The UFC fight on Saturday between Darrick Minner and Shayilan Nuerdanbieke, which ended abruptly in the first round, is being investigated by a U.S.-based betting integrity firm after several sportsbooks in multiple states reported suspicious wagering on the featherweight bout.
The odds on Nuerdanbieke defeating underdog Minner moved dramatically in the hours leading up to their UFC Fight Night matchup in Las Vegas. Bettors were convinced that not only would Nuerdanbieke win, but he would do so in the first round. Money poured in on the favorite to win by knockout in the first round and for the fight to last fewer than 2.5 rounds, prompting some sportsbooks to take the fight off the board, according to an analysis conducted by U.S. Integrity, a Las Vegas-based firm that works with sportsbooks and state gaming regulators to monitor the betting market, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN.
On Saturday, with rumors circulating among bettors that Minner was injured, Nuerdanbieke's odds to win moved from -220 to -420 in the four hours before the fight. Just 30 seconds into the fight, Minner threw a left kick to Nuerdanbieke's body and immediately grimaced and reached for his left leg. Nuerdanbieke closed in and Minner went for another left body kick before Nuerdanbieke dropped Minner with a knee to the head and finished on the ground with elbows. The TKO stoppage came at 1:07 of the first round.
It was Nuerdanbieke's first finish in the UFC in four fights with the promotion. Minner, a 10-year MMA veteran, has now lost three straight and four of six UFC fights.
As sportsbooks grew suspicious of the unusual betting leading up to the fight, they contacted U.S. Integrity, which in turn conducted a thorough analysis of the situation and alerted state gaming regulators and other sportsbook clients to the irregular betting roughly three hours before the fight began at 8 p.m. ET. The betting didn't stop, according to the analysis, even after the odds moved to significantly less attractive prices. The relentless betting on the worse odds only increased suspicions among some bookmakers and U.S. Integrity.
Matthew Holt, president of U.S. Integrity, said the company cannot reveal any details of an ongoing investigation.
"Our goal as always is to notify the industry of any potential nefarious, abnormal or suspicious activity as soon as possible, so they can take action as quickly as possible," Holt told ESPN. "In this case, we hope that by sending a couple hours before the fight started, we may have helped prevent some more suspicious bets from getting through."
U.S. Integrity does not have any enforcement power, which means any response to the firm's investigation would have to come from regulators or other authorities.
The UFC responded Monday via statement.
"Like many professional sports organizations, UFC works with an independent betting integrity service to monitor wagering activity on our events," the UFC statement read. "Our betting integrity partner, Don Best Sports, a leading global supplier of real-time betting data for North American sporting events, will conduct a thorough review of the facts and report its findings. At this time, we have 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."
When reached Sunday by text message, Minner's manager, Andrew Lee of Disorderly Conduct Management, wrote that he was "unaware of anything like this," but did not provide any further clarity on the situation.
Minner is coached by James Krause, a retired fighter and known sports bettor who hosts the "1% Club" podcast and a popular Discord channel that features his betting tips. Krause did not respond to a request for comment Sunday from ESPN.
On Oct. 17, UFC announced that fighters and their teams were prohibited from wagering on UFC fights. In a memo, UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell wrote that the edict came "in light of clear direction that we have received from regulators responsible for the regulated sports betting industry in the United States." He noted in the memo that in some states it is illegal for fighters and teams to bet on events with which they are affiliated.
"As the sport has grown over time, the overwhelming majority of states that regulate sports gambling have some prohibitions on inside betting activity," Campbell told ESPN at the time. "And this wasn't something the UFC advanced independently. This was something the UFC set forth in response from governmental agencies, aware we are also subject to governmental regulation as we're licensed promoters in virtually every state. It's the natural evolution of the sport."
Bookmakers and bettors who communicated with ESPN had differing opinions on what took place Saturday. Some were convinced that Minner threw the fight, while others believed the bets were based on leaked information that Minner was hurt severely and shouldn't have been fighting.
A source familiar with Minner's camp said his left knee was "absolutely injured going into the fight."
Joey Odessa, a longtime respected MMA oddsmaker, noticed the flurry of interest on the fight and was aware of the alerts being sent out to sportsbooks.
"Doesn't mean a fix was in," Odessa told ESPN in a social media message, "but rather someone definitely knew something."