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How popular is MMA betting in Europe vs the USA?

Since the UFC launched, nearly 30 years ago, there has been a slow process bringing mixed martial arts from a minority sport to one of the biggest cash cows in the world of sports. As we sit here in 2022, MMA attracts some of the biggest PPV buys, includes some of the biggest names in sport, and has persuaded stars from diverse sections of the sporting world to take part in bouts. For many people, MMA is inseparable from UFC, and beyond the borders of the United States there are those who view it as an American sport first and foremost.

That doesn’t seem to tally, however, with the popularity of MMA among bettors from across the Atlantic – or indeed, the healthy buy rates for pay-per-view shows in those markets. It’s worth looking at some figures to see just how popular this sport is as a betting attraction on either side of the ocean. Just how popular is MMA betting in Europe as compared to in the USA, where it is often felt to have its home?

 

How does MMA betting fare in the UK?

 

When you talk about betting in Europe, there is little doubt that the UK is a key market, being home to some of the oldest, best-known and most global bookmakers. It is also a market that has struggled to produce top stars in the world of MMA. Fighters with an interest in major competition have tended to go down the road of boxing, while others have preferred a purist approach to martial arts, where the UK has won Olympic medals in sports such as judo, which is also now a main event at the Commonwealth Games. In Ireland, meanwhile, there are plenty of people who’ll bet on MMA when Conor McGregor, a worldwide name from Dublin, is involved.

Nonetheless, with Molly McCann and Paddy Pimblett emerging in recent years, UK MMA fighting is gaining in reputation. All of the top UK sportsbooks have markets for Ultimate Fighting, and they’re usually among the most prominently displayed among their main betting pages. Across Europe, where stars such as Poland’s Krzysztof Soszynski and Mirsad Bektic from Bosnia-Herzegovina have made their name, betting is also beginning to reflect the popularity of the sport in general.

 

Is MMA betting popular in the US?

 

The popularity of MMA betting in the USA is difficult to gauge, as there are only so many states in the union that permit sports betting at all. What we can do, as with the European side of things, is look at a snapshot of the sport’s popularity. What we do know is that a recent study of betting in Colorado saw MMA trail a long way behind the most popular sports for betting, accounting for 1% of the state’s betting handle in 2022. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have people willing to bet on it, of course, but in many of the states where MMA might be more popular, and doesn’t have to compete with local NFL or NBA teams, sports betting is often not yet legal.

For the purposes of sportsbooks in the USA, then, it is reasonable to say that MMA is a minority sport by comparison with the “big four”. The question worth asking is whether that will continue to be the case. Formalised MMA fighting is still in its infancy compared with many of the most popular sports, and as time goes on its growing popularity on screen and in the arena may well begin to be reflected on the pages of online sportsbooks.

Right now, MMA as a betting sport stands roughly in the same position on both sides of the Atlantic: it’s not competing with sports of national importance like soccer in the UK or basketball in the States, but it is growing – and with major sportsbook promotional deals beginning to pop up, that growth will be reflected in betting before too long.

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