Inside The Betting Scandal That Has Rocked The UFC

Written By Ben Fowlkes on December 21, 2022 - Last Updated on December 27, 2022
ufc betting scandal

By most metrics, the UFC bout between featherweights Shayilan Nuerdanbieke and Darrick Minner on November 5 was not an especially important one. It was an undercard fight on an unremarkable UFC Fight Night event, and it featured two fighters who most MMA fans couldn’t pick out of a lineup. But in the hours before fight time, something strange happened to the UFC betting odds for that fight.

Nuerdanbieke had opened as a modest betting favorite, going off somewhere in the range of -200 with most sportsbooks. By the time the fight started, those odds had rocketed up to -450. It was a highly unusual line movement so late, especially on a fight that most sportsbooks wouldn’t expect to see a lot of interest in.

As would later become clear, it wasn’t just that people were betting on Nuerdanbieke to win. It was also that a suspiciously high number of them were betting on him to win early, via TKO or knockout, despite the fact that all three of his previous UFC fights had gone to decision. 

Watchdog Discovers Suspicious UFC Betting Activity

This was enough to raise some eyebrows at U.S. Integrity, a Las Vegas-based company that works with sportsbooks all over North America to monitor betting markets and detect suspicious activity. According to Matthew Holt, president of U.S. Integrity, the company noticed this line movement prior to the fight and alerted sportsbooks to it a few hours ahead of fight time.

“In this case, what was also really interesting is when we sent out the alert, we got responses from double-digit sportsbooks across the U.S. saying they were seeing very similar activity,” Holt said. “Abnormally large amounts of money wagered on the under two and a half rounds (prop bet), and abnormally large amounts of money wagered on this fighter to win by first-round knockout.”

The Fight And The Coach

Nuerdanbieke did, in fact, win by TKO in the first round. It took just 67 seconds, and the finishing sequence began with Minner almost immediately throwing a kick on which he appeared to injure his knee, only to then throw the same kick again right away. Shortly thereafter, Minner collapsed in a heap against the fence and covered up as Nuerdanbieke poured on strikes until the referee stopped the bout.

This would have been an unusual ending to a fight even without the suspicious line movement ahead of the bout. But what became clear when sportsbooks examined their data was that not only were some bettors hammering these specific prop bets, they continued betting them even as the odds got worse. What seemed to further increase suspicion was that Minner’s coach, former UFC fighter James Krause, had spoken openly for months about his success in betting on MMA fights. Krause even hosted a podcast and Discord channel where he disseminated betting tips.

Dana White’s Response To Investigation

The day after the fight, an ESPN story revealed that U.S. Integrity was investigating the fight. The UFC’s public response was, at first, relatively muted. On November 11, UFC President Dana White told reporters that there was “absolutely zero proof that anybody that was involved (in the fight) bet on it.” The whole thing, White insisted, was much ado about nothing.

“That stuff happens all the time in sports,” White said. “I don’t think anything happened. I think it happens all the time. I think it was being made a bigger deal than it actually was.”

A month later, at a press conference following UFC 282 in Las Vegas, White’s outlook seemed to have changed.

“They are gonna go to fucking federal prison, federal fucking prison,” White said, when asked if he was concerned that UFC fighters and their coaches might have been involved. “If you are that fucking stupid and anyone else wants to do it, knock yourself out. There is not enough money in it to ruin your life – and not go to jail, go to federal prison.”

A few days later, ESPN published a video interview with White, in which he labeled potential fight fixing “a huge concern.”

“Now it is,” White said. “Now that there’s an investigation, and it could be possible that it happened. Now it’s something that we really have to, you know, we’ve always told fighters, as all the gambling stuff started to heat up, stay away from gambling. Obviously, don’t, I mean, do you know how stupid you have to be to get involved in something like that? Everybody, it gets caught. You always get caught.”

Has UFC Talked To Fighters About Gambling On Fights?

A fight-fixing scheme would not be entirely unprecedented in the UFC. In 2017, UFC fighter Tae Hyun Bang was sentenced to 10 months in prison in South Korea for accepting money to throw a fight. In that instance, Bang apparently changed his mind and won the fight after agreeing to the scheme, and later returned the money.

The reality is that, especially as sports betting has become legal and widespread in the U.S., the UFC’s messaging to fighters on gambling hasn’t always been as clear or consistent, as White suggested.

Several current and past UFC fighters who spoke on the condition of anonymity for this story said they received little to no instructions from the UFC about gambling on fights. Some recalled brief warnings about betting on fights during the UFC’s occasional “fighter summits” in Las Vegas. Others said the first communication they’d received on the topic was an October 17 email from UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell that went out to all fighters and their managers, informing them of a “new amendment” to the UFC Athlete Conduct Policy.

“In light of clear direction that we have received from regulators responsible for the regulated sports betting industry in the United States, we are compelled at this time to recognize in the UFC Athlete Conduct Policy certain restrictions related to wagering by our athletes, members of their teams, and certain others,” the email read in part. 

The email went on to say that “most states” had laws prohibiting athletes from betting on any promotion or events that they might be affiliated with, and that many states “extend this prohibition to the athletes’ training teams, family members and others that have access to ‘inside information’ relating to the athletes and their events.” 

UFC fighters, Campbell told them in the email, were “not exempt from these prohibitions,” and the UFC would be adding a “wagering prohibition” to the conduct policy “expressly prohibiting athletes from wagering on any UFC match.”

According to one current fighter who received the email, the prevailing sentiment among fighters at the time was that the email was mostly in response to “the Krause stuff.”

Who is James Krause, And How Often Were Fighters Betting?

Krause, who fought in the UFC from 2013 to 2020, had made several public remarks, by this point, about his success as a sports bettor. He coached several active UFC fighters at his Glory MMA & Fitness gym in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Nevertheless, Krause told MMA journalist Ariel Helwani on an episode of “The MMA Hour” that he regularly bet on fights. He also said he made more money on gambling than all his other business ventures. Krause also talked about his Discord channel and podcast. Among the services he offered for subscribers, he said he’d take over accounts to place bets on their behalf – a practice that is expressly forbidden by most online sportsbooks and illegal in some states. Krause did not respond to a request for comment.

At first, this admission seemed to set off no alarms within the UFC. Fighters had previously made no secret about betting on fights that their friends and training partners were involved in. UFC broadcasts had even included tweets from active fighters about bets they’d made on that night’s UFC fights. In 2021, a UFC fighter told media members he intended to bet his entire purse for the fight on himself. He lost the fight and the bet, and later said he had “no regrets” about the wager.

According to several sources, these were not isolated incidents. Sportsbook data indicated UFC fighters were betting on their own fights at rates higher than in other pro sports, according to one source, and sportsbooks had alerted the UFC to the problem. UFC officials did not respond to a request for comment.

As one prominent MMA coach who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “I think the way a lot of guys look at it is, as long as I’m not betting on my opponent or anything, it’s fine.”

Why Is Betting On Your Own Fights a Problem?

From a betting integrity standpoint, however, it’s a different story. Holt, the president of U.S. Integrity, explained that it’s inherently problematic for athletes to wager on any event in which they can directly influence the outcome – even if they’re not explicitly “throwing” a bout to win their bet.

“Here’s the problem with athletes betting on their own fights, and it was happening too much in the UFC,” Holt said. “Let’s say we let Tom Brady bet the over 2.5 touchdown passes prop on himself. Well now when they get first and goal from the one, what is Tom Brady doing? He’s throwing the football. That affects the outcome of the game.”

If it were allowed in MMA, Holt pointed out, a fighter who was favored to win by knockout might instead take the fight to decision in order to cash in on a bet and supplement his income. At that point, the integrity of the entire contest might come into question. Bettors could no longer feel confident they were wagering on a fair, equitable sport.

Injury Integrity And Medical Insurance For Fighters

In the case of Minner’s fight, the UFC might be looking at a perfect storm of troubling but not uncommon circumstances. On December 14, the Nevada State Athletic Commission extended its temporary suspension of the licenses of both Minner and his coach Krause, alleging that they’d misled the commission by not disclosing Minner’s injury on pre-fight medical forms. 

But concealing training injuries before bouts has long been a common practice in MMA. Fighters have often talked about how easy it is to bluff their way past pre-fight medical exams. Many have later said they fought injured in part so they could claim that the injury happened during the fight itself, thereby allowing them to use the promoter’s insurance to cover surgeries or other related medical costs. Fighters typically aren’t compensated if they withdraw from scheduled fights due to injuries, which could incentivize them to go through with bouts even when they’re too physically compromised to stand a good chance of winning.

This happened in a UFC title fight in October, when former champ T.J. Dillashaw dislocated his shoulder in a title fight at UFC 280, only to later reveal that it had been an ongoing issue during training. A key difference, according to Holt, is that pre-fight betting action didn’t come in disproportionately on Dillashaw’s opponent in that fight. While information about Dillashaw’s shoulder was clearly known to his coaches, it didn’t seem to leak beyond that, or at least not in a way that significantly impacted the betting action.

According to Holt, this is where the UFC, along with other MMA promoters, face a different challenge than other pro sports. Pro fighters are almost always independent contractors, and they pay their own coaches and training partners, often with the most informal of arrangements. This makes it harder to determine who counts as an “insider” for the purposes of betting, and also makes it difficult for the UFC to keep a lid on betting within the sport.

“I think it’s (an issue of) league structure, and the UFC is at a disadvantage, to be fair,” said Holt. “So they’re probably going to have to go the extra mile. If you’re the NFL, every trainer, every equipment manager, they work for the team, so basically they’re under the umbrella of the league. So because they’re all employees within the league, you can make them go through mandated training and you can get them all together in the offseason and put them through these training courses. Whereas, if you’re the UFC, your fighters are literally all over the world and at any given time they’re in different phases of training, recuperation, rehabilitation, so the idea of trying to get them all in one place for some type of education is really difficult.”

As one coach who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, there’s “absolutely no way” for working fight gyms to closely monitor every person who comes through their doors, ensuring that they never have access to insider information during fighter training. This problem is on prominent display at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, several people pointed out. The UFC-owned facility is open to all UFC fighters, but the layout and design of the building itself makes it easy to observe other fighters’ training or even physical therapy sessions.

“If a fighter has a small or big injury, there’s really no way it’ll stay under wraps just on the architectural design of the (UFC Performance Institute) alone,” one coach said.

What Happens Now?

As part of its response to the controversy surrounding the Minner fight, the UFC told fighters that they would not be allowed to participate in future bouts if they trained with Krause, and barred him from one fighter’s corner the day before a bout. This came after the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement informed sportsbooks in the state that they were prohibited from taking bets on any fight in which Krause was involved in any way.

Later, commissions in Ontario and Alberta even removed all UFC odds from sportsbooks over concerns about “insider betting.” Alberta has since restored UFC betting.

In response to an email seeking comment, a representative for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said the commission was “encouraged” by the UFC’s response to the situation thus far.

“Protecting the betting public by providing the necessary safeguards against the risk of insider betting on event and wagering integrity are a high priority to the AGCO,” the statement said. “We recognize the recent steps taken and are committed to engaging with Ontario’s gaming industry, UFC, the OLG, and iGaming Ontario to ensure that the UFC has the necessary betting integrity framework in place, in particular relating to wagering by UFC insiders.”

The investigation into the Minner fight is ongoing, according to U.S. Integrity. A recent ESPN story reported that the FBI had also begun gathering information on the situation. The aftermath continues to be felt across the MMA world, as some fighters have said they’re now unable to sign up for online sportsbooks due to their status as active UFC fighters.

For his part, the UFC president White has continued to insist that the issue isn’t unique to MMA or the UFC, but the consequences are severe. 

“In every sport, somebody thinks they’re smarter than everybody else when really they’re the dumbest guy in the room,” White told ESPN, likening the situation to athletes who continue to risk using performance-enhancing drugs, even while subject to a rigorous anti-doping policy. “But this is a whole other level … If you’re that stupid, have fun in prison.”

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Ben Fowlkes

Ben Fowlkes has been a sportswriter for over 15 years, writing for outlets such as USA Today, The Athletic, Sports Illustrated, and others. For many years he specialized in combat sports coverage, and he served as president of the MMA Journalists Association. He's also a published fiction writer whose work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, among other places.

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