The Ultimate Fighting Championship is slated to return to the city of Philadelphia on Saturday, March 30. It will be the MMA leader’s first event in the city since 2011. It also comes at an exciting time for the city: Legal Las Vegas-style sports betting is now available.
It’s not a PPV event. The UFC Fight Night card at the Wells Fargo Center will be one of the promotion’s first live broadcasts with ESPN, as part of a new TV deal that kicked off with the new year.
The card airing on ESPN 2 will benefit the local casinos with sportsbooks, as the betting public will have easy access to watching the action. UFC Fight Nights are not stacked PPV cards, so there will be fewer high-profile match-ups, but the fights airing on effectively free TV will more than make up for that deficiency.
For years fans have been clamoring for a UFC return to Philly, so it will undoubtedly be a busy weekend for the sportsbooks. March Madness will also be nearing its conclusion.
Philadelphia is actually guaranteed to have three sportsbooks in time for the event, as in addition to the recently opened books at SugarHouse and Parx, the South Philadelphia Turf Club, a sister property to Parx, plans to begin taking bets next week. The off-track betting parlor is just a mile from the Wells Fargo Center. Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, the parent company of Parx and the Turf Club, is well positioned to benefit from the UFC event.
Additionally, Harrah’s Philadelphia is more than likely to have a sportsbook in time for the event. And it’s possible that mobile betting will be live in the state by March 30, which would mean fans could place bets from the Wells Fargo Center.
The fight card
The handle on the event will obviously be impacted by UFC matchmaker decisions as to who is on the card. So far, only one higher-profile fight has been scheduled. It’s unlikely to be the main event, but there’s a chance it could be the headliner if the UFC finds itself with no other viable options.
Breaking: Michelle Waterson vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz will take place on the March 30 UFC Fight Night card in Philadelphia, per Dana White. pic.twitter.com/COzbs87tXd
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) January 9, 2019
Neither Waterson nor Kowalkiewicz have a significant personal connection to Philadelphia, so there’s no hometown favorite for that one. According to ESPN, the UFC has scheduled another women’s fight for the card, a rebooking of a bout between relative newcomers Alexa Grasso and Marina Rodriguez.
The UFC has faced criticism in recent times over its matchmaking. That is unfortunately the case with the Philadelphia card. Philly native Paul Felder, one of the UFC’s best lightweight fighters, would have been a great person to have headline, but the UFC had already scheduled him for a February fight in Phoenix prior to the announcement of UFC Philadelphia.
Felder lamented on social media about the scheduling, saying that a quick turnaround is not possible. He will be in attendance, however.
Ironically, the UFC didn’t re-sign former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez when his contract was up last year. Alvarez famously fought Conor McGregor at Madison Square Garden in 2016, and he’s a hometown favorite in Philly. Alvarez departed for the Singapore-based ONE Championship. To add to the irony, Alvarez makes his ONE Championship debut the same evening as the UFC Philadelphia card, though the two events won’t overlap because of the time zone difference.
“Philadelphia is a legendary fight town,” the UFC’s Dana White said to the PhillyVoice in 2016. “Whether you’re talking about its history in boxing with guys like Joe Frazier and Bernard Hopkins or MMA with UFC stars like Eddie Alvarez and Paul Felder, Philly is a city defined by toughness, and famous for its food and diehard sports fans.”
Who else could the UFC add to move the needle?
There’s fan-favorite Frankie Edgar, who resides in nearby New Jersey. Edgar, a featherweight, hasn’t fought since April, so he’s a prime candidate for a UFC Philadelphia booking. Fans have already started calling for him to appear on the card. Lightweight Dustin Poirier, whose last fight was a win over Alvarez in July, said on Twitter that he’s interested in the Philly card. Poirier is on a five-fight unbeaten streak and is a top contender for a UFC title shot in the near future. If he appeared on the card, it would likely be a major match-up with another top contender.
Poirier was slated to fight UFC mega-star Nate Diaz in November, before the former was forced out due to injury. A rebooking of that match-up for the Philadelphia event would be an enormous win for the sportsbooks. However, Diaz is a huge draw, and the UFC might not want to put him on a non-PPV card.
Then again, with its return to Philadelphia being so long overdue, and the promotion looking to begin the ESPN era with a bang, there is definitely a chance Poirier vs. Diaz could be the main event.
The amount bet on the UFC event, regardless of who is on the card, will more than likely be significantly less than wagering on NCAA basketball slated to occur that same evening. Nevada sportsbooks took more than $500 million in bets in March 2018, a new record for the Silver State. A top MMA fight is lucky to see 10% of that betting volume.
Pennsylvania is expected to have one of the largest sports betting markets in the nation, according to a 2017 study from Oxford Economics. At maturation, the Keystone State market could see more than $10 billion in annual handle, about double what is currently bet in Nevada.