Now, I can't pretend to be some sort of long time expert but in my short handicapping career I've hit good numbers and I want everyone on this site to do well, so if it even helps slightly, I'll give a breakdown of what I think it takes to be good at handicapping MMA fights.
Tip #1: I really don't think you can do a good job of this just by instinct. You 100% have to be either watching fight tape specifically for the fight or taking really good notes as you watch fights generally and using those notes on future predictions. I would love to be proved wrong on this one and I'm sure 90% of people who enter picks on this site will be doing so from memory but I think the people who end up being top of the leaderboard long term, will be the ones scouting fights properly. I bought UFC fight pass specifically for this purpose. If you're gunna end up making money from your picks, it's definitely worth the investment.
Tip #2: Break down each fighter forensically. I have a list of attributes and effectively turn the fighters into computer game characters. I'm sure a lot of people do this but my tip here is that you can't just do it for a few attributes like power, chin etc... You have to go nuts. I have about 40 attributes. I don't literally fill in all these attributes (though I plan to create a notes section so you guys can if you want), however, I have them there mentally as a sort of check point.
I also think it's important to note which of the attributes are going to be key in the bout you are trying to break down. The obvious one is chin. I would suggest very rarely betting on someone with a poor chin. Plus, you can flag them up as a massive potential opportunity if they hit someone who's a bad stylistic matchup. Which brings me to...
Tip #3. Transitions. This, I believe, is pretty much the most underrated part of breaking down the fight. A fighter may have an advantage in certain area but if they can't get it there, it really doesn't matter. The most obvious part of this analysis is takedowns. You can't just look at takedown defense or offense stats, you need to make notes on what type of takedowns people go for. Perfect example would be breaking down Daniel Cormier vs Anthony Johnson. Johnson stuffed 8 of 8 takedown attempts vs Phil Davis, who is a national wrestling champion. So, you might therefore think he'd be hard for Cormier to take down. However, Cormier goes for clinch takedowns and trip takedowns during transitions and Phil Davis was shooting double legs. Totally, totally different.
So yeah. If you have limited time to research a fight between two guys who are stylistically very different, I would recommend your first bit of analysis was on transitions.
Tip #4. Set your own line. I like to pretend I'm the bookmaker and set my own line, first starting with a percentage chance of each fighter winning, then converting that into odds. Once you've done that, assume you're 5% off at least, then assess whether there's really any value in betting the fight.
Tip #5. Don't assume people will fight with a good gameplan. Sometimes you'll think "man, this guy could totally win if he fights like xyz". I thought that for Mark Eddiva's fight against Levan Makashvili, in Levan's UFC debut. Fighters in there debut lose more often than not, because of the UFC jitters. It was also in the Phillipenes and Levan was a last minute replacement. All big red flags. Eddiva was something like +450 and I thought honestly it should have been around +150, because Eddiva was a superior striker.
I ultimately left the pick (correctly), because after re-watching Eddiva's fights I decided he just couldn't be trusted to fight a sensible gameplan. I didn't trust him to fight his way out of bad positions and keep the fight where he had his advantage. In the end he did spend too much time with his back against the cage, drifting his way to a split decision loss. So that brings me to:
Tip #6. Know when to fold on a bet. I used to play poker. If you do 5 hours research on a fight and you think "yeah, this COULD happen", that's kinda like putting a load of chips into a hand on the flop... maybe you get suckered into calling all the way to the river because you're heavily invested and lose even more chips. Basically you don't have to bet every time you think there's some value and if there's a a nagging doubt in the back of your mind, maybe you're best off just leaving it. Certainly it's a good idea to leave it for 24 hours and revisit it the day after.
Tip #7. Not every event is the same, so don't try and make the same number of picks on every card. What's the point in that? Sometimes you should be making 5 picks per card, sometimes you should make none. This is one of the massive problems with subscription based services who charge e.g. $20 per month to view picks. If you're charging people a subscription, you have an obligation to make picks and sometimes there's absolutely no value in doing that.
Tip #8. Bear in mind the stats. There are very signifincantly different patterns in different weight classes. Check out our MMA stats pages and make the most of them.
Tip #9. Remember that a hell of a lot of fights (with the exception of heavyweight) end up going to decision. With that in mind, volume of output and accepting being in bad positions are two very important factors. Lots of fighters sit in guard on the bottom or allow themselves to be pressed against the cage. Someone like Charles Oliveira for example, sits in guard for ages. He's an extremely dangerous fighter but if he doesn't get a sub, there's a chance he'll lose a decision. Clinch control is probably less obvious but more important. Lots of fighters will defend a takedown well but ultimately will not circle away from the cage, so they spend a lot of time in defensive mode, which is a great way to lose a decision. It doesn't matter how you think a fight should be scored, base your picks on how MMA actually IS scored.
Tip #10. Make notes after you get things wrong. What was it that you didn't see coming? Note it down and don't do it again.
Tip #11. Finally, find your own style. Maybe you're cautious like me and like to defend a 100% pick record.... Maybe you're more balls to the wall and like to bet value and don't really care if sometimes that means you lose. People will get to see your style and you'll pick up followers based on that style.
Tip #12. Commentator coolaid! Some commentators are really bad when it comes to over-hyping things. In my opinion Kenny Florian is the worst but they all do it to an extent. So don't believe everything a color commentator says - it's their job to make people sound better than they are. HOWEVER, with that said, do listen to the commentary. I know some people like to watch fights with the sound off... I think that's a bad idea. You hear a lot of different little bits of info in commentary from fighter belt levels to explanations of mitigating circumstances for previous losses (x fighter had a cold when cutting weight etc). Most bettors and presumably the odds makers too, base most of their odds and betting patterns on hard facts. If you can find mitigating reasons why those hard "facts" are a bit off, like a fighter coming in with an injury or personal problems, that's probably going to mean the line undervalues that fighter.
Tip #13. This is a really random weird one. :) If you have DVRd the fights and want to see if someone has good head movement, watch a bit of the fight in x2 speed. It makes it a lot easier to see if a fighter isn't moving his head at all, cos everything else is moving loads and their head's staying still.
Tip #14. Dont fall in love with one guy... Just cos he's won you money in the past, don't feel some sort of affinity towards him cos you'll over-value him (or her of course). I think that's probably why a lot of people picked Neil Magny over Demian Maia. He'd made people decent money in the past and that can cloud your judgement.