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Beating the UFC

Savvy sports bettors find a way to profit from the Ultimate Fighting Championship
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

(continued from page 2)

So who does Dixon like for Saturday night? “Normally I bet one or two matches per card,” he says, allowing in the next breath that, like most gamblers, he sometimes gets carried away, and loses his disciplined approach. “Right now, for sure, I am going with Frank Mir over Roy Nelson. Frank’s at minus-140, which isn’t too bad. Roy is a good fighter with a big heart, but Frank is stronger.” He hesitates for a beat, then adds, “And if they go to the ground, well, then it gets interesting.”

One more possible angle to consider comes from a one-time UFC fighter named Nissen Osterneck. He’s a mixed martial artist himself who also happens to know a few things about beating the UFC at the betting window. One way he advises doing it is by betting the over/under on whether or not a fight will go the distance. “For the upcoming card I like Jorge Santiago and Brian Stann for the under,” he says. “Santiago is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and Stann is fair. Stann is coming back from a win, he likes to push the pace and he has knockout power. Santiago recently returned from five years of fighting in Japan. The line is minus-130, and it’s a bet that I advise.”

How much of an edge can be found in the over/under wagers? Enough of one that Jay Rood stopped booking them. “The bettors were spot on,” he says, referring to bets that are most commonly found online these days. “Guys would know the fighters’ game plans, come in betting $2,000 or $3,000 and before we knew it we had a $40,000 decision on a bet that generated no money from the general public. We scrapped it.”

It’s May 28 and fight night has descended. Heading through the MGM Grand to the arena where the early fights are already under way, I contemplate making a bet. Before coming here, I had listened to Johnny Marinacci and told myself that I wouldn’t bother, that betting without knowledge would feel like flushing money down the toilet (an act to which I am, unfortunately, no stranger). But as I walk through the casino, I can’t shake the infectious confidence that Musketa expressed about his best pick of the night: middleweight Brian Stann over Jorge Santiago.

I detour through the sports book, forget about common sense, get the wager at minus-150, and bet $300 to win $200. What the hell, right? By the time I get to my seat, passing through crowds of tattooed and T-shirted fans, the pre-Spike fights wind down, and I am heartened to see that Musketa did indeed win his batch of parlay wagers.

But I’m here for Stann vs. Santiago. Both fighters enter the ring to the throbbing sounds of metal music—this is par for the course here—and Stann plays up the fact that he has a military background (stars and stripes adorn his trunks), complete with service in Iraq. It makes him a fan favorite, but that goes only so far once he’s inside the octagon and first round begins.
True to Musketa’s prediction, Stann dominates right from the start. He keeps Santiago off balance with choppy little kicks and manages a knockdown in the first round. By the beginning of the second round, Santiago looks like he wishes he was home in Brazil. He fails to connect and never gets close enough to do anything but box against Stann. Then, with 37 seconds left in the second round, Stann connects with a left-handed punch to his opponent’s skull, putting him down and finishing him off with half a dozen pummels to his face and head.

The crowd goes crazy rooting for the vet from Iraq. It’s the easiest $200 I’ve ever made.

Never mind that Musketa later loses his last bet that Matt Hamill will beat Rampage Jackson in the main event. His line of reasoning: Hamill is an excellent wrestler, Jackson has neglected UFC for other pursuits (including a role in The A-Team and an upcoming martial arts flick called Duel of Legends) and, as Musketa puts it, “He’s a head case.” Well, somebody forgot to tell Rampage all of that. He never allows Hamill (a deaf, grappling specialist who has a biopic being readied for release) to take the fight to the ground.

Later that night, Musketa shrugs off the loss, pointing out that the overall card—with his big bet on Stann and the early parlays—has been plenty profitable. Gordon Dixon isn’t complaining either. He went 2-and-0 with his wagers, including a bet on Rampage Jackson to win. Then, as I’m filing out of the arena, I get a text from Nissen Osterneck. He complains that it’s one of the worst cards he’s ever seen. Then he does the opposite of complaining as he texts that his picks went three out of four for the night, then forwards me the betting slip to prove it.

Next morning, over breakfast at the MGM Grand, I place a call to Alf Musketa. He seems to be the man with all the answers where betting UFC is concerned. I seek guidance for someone who might want to jump into handicapping the matches now—albeit, at a bit of a late date.

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