The heated rivalry and personal disdain between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov are not the only things they'll bring into the cage this weekend at UFC 229's blockbuster main event. They also bring a combined UFC record of 19-1, which has provided financial backers substantial returns at the betting window.
But the gambling market has long recognized the talent and potential each fighter has. Both men have closed as an underdog only once in their respective UFC careers. Nurmagomedov was a mild dog in his second appearance versus veteran Gleison Tibau, while McGregor closed as a near pick 'em dog against former champion Jose Aldo. And both men won those matchups despite the odds against them.
These two confident champions always expect to win, and the market has generally agreed with them. But they can't both deliver on their promises when they finally face each other in the cage. So from a gambling perspective, which fighter has been the better career investment, and how will Saturday's outcome change that record for the winner and loser?
Odds to date
Khabib's perfect 10-0 UFC record, of course, guarantees that he's provided bettors with a positive ROI, but at what risk? His betting line through those 10 fights averaged -250, or a 2.5-to-1 favorite.
Meanwhile, Conor's 9-1 record was achieved as a slightly weaker favorite of -227 on average. The market has projected Khabib's wins with +2 percent more confidence than Conor's, meaning investors were ever so slightly more bullish on Khabib throughout his career. But what about total returns? Which fighter has returned more over time to his loyal backers after accounting for betting risk?
Top UFC betting investments
Hypothetically, we could treat each UFC fighter as their own betting fund. Back them in each fight, regardless of the betting line, always risking, or risking to win, a single unit (in this example, $100 per unit). In this view we can see the top performing betting investments in UFC history.
Because champions tend to win in streaks, and have primarily winning records, it's no surprise that many of them top the list of best UFC career betting returns. Only seven of the top 20 fighters have not held a UFC title, and former Lightweight champion (and frequent underdog) Frankie Edgar tops them all.
Khabib vs. Conor: Career betting returns
Khabib ranks 19th all-time in terms of total betting profit, on a star-studded list of the sport's best. Having never lost, but often having been a strong betting favorite, Khabib's ROI stands at 28 percent so far.
Interestingly, while Conor McGregor would be a profitable venture in his own right having returned a 14 percent career ROI, his sole loss to Nate Diaz came at a steep price as McGregor was heavily favored in their first fight. That blemish leaves him at 125th on the list of career betting returns. However, should he pull an upset at current underdog odds, he still won't catch Khabib on this list.
An upset at UFC 229 would drop Khabib to 23 percent ROI, and bump McGregor up to 18 percent, meaning that even this surprise outcome would not change their relative rankings. Khabib has been a more reliable and profitable betting choice throughout his career, and it would take more than their fight against each other this weekend to change that. Furthermore, once fans get to Vegas, we could see more action on McGregor, driving his price closer to a pick 'em, and returning even less value in the case of an upset.
Stay tuned to get our final view of the matchup and the betting odds later in the week.