Bo Nickal is a three-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion who used to wrestle for Penn State. He will be back in action on Tuesday night in Dana White’s Contender Series on ESPN+.
Nickal is considered one of mixed martial art’s best prospects. He fights in the 185-pound middleweight division. Donovan Beard, 26, will try to make his professional MMA record 3-0. (7-1). On Monday, OKBet sports betting site had Nickal as a favorite to win the game with a Moneyline of about -1700 (94% implied chance of winning).
Nickal is also a big sports bettor and he loves to talk about the OKBet odds bookmakers are giving on his fights. He thinks that sportsbooks don’t give him nearly enough credit. In his first Contender Series fight in August, he was a -3000 betting favorite, and he’ve made headlines by saying he was a steal at that price. Nickal made fun of sports bettors who put their money on long-shot parlays instead of big favorites like himself in a popular Tweet.
Forbes Betting talked with Nickal about betting before his fight on September 27. Nickal has some good advice for people who want to bet on MMA.
Brian Pempus: Many UFC fans liked your post about parlays that went viral. Do you see yourself as part of a new generation of athletes who are more aware of the betting public and how to interact with them?
Bo Nickal: I agree that betting on sports is getting increasingly popular online. Many of my friends bet, and it’s fun thing to do that keeps you busy. I don’t know many other fighters who place bets. I think of it as an important part of the sport. It gets a lot more people interested in MMA. It’s a small thing I like to do for fun.
BP: In your Twitter post, you’ve made fun of parlay bets with very long odds. Those bets are good for sportsbooks because they have a higher hold, but you pointed out that even huge favorites can have better value for the bettor.
Bets on sports can be seen in more than one way, right? You can think of it as fun and just throw a few bucks on a bet to make the game or fight more exciting. One way to do it is like that. Those people who don’t knw what they’re doing, those are the guys who put $10 on a 50-team parlay or whatever and try to make all this money. That will never happen.
There are many ways to look at betting on sports. If you find it as an investment, you have to pick your favorites. I’ve learned a lot about MMA. I don’t know a lot about football, baseball, golf, or other sports like that. I know a lot about fighting. If you think like an investor instead of a gambler, you can look at a -3000 favorite as a 3% return on your money. That is how I tried to tell people about it. I don’t think that will make sense to many people on Twitter.
BP: It’s rare for a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter to be such a big favorite, but you said you felt a little insulted at that price. Do you feel more pressure because you are such a big favorite?
BN: I wouldn’t say that the odds make me feel more pressure. Anyone who bet on me won with -3000. If you look at [the implied probability], that means that 97 times out of 100, I would win that fight in August. I will win that fight a thousand times out of a thousand. It didn’t cost anything. I feel pressure already because I want to win so badly and train so hard every day. I think I’ll become even more popular.
BP: Do you have any tips for people who want to bet on UFC fights? Do you like markets for “way to win” or “fight to the finish”? Do you think those prop bets are worth it?
BN: Definitely. I like to bet on things like finishes, first-round submissions, over/under on rounds, and other similar things. People need to do research. I don’t bet on things I don’t understand. You can find importance in MMA bets and start winning more often if you watch 20 of a fighter’s fights and 20 of his opponent’s fights, as well as breakdowns on YouTube.
Whoever makes up the odds is smart. If you want to beat them, you have to put in more time and research than they do. But you have to choose where to go. Some people tends to bet on every fight, which is hard to do. You can find value and make money by looking for mismatches or places where oddsmakers might not have paid enough attention.
BP: Do you think that, in general, there are more value bets in combat sports than, say, in the NFL, where it’s hard to find betting edges?
BN: Unquestionably. I think combat sports offer the best [value]. Some people say that they like to bet on sports like hockey, tennis, and golf. One thing about combat sports is that they are hard to predict and can change quickly. This makes it hard for the people who set the odds to decide how much to bet. If you really learn about the sport, there are many ways to get an edge. MMA has been a sport for about 20 years, is that right? Football, Baseball, Volleyball, and basketball, on the other hand, have been sports for five times as long. To figure out these odds, there is five times as much research and a lot more math equations and algorithms. If you want to bet on sports seriously, I think you should pay a lot of attention to MMA and other combat sports.
BP: Do you think oddsmakers consistently undervalue any UFC fighters?
There are a few of them. Brian Kelleher is a person I’ve bet on a few times. He weighs 135 pounds. He’s tough guy who has fought a lot of other tough guys, but not many people know much about him. Henry Cejudo is another person I never bet against. I’ve bet on him almost every time he’s fought. From my point of view, he’s just a dog who wins. I bet a lot on those guys. I train with a lot of guys who I believe in and support. I can see how hard they’re working at the gym.
BP: Pennsylvania is one of the states that lets people bet on sports. Have you found that people in State College like to bet?
BN: That’s nuts. People are always going crazy. I don’t know where these college students get their money. I think it’s crazy. A lot of people are trying to know it. We live in a college town with a lot of big Penn State football games. It’s a way for people to have fun and care more about the games they play. I love watching videos of 10 friends who bet money on something and then celebrate when they win. It’s getting more and more popular there.
BP: It’s too bad that some people who bet on sports can’t handle it. Do you have a message about gambling responsibly for people who are having trouble with it?
BN: I think online sports betting should be fun and good for you at the end of the day. It’s fun, but it can also affect people’s lives. So, if you are that kind of person, I think you should try to know yourself and understand yourself. If you tend to get more emotional when betting at OKbet, maybe it’s not for you. The most important thing is to think about what kind of person you want to be. If you don’t want it, you don’t want it.
I like to bet with other people most of the time. I don’t like to bet by myself. I’m making sure I’m riding with friends on a bet. That’s a good way to go about it. One important thing about betting is that it brings people together. It’s not very fun to be in your room by yourself at 4 a.m. looking over odds. You are kind of crazy about it. Make it something you can do with other people, but if you can’t, that’s fine. Don’t try to get back what you’ve lost. Don’t try to get back, just call it a day. You can’t do it. Everyone wants to win. No one likes to lose, but sometimes the best thing to do is to take a break.
BP: Do you think it’s a good idea to bet in units? That is a common way to handle money for betting.
BN: I think that’s a good way for people to do well. That’s probably the way to go for people who really want to learn about betting. I don’t bet all the time because I don’t want to. The way I do it is to put a round number, like $1,000, into my bank account. I’ll put [that amount] on one fight. I’ll bet on things like the fight ending in the first round, the winner, and maybe a submission. That’s three different bets on the same fight.
If I win, I take all of the money out of my account at the sportsbook. All I want is that win, right? I won, so let’s try again. I don’t always gamble. I pick my spots. So, I don’t want to put my money there. If there’s another fight I want to bet on, I put more money in. So, I don’t have to bet all the time or look at [the app]. If you keep looking at it, you might see a bet that you think might work. I can’t do that because I don’t do it all the time. I want to avoid falling into that trap.
BP: So you’re saying that the money or winnings aren’t really yours until they go back into your bank account? If the money is still in your betting account, it makes you feel like you can still use it.
BN: I feel exactly the same way. I like how it makes me feel when I say, “It’s in my account,” like I really won. You didn’t really win it if it’s in the sportsbook. It’s not gone. I like seeing the money go straight into my bank account. That’s how I handle my bankroll.
BP: You’re on your way to becoming a big name in the UFC. Would you ever be interested in a sponsorship deal with a company that lets people bet on sports?
BN: Absolutely. DraftKings would be my top choice, since that’s the one I use. I love what they stand for and what they do. I buy their stock and keep it for a long time. That would be pretty cool, in my opinion.