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Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the fastest growing sport in the world and is predicted to overtake boxing as the premier combat sport in the near future. It can be traced right back to the very first Olympic Games in 648 BC but its modern incarnation is largely due to the Gracie family, the founders of Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu, who in the early 1900’s began challenging people from various martial arts backgrounds. It was from here that the sport as it is today emerged and it has come a long way since then with many rules and regulations being added.
As the name suggests competitors need to be versed in a wide range of martial arts such as Boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling and Muay Thai. Bouts can end in either a decision, usually from cage-side judges, or by stoppage. Stoppages can be via submission, where a competitor taps out or verbally submits, via technical knockout, where a corner, doctor or referee stop the bout, or via knockout, where a competitor is unable to continue due to strikes.
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As the sport continues to grow so does the betting market and the majority of the major bookmakers now offer odds on upcoming bouts. The most popular market is still the outright winner market but a number of sites such as Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Bet 365 do offer alternative markets such as the following;
- Round Betting – Which competitor to win and in which round.
- Method of Victory – Which competitor to win and by what method – KO, TKO, DQ, Submission or Decision
- How will the Fight Finish – Whether the fight will end in a stoppage or go to the judges’ score cards.
- Fight Duration – How many rounds the fight will last.
- Decision Victory – If the fight goes to decision will it be unanimous, split, or majority decision.
These options are generally reserved for main events and most undercard fights only present an opportunity to bet on the outright winner. Most UK sites also focus solely on the UFC but sites such as Ladbrokes and Paddy Power have also offered odds on Bellator and BAMMA events in the past. As mentioned earlier however with the sport continuing to grow the opportunities to bet on it will undoubtedly follow suit. To keep up to date with the best value on MMA/UFC events keep checking FREEbets.org.uk for previews of upcoming bouts.
MMA is dominated by the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the largest MMA organisation in the world and the pinnacle of the sport. Outside of the UFC other prominent organisations are Bellator MMA, One Championship, Rizin, Cage Warriors, the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) and also KSW, a Polish based MMA organisation and one of the biggest in Europe.
Pound for Pound Ratings
Conor McGregor remains the biggest star and draw in the UFC, although he can no longer claim to being the best fighter in the company. The Irishman might be the sport’s most recognisable face but since his defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018, he has dropped right down the pound-for-pound rankings. However, the Notorious proved his worth once again in his return to the cage at UFC 246 in January, knocking out Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds to position him for big fights with Khabib, Justin Gaehtje, Nate Diaz or Jorge Masvidal in the coming months.
Dagestani mauler Nurmagomedov maintained his incredible, unbeaten professional record with that win over McGregor and currently rules the lightweight division. His ground game has proved impossible to deal with in the UFC as he has lost just one round, never mind a fight since arriving in the big leagues.
The Eagle made a case to be the premier figher on the planet when he took his record to 28-0 with a third round submission of Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 on 7 September in Abu Dhabi. Against an extremely high level opponent, Khabib dominated, using his usual wrestling-based attack, before scoring the win via rear naked choke in the third.
Another man lurking in the pound for pound rankings, Tony Ferguson, is next in line for the champ and will contest the 155lb title in April at UFC 249 in Brooklyn.
However, it is Jon Jones who sits atop the pound for pound rankings, with the light heavyweight champion holding a stunning (if not as good as Khabib's) record of 26-1 (1) and looking unbeatable at 205lbs. He fought twice in 2019, seeing off Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, although the latter showed some weakness in the champion's game. It is the first time in his career that a judge gave a scorecard against Bones, and challengers are now more keen to take him on. Undefeated Dominick Reyes became the most recent to challenge Jones, at UFC 247 in February and many thought the Devastator had won the bout, but the judges handed the unanimous decision to the champion. He remains immovable at light heavyweight and top of the pound-for-pound rankings, but now looks more beatable than ever.
The biggest fish in the pond at heavyweight is once again Stipe Miocic, who reclaimed his heavyweight title with a fourth round stoppage of Daniel Cormier at UFC 241 in August. DC had stopped Miocic in the first when they met the previous summer, but the Cleveland firefighter has bounced back and scored the stunning knockout win. There could now be a third fight between the two, there could be a rematch with Francis Ngannou or he could welcome Jones to heavyweight. There are plenty of options available to the king of the heavyweight division.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has made great strides in the pound-for-pound list after his stunning win for the belt at UFC 243, knocking out Robert Whittaker in the second round. The Last Stylebender took his MMA record to 18-0 with his destruction of the Reaper and now is looking to cement his place at the top of the middleweight division by defending his belt. Paulo Costa was next in line, but is now out injured and Yoel Romero is getting a crack at Adesanya for the gold at UFC 248 on 7 March.
Alexander Volkanovski has shot up the pound-for-pound rankings after dethroning long-time featherweight champion Max Holloway at UFC 245. The Australian has been an unstoppable force since arriving in the UFC in 2016 and has taken his overall MMA record to a superb 21-1. What is next for the Great has not yet been set, but he could rematch Holloway after Blessed had such an impressive reign as champ at 145lbs.
The welterweight strap is held by Kamaru Usman who won it from Tyron Woodley in March 2019 and defended it in some style against Colby Covington in December. The Nigerian Nightmare is going to take some beating at 170lbs, but Jorge Masvidal might be the next to have a shot at doing it after his stunning 2019 saw him beat Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz.
Amanda Nunes saw her name shoot up the pound-for-pound rankings with her huge knockout win over Cris Cyborg at UFC 229 in December 2018. With that victory she added the women's featherweight title to her bantamweight strap and made an argument for herself being the greatest female fighter, not only now, but in history. She further cemented that posiiton by knocking out Holly Holm with a head-kick at UFC 239 as she defended the bantamweight belt. Nunes defended her bantamweight strap again against Germaine de Randamie at UFC 245 in December and sits atop two divisions, unmatched.
Valentina Shevchenko claimed the vacant flyweight belt at UFC 231 and could be set for a lengthy reign, impressing again with a head-kick knockout of Jessica Eye at UFC 238. She was back in action in Uruguay in August 2019 against Liz Carmouche and picked up a dominant points victory in Montevideo. The Bullet continued to look unstoppable in the flyweight division after stopping Katlyn Chookakian with ground and pount at UFC 247.
Another fighter that has seen his star soar in recent months is Henry Cejudo who, despite being an Olympic gold medalist, went from relative unknown to MMA superstar thanks to three huge victories. Cejudo beat long-time flyweight king Demetrious Johnson to claim his belt, then knocked off bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw who had dropped down in weight to take him on at 125lbs.
Cejudo then reimagined himself from his previous incarnation as The Messenger, to a new moniker of Triple C thanks to winning the vacant bantamweight title against Marlon Moraes. Cejudo stopped the Brazilian in the third round to claim the belt vacated by Dillashaw when he tested positive for EPO.
Triple C is set to give up the flyweight belt with Joseph Benevidez and Deivison Figueirido set to fight for the vacant strap on 29 February.
MMA Weight Divisions
As earlier mentioned, MMA bouts take place across a variety of weight divisions much like you have in boxing. The different weight classifications each boast their own characteristics with the flyweights usually a quicker nimble style right up to the power of the heavyweights. Below displays each of the weight categories as well as the upper weight limits as stated in the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts;
Strawweight - Up to 115lb (52.2 kg) - women only in UFC
Flyweight - Up to 125lb (56.7 kg)
Bantamweight - Up to 135lb (61.2 kg)
Featherweight - Up to 145lb (65.8 kg)
Lightweight - Up to 155lb (70.3 kg)
Welterweight - Up to 170lb (77.1 kg)
Middleweight - Up to 185lb (83.9 kg)
Light Heavyweight - Up to 205lb (93 kg)
Heavyweight - Up to 265 lb (120.2kg)