Lowered Guard: When You’re Wrong

“Lowered Guard” is a series at Knockdown News that takes things a little less seriously than usual. It gives us a chance to have a little fun and sometimes appreciate the wackier side of MMA.

In life, a lot of things can’t be objectively proven to be right or wrong. We often offer our opinion on topics that we won’t ever get the answer for, meaning we’ll never get an exact verdict on certain positions in life. Would prime Michael Jordan be the GOAT if he played in 2022? Would people remember “Lost” as a good show if it had a different ending?

Another example is pound-for-pound rankings in MMA. If I have the radical opinion that Glover Teixeira is the top MMA fighter in the entire world right now, you can disagree, but you can’t say I’m wrong.

When we talk about fight results, that’s not the case. People predict fights every day. People submit Tapology predictions, pay for betting slips, and throw their takes into the online abyss every day. Unless a fight never happens, we eventually get to know who is or isn’t right.

Listen, being wrong sucks. I had some close encounters with being wrong recently, and it felt bad. To start the year, I was high on featherweight prospect Giga Chikadze. I thought he would walk through Calvin Kattar and earn a title shot. Nope. Days later, I shifted focus to UFC 270, where I picked Ciryl Gane and Brandon Moreno as the title fight winners. No, and no.

It can feel a little goofy to get a prediction wrong, especially when you felt strongly about it. I want that to happen less, and I want to figure out how to deal with it better in the past. So I turned to some folks who are professionals at predictions.

First I spoke with Alexander K. Lee, who does a weekly prediction column before every UFC card at MMA Fighting. When I asked for advice, he gave some nice tips.

To start, he offered a reassuring message.

“The first and most important thing to remember is that the sports world – and especially the MMA world – moves so quickly that unless you’re throwing out completely outlandish or offensive predictions every week, no one is going to know how good or bad your track record is. Especially if you don’t draw attention to it yourself. Keep a low profile and celebrate your victories modestly, I always say.”

That’s certainly true. My Tapology only has three followers, so my predictions on there won’t be getting judged too heavily by the public. But, let’s talk about another scenario. What about if my take is in a group chat? What if all my non-MMA friends turned to me and said “But Jack, you said this guy was gonna win? Why didn’t that happen? Aren’t you the MMA expert here?” How do I not feel defeated then? Lee had an answer to that in the second part of his message.

“Secondly, there should really never be any need to apologize for a bold prediction. Sports fans in general are quick to speak in absolutes (“this will NEVER happen”) for some strange reason despite the fact that nine million impossible-to-predict things happen in sports every year. So going big is never bad. One of the sites I used to work for always said, ‘If you make a prediction and it comes true, then it wasn’t bold enough.'”

I’m starting to feel better about all of my bold predictions turned sour now. That, of course, includes Ben Askren knocking out Jake Paul and Li Jingliang somehow beating Khamzat Chimaev.

Learning About MMA Through Gambling?

Lee left one more message for me in his three tips: “Thirdly, don’t gamble on MMA.”

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. I personally don’t gamble on MMA – I lose enough on Premier League bets – but what if there’s a lesson to learn in gambling?

I know, it may sound silly. The house always wins, yada yada. But let’s at least give this a try. In an attempt to understand how betting can help us figure out who to pick, I spoke with CombatOdds.ca writer Al Mac.

He offered an interesting outlook on the fight game. As someone who says he isn’t an expert on MMA, but instead an expert on gambling, he makes his picks based on how in or out of line he feels the odds are to reality.

“I personally try not to predict fights, based on outcome, I just like to pick the odds. So that even if I was wrong I can say ‘I’d still make that bet again.'”

Wanting to make a bet again even if you lost it? What? That might sound weird, but it completely makes sense when he explains the methodology behind it.

Using the Kattar and Chikadze fight as an example, here’s how he explained his logic:

“For example, Kattar was lined at +220 odds. That’s converted to an implied probability of about 31% of a chance to win. The question I ask myself when betting on fights is, ‘Do I think Kattar has more than a 31% chance of winning this fight?’ If the answer is yes, you 100% have to bet it, even if you don’t think the majority of the amount of times the fight occurs, Giga [Chikadze] will win. If there’s a disparity between the odds, and the actual implied probability, you have to bet the value.”

Mac’s way of figuring out how to wager on fights is interesting. The way he predicts fights feels like risk management. He recognizes that perfection in predicting fights is simply impossible and that the goal should just be getting enough right. In his case, getting enough right would be enough to break a profit.

And maybe I should adopt a mentality similar to that going forward. Sure, I am going to get fights wrong. I’m probably going to get some very wrong still. But if there’s anything that matters most, it’s that I’m just getting things right more often than not.

There’s no real solution to my problem. It’s mathematically possible to get all of my predictions right. And even people with the best takes make mistakes. I’m going to be wrong in the future, and people will see it.

The only solution at play might be to stop predicting how fights will go completely. But what’s the fun in that? If I had the choice between being wrong almost all the time and surrendering my right to make predictions, I think my choice would be quite easy.

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