UFC Confidential: Inside the Precarious State of MMA Betting for Fighters and Coaches

UFC Confidential: Inside the Precarious State of MMA Betting for Fighters and Coaches

NEW YORK – A well-known MMA trainer was sitting in front of a locker room wall earlier this year with his fighter and other trainers as the fighter warmed up in preparation for his UFC bout later that evening. There were other fighters and teams in the room as well, which is a common occurrence backstage at UFC events.

The coach noticed one of the other athletes on the card preparing for his fight and didn’t like what he saw. The fighter seemed lethargic, as if he had already lost a dose of adrenaline. Therefore, the trainer calmly pulled out his phone and placed a small bet on the opponent of the fighter in question that night.

“I’m not saying anything,” the coach told ESPN. I just opened my app. [and] I made a bet.”

Betting in mixed martial arts, specifically the UFC, has come under scrutiny lately. Last month, UFC Chief Business Officer Hunter Campbell announced in a note to fighters that they and members of their teams, including coaches, were no longer allowed to bet on UFC fights. The memo came after the UFC obtained guidance from government regulators and noted that in some jurisdictions, it is an offense for fighters or coaches to bet on fights from leagues they belong to.

Less than four weeks after that memo was sent, the Nov. 5 UFC Fight Night bout between Darek Miner and Shayilan Nuerdanbieke was under investigation by US Integrity, a Las Vegas firm, after the bet was reported by several sportsbooks in multiple states. Suspicious in the match. Nuerdanbieke won via TKO in the first round after Minner appeared to be suffering from a left knee injury. Lots of money went in for Nuerdanbieke, the favourite, to win by a first-round knockout – enough to make the streak go from -220 to -420. In addition, the bets were heavy on the match to last less than 2.5 rounds, causing some sports bets to take the fight off their boards.

Miner and his trainer, James Crouse, who hosts a popular betting podcast and runs a betting pool on Discord, did not comment on the situation. The UFC released a statement that its betting integrity partner, Don Best Sports, “will conduct a thorough review of the facts and report its findings.”

“There is absolutely no evidence that anyone involved bet on him. There was some indication that something was wrong, but there is no evidence that anyone did anything wrong,” UFC President Dana White told reporters Friday before UFC 281.

White insists on this match, but recent circumstances have highlighted gambling among members of the mixed martial arts community, including fighters, coaches, and managers. ESPN spoke to dozens of people in the sport who agreed to discuss the issue anonymously. The most common response was that the bet was “wide spread”, but not to the point of hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars being wagered.

One well-known trainer believes that many UFC-related fighters and coaches bet on MMA bouts constantly, with the majority betting anywhere from $20 to a few hundred dollars per fight and a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per card.

“Some, I can say, make real money,” said the coach. “But very little. I think if people had more money, they would do more. But for MMA as a whole, there’s not a lot of money in it. I think people regularly gamble in fights at a fairly moderate level.”



Shayilan Nuerdanbieke makes an easy Darrick Minner with a TKO just 67 seconds into their fight.

No one ESPN spoke to believes fight fixing is going on or that athletes are losing on purpose. Tae Hyun Bang, a South Korean fighter, went to jail for taking bribes to throw his 2015 UFC fight against Leo Koontz. However, the belief at the time, before gambling was widely legalized in the United States, was that it was just an isolated incident. Bang didn’t even end up carrying out the plan, either — he won the match and returned the money.

However, the consensus in the MMA community about Nuerdanbieke vs. Minner is that many people became aware of Minner’s knee injury in the hours leading up to a game. The coach said that a “sharp bettor” on the MMA gambling Discord group he belongs to (not the one run by Krause, Minner’s trainer at Glory MMA in Missouri and former UFC fighter) wrote that whoever bet on Minner should cancel their bets. The bookmaker wrote, as the coach said, that a lot of money – millions – was coming to Nordenbeck, precisely for the victory in the first round.

This does not mean that Miner or his team did anything questionable. Many coaches, managers, and fighters have said that it is common for fighters to enter fights with injuries for two reasons: for the wallet (fighters only get paid if they fight) and because if it is believed that their injury occurred during a match, the UFC insurance policy bears the costs rather than paying the fighter out of pocket.

News of injuries can spread quickly before fights. The buzz ahead of UFC 270 in January was heavyweight champion Francis Nganno suffering a knee injury. The streak moved slightly towards his opponent Cyril Jin, but Nganno won the fight anyway. Members of the community said it’s hard to keep secrets in MMA, even though TJ Dillashaw’s nasty shoulder injury heading to UFC 280 last month was mostly kept under wraps. The teams are big and hundreds of fighters, especially those based in Las Vegas, go to the UFC Performance Institute (UFC PI) regularly. People watch things and talk.

“I certainly don’t mean the PI is doing anything immoral,” said one manager who has represented many UFC champions. “But there are glass walls there. I can be on the treadmill and I can see what’s going on inside the physical therapy room.”

The perception of what happened with Minner and Nuerdanbieke unnerved many in the community. If there is this amount of money in the betting market, in some cases more than a fighter can earn in a year or more, can there be a temptation to rig things?

“You are [can make] said the trainer who has crammed several UFC champions. “This is where we are all as coaches and within or within the organization. The community goes, ‘Oh…, where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that’s what the downfall will probably be.’”

Because of this, many in MMA are happy that the UFC has banned betting on UFC fights in its Fighters Code of Conduct. One UFC bantamweight fighter said it was a “slippery slope” if people in the sport allowed betting at that level. In other major sports such as the NBA and NFL, betting on your league matches is prohibited. Baseball player Pete Rose has been banned from his sport and removed from the MLB Hall of Fame because he bet on his team when he was manager.

“Money just changes the way people think,” said the bantamweight fighter, who noted that he doesn’t bet and doesn’t know anyone on his team or in his circle who does. “When they can cheat it this way, it is so… I applaud [the UFC]. “

Despite the UFC’s mandate, most people ESPN spoke to didn’t think those in the community would stop betting. Sponsorship from bookmakers is common in this sport. Fighters provide social media betting tips for each card and get paid by betting websites. Former UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya shouted at Stake, the betting sponsor, at the UFC 281 pre-press conference last Wednesday. The UFC said these situations are still OK. There are even MMA trainers who are given money by big bettors to bet on and the two of them will split the profits. For better or for worse, gambling has become a huge part of sports culture. Betting lines are spread across all broadcasts, too.

“I think the players are going to freak out about it,” said the tournament-level coach. “I don’t think guys are going to stop betting. If you can do it and you’re not bragging about it – you don’t take a screenshot of your pick and tweet it – I don’t see how guys are going to get caught.

“If guys keep their mouths shut and don’t talk much about it and gamble on responsibility and don’t flip through the sportsbook to make a big deal about it, I don’t see why anyone would ever stop.”

Another typical response from the MMA community told ESPN that while almost everyone does some form of betting, the practice isn’t exactly profitable.

Everyone does this, said a trainer at a large gym, but 95% of people I know who bet on the Internet – fighters and coaches – lose money. “I know there are one or two people who make money. Literally, it’s like that. It’s not easy.”

While coaches and others in the sport might be considered “sharp bettors” because of their knowledge of what goes on inside the cage, many said they don’t make big money or even win at all. One lightweight fighter said the UFC’s new betting rule “saves me money.”

I bet, I just… said the lightweight fighter. “Really.. I don’t have money in my account. I’m really bad at it.”

In April, the Football League got into hot water when it broadcast a pre-recorded event and wrote on social media that the bouts were live. Some sportsbooks had streaks in the recorded fights, and according to many in the MMA community, there were a few coaches, managers, and fighters who made a decent amount of money betting on fights that actually happened weeks before. ESPN reported at the time that some bettors’ accounts were under review and US Integrity launched an investigation into the matter.

There are cautionary situations like that and Nuerdanbieke vs. Minner fight, but most of them don’t think that there is much corruption in MMA. Those in the community told ESPN that they favor sports commissions and state games and that the UFC itself is being proactive against this sort of thing.

Some kind of inside information came out [in Nuerdanbieke vs. Minner]said the coach of several UFC contenders. This one should be an example. Maybe he ends up in public, looks bad and on the back end is just a slap on the wrist. But someone must be made an example of this example, because now everyone just thinks that nothing really happened and you can do it. “

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