Prior to the Ohio sports betting launch on Jan. 1, the state already has to monitor a controversy.
Mixed Martial Arts’ premiere brand, the UFC, is currently banned in Ontario. It was also temporarily banned in Alberta over integrity concerns.
The betting controversy involving MMA coach James Krause is not the first for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), or MMA. It’s multiple strikes against the sport and could be one of the early tests for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
What is the UFC betting controversy?
The UFC has had dark clouds hovering over it in regard to sports betting for some time.
It wasn’t until Oct. 18 that the UFC announced all fighters, as well as their teams, were prohibited from wagering on any UFC fight.
However, it was a Nov. 5 fight in Las Vegas between featherweights Shayilan Nuerdanbieke and Darrick Minner that caused the current integrity issues.
Nuerdanbieke was a favorite of -220 approaching the bout. However, the odds jumped to -420 in the hours approaching the start of the fight.
Multiple sportsbooks reported receiving unusual betting on Nuerdanbieke to win. They also received suspicious bets on Nuerdanbieke to win by first round knockout, as well as the fight going under 2.5 rounds.
When the fight took place, the result was a TKO by Nuerdanbieke in just 1:07 of the first round. Minner threw an early kick and immediately reached for his leg. Nuerdanbieke then closed in and finished the fight with a knee and elbows on the ground.
The belief is Minner and his team failed to disclose an injury on his pre-fight medical form, knowing he was going in hampered. Those with knowledge of the injury were believed to be the ones making the questionable bets.
What actions have been taken?
Following the bout, The Nevada State Athletic Association began an investigation into the matter. It was pursuing disciplinary action against Minner for non-disclosure of his pre-fight medical form.
Minner’s coach, James Krause, has had his license suspended by the NSAA pending an investigation.
Last week, both Krause and Minner had their temporary suspensions extended by the NSAA. Both could be facing criminal charges over the incident.
Due to the investigation, Krause has been banned from UFC events going forward. Any fighters that are coached or trained by Krause are also banned until the pending investigation has concluded.
The Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario has required its operators to stop accepting bets on the UFC. Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis followed suit, but reinstated UFC betting on Dec. 9.
Currently, no gaming commission in the United States has banned UFC betting. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has told its sportsbooks they are no longer allowed to offer betting on any fight associated with Krause.
OCCC has approved the UFC, as well as Bellator MMA, for sports betting upon its Jan. 1 launch.
PFL incident raises integrity concerns
MMA isn’t new to betting controversies.
It had another major one earlier this year involving the Professional Fighters League.
An event that was billed as “live” aired on April 1 on Fubo TV even though it had been taped on March 25.
Making matters worse is that wagers for the PFC Challenger Series event were being taken leading up to the broadcast of the fights.
Odds for each of the fights moved significantly in favor of the winning fighter in the hours leading up to the 9 p.m. EST “live” broadcast.
Because of the issue, multiple state gaming commissions removed the PFL from their betting catalog.
Poor fighter pay an issue in UFC, MMA
Preventing fighters from betting on matches seems like a no-brainer.
But, the fact that so many inside MMA have been looking to wager also highlights a bigger issue of pay within the sport.
Entering 2022, the UFC minimum for a fighter is $12,000 per fight with a win bonus of $12,000 as well.
Should a fighter compete three times in the year, the max it can make at that rate is just $62,000. That’s assuming they win all three fights.
Those same young fighters have to pay their coaches and handle some of their medical costs.
The UFC also has strict sponsorship policies that don’t allow fighters to promote their sponsors during fights that could bring in more money for them.
According to The Sports Daily, the average UFC fighter made just over $160,000 in 2021. In 2021, 19% of UFC fighters (116) made less than $26,000. Just seven fighters made over $1 million in 2021.
In 2021, Dana White told TSN that the UFC was worth between $9-10 billion.
NSAA has to send a message
The lower levels of pay just means a large number of UFC fighters, as well as MMA competitors in general, are desperate for success.
Betting on their fights was a way to supplement income. In the case of Minner and Krause, it was a way to try and turn a bad situation into a financial gain.
The more desperate fighters and coaches get, the more willing they may get to compromise the integrity of their fights.
In order for this to end, the NSAA is going to have to send a strong statement to both. A slap on the wrist won’t be enough to suppress the risk for others down the road.
With the sportsbook organizations around the United States, and the world, watching closely, a light punishment would do a lot of damage for the UFC and the reputation of the sport. It was also do a lot of damage for the reputation of legalized sports betting.
Those opposed to legalizing sports betting in other states are looking for ammunition to rally against it. This would certainly provide just that.