In the UFC’s history, betting on the fights has been a consistent joy of the MMA fanbase.
And everyone loves an underdog story, especially if that includes the kinds of odds that could land you the jackpot.
But is betting on the underdog a working strategy? On the whole, probably not, and here’s why:
The betting favorite fighter in a UFC event has won, on average, 65.48% of the time whereas the betting underdog has won 34.52% of the time (based on the last ten years of UFC results data).
There are a few outliers, though, that make underdogs still a decent option. Let’s compare UFC favorites vs underdogs and explain all below.
Table of Contents
How often do underdogs win in UFC
The underdogs only win 34.52% of the time based on the last ten years of UFC fight results.
Only a few of those years have shown outliers with 2021 at around 36%, 2019 at 37%, 2016 at 37%, and the most successful underdog year being 2015 at around 38%:
How often do favorites win in UFC
The favorites in the UFC typically win around 65% of the time.
Standout years for betting on favorites are around 69% in 2022 and around 72% in 2013.
Is it better to bet favorites or underdogs in the UFC?
The data suggests that betting on only the biggest underdogs (+900 and above) offers the best return on investment.
If you were to bet on every fighter to win within each of these odds ranges, you'll get the best results on the heavy underdogs.
This chart displays the historical returns % of betting on every fighter to win within each odds range:
For the +900 (or above) underdog range, there has been a total of 14 fights where the underdog lost 11 times but won 3 times. This equates to a 21% winning percentage, which is unusually large.
So let's say you would bet $100 on every underdog in this +900 (or above) range, fourteen fights would total $1,400 down.
Historically that has offered $3,584 earnings, a return on investment of $2,184—156%!
It is, though, a limited pool of data since it's only 14 total fighters who have had such heavy underdog odds.
In comparison, the underdogs of the +567 to +900 range only win 7% of the time and translates to a potential -44% ROI (84 fights total).
The odds range of +150 to +122 has the greatest pool of historical data, with 763 fights, making it potentially the most accurate.
Within that underdog range, those fighters win 44% of the time and resulting in a 4% ROI. Not the most attractive bets, but potentially the most reliable.
Biggest underdogs in UFC history
While the underdogs are only victorious about a third of the time, some of the odds against them are so large that those wins feel meteoric.
Here's a top list of the biggest underdog upsets.
These are fighters who had all odds stacked against them but came out on top.
1. Mariya Agapova (-1400) vs. Shana Dobson (+950)
One fight owns the top spot as the greatest difference between favorite vs underdog odds at the bookmakers.
And that's the Flyweight bout between Agapova, the clear favorite, and Dobson, the massive underdog, which came about at the UFC Fight Night: Munhoz vs. Edgar event in 2020.
Shana surprised the whole combat sports world when she knocked out Mariya with a second-round knockout.
One fan even put $25,000 on Agapova to win and lost it all. This was the greatest odds difference in UFC history.
2. Ronda Rousey (-1400) vs. Holly Holm (+830)
Back in 2015 when Ronda Rousey was at the peak of her fight game, Holly Holm came in and landed one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
Leading up to the fight, Ronda was talking about how she knew exactly what to expect from Holly.
She knew that she would try to get her frustrated and fatigued and open up the opportunity to "get kicked in the head".
And despite knowing it to be possible, she couldn't avoid it as Holm landed the head-kick KO in the second round.
It was a performance that landed Holly Holm the Bantamweight championship belt and a spot in our hearts as a legend.
3. Georges St. Pierre (-1300) vs. Matt Serra (+850) I
Rewind far back into the early days of the UFC and the magnificent GSP went into his first fight with Matt Serra as the heavy favorite.
St. Pierre was the -1300 favorite and yet it didn't take more than one round for Serra to shock the arena to get the TKO on GSP.
He smartly avoided getting into any up-close grapples with GSP and with a bit of luck catches his chin in an exchange.
While Georges attempts to recover by grabbing onto Matt, he's already wobbling and the heavy hands of The Terror just proved to be too much.
It might not have been the greatest difference in the odds, but it is often described as the biggest upset in UFC history.
4. Amanda Nunes (-1125) vs. Julianna Peña (+700)
How can we forget the moment when Julianna Peña came in to grab the Bantamweight belt off the dominant Amanda Nunes, we were left with our jaws dropped.
The odds were not in her favor at +700 but Julianna did what most other fighters rarely do which is to stand up against Amanda and walk straight at her with the intention of overwhelming on the feet.
She struck with straight 1-2 punches down the middle to exhaust Nunes, then grappled her against the fence, pulled a takedown, and secured the rear-naked choke.
I think I'm still in shock over that one.
5. Dean Barry (-1100) vs. Mike Jackson (+700)
In a matchup that ended in one of the most unfortunate ways, Mike Jackson astounded UFC fans by winning due to disqualification.
But it wasn't unwarranted, Dean Barry was entering his UFC debut as the heavy favorite and yet shocked the commentators and fans as he committed multiple fouls on Jackson.
Wild shots and spinning back kicks to the groin, followed by an egregious eye gauge resulted in one of the most surprising endings for the bookies.
Mike Jackson had been in the UFC for over six years despite having no prior MMA fights tallying up a 1-1-1 record before moving on to the Caged Aggression promotion.
Dana White had a lot of contempt for Jackson's performances and yet somehow he kept making his way into fights for such a long time.
6. Iuri Alcântara (-1000) vs. Frankie Saenz (+700)
UFC Fight Night 61: Bigfoot vs. Mir in 2015 included this matchup where the heavy favorite, Iuri, had a strong MMA record of 32-5-0.
Frankie, on only his 11th MMA bout, with a minor but respectable 8-2-0 record.
The fight was far more competitive than expected, likely surprising Alcântara the most, and went the full three rounds for Frankie Saenz to be declared the winner by the judges' scorecards.
7. Renan Barão (-1000) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (+650)
Believe it or not, but there was a time when T.J. Dillashaw wasn't the heavy favorite for a fight.
In 2014 for UFC 173, he faced the current Bantamweight champion, Renan Barão, as the +650 underdog.
Although the expectations were low for T.J., he entered the fight with wild confidence. It became one of the best displays of his superior footwork, switching stances regularly, slipping punches, and landing clinical jabs.
Barão was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world at the time, making it all the more extraordinary when Dillashaw secured the KO in the fifth and final round.
Although it's worth remembering that T.J. Dillashaw was temporarily banned for using PEDs so this phase of his career might have been during performance-enhancing drugs.
8. Devonte Smith (-1000) vs. Khama Worthy (+640)
Khama Worthy had his first fight in the UFC enter with a bang as he knocked out Devonte Smith in the first round.
Devonte was entering this fight with a couple of UFC wins under his belt and a respectable 10-1-0 record.
That loss might have been the catalyst for Smith's downfall as since he has only won one fight out of three and that was only down to a doctor stoppage.
The fight between Smith and Worthy at UFC 241 wasted no time for a heavy exchange.
Worthy even eating a straight right hand before countering with a check left hook that wobbled Smith until he fell to the floor.
A quick follow-up with punches on the ground and the ref called an end to it.
Khama went on to defeat Luis Pena by guillotine choke in 2020, before having a three-fight losing streak and eventually being let go.
He went back to his previous promotion, 247 Fighting Championships, to continue his MMA career and has most recently moved over to Boxing.
9. Eddie Wineland (-900) vs. Johnny Eduardo (+600)
Eddie Wineland is another fighter from this list who always entered his fights with a ton of stood-tall confidence and great power in his hands.
Maybe that was the activation for him being the heavy favorite in his fight against Johnny Eduardo back in 2014 at UFC Fight Night 40: Brown vs. Silva.
But clearly, Eduardo had other plans as he wasted no time than to give it back as hard as he could and clipped the chin of Wineland with a strong right hook.
Eddie wobbled backward while Johnny jumped at the chance to land another big right hook, dropping the American to the floor and securing a glorious knockout victory for the Brazilian.
10. BJ Penn (-900) vs. Frankie Edgar (+588) I
Last on this list of the best underdog victories was The Answer coming in to secure a decision victory over The Prodigy after five rounds of all-out war.
It was UFC 112, where Frankie Edgar came into the fight looking busy with movement, leg kicks, and jabs to try and outwork BJ Penn.
He was entering a matchup as the clear underdog and up against the talented BJ Penn in his prime.
But it didn't seem to give Edgar any reasons to quit too soon, as he kept the pressure on Penn by circling around the octagon, firing quick combinations, and moving out of range to frustrate the Hawaiian prodigy.
As the rounds went on, Frankie threw in a mix of strikes to keep BJ guessing with head kicks, and level changes to threaten the takedowns (and even land a few) with the single-leg attempts.
The two would go on for an immediate rematch and eventually a trilogy in which Frankie would secure a 100% win rate against BJ, removing any status as the "underdog."
Sources & methodology
- MMA Betting - Favorites vs Underdogs, which is better? (BetMMA.tips)
- Biggest Oddsmaker Upsets in UFC (Tapology)
- Featured image/photo: "Ceremonial weigh ins - Amanda Nunes vs Julianna Peña UFC 269" MMAnytt, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Read these next
Now that you've got the lowdown on underdog betting statistics in the UFC, these next articles will give further insight into more need-to-know stats: