How Vegas Bet Big With MMA and Won


Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the fastest-growing sport in the world, thanks mainly to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Fox Sports credits the UFC for the unprecedented growth of MMA. It was originally called War of the Worlds before being renamed The Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the first event was held on November 12, 1993 at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. Thereafter the UFC was putting on shows in various cities across the U.S.

Vegas Bets Big on the UFC

The Fertitta brothers — Lorenzo and Frank — and business partner Dana White bet big on the UFC first. The Fertittas were Vegas-bred, having built the Station Casino Empire in Sin City. In 2001 they bought the UFC for $2 million, upon the recommendation of White. They, along with White, long-time UFC referee “Big” John McCarthy, and matchmaker Joe Silva, continued legitimizing the sport.

They added more rules and structures to the fights, and these changes allowed the UFC to ultimately secure sanctioning from every state commission. Today, fights are held all over the country with the biggest events held in, what is now known as the home of combat sports, Las Vegas. This has proved a huge boost to both the sport and the city.

Fighting and Gambling: A Winning Combination

On September 28, 2001 the UFC held UFC 33 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. It was the first event that the UFC held in Las Vegas. That time Hugh Citron also bet big on the UFC. An ESPN article on the long history of UFC betting in Las Vegas details how Citron, then the sportsbook supervisor at Mandalay Bay, began setting MMA odds.

“We didn’t book it [the UFC] until we hosted that first event in Las Vegas,” reasoned Citron. The main reason was to give the fans going to the fights a chance to bet, but we found out right away that the UFC had very dedicated fans — and they weren’t afraid to bet.”

Citron’s bet on the UFC was a big winner. The UFC’s popularity continued growing, with superstars like Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell pushing it to the mainstream. As the UFC grew so did MMA betting, which further benefited casino cities like Vegas.

Still Winning

MMA is still growing in popularity. This bodes well for the UFC, and other MMA promotions, like Bellator and ONE. Both the UFC and MMA also have a massive presence in online gambling now via online sportsbooks. That trend figures to continue after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on sports betting. In Business Insider’s report about the landmark ruling, reporter Alexandra Licata points out that 11 states, including New York, have legalized sports betting. Another 24 states are looking to follow suit.

As such online sports betting is likely to get even bigger, just like the MMA. Despite these online alternatives many are still betting on MMA in casinos like Mandalay Bay. In Sandlot Games’ comparative look at online versus land-based casinos, the web-based betting portal notes how physical gambling spaces continue to attract clientele from all over the world. Granted online gaming and betting has taken a fairly huge share of the gambling revenue that used to be exclusively reserved for land-based casinos.

Nevertheless, online gaming industries can’t offer the thrilling experiences that only brick-and-mortar casinos can. One such experience is watching a fight live and being able to bet at the same time. And the best fights are mostly put up by the UFC with its marquee events often held in Las Vegas. UFC 226 was a prime example, as it featured the superfight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic. It was one of 2018’s much-hyped bouts, as it pitted champion vs. champion and was a sold out event at the T-Mobile Arena.

A Bright Future

After Vegas bet big on MMA, others have done the same. In 2016 Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG and its partners bought the UFC for $4 billion. Then last year Disney/ESPN agreed to stream UFC fights for a fee of $1.5 billion over 5 years. With MMA’s popularity continuing to rise these bets will surely be winners, too.

For those who are interested in MMA we have more dedicated articles on the sport in our blog. These range from event previews to articles that will help you learn about the sport including guides on How to Knock Someone Out?