From its humble beginnings in 1993, the UFC has grown into a billion-dollar business. Likewise, UFC betting was virtually non-existent until the promotion was finally licensed in Nevada in 2001.
Let’s take a look at the rise of UFC betting through the years:
The UFC began as a niche sport in the 1990s. The first UFC event was held on November 2nd, 1993, at Denver’s McNichols Arena. UFC 1 was promoted as an event with no-holds-barred fights. There were no rules, no time limits, and no weight classes. The fight would only end when one of the combatants was knocked out, choked out, or tapped out.
Because of its nature, the UFC was labeled as “human cockfighting” by no less than the late Senator John McCain. McCain and other critics led calls to outlaw mixed martial arts in the U.S. but the UFC persevered. Because it was unable to get a license in Nevada, the fight capital of the world, it held its events in cities like Charlotte, Tulsa, Detroit, and Birmingham.
Shortly after UFC 29 in 2001, the UFC was bought by the Fertitta brothers—Lorenzo and Fran—who inherited the Palace Hotel-Casino from their father. The Ferttitas fought hard to legitimize the sport, and with the help of their connections in Las Vegas, they were finally able to get a license to stage events in Nevada.
The first UFC event sanctioned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission was UFC 33 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. To give the fans who watched the fights a chance to bet, the oddsmakers booked the first UFC odds. UFC betting was born and as they say, the rest is history.
The UFC hired former NSAC Executive Director Marc Ratner as its vice-president for regulatory affairs and Ratner helped the promotion get mixed martial arts legalized in every other state. Ratner’s crowning glory was in 2016 when New York finally ended its 20-year ban on the sport.
UFC 205 at the Madison Square Garden was the first UFC event in New York since the lifting of the ban. During this event, UFC betting had evolved from simply placing wagers on the main event fights and championship bouts to a variety of betting markets, including prop bets related to the card’s biggest fights.
Mixed Martial Arts has gone mainstream in the last two decades, and UFC betting has followed. The promotion was bought for $4 billion in 2016 and its 2019 revenue was in the ballpark of $1 billion. The last UFC event on record was UFC 248 and its Pay Per View card drew a high level of general interest with 2.1 million searches on Google.
The UFC is now one of the major sports organizations in the world. The sport of mixed martial arts is an ever-expanding business with promotions like Bellator, Rizin, and ONE Championships also gaining popularity. Last October, the UFC announced that it would be launching live UFC betting via its platform which would be available to the sportsbooks.
Called UFC Events Centre, the product will feature over 50 betting markets per bout, including 20 new bets which are updated in real-time. The product was supposed to be unveiled during the first quarter of 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic has delayed its launch. But with the UFC’s determination to hold fights despite the current situation, UFC betting will continue to flourish in the coming years.