a likely outcome? Absolutely not, but it might just be feasible enough when combined with the ridiculous odds to risk a little of one’s hard-earned money on the bet.

In full disclosure, I will likely not be taking the risk that comes with betting on Belfort in this fight. Again, it’s not that I’m against betting on sports as a practice, I’m just one of those people who’d rather keep the money I have, versus risk it for the promise of more. My dad’s lessons on gambling were informative, but I don’t plan to use them to try to earn a secondary living.

When Sept. 22 comes around, however, don’t be surprised if there’s a little more action on Belfort than makes logical sense.

Photo: Vitor Belfort (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.