On 5 November 2022, a handful of UFC oddsmakers and media members noticed suspicious gambling activity before a fight between Shayilan Nuerdanbieke and Darrick Minner in Las Vegas.
In the hours leading up to the fight, Nuerdanbieke emerged as a significant betting favorite. He went on to win by technical knockout in the opening round after Minner’s knee appeared to buckle. It was later reported that Minner had hurt his left knee before the fight, and that rumors about the injury had spread among betting insiders.
The following day, ESPN reported that the fight was being investigated by US Integrity, a company that works with sportsbooks to monitor sports wagering for betting-related fraud. According to the firm’s analysis, bets poured in on Nuerdanbieke to win by knockout in the first round.
US Integrity had previously flagged a Professional Fighters League event in April for suspicious betting activity after it became clear that the fights being billed as part of a live broadcast had been pre-taped the previous month.
In response to US Integrity’s analysis, the UFC announced on 7 November that its betting partner, Don Best Sports, would be conducting a “thorough review of the facts and report its findings” and that there was “no reason to believe either of the athletes involved in the bout, or anyone associated with their teams, behaved in an unethical or irresponsible manner.”
UFC president Dana White reiterated the organization’s stance at a media scrum the following week, insisting there was “absolutely zero proof that anybody that was involved bet on it.”
“That stuff happens all the time in sports,” White said.
Over the next few weeks, however, it became clear that the UFC was embroiled in a scandal that risked jeopardizing the organization’s integrity.
On 18 November, the Nevada State Athletic Commission informed Minner’s coach, James Krause, that his corner license was suspended as the commission underwent its own investigation into the fight with Nuerdanbieke. The following day, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement prohibited its licensed sportsbooks from taking wagers on any fight in which Krause is involved “as a coach, trainer, promoter or fighter.”
Krause is a UFC fighter turned coach who trains the likes of UFC interim flyweight champion Brandon Moreno. He is also a notorious gambler who ran a now-infamous Discord server and YouTube show known as the 1% Club.
“I bet every single card just about every fight,” Krause said on the MMA Hour in August. “I have a Discord [server], like 2,000 members in it, we crush it. Last week, we destroyed it. I take over people’s accounts and play for them, I do pretty well. I make more money gambling on MMA than I do anything else.”
According to screenshots provided to the Guardian by a former member of the 1% Club who wished to remain anonymous, the Discord server boasted several active UFC fighters encouraging other members to trust Krause’s tips.
Krause has not commented on the allegations against him and he has not faced any criminal charges. His Discord server and YouTube channel have since been taken down. However, the UFC continues to feel the ripple effects of the scandal.
On 1 December, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) ordered all registered operators that offer sport and event betting products in Ontario, Canada to stop offering and accepting wagers on UFC events due to “concerns about non-compliance with AGCO’s betting integrity requirements.”
“This is not a decision we take lightly, knowing the popularity of UFC events in Ontario’s sports books,” said Tom Mungham, the CEO and Registrar of the AGCO. “However, the risks of insider betting on event and wagering integrity should be highly concerning to all.”
The Canadian province of Alberta followed shortly thereafter, announcing it would halt wagers on UFC bouts due to “possible risks of wagering integrity.”
In response to the Canadian rulings, the UFC announced the following day that “fighters who choose to continue to be coached by Krause or who continue to train in his gym, will not be permitted to participate in UFC events pending the outcome of the aforementioned government investigations.”
The organization also released Minner from his contract on 2 December.
While the UFC was quick to react to the concerns surrounding its integrity, many believe the organization only has itself to blame.
Much of the ongoing scrutiny stems from concerns that the UFC does not prohibit insiders with access to personal information – such as a coaches, managers, handlers and medical professionals – from betting on its fights. This stands in stark contrast to other major sports entities such as the NFL, which has a five-page gambling policy for its personnel that places stringent restrictions or outright bans on betting. This includes restrictions on gambling on other sports, game fixing, insider information, gambling in the workforce, and endorsements.
Fifa, soccer’s world governing body, also prohibits “all officials, referees, players as well as match agents and intermediaries” from betting on the sport.
The UFC has no such gambling policy. In fact, prior to an amendment to its code of conduct on 17 October, the UFC did not place any restrictions on fighters and their teams from betting on fights, including their own.
Beyond its limited gambling policy, the UFC also helped create the conditions for the Krause betting scandal through its continued mistreatment of its fighters. Unlike the vast majority of sports leagues and organizations, where athletes receive anywhere between 47% to 50% of the sport’s revenue, the UFC has historically paid out between 16% to 19% of revenues to its fighters. This forces fighters, who are not unionized, to seek alternative revenue streams, potentially opening them up to exploitation from fraudsters and criminals.
The UFC’s limited healthcare insurance for fighters also factored into the organization’s problem. An ESPN investigation into MMA gambling revealed that it is common practice for fighters not to disclose injuries before fights. This is primarily due to the fact that athletes do not get paid unless they fight, and because if they can pretend the injury occurred during a bout, it will be covered by the UFC’s sparse healthcare policy.
It is also worth noting that this isn’t the first time that the UFC has been involved in a gambling investigation. Former UFC fighter Tae Hyun Bang was handed a jail sentence in South Korea for his involvement in a fight-fixing scandal that saw him purposely lose his fight against Leo Kuntz in November 2015.
In the wake of the US supreme court striking down the federal ban on single-game wagering in 2018, nearly 80% of states have either legalized sports wagering or introduced legislation to do so. As states rush to participate in the betting gold rush, few have taken into consideration the increased risk of match-fixing and other forms of manipulation.
Yet while some sports organizations have taken measures to limit the threat to sports’ integrity, the UFC has done little to prevent fighters and insiders from profiting in illicit gambling.
Now, after years of being unwilling to recognize or acknowledge its gambling vulnerability, the organization is paying the price for its inaction – a self-inflicted wound that continues to fester.